Remarks on the Interview with Pope Francis
It is important to understand what is going on in the Francis’ interview of last week with the Jesuits. As Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, he is working on two epistemological levels: the level of the “I” and the level of sensible experience. His criterion of knowing is experience. On the level of sensible experience, we form sensible perceptions from which we abstract concepts. On the level of the “I,” we have a consciousness of the self when the self is “acting.”
We do not know God on the level of sensible perceptions. We can know about God, but we do not know God. We can know God experientially when we go out of ourselves (to the peripheries, if you please) and have a consciousness of ourselves as imaging God the Son as His going out of self to the Father. So, if we experience ourselves as helping others or praying or serving others in work, we have a direct experience/consciousness of ourselves, and we have a direct experience/consciousness of ourselves as His image.
This is the epistemological foundation for his giving more importance to the care of the homosexual person and his recovery than the evil of stamping around society denouncing the horrific nihilism of “gay marriage.” George Weigel has this right in his “The Christ-Centered Pope:” "A Catholic faith reduced to mere baggage, to a collection of rules and prohibitions, to fragmented devotional practices, to selective and partial adherence to the truths of faith, to occasional participation in some sacraments, to the repetition of doctrinal principles, to bland or nervous moralizing, that does not convert the life of the baptized would not withstand the trials of time. . . . We must all start again from Christ, recognizing [with Pope Benedict XVI] that 'being Christian is . . . the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.' ”
Fr. Frank Pavone also has it right when he quotes the pope: "The Scriptures everywhere tell us that God is the Living one, the one who bestows life and points the way to the fullness of life…The commandments are not a litany of prohibitions -- you must not do this, you must not do that, you must not do the other; on the contrary, they are a great "Yes!": a yes to God, to Love, to life."
Pavone comments: “That is what the Pope means in his interview by putting the abortion teaching in context. This actually protects and strengthens the Church's teaching on abortion -- and other moral issues -- because by basing these stances on the fundamental affirmations of the Faith, and in this case on the very nature of God. By doing this, the Pope is not simply saying thatabortion is wrong, but showing us why the stance of Faith can only lead to that conclusion, and no other. If a person rejects the Church's position against abortion, they are not rejecting merely an opinion or a political stance; they are rejecting the Faith itself.
The Pope, in fact, in that June 16 homily, said that failing to respect life is the same as idolatry. "All too often," he proclaimed, "as we know from experience, people do not choose life, they do not accept the "Gospel of Life" but let themselves be led by ideologies and ways of thinking that block life, that do not respect life, because they are dictated by selfishness, self-interest, profit, power, and pleasure, and not by love…As a result, the Living God is replaced by fleeting human idols which offer the intoxication of a flash of freedom, but in the end bring new forms of slavery and death."
From the beginning of his pontificate, I have been encouraged by the approach of Pope Francis to pro-life issues. For him, it is all about integrating the Church's teaching and practice of faith and morals, and it all centers on connecting with the human person as we connect with Christ. His desire to wash the feet of prisoners and walk among the poor is precisely the spirit that connects him and all of us with our poorest and weakest neighbors, the unborn. The Pope's emphasis on "context" and "balance" is precisely what prevents us from saying that his focus on the poor and marginalized means less focus on the unborn. This is precisely the kind of disconnected thinking the Pope opposes.
Context includes the context of human reason, which shows that abortion claims more human lives than anything else, and the context of all the teaching documents of the Church, which teach that our most fundamental right, and the condition for all the others, is life itself. It also brings us to the context of mercy, which is why, in one of my conversations with Pope Francis, he praised in particular the work of Rachel's Vineyard, of which I am the Pastoral Director. This is the largest ministry for healing and forgiveness for those who have had abortions. Saying yes to life is saying yes to mercy.
So no, I am not alarmed by the Pope's interview, or by a perceived "backing off" from the emphasis on abortion. He is doing no such thing.”
This is the large issue that concerned Joseph Ratzinger in his career as a theologian – i.e. the experience and consciousness of the Person of Christ by the experience and consciousness of the believer who becomes another Christ in the self-transcendence that is the act of faith.
Conceptual knowing must be embedded in the consciousness of the self that is the ground of “meaning.” Karol Wojtyla did the heavy lifting on this before and during Vatican II and Francis is putting into practice. He is frightening the conservative mind that works well with concepts and clear ideas. But there was always something going on as the context and “meaning” of those ideas, but not brought to explicitness. Francis is forcing the issue because the contextual consciousness is the very consciousness of God’s presence which must become explicit.