“The Church of Mercy with Pope Francis” (cont'd)
3. To Bear Witness to God’s Mercy is to Commit to Man
The best testimony of charity and mercy is found especially in the saints, in their high level of Christian life and in the maturity of the live idea of God [True; but, their witness is also witness to “traditional” spirituality, and the apostolic and sacramental order inherent in the Church. To invoke them is to defend that “traditional” spirituality which he seems want to change, and thus undermines his putative argument.]. The God loved and worshiped by saints reveals Himself gradually along with the fidelity and contemplative growth of the believer [“no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Luke 10: 22)].
The biblical God is not the God of Theodicy or of pure rationality [Not sure what he means by this. Does he mean this in a “traditional” way, namely, that, while our reason applied to the created world can find evidence that reveals God’s nature as Creator, reason alone cannot know God without the gift of faith? Or does he mean something else, such as that “traditional” theology (often disparagingly called “onto-theology” should be rejected as “triumphalist” and “domesticating” of God?]: it is a God that has to be found, that has to be received as a gift and as a revelation. It is a different God… The Christian God is not exactly the God of the philosophers, of the logic and of the Theists. [Augustine and Aquinas, e.g., would certainly agree with this.] Just believing in God does not make you a Christian. [“Faith without works is dead.”] A Christian is someone who has discovered the biblical God; the God of Abraham, of Moses, of the Prophets, that revealed Himself in plenitude in the God of Jesus. [I assume he does not mean to imply, by the parallelism (God of Abraham = God of Moses = God of Jesus), that Jesus is not God.] Through the history of Salvation, there is a gradual revelation of the face of the true and only God [i.e., Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who gave us the Church and the Sacraments as the primary means of salvation, and sends thereby the Holy Spirit to unite us to Himself and the Father]. The way of the Church’s pastoral conversion today is to guide individuals and cultures through that gradual revelation, though in different contexts and experiences. [This is a false dichotomy, if meant in contradistinction to some “traditional” method of pastoral conversion, imagined not to introduce to others that same face of God in Jesus Christ through appropriate contexts and experiences.] Nothing reveals God more than love. Therefore, Pope Francis says (speech of November 14, 2013) that, “The Church’s primary task is to bear witness to the mercy of God and to encourage generous reactions of solidarity in order to open a future of hope. For where hope increases, energy and commitment to building a more human and just social order also grows, and new possibilities for sustainable and healthy development emerge.”
3.1 Full-Time Christians
In the Family Synod (October 2014) something notable happened for the first time: [What he describes here is exactly what Pope Benedict described having happened at Vatican II (e.g., again, the 2005 Christmas address, and elsewhere). So this dichotomy of “two synods” is hardly the “first time.” Is he ignorant or forgetful of Pope Benedict’s remarks, or is he implicitly contradicting and rejecting them?] There were like two Synods because outside the precinct where the Synod Fathers were gathered, there was a media Synod that denoted a perverse intention to confuse opinions, invent answers, imagine solutions and exaggerate positions of those of us gathered there; instead, inside the working room a charismatic, serene, cordial, filled-with-unction-and-faith synod was taking place, seeking to agree and to answer the essential issues of family and marriage.
Many [in the false, media synod] identified as the unique and fundamental topic, issues that were merely secondary. For example, we did not talk only about giving “communion” to re-married Christians —that was a collateral argument, it was never essential. What was really said, and I repeat and emphasize, is that the realities of dissolved and rebuilt families are not an impediment to live and participate in the abundant life of the Church; that the “sacramental communion” is not the only way to vitally participate in the pastoral dynamic of the parish community and that every Christian couple that seeks God will find Him because he allows Himself to be found and that every re-married Christian can be a full-time Christian, has a right to be happy, and his house can become also a place where the love of God is born witness. [Well, yes, but... this should not be taken in a sense which downplays the uniqueness of the Eucharist. There are many reasons why one might refrain from approaching Holy Communion at any given time, and such experiences indeed do not prevent the love of God from indwelling in us; but at the same time, it remains true that participation in the Holy Eucharist is the “source and summit,” and therefore the ideal, of the Christian life, toward which we are meant to strive. If it lies within our power to remove an obstacle to our reception of Holy Communion, and we refuse to do so, are we not rejecting thereby the fullness of God’s love for us? We must not take a complacent or minimalist attitude about our total union with Christ.]
For me, there is no “place in the basement” of the Church for Catholics that have wanted to rebuild their lives having remarried, though they cannot receive the Sacrament of Communion; there is no corner in attic for migrants that do not have documents in order and want to prepare their children in the sacraments of Christian Initiation; there is no special window in Heaven to assist those who have left the Catholic Church and have gone to other places seeking the warmth, refuge and respect that their mother has not been able to provide. [I think this is basically correct (Mt 23:4, Col 3:13, Eph 4:2).]
All these are challenges to our conscience and a strong and tough demand to our parish practices that are so rigid and narrow-minded. [Indeed, it is possible that we fail to live up to these high standards of radical love, and that we fail to evangelize and to foster faith in others. And some of the ways in which we can so fail might well be called “rigid” or “narrow-minded.” However, if he means here to identify “rigid and narrow-minded” with “traditionalist,” as above, then he’s going too far.] That is why the Pope said to be careful not to turn the parish and episcopal offices into “customs.” And he is completely right. (Santa Marta, May 25, 2013). To remember the whole message, I quote: “We are many times ‘controllers of faith,’ instead of becoming ‘facilitators’ of the faith of the people,” lamented the Pope during his daily mass at Santa Marta’s Guest House in the Vatican. In his homily that was broadcasted by Vatican Radio, the Argentine Pope mentioned a priest who refused to baptize the son of a single mother, “this girl who had the courage to carry her pregnancy (…) and what does she find? A closed door,” affirmed the Pope. [We need to know more about this anecdote before we can conclude that this priest acted “rigidly” or “narrow-mindedly.” Just by itself, the quote does not demonstrate what he claims.]
Nobody is excluded from the Church of Christ. [True, but many people exclude themselves by rejecting God’s mercy, love, and grace.] There is a place for everybody, for the migrants, for those who one day abandoned the Church but come back convinced that they can stay forever, for those married-divorced-remarried, for the poor, for everybody. Within these categories fall those that Francis calls “the least”, when he encourages: “The Church must step outside herself. To go where? To the outskirts of existence, whatever they may be. If we step outside ourselves we find poverty. We cannot put up with this! We cannot become starched Christians, those over-educated Christians who speak of theological matters as they calmly sip their tea. [Another false dichotomy. Although his exhortation to embrace the mission is sound, the contrasting of “education” with “courage” is belied by, say, St. Dominic, etc.] No! We must become courageous Christians and go in search of the people who are the very flesh of Christ, those who are the flesh of Christ! (Vigil of Pentecost, May 18, 2013).
3.2 The Culture of Good
The Pope’s words sounded strong when he said, “Be men and women with others and for others: true champions at the service of others” (December 2, 2013). [Another “traditional” exhortation.] Following this, the Holy Father tells us something fundamental, three points that I want to share with you today to finish my talk here: [First point: importance of public Christian witness to mercy, love, hope] “In your society, which is deeply marked by secularization, I encourage you also to be present in the public debate, in all the areas where man is at issue, to make God’s mercy and his tenderness for every creature visible.” Yes, dear Friends, let it be a task and commitment for you to work courageously and heroically “where man is at issue.” Only in that manner will we bear witness of God’s mercy, the mercy that is love —and love that begins at home. [His three points here returns to the tenor of Part I, above, which seems quite orthodox, but now there is a deep, ambiguous tension in his words. Does he mean this conclusion in a “traditional” way, with the apostolic and sacramental commitments thus implied, or is he evoking some “new” ecclesial vision and order?]
[Second point: importance of strong spiritual foundations] The incarnate aspect of spirituality, turning life into a transcendental humanism according to the Spirit, is what lays the foundation for the Christian mystic. [Are we to take this in continuity or in rupture with the great spiritual masters?] It is focused on the search for God through Jesus, but also focused on man and the search for fraternal love. It lives in the hope that the Kingdom will have no end but it centers completely on the tasks of a Kingdom in history and in society. It receives faith as a gift from God, irrepressible to any human experience, but it knows that faith takes diverse shapes [“unity in diversity” has always been acceptable; but there are limits, since some diversities do indeed break the unity] and demands according to the cultures, the challenges of society and the individual commitment, and that all human or Christian commitment must also be a place of the experience of God.
[Third point: priority of the “preferential option for the poor”] Since certainly, the privileged “place” in which Christ’s Mercy becomes incarnate and becomes practice is in the love for the brothers and sisters, and in the preferential love for the poor and the suffering. The temporal reality that summarizes all the incarnations of the mystic, all the realism of the Christian spirit, and that gathers all the demands of the practice of the faith and love, is the brother, is the poor. [Are we meant to take this in continuity with the “traditional” understanding of the Great Commandment, or as a “new” understanding? How does this understanding of love of neighbor relate to the traditional understanding of the love of God?] The God hiding in the faces of our brothers is the supreme experience of incarnation and to practice mercy is its definitive stamp because “mercy is the true force that can save man and the world” (September 15, 2013). [Again, continuity or rupture?]
[Overall, this essay is pretty forceful and coherent, but it has a significant issue in the middle. Part I and the first two sections of Part 2 are clear and reasonable. He does not directly contradict anything in the Church’s traditional understanding of Scripture, Tradition, mission, vocation, or evangelization. However, one must supply the full understanding of these topics. The absence of any mention of the place of the Sacraments becomes striking in the middle of the essay. In this sense, in the last two sections of Part 2 (2.3 and 2.4), when dealing explicitly with the “traditional” Church and the changes following Vatican II, he seems strongly to take the position of the “hermeneutic of rupture,” rejected by Pope Benedict XVI (and Pope St. John Paul II). His language is vague and his meanings remain rather uncertain. It is difficult to understand what he could mean if his vision is not essentially that of the hermeneutic of rupture, but it is also difficult to know clearly what he means even within that point of view. His arguments in this section remain unconvincing, especially the flawed argument from authority. In the final section of the essay (Part 3), his failure to mention the sacramental economy as the primary avenue of mercy for the Church and the world in the beginning of the essay, along with the appearance of taking the hermeneutic-of-rupture position in the middle of the essay, introduces a devastating ambiguity into his conclusions. The reader no longer knows how to understand what is being put forth. The language and content seem to hew close to the Church’s proper understanding of the topics at issue, but we cannot be certain that he means the same things by these same words.
The best reading of the essay, then, I would suggest, is to set aside the unconvincing middle section, and to embrace the hermeneutic of continuity at least implicitly taken in the beginning. By this reading, the conclusion becomes a straightforward, fairly strong and urgent, exhortation to deepen our missionary zeal, and to work more to overcome the various obstacles to the spread of the Gospel that our own weakness, sins, and particular historical/cultural blind spots might impose.]