Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, "Church of Mercy of Pope Francis," response in several parts - Part One

Oscar Andres Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga speaking at SCU
(photo from the Markkula Center's website)
Last week, at Santa Clara University, at teh Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga gave a talk on "The Church of Mercy of Pope Francis."  He is an important figure these days, being not only the cardinal archbishop of Tegulchigalpa (capital of Honduras) and president of the Church's charity arm Caritas Internationalis, but also member and chairman of Pope Francis's special council of cardinal-advisors.  His talk in the USA was therefore a notable Church happening.

Santa Clara was good enough to publish the text of his essay.  In the spirit of fraternal dialogue, I offer a thoughtful and, I hope, constructive response.  The published text is in black, [with my comments in red, inserted].  The essay is somewhat long, so I'm breaking it into several parts, following the sections in the original.  Here is Part One of my response.

“The Church of Mercy with Pope Francis”

1. The Gospel is summarized in love


Fraternal love has its origins in God, who is Love and that loved us first. [Yes, quite so.] He spreads his love unto us, through the Holy Spirit [By what means?  See below...], so that, in each of us, that love can grow, mature and resemble true love —the love with which Christ loved us.


If we are able to love, it is because God communicates his love to us. If we can love, it is due to Christ’s death for love and His resurrection, which have made love possible [not only by imitation, but especially by participation; the Sacraments make us capable of loving like Christ – see LG #11; CCC 150, 221-227, 654, etc.  This critical understanding of “divine love” is consistently elided in this essay.]. This love of Jesus is the measure [and “source and summit”] of love. The Christian ideal surpasses [precisely in sacramental participation, without which it remains merely “humanistic”] the pure humanism of interpersonal equality ("don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you; do unto others what you want others to do unto you"), and pushes us to love as Christ loved us. Therefore love’s growth has no limits in our life. That is why learning to love is the great task of Christian spirituality, always unfinished. [So there is a necessary supernatural element in human love which participates in Christ’s perfect love.]


Sometimes there is the risk of focusing spirituality on other goals, other values, and not giving supremacy to the Beatitude of Mercy [“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”]. This Beatitude teaches us that according to the Gospel, it is both solidarity and commitment of efficient love towards the brother in need and suffering misery, and the forgiveness of offenses and the reconciliation.


Mercy is the practice of fraternal love, and it shows us the concrete ways of the incarnation of love: the reconciliation and the liberation from miseries. [But also in a supernatural sense; therefore liberation from spiritual miseries (i.e. sins and the effects of sin) is also always central to the presence of divine mercy in the world, i.e., the mission of the Church.]  Jesus’ teachings reveal to us that practicing mercy is the only universal way that builds fraternity (that makes us brothers and sisters to one another). [True and full fraternity is unity in the Church; see LG #2, #13 – “All men are called to belong to the new people of God...”]  That is the message of The Parable of the Good Samaritan, which is the parable of the true practice of mercy and fraternal love (Luke 10: 25-37). At the end of the parable, Jesus asks the experts in the law, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor (brother) to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10: 30). It means that the three were not brothers of the wounded. They could have been, but in fact “the one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10: 37) was. The priest was not a brother of the Jew and neither was the Levite, the Samaritan was. For Jesus being a brother to others is not something “automatic,” like an acquired right [because of the reality of sin]. We are not brothers without practicing love. Saint Paul reminds us that we gain nothing if we serve the poor or surrender to martyrdom if we do not have love (I Cor. 13: 1 et seq.)


[This paragraph is very good:] Regarding the commandment of growing in love, we must acknowledge that we do not know how to love. [Again, he’s invoking the reality of sin.]  Our love is usually a caricature (Rom. 12: 9: “let love be genuine”). Our selfishness, our worries and our sensitivity take us over. Nevertheless we know that fraternal charity is the most difficult Christian and human realization: to be able to love as Christ loves us. [This is what we’re striving for in the whole of the spiritual life, and why we need constant recourse to the grace of the sacraments, and to deeper prayer.]  We know that on Earth we will never reach the perfection of love; we know that we will continually fail, that we do not know how to overcome division and rancor, that every day we are timid in serving, in welcoming, in forgiving and in giving something of our lives for others. All this does not mean that we do not want to love or that in fact we do not love. Love is the way of love, to love is to want to love. What God asks of us, essentially, is not the success of charity but the permanent effort to grow in love and the struggle to learn to love, which begins every day. In the struggle to mature in love, the “human” and “evangelical” aspect of love walk together hand in hand, without ruptures or contradictions.


There is no separation between human love and Christian charity. [True; but there is the distinction, already noted above, between natural and supernatural realities.]  There should not be in practice a quandary between evangelization and social action born out of charity. The commandment of love that Christ gave us coincides with the vocation of man to grow affectionately, to give and give oneself above receiving and possessing.


Indeed, the mission, the mercy and the service to the poor and to all brothers as a human and missionary experience must be a place of discovery of God, of greater knowledge of the face of God. God’s Spirit reveals Himself in the values of self-giving and service, the aspirations to justice and solidarity, in each conversion, in the “little ones”, the suffering and the indigent… Human reality, cultures, are filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit and the action of God that builds the Kingdom; they lead us to experience God Himself. [This is all quite true, but again, must not be taken in a sense which denies that the Sacraments are also encounters with God, or that drives any kind of wedge between prayer/liturgy/sacrament and charity/social action; see below...]


The social dimension of the mission implies becoming “contemplative in the action.” Both dimensions of the evangelist’s spirituality are inseparable: The God that is experienced and loved in Himself and through himself, and the God experienced and loved in the brothers. The first dimension underlines that Christianity is transcendental to any temporal reality; the second dimension highlights that Christianity is incarnated and inseparable from the love to the brother. The first one reminds us of the first commandment to love God above everything else, and the absolute of the person of Jesus. The second one reminds us of the commandment similar to the first one, to love your neighbor as yourself and the presence of Christ in that love. [I like his stress on the inseparability of these two dimensions.  This is all quite true.]


The Christ found and contemplated in the prayer of the faithful “prolongs itself” in the encounter with the brother, and if we are able to experience Christ in the service to the “little ones,” it is because we have already found Him in the contemplative prayer [and the Sacraments; or rather, because He has found us (Jn 15:16)]. Social charity is not only to discover Jesus’ presence in the brother (“you do it to me”), but also a call to action in his favor, a call to commitment. That is why if we evangelize with Christ in our hearts, we will do the works he did. [“Having Christ in our heart” is not a feeling or a choice we make, but only ever a response to His love and mercy we have received – the response of faith, which, he’s just been stressing, comprises inseparably the love of God (Church and Sacraments, etc) and the love of neighbor (vocation and mission).]


Jesus certainly has widened the horizon and the demands of love and has given it new motives and meaning. But his demands for evangelical charity take place and develop in the interior of human love, the emotional nature and the heart, though they are surpassed by the faith and action of the Holy Spirit. (For which fraternal love it is not always sensitive and gratifying). We learn to love following Jesus through love. Once more, he shows us the true practice of love, and communicates to us the light and life to be able to love like he loved us and to be able to evangelize as he did.

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