Monday, March 25, 2013

Letter of then-Cardinal Bergoglio to Catechists of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires

See my comments at the end.

On August 21, 2012, the feast of St. Pius X

“In those days, Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.”  (Lk 1:39)

Dear catechists,

It has been a custom now for many years that I write you a letter around the feast of Saint Pius X. In this way I wish to greet you on his day, thank you for your quiet, faithful work each week, for your ability to be Good Samaritans who offer hospitality out of faith, by being familiar faces and dear hearts that make it possible to transform, in some way, the anonymity of the big city.

This year, the day of the catechist finds us facing a grace-filled event that we are already starting to experience.  Within two months begins the Year of Faith that our Pope Benedict XVI has declared “so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ” (Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, 2).

It will certainly be a jubilee year.  Hence the invitation that the same Pope extends to us to enter through the “Door of the Faith.”  Entering through this door is a journey that lasts a lifetime, yet in this time of grace we are all called to renew it.  Therefore from the bottom of my heart I exhort you in this year, as your pastor and as your brother, to strive to experience the present time with the transforming power of this event.

We all remember the invitation repeated so many times by Blessed John Paul II:  “Open the doors to the Redeemer.”  God is urging us once again:  Open the doors to the Lord:  the door of the heart, the doors of the mind, the doors of catechesis, of our communities... all the doors to the Faith.

In this opening of the door of faith there is always a free and personal Yes: a Yes that is a response to God that takes the initiative and draws near to man so as to start a dialogue with him, in which the gift and the mystery are always made present.

A Yes that the Virgin Mother was able to give in the fullness of time, in that humble village of Nazareth, so that through this interaction the new and definitive covenant could begin what God had prepared, in Jesus, for all mankind.

It always does us good to turn to look at the Blessed Virgin.  Even more so for those of us to whom is entrusted, in one way or another, the task of guiding the lives of many brethren, and thus united, to be able to say Yes to the invitation to believe.

But catechesis would be seriously compromised if our experience of faith were to leave us confined in and anchored to our familiar world or in the structures and spaces that we have been creating over the years.  To believe in the Lord is always to enter anew through the door of faith that makes us go out, to set out on a journey, to leave our comfort zone....  We must not forget that the first Christian initiation that occurred in time and in history climaxed in mission ... that it took on the characteristics of visitation.  With complete clarity the account of Luke tells us:  “Mary arose and went with haste... full of the Spirit.”

The experience of the Faith situates us in the Experience of the Spirit, marked by the ability to set out on a journey....  There is nothing more opposed to the Spirit than settling down and closing oneself in.  When one does not enter through the door of faith, the door shuts, the Church closes in on herself, the heart falls behind, and fear and the evil spirit “sour” the Good News.  When the Chrism of the Faith dries up and becomes rancid, the faith of the evangelist is no longer contagious but has lost its fragrance, many times becoming a cause of scandal and estrangement for many. 

Someone who believes is a recipient of that beatitude that runs through the whole Gospel and resounds throughout history, now on the lips of Elizabeth:  “Blessed is she who believed,” and again directed to Thomas by Jesus himself:  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!”

It is good to realize that today, more than ever, the act of believing must allow the joy of the Faith to shine through.  As in that joyous encounter of Mary and Elizabeth, the catechist must imbue his or her entire person and ministry with the joy of the Faith.  Allow me to share something of what we bishops of Argentina wrote a few months ago in a document in which we sketch some common pastoral guidelines for the three-year period 2012-2015:

Joy is the door for the proclamation of the Good News and also for the consequence of living in faith.  It is the expression that opens the way to receive the love of God who is Father of all.  Thus we note in the Annunciation of the angel to the Virgin Mary that, before telling her what was going to happen to her, he invites her to be filled with joy.  And this is also Jesus’ message when he invites people to trust and to an encounter with God the Father: rejoice.  This Christian joy is a gift of God that springs naturally from the personal encounter with the Risen Christ and faith in him.

Therefore I gladly exhort you with the Apostle Paul: “Rejoice, rejoice always in the Lord....”  May the catechesis that you serve so lovingly be marked by this joy, the fruit of the nearness of the Risen Lord (“the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord,” Jn 20:20), which also allows others to discover your goodness and your readiness to respond to the Lord’s call....

And never allow the evil spirit to spoil the work to which you have been called.  An evil spirit that has very concrete manifestations that are easy to detect: anger, ill treatment, closed-mindedness, contempt, negativity, routine, murmuring, gossip....

In the Visitation the Virgin Mary teaches us a different attitude that we must imitate and embody: nearness [cercanía].

She literally set out on a journey so as to shorten distances.  She did not remain at the news that her cousin Elizabeth was pregnant but went a step further.  She was able to listen with her heart and therefore to be moved by this mystery of life.  Mary’s nearness to her cousin involved leaving her comfort zone, not remaining self-centered: quite the contrary.  The Yes of Nazareth, as always with the attitude of faith, was transformed into a Yes to putting it into action....   And she who by the work of the Holy Spirit was made the Mother of the Son, being moved by that same Spirit was transformed into a servant of all for love of her Son.  A faith abounding in charity, capable of taking the trouble to embody the pedagogy of God, who is able to make nearness his identity, his name, his mission:  “and his name shall be called Emmanuel.”

The God of Jesus revealed himself as a God who is near to man and a friend.  Jesus’ style is distinguished by cordial neighborliness.  We Christians learn this style in our personal encounter with the living Jesus Christ, an encounter that has to be the ongoing resolution of every missionary disciple.  Overflowing the joy over this encounter, the disciple seeks to draw near to all so as to share his joy.  Mission is relation and therefore it unfolds through nearness, through the creation of personal ties that are maintained over time.  A friend of Jesus makes himself near to all, goes out to the encounter, creating interpersonal relations that stir up, awaken, and kindle an interest in the truth.  From friendship with Jesus Christ springs a new way of relating to our neighbor, whom we always see as a brother.  (Argentine Episcopal Conference, Pastor Guidelines for 2012-2015)

A nearness that, I am certain, is made present many times in your catechetical encounters with the various age-groups that you guide as they advance in faith (children-youth-adults).  But still we can be affected by distant professionalism, the misplaced effort to make ourselves “knowledgeable experts,” the weariness and fatigue that lower our defenses and harden our hearts....  Let us recall the beautiful passage from the First Letter of Paul to the Christians of Thessalonica:  “We were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children.  So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess 2:7-8).

Furthermore, though, I ask you not to see your field of evangelization as being limited to those who are to be catechized.  You are privileged to spread the joy and beauty of the Faith to their families.  May they become an echo in your catechetical pastoral ministry in this Church of Buenos Aires that wishes to live in a missionary state.  [“Cat-echesis” and “echo” are related words. – Translator’s note]

Look once and a thousand times to the Virgin Mary.  May she intercede with her Son that he might inspire the appropriate gesture and word that will allow you to make Catechesis a Good News for everyone, always keeping in mind that “the Church grows, not by proselytism but by attraction.”

Be aware of the difficulties.  We are in a very odd moment of our history, including the history of our country.  The recent National Catechists Congress held in Morón was very realistic in pointing out the difficulties in handing on the Faith in these times of so many cultural changes.  Perhaps on more than one occasion weariness may defeat you, uncertainty may confuse you and even lead you to think that the faith cannot be presented today, and that we should be content just to transmit values....

For this very reason, our Pope Benedict XVI invites us to enter together through the door of faith.  To renew our faith and in the faith of the Church to follow, doing what she knows how to do in the midst of lights and shadows.  This is a task that does not originate in a strategy of conservation, but rather is rooted in a command of our Lord that gives us our identity, relevance, and meaning.  Mission springs from a certainty of faith.  From that certainty which, in the form of kerygma, the Church has been handing on to human beings over the course of two thousand years.

A certainty of faith that coexists with the thousand questions of a pilgrim.  A certainty of faith that is not ideology, exaggerated moralism, existential security... but the living and irreplaceable encounter with a person, with an event, with the living presence of Jesus of Nazareth.

Therefore I urge you: live this ministry with passion, with enthusiasm.

The word enthusiasm (ενθουσιασμóς) has its roots in the Greek “en-theos”, that is to say: “that bears a god within.”  This term means that, when we allow ourselves to be led by enthusiasm, a divine inspiration enters into us and makes use of our person to manifest itself.  Enthusiasm is the experience of a “God active within me” so as to be guided by his power and wisdom.  It also implies the uplifting of the mind to something that inspires interest, joy, and admiration, provoked by a strong interior motivation.  It is expressed as passion, fervor, boldness, and determination.  It is opposed to discouragement, disinterest, apathy, coldness, and disappointment.

The “God active within” us is the gift that Jesus gave us on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit:  “I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:49).  In this way what was announced by the prophets is fulfilled: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you” (Ezek 36:26-27).  (Argentine Episcopal Conference, Pastor Guidelines for 2012-2015)

We know that the enthusiasm, the fervor to which the Lord calls us cannot be the result of a movement of our will or a simple change of mind.  It is a grace ... an interior renewal, a profound transformation that is founded and relies on a Presence, who one day will call us to follow him and who today, once again, becomes for us a way, so as to transform our fears into ardor, our sadness into joy, our confinement into new visitations....

While thanking you from my heart for all that you do as a catechist, for your time and your dedication, I ask the Lord to give you an open mind, so as to recreate dialogue and encounter among those whom God entrusts to you, and a believing heart so as to follow, exclaiming that He is alive and loves us as no one else does.  I have a picture of Mary Help of Christians that says, “You who believed, help me!”  May she help us to follow by being faithful to the Lord’s call....

Do not stop praying for me that I may be a good catechist.  May Jesus bless you and may the Blessed Virgin take care of you.  Affectionately,

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J.

Buenos Aires, August 21, 2012

Comments of the Blogger

Notice the emphasis on the nature of the act of faith as “openness” and “experience;” the death of the enterprise of believing is to be settled into oneself and sealed off from the others as well as ensconced in one's mental categories. It begs to be said that the act of faith is the mimicking of the action that is the divine Person of the Son. What is being said here is that the act of faith is the prototypical act of the person that establishes him precisely as person. It is the act of going out of oneself. And that act generates the experience that has consciousness [not concepts as mental categories] as one of its components, the consciousness of who one is and who God is since the believing person has been created in the image and likeness of the Son. The conceptual and abstractive work of concepts comes from and after the experiential consciousness. 

            The reflection that is conceptualization [creeds- dogmas, etc.] is supremely important for the communication of the experience. It must lead to this experience, but is not it.  Dei Verbum #5 of Vatican II is such a conceptualization. It is the conceptual message that has carried through all of John Paul II (especially in the book “Be Not Afraid” [St. Martin’s Press (1982) 63-67] and in his Catechism of the Second Vatican Council for the diocese of Krakow: “Sources of Renewal” [Harper and Row (1979)]. What is of interest is the entire book of "Sources of Renewal." The first chapter explains the "enrichment of faith" which is the recovery in metaphysical and anthropological terms of the protagonist of faith: the "I" of the believer (as opposed to mere consciousness and conceptual abstractions about the Person of Christ. In reality, the "I" of the believer progressively becomes the "I" of Christ by progressively going out of self). That is the "enrichment" [not an addition of concepts]. It is the paradigmatic realization of "Gaudium et spes" #24 where "man, the only earthly being God has willed for itself, finds [becomes] himself [i.e. Christ] by making the sincere gift of himself."
    Having set that foundation, the rest of the book divides the entirety of Vatican II into "Consciousness" and "Attitude." By "consciousness" is meant the contemplative and mystical "knowing" of Christ [by experientially becoming Him] and the sense [consciousness] of divine filiation that is uniquely Christ's. By "attitude" is meant the ontological tendency [as image of God] to go out of self as each divine Person is "out of Self [pure Relation]."  

   The whole flow of Wojtyla's catechism for Krakow is set up in the first chapter: “The need for an enrichment of faith.” There, he deploys the philosophical achievement that is uniquely his: the disclosure of the “I” of the believer as being, and not as mere consciousness as the entire Enlightenment philosophy has insisted beginning with Descartes' Cogito. The “I” of the believer is the supreme created being, and its self-actualization by the freedom of self-determination and self-gift produces the experience that is the content ]consciousness] of faith. 
   Yes, the “I” of the believer is the ontological reality that is known as “another Christ” since it was created in His image and likeness and has achieved the divine relationality of the divinity by the self-transcendence (going out of self) to take the divine person within oneself by becoming Him.

      In his “Sources of Renewal, Wojtyla explains that the fathers of Vatican II were not interested in offering “truths” of faith as conceptual categories (propositional dogmas), but rather of answering “the more complex question: ‘What does it mean  to be a believer, a Catholic and a member of the Church?’ They endeavored to answer this question in the broad context of today’s world, as indeed the complexity of the question itself requires” (17). Basically, the question was: what is the human person? And the answer was Jesus Christ, God-man. And to actualize this reality of who one is, the answer is to believe which is to evacuate oneself such that there is space in self to become the real Self of Christ. And it all takes place through ordinary life, secular work and domestic living. It would not matter what the job is or how big it is, and certainly not how “religious” it may be. The only thing important is that there be gift (self-transcendence), and this because God is a triple Gift.
Our Lady is a created person. Jesus Christ is not. He does not believe. The Virgin is the prototype of faith. Bergoglio spends most of the above on our Lady for that reason.  She goes out of herself saying “Yes.” As John Paul II said for the entire encyclical (“Redemptoris Mater”): the truth of Mary is the phrase of Elizabeth: “Blessed is she who believed.”  That is, divinized is she who believed. And  that divinization is  the fact of the incarnation of God Himself takes place in her. He takes her humanity for His own. And that will happen with each of us in the exercise of belief in action. He wants to be the protagonist of our human life (2013 --->).This is the sanctity of ordinary life, a divine re-incarnation in you. The sacrament that powers this self-transcending is baptism. And it is this that we have not yet understood. We treat it as a social formulary of initiation. Rather, it empowers the one who receives it to go out of self = to believe, to enter into a divine dimension. It is a "death event" (Ratzinger Toronto, 1986). Hence, all of Bergoglio’s censuring of clericalism as the supreme evil of the Church: the aping of the cleric [a "spiritual worldliness"]. As he says: "It is more comfortable to be an altar boy than the protagonist of a lay path. We must not enter into that trap, it is a sinful complicity. Neither clericalize nor ask to be clericalized." It is much easier to be an altar boy than to be Christ in the world and establish a truly secular Christian culture being self-gift in secular work and in the home. The goal, then, is not Christendom but a secular Christian culture.

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