“The Church of Mercy with Pope Francis” (cont'd)
2.3. The Finish Point: The Church of Mercy
We walk as Church towards a deep and global renovation. [I think “renewal” is what he means.] For this renovation to be sincerely Catholic, it must encompass all of the historical dimensions of the Church.
Specifically, there is no true ecclesial renovation without a transformation of the institutions [Here he begins to say things that seem to contradict what he has already established. Especially, it’s not at all clear what it might mean to “transform” the essential institutions of the Church – namely, the hierarchical-apostolic order, the organization into dioceses/parishes/religious houses, and all that serves the sacramental and pastoral care of souls – in any sense that would remain “Catholic.”]; of the quality and focus of the activities; of the mystic and the spiritual. Usually, renovation begins with pastoral activities. For it is there where the inconsistencies of a certain “model” of the Church and reality are primarily experienced. The missionaries, the evangelists on the “margins” of the Church, are the first ones to notice the insufficiency of the “traditional” ways of action; the pastoral criticism begins with the experience of the mission in the “peripheries.” Changes and adjustments begin there. [This, too, is curious, because the “margins” of the Church (Asia, Africa, the pro-life movement, the pro-traditional-liturgy movement, etc.) seem quite consistently to want something much different than this next paragraph calls for:]
After Vatican Council II, the methods and content of evangelization and Christian education change [not always for the better]. The liturgy changes: local languages are adopted, some rituals and symbols change, measurements are taken for a greater participation, etc. The missionary perspective changes: the missionary must know the culture, the human situation; the missionary must establish an evangelizing dialogue with those realities. “Social action” changes, it is no longer just charity and development services but also struggle for justice, human rights and liberation… [Some notable false dichotomies in here. One thinks, e.g., of the first generation of Jesuit missionaries in Asia in the 16th century, of whom it certainly could not be said that they did not learn and value the culture, the language, the people, etc.; nor is “the struggle for justice, human rights, and liberation” a new thing in the Church in the later 20th century. But since these efforts have always been there, too, this paragraph implies either a repudiation of the Church before Vatican II, or a confusion about what the Church did for its mission in previous generations. In either case, it is quite superficial and misleading to present it in this manner.]
For Christian coherency, certain institutional and organizational changes are contemplated simultaneously: new functions require new suitable institutions. [Again, it’s not at all clear what “new functions” he means.]
The Council propelled institutional renovations, following the logic of the Spirit. [Note the dangerous implication that the Church before the Council was not following the same logic.] These reforms encompass all levels of the ecclesial organization: the religious congregations or missionary societies —whose “Chapters of Renovation” multiply— the diocesan and Vatican Curia, Episcopal Conferences, the Synods, the parishes, the pastoral areas, the presbyteries, the lay apostolic institutions, the teaching of theology, the seminaries, the catholic schools… New institutions for missionary dialogue emerge: ecumenism, Jews, other religions… Everything in the Church changes consistent with a renewed pastoral model. [Exaggeration for effect? Clearly, not everything in the Church changes. But it’s important to note, I think, what he’s eliding here by implication, namely, the apostolic and sacramental order labelled “Tradition.” This therefore could be taken to contradict what he sketched out in Part I, above.]
Maybe some thought that the Church renovation was only that. But the institutional and functional changes —alone in themselves— proved insufficient, superficial. [This language becomes quite dangerous. Note how he now implicitly pits “the Church before the Council” and “the Church after the Council” against each other, in just the manner Pope Benedict taught must not be done (e.g., in the 2005 Christmas address to the Curia).] Sometimes they created new problems and crises both unnecessary and deep. Any change in the Church eventually requires considering a renovation of the motivations that the new options inspire. Without deep-rooted, living and explicit motivations, no human group, no institution and no society can survive for a long time, much less renovate itself. Motivations answer to the fundamental “why” of the options, the enterprises, the demands, and the same reason for being of the institution.
The Pope wants to take this Church renovation to the point where it becomes irreversible. The wind that propels the sails of the Church towards the open sea of its deep and total renovation is Mercy.
For the Church, the motivations are more than essential; they are its identity stamp. The “why” of its organization and its action cannot be decisively explained by the human sciences or the pure historical rationality: they refer to Jesus and his Gospel as the global, indispensable and predominant motivation. It is the motivation of the Spirit. Therefore, to speak of motivations in Christianity is to speak of the mystical, of spirituality. [Right. In Part I, he seemed to agree that it is of the essence of the Church founded by Christ that this “why” goes to the reception of grace/mercy and the journey of conversion, via Scripture and Tradition, the Sacraments, and the works of mercy. Now, he’s hinting at some new “why,” some new relationship in the Church between “mercy” and “concrete love,” that would change the essential shape of Tradition.]
The institutional and functional renovation of the Church requires a renovation of its mystical dimension. And at the roots of the mystical is mercy.
2.4 The Maternal Heart of Mercy
Catholic spirituality in history, due to its same incarnate nature, never takes place as an “activity” isolated from the pastoral, the theological, the social and the cultural conditions. [That’s certainly true of the Sacraments, too.] Since one of its dimensions —it is not the only one— is to motivate believers to follow of Jesus. This following acquires renovated nuances, demands and topics consistent with the mission and with the human experience of the believers. While the life of Christ and the Gospels are always the same, the experiences and the options that inspire are always historical. [What does this mean for Tradition?]
Spirituality is not a science nor one more praxis in the Church. It is the “nourishment” of the pastoral, the theology and the community, whatever their “model” is. [But in this broad sense, “spirituality” must be unchanging, part of what comes to the Church immediately from God. He seemed to accept this in Part I, but now he seems to contradict himself.]
When this was forgotten by the process of ecclesial renovation, [I’m guessing he missed the implication here that it was not forgotten by the Church before the Council...] this caused “schizophrenia” in some Christians, which is one of the causes of many failures. In a short time, they progressed in all of the levels of the renovation. They changed many pastoral, theological, and disciplinary categories. The image and the mission of the Church changed. Likewise, its concept that related faith with history and society changed; therefore the social and political options became more important.
In this context, there was no mystical renovation and it remained “traditional,” consistent with another vision of the faith and of the mission, and inconsistent with the new ecclesial experiences. [And there it is: “traditional” = “bad.” Notice how he now elides Tradition by labeling it merely “another vision of the faith the mission” – as if the fundamental orientation of the Church were so malleable! Again, in his argument in Part I, he seemed to accept Tradition; now, he is claiming that “traditional” spirituality, rooted in the “traditional” understanding of Scriptures, apostolicity, sacramentality, devotions, etc., is no longer fit for the Church. So, either this section of the essay is confused and unhelpful, or else his real argument is this: If our fundamental spiritual “experience” and “vision” remains that of the Apostles, the Fathers, and the Councils, then we are “schizophrenic” and “inconsistent!”]
In this context, a spirituality does not motivate, it becomes irrelevant. It ends up being perceived as a useless appendix and ends up being abandoned, since a mystic that does not nourish the human experience stops having meaning; a spirituality that is foreign to the ecclesial model that is being lived leads to the crisis of the Christian “schizophrenia.” Many abandonments of the ecclesial life, and even of the faith, are rooted there. [Even granting this “being foreign to the ecclesial model” to be true (which I don’t), this does not follow:] The only answer is not in abandoning all mystic or reversing the renovation of the institutions or options (due to fear of a collapse of the Christian values), but in deeply renovating the faith and spirituality starting from love to reach mercy. [Assuming he really means what he says here, this is an extraordinarily sweeping claim. He’s saying that the “traditional” model of the Church, and the spirituality that underpins it, do not “start from love to reach mercy.” So the whole of Church history, all the works of all the great saints and mystics of the past, the whole sacramental order and experience of the Church for 19 centuries, that was not really what God intended for the Church. But now, somehow, almost ex nihilo, suddenly this tiny handful of people understand everything better and clearer than all the doctors of the Church and the whole of the faithful...] That is what the Pope wants. [And just in case you’re not convinced, he pulls out the argument from authority. The (current) Pope is claimed to want it, so it must be right.]
In that regard, on July 28, 2013, Pope Francis said (speech): “She gives birth, suckles, gives growth, corrects, nourishes and leads by the hand… So we need a church capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy. Without mercy we have little chance nowadays of becoming part of a world of ‘wounded’ persons in need of understanding, forgiveness and love.” [This quote doesn’t support what he claims. Since “the Church is always in need of renewal,” the Pope is quite correct (in that sense) to say this; but such “rediscovery” means a return to what the Church has always done, in evangelical and apostolic integrity, not a substitution of some new ecclesial vision for the “traditional” one.]
On December 9, 2014, at the Chapel of the Santa Marta Guest House I heard the Pope say loud and clear what I will share now: “I ask myself, what is the consolation of the Church? [2 Cor 1:3-5 - he paraphrases thus:] Just as an individual is consoled when he feels the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord, the Church rejoices and is happy when she goes out of herself [offering the same mercy and forgiveness to those who long, even inchoately, for reconciliation with God; as said above, this ultimately leads to full sacramental participation.]. In the Gospel, the pastor who goes out goes to seek the lost sheep – he could keep accounts like a good businessman. [He could say]: ‘Ninety-nine sheep, if I lose one, it’s no problem; the balance sheet – gains and losses. But it’s fine, we can get by.’ No, he has the heart of a shepherd, he goes out and searches for [the lost sheep] until he finds it, and then he rejoices, he is joyful.”
“When the Church does not do this [Has there ever been a time or place when the Church, qua Church, has not done this? Or does he mean, when the members of the Church don’t?], then the Church stops herself, is closed in on herself, even if she is well organized, has a perfect organizational chart, everything’s fine, everything’s tidy – but she lacks joy, she lacks peace, and so she becomes a disheartened Church, anxious, sad, a Church that seems more like a spinster than a mother, and this Church doesn’t work, it is a Church in a museum. The joy of the Church is to give birth [i.e., to new disciples]; the joy of the Church is to go out of herself to give life [i.e., by those new disciples’ sacramental participation and sharing in the mission]; the joy of the Church is to go out to seek the sheep that are lost; the joy of the Church is precisely the tenderness of the shepherd, the tenderness of the mother.”
“May the Lord give us the grace of working, of being joyful Christians in the fruitfulness of Mother Church, and keep us from falling into the attitude of these sad Christians, impatient, disheartened, anxious, that have all the perfection in the Church, but do not have ‘children.’ [This is good. As disciples, any of us might experience discouragement and loss of zeal, and we need this prayer continually.] May the Lord console us with the consolation of a Mother Church that goes out of herself and consoles us with the consolation of the tenderness of Jesus and His mercy in the forgiveness of our sins.” [Again, these words of Pope Francis do not support the supposed argument about Tradition the Cardinal is possibly trying to make. The Pope is saying that we’re not good enough disciples, that we’re distracted by all kinds of weakness and sin from carrying out the mission of the Church consistently. That’s true and always has been, and yet God works through us in spite of it. This is quite a “traditional” thing to say. But it doesn’t follow from this that “traditional” spirituality is faulty or inadequate.]
These are words accompanied by gestures of the Pope that speak of coherence. His actions and his harmony with those who need consolation are small pieces of encyclicals, they are itinerant “Pope Magisterium,” [Argument from authority again. Moreover, if Pope Francis’s “gestures” and “small pieces of encyclicals” constitute this “itinerant papal Magisterium,” then so, logically, did those of Pope Benedict XVI, Pope St. John Paul II, and all the popes... which obviously leads to conflicting claims and irreconcilable differences within the Magisterium. So this becomes a reductio ad absurdum, and is clearly not tenable. See LG #22, 25; Heb 13:9; Mt 7:15; etc.] they are prophetic gestures that arouse admiration and cause the holy emulation of what he does, because he does it as Christ did and Peter summarizes it at Cornelius’ house: “He went about doing good” (Acts 10: 38).