The Confession of the Pope Who Came From Afar
In an interview with the magazine of the Jesuits of Rome, Jorge Mario Bergoglio unravels the enigma of his silence on the anthropological revolution taking place. Which involves birth, death, procreation, the entire nature of man
by Sandro Magister
ROME, September 20, 2013 – In the twenty-eight pages of his interview with the director of “La Civiltà Cattolica” Antonia Spadaro, published simultaneously in sixteen other magazines of the Society of Jesus all over the world, there are two passages in which Pope Francis unravels one of the biggest enigmas of his pontificate.
That is, he explains why he has been so taciturn on questions on which his predecessor popes have clashed more vivaciously with the dominant culture.
The first of these passages is the following:
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church are not all equivalent. The Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus.
“We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
“I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing.”The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.”
The second revealing passage is sparked by this observation of pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio:
“Ours is not a ‘lab faith,’ but a ‘journey faith,’ a historical faith. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths.”
Father Spadaro writes:
“So I ask the pope if this also applies, and how, to an important cultural frontier which is that of the anthropological challenge. The anthropology to which the Church has traditionally referred and the language with which it has expressed it remain a solid point of reference, the fruit of age-old wisdom and experience. Nonetheless, the man to whom the Church addresses itself no longer seems to understand it or consider it sufficient. I begin to reason on the fact that man is interpreting himself in a manner different from that of the past, with different categories. And this also because of the great changes in society and a broader study of himself.
“At this point he gets up and goes to get the breviary from his desk. It is in Latin, now worn from use. He opens to the Office of Readings for Friday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time and reads me a passage from the Commonitorium Primum of St. Vincent of Lerins: ‘Ita etiam christianae religionis dogma sequatur has decet profectuum leges, ut annis scilicet consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate.’ (Even the dogma of the Christian religion must follow these laws, consolidating over the years, developing over time, deepening with age).”
The pope continues:
“St. Vincent of Lerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time. Here, human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth. Exegetes and theologians help the Church to mature in her own judgment.
“Even the other sciences and their development help the Church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the Church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.
“After all, in every age of history, humans try to understand and express themselves better. So human beings in time change the way they perceive themselves. It’s one thing for a man who expresses himself by carving the ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace,’ yet another for Caravaggio, Chagall and yet another still for Dalí. Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning.
“Humans are in search of themselves, and, of course, in this search they can also make mistakes. When does a formulation of thought cease to be valid? When it loses sight of the human or even when it is afraid of the human or deluded about itself. The deceived thought can be depicted as Ulysses encountering the song of the Siren, or as Tannhäuser in an orgy surrounded by satyrs and bacchantes, or as Parsifal, in the second act of Wagner’s opera, in the palace of Klingsor. The thinking of the Church must recover genius and better understand how human beings understand themselves today, in order to develop and deepen the Church’s teaching.”
From these arguments one gathers that Pope Francis is far from seeing in the modern-day cultural revolution the tremendous transition of civilization forcefully denounced by the popes who preceded him.
What prevails in Bergoglio is the idea that the new man who is moving forward, rather than harshly putting the Church to the test, is instead helping it to grow in understanding of the truth and to get rid of “ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now have lost value or meaning.”
How do we as Catholics weigh science, knowledge, and gained wisdom against our historical text which are arguably 1900 years old to 3600 years old? If we listen carefully to Pope Francis and our own intuitive prayer we recognize the bible may have been closed to edits, but our living interpretation of the bible, in light of revelations given to us by the sciences, arts, and experience, is indeed a living document. “Humans are in search of themselves, and, of course, in this search they can also make mistakes. When does a formulation of thought cease to be valid? When it loses sight of the human or even when it is afraid of the human or deluded about itself.” The attached article, if it teaches us anything, is humility and compassion when confronted by social issues that do not immediately conform to our understanding. Of course, it would be nice if non-catholics treated us the same way, but alas, catholics everyday face small and large persecution for our beliefs. Yet we are called to reach out beyond our insular catholic identity with love. Any contemplative theologian will tell you we know far less than we think we do about the ways of G-D, Jehovah, the Absolute Being. It is not easy being Catholic, but it can be easier if one is open to the challenges to our faith and our beliefs as the church grows in understanding. Of course, I can’t say it as concisely as Pope Francis says below:
The complete text of the interview with “La Civiltà Cattolica”:
The Canticle of Mary
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
The Mystical City of God by Venerable Mary of Agreda portrays the most holy Mary, child of Joachim and Anne, is given to prophetess Anne for teaching and preparation for providence, unknown at the time, that she would bear a child, the son of God, Jesus Christ . Historically, we have no idea of the names of Mary’s parents. The names are passed down to us by legend and tradition. Mary of Agreda gives a testimony in “Ciudad de Dios” of Mary’s preparation for conception some 1600 years later based on visions from Our Lady. The book has received the Imprimatur (blessing to be printed and nothing in it is opposed to Catholic teaching) and has been praised by many religious. The contemplative prayers of Venerable Mary of Agreda and writings can serve to bring us closer to God in our own prayers. May my imagination bring to life in prayer the lives of saints, martyrs, and villains so I may fully understand the spirit and way of holiness in my epoch of time, however brief my mortal self contains its presence and journey.
Chapter XIII of the Ascent of Mount Carmel details extreme detachment guidelines for entering the dark night for preparing for communion or union with God. Complete detachment is impossible, however, God’s mercy and love can bypass the gap. I must do what I can, however, and not abuse my status as guest in God’s house. “In this detachment the spiritual soul finds its quiet and repose; for, since it covets nothing, nothing wearies it when it is lifted up (by God’s grace), and nothing oppresses it when it is cast down, because it is in the centre of its humility; but when it covets anything, at that very moment it becomes weakened.”
This is a mortification of desires. In this chapter it deals with natural and unnatural desires as well as levels of desires (mortal sin, venial sin, habits that are lawful) that may take us away from spirit or are contrary to spirit. Even spiritual pursuit, if not conducted with humility and true intention can fall into trivial desires and folly. St. John says “The world is the enemy least difficult to conquer, the devil is the hardest to understand, but the flesh is the most tenacious, and its attacks continue as long as the old self last.”
Hence, many saints and religious have taken to, in addition to defeating internal desires, performing external mortification of the flesh. The safest and most effective form of this is fasting. For any pursuit, however, we most guard against seeking glory and martyrdom by public demonstration of such sacrifices. The articles below though council take care of your interior desires and prayer first! For most of us, that will take a life-time. http://www.religious-vocation.com/penance_and_mortification.html#.VZ70fflViko
May 24, 1996, a group of Islamic terrorists announced that they had “slit the throats” of seven French Trappist monks whom they had kidnapped from the monastery of Tibherine. Father Christian de Chergé, had left with his family this testament “to be opened in the event of my death.”
Christian’s entire letter can be read anywhere on the web. The story of Christian’s death and six other monks is now a novel and a movie.
While the book and movie provide serious entertainment, the value of human life, spirituality, humility, and martyrdom is called into the spotlight. Interfaith dialogue also has a significant role.
Christian, and his fellow monks, had given their lives to follow Christ. When danger was near they gave their actual lives, their flesh and body, they had passports and chose not to leave. As Christ chose to accept his destiny so did these Cistercian Monks. How have I accepted or not accepted my destiny? How many ways has God worked around me, inspite of me, and through me to deliver providentially his plans? Surely my failures and folly have at least served a few who can learn from my ways! I like the closing line, and may we find each other, happy good thieves, in paradise. Is any grace we receive not an aspect of thievery, for what do we have of any worth to purchase God’s blessing. Nothing at all in our possession can lay claim to entitlement. We are at the mercy of God’s good will and intentions being provided despite our inclination to turn towards evil or at least earthly, temporal things.
Below are some excerpts from Christian’s last letter:
If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a clear space which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.
I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if this people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder. It would be to pay too dearly for what will, perhaps, be called “the grace of martyrdom,” to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.
And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, for you also I wish this “thank you”—and this adieu—to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours.
And may we find each other, happy “good thieves,” in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen.
Translated by the Monks of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, Leicester, England.
Mission statement: “I am created to praise, love, and serve God.” Disordered loves and preoccupations clutter our lives. The grace we seek is indifference.
Prayer for the week: “I pray for the following graces: a deepening awareness of my fundamental vocation to praise, love, and serve God and others, a desire for greater indifference in my life; a willingness to embrace who I am before our loving God.”
It is against my nature, against man’s nature, to desire a greater indifference in our lives. I am goal directed, even in spiritual pursuit, I am goal directed with an individual will to achieve. Achievement is measured by attachments, sense of belonging, and yes, desires of the heart.
The grace I pray for is the grace of acceptance. The acceptance of my temporal existence in the flesh, of my lack of certainty of everlasting life in the spirit, my frailties and over attachment to things not worthy of such adoration, my clinging to sensations of the five senses that cloud achieving true openness to the divine.
I am here writing, seeking, with a lived experience of successes and failures in everyday life. They serve as an aide and a hinderance to this pursuit. I overvalue my own importance (whether narcissistic pride in accomplishments or grand martyrdom in failure) when reflecting on the past and overshadow my future with anxiety on where to go from here.
A willingness to embrace who I am before our loving God and accept divine providence and present moment, accept forgiveness and embrace, and seek discernment of God’s will going forward, leaving anxiety in the ashes of prayer will allow me to praise, love, and serve God.
My work is my vocation of serving God. My family is my vocation of serving God. My writing helps me examine my thoughts and attentions. My reading keeps me humbled and striving. Religious people, mass, Holy Communion, Pope Francis, and the mysteries of grace help me. Concretely, the things I can do daily is read scripture, pray, journal, and try to see the image of God within everyone I interact with, especially those who engender my worst cynicism and nature.
Other readings: Book of Genesis: Jacob and man/demon fight all night: Turns out to be God he wrestled with all night. In day he gets God’s blessing and a new name…Israel. He saw the face of God and lived. Have you ever wrestled with God? Today’s refection speaks about the humility and blessings of wrestling with one’s vocational discernment. Gn: 32: 23-33. MT 9:32-38.
The tight rope between Ezekiel’s description of dancing bones (37:7) as a “rattling of bones came together bone to bone” to the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Lucan Gospel, although laced together with scriptures all throughout the Old Testament and the Gospels, defies the imagination. Ezekiel prophesized a vision as follows: “So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.” This was to his people who were exiled and needed hope and vision of a glorious return. The improbability of the original vision is perhaps as challenging as the delivered savior: a suffering savior who dies to give us life and is resurrected corporately (for everyone), body and all. The faith of the exiled Israelites expecting a savior and the faith of the disciples when presented with a savior is not a given despite tangible “miracles” and visions.
In the Lucan gospel, the visitation to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, cannot discern Jesus Christ has joined them on the road in conversation. They do not recognize him until the act of breaking bread, which was preceded by scripture (revelation by Jesus though not discerned). The Gospel discusses that not all can see. Several accounts are given of the disciples themselves being in disbelief.
How than, can we in modern day believe? Is it not so much harder? The answer is no as we have the same tools of discernment as the disciples: scripture and breaking bread (receiving Jesus Christ). Scripture prepares the self with knowledge of God, breaking bread is accepting God’s gift of Jesus Christ sacrifice, and union with God is perfected in our pursuit of proximity to God and God’s providence. Man cannot discern God alone, in the past or in the present.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” Imagine having the choice to be baptized by John the Baptist on one side of the lake and Jesus of Nazareth on the other. Aside from this trivial imaginative dilemma, how can I diminish myself so that the spirit and grace of God may flourish within me? Self-preoccupation that I am susceptible to include excessive entertainment (desire for leisure, food, drink, vacation, gaming), anxiety about family well-being, finance and work projects. All of the latter are important – but in the end will my anxiety change anything more so than putting my faith in God’s hands and trusting in providence. Freeing myself for God’s will internally (reducing attachments) and externally (being available to others but guided by God’s intentions) requires a great deal of spiritual discernment and prayer.