“Back to basics” is a mantra invoked across many disciplines and by leaders of all kinds of organizations and political parties. It is especially associated with reform movements.

What does getting “back to basics” mean?

For some, back to basics” mean let’s do things the way we used to do them.

Let’s go back to the Mass in Latin. That’s the way we did things when I was growing up. It’s the language Jesus used. (However, we know that Greek was the primary language of the Church for the first three centuries.)

For others, it means … Things have changed so let’s look at how we can achieve what we have been doing in a changed context.

St. Jerome, realizing common folk no longer spoke Greek, devoted himself to translating the bible into Latin so that ordinary people could once again read what Jesus said. He made it possible to hear the word of God in the language of his day.

Back to Basics in Religion

Some would say that at the time of Jesus the Judaic tradition in many ways got lost in details. Ten commandments led to 613 commandments and untold legal commentaries. The emphasis seemed to be doing things in a certain way… the way we have always done things.

Along came Jesus and his radical “back to basics” summary of the whole law and prophets into two commandments… which were really just one… love. Love God and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.

His mission was to tell the poor that they mattered in God’s eyes just as much as the privileged class. He modeled this mutual concern in washing the feet of his disciples. He got back to the basics of loving God and your neighbor as yourself. He stressed this as the criteria for the last judgment.

Pope Francis’ version of back to basics

In his words and actions Pope Francis calls us back to the basics of Jesus’ vision. He has constantly lifted up the lowly and forgotten, given voice to all peoples in all corners of the world.

He is drawing us back from a “me and Jesus” approach prefigured by Cain who asked “Am I my brother’s keeper ?”

In the context of an industrialized and digital world, he is translating “love your neighbor as yourself”.

Pope Francis stands in the tradition of Pope Leo XIII who some 150 years ago emphasized getting back to basics in a new context. He wrote his landmark encyclical Rerum Novarum (“of new things”).

Since then various Popes have continued this trajectory especially in the month of December.

Each of these encyclicals, along with others and those of Pope Francis addressed the issues of loving our neighbor as ourselves in the context of an industrialized and increasingly digital world.

No wonder Superiors General have been calling Vincentians to become ‘experts’ in the social teaching of the church.

Loving God and neighbor in a new context

  • Do I recognize the difference between a “me and Jesus” approach to religon and that of the consistent recent social teaching of the church?
  • How can I become at least a practitioner if not also an expert?

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

Back to Basics