FRESH AIR! BREATHE DEEP!
I want to tempt you to read this column by Michael Gerson. He is a columnist with the Washington Post and his undergraduate degree is from Wheaton College. A start? Okay, read these three quotes from the following column of his… then if you dare, continue – read the column… some thoughts at the end:
“When we see his image even partially reflected in another human being, it appeals beyond every political division. When we see his image even partially reflected in the church he founded, true authority returns.”
“The Catholic tradition, from catacombs to cathedrals, is filled with potent symbols. There is the cross, the fish, the dove and the lamb. There is Mary’s blue, the purple of penance, and the red of martyrs’ blood. Francis excels at the symbolism of humility. He lives in a two-room apartment, dresses in simple white, and speaks in direct, colloquial language. His assistant is reputed to carry a cellphone, making the pope callable, maybe.”
“Here is the Vatican’s account of one papal sermon: “When the Church wants to throw its weight around and sets up organizations, and sets up offices and becomes a bit bureaucratic, the Church loses its principal substance and runs the risk of turning itself into an NGO (nongovernmental organization). And the Church is not an NGO. It is a love story.”
Pope Francis Lets Fresh Air into the Vatican
Michael Gerson, Washington Post, published in the New Orleans Times Picayune 7 June 2013
We tend to remember leaders in characteristic poses. For Pope Benedict XVI, the college professor, it was delivering a much-misunderstood lecture at the University of Regensburg, which made controversial reference to Islam. For Pope Francis, it is kneeling to wash the feet of a young Muslim woman in a prison on Holy Thursday. With due respect to Benedict’s learning, Francis’ symbolic act managed to more effectively communicate the essence of the Christian gospel.
The Catholic tradition, from catacombs to cathedrals, is filled with potent symbols. There is the cross, the fish, the dove and the lamb. There is Mary’s blue, the purple of penance, and the red of martyrs’ blood. Francis excels at the symbolism of humility. He lives in a two-room apartment, dresses in simple white, and speaks in direct, colloquial language. His assistant is reputed to carry a cellphone, making the pope callable, maybe.
Francis has not yet issued sweeping declarations. But his symbolism has begun seeping into substance. He seeks a simpler church, more closely identified with the poor. And he sounds like an institutional reformer. Here is the Vatican’s account of one papal sermon: “When the Church wants to throw its weight around and sets up organizations, and sets up offices and becomes a bit bureaucratic, the Church loses its principal substance and runs the risk of turning itself into an NGO (nongovernmental organization). And the Church is not an NGO. It is a love story.”
In the context of American Catholicism, the left naturally finds this heartening. Francis is not on the verge of ordaining women priests, but a reforming pope legitimizes the idea of reform. And he is also an enthusiastic critic of capitalist excess. Yet much of the American Catholic right has also welcomed the fresh air of Francis’ style, while emphasizing his complete faithfulness to traditional church teaching.
Some of this good feeling is the traditional, optimistic attempt of partisans to impute their own priorities to a yet unformed papacy. But there seems to be something deeper at work. The problems of the Catholic Church — from abuse scandals to corruption in the Roman Curia — seem so large that other disputes have been marginalized. If Francis’ touch can stop the hemorrhage of ecclesiastical authority, both left and right seem prepared to set aside some old arguments. The result is an outbreak of patience and generosity of spirit.
Many non-Catholics have found the new pope’s social teaching contradictory and confusing. Sometimes he sounds like a Latin American lefty, calling for “social justice” and criticizing “selfish profit.” Sometimes he is defiantly unmodern on matters sexual. The American media have struggled to find and apply a simple ideological label — apparently their main journalistic calling.
But this is not really Francis’ problem. He holds a doctrine identical to his predecessors’, and equally misunderstood when they taught it. Catholic social thought is not explainable in terms of left and right. Nor is it a moderate compromise between them. It starts from an entirely different premise.
Both American liberalism and conservatism put a priority on negative rights — the freedom from external restraint. For some, this means unrestricted social autonomy and choice; for others, unrestricted economic liberty. Catholic social doctrine asserts that human beings have moral and social natures, and that true freedom is found in their fulfillment. Men and women are liberated by ethical behavior; their happiness is completed in family and community; and all who share a community are diminished when any are destitute and hopeless. This perspective is fundamentally at odds with moral relativism and economic libertarianism. It transcends our ideological debates, and challenges all sides of them.
Pope Francis, however, is adding something to this teaching — without which, it means little. “This guy,” says Stephen Schneck of Catholic University, “seems to be trying to be like Jesus, the image of Jesus in the Gospels.” The one who brought good tidings to the poor, bound up the brokenhearted and proclaimed liberty to the captives.
Whatever your view of Christianity, the example of Jesus remains one of history’s most surprising constants. A man who never wrote a word, who spent three years teaching in an obscure corner of a vanished empire, still stirs the deepest longings of the human heart. When we see his image even partially reflected in another human being, it appeals beyond every political division. When we see his image even partially reflected in the church he founded, true authority returns.
Some things to Ponder:
We often have a hard time “explaining” what it is we do in Communitas. It’s so intangible, so not noteworthy. BUT Francis captures the essence of THE Saint – Francis. This humility, this deference, this love without argument to win – this is what we do. As Gerson states, “When we see His image even partially reflected in the church He founded…. For us, this humility earns respect from the drug dealer, the pimp, the whore, the gay couple, the atheist antagonist, the apathetic, the moral irrelevantists, the pagan, the debaucherous.
Some may feel literally something like this: “Why in the hell do you care to win their favor? They are sinners – unrepentant, rebellious, etc…”. It’s simple. Jesus hung out with exactly these people. The more He hung out with them, the more they told their friends and the more of them came around. Whatever He chatted with them about, He did not win arguments and make them mad, or alienate them, or attack them. People don’t do well with that. Yet, when He hung out with religious people – hung up on the behavior (means) instead of the end (Christ, the Father, the Spirit), He said things that hacked them off, some of them until they manipulated the crowds, the Roman Procurator and saw that He was legally murdered by the state with the Religious elites’ blessing and approval.
Funny that… It’s more the imitation of Christ – not the powerful pubic display that wins hearts. Our experience is that the lost, the pagans LONG for us to actually give them hope and imitate Christ. Today I was with a guy who’s been on drugs, sold drugs, been to multiple high schools, and his girl friend is in a profession you would not approve of. Yet, we had a great time, I listened to his challenges and indictments on the church… I agreed with some of it. Yet, he had no complaint against Christ. Maybe if I just love this guy unconditionally…??? Maybe if I just imitate Jesus???
I have a vision of a church filled with the people that would make almost every American Christian squirm… Meals every time we’re together… broken fallen people every where, but where the wildest card is welcome. I know – fear of loss of control… Maybe that’s the problem – we keep trying to be in control?