Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Seeing Pope Francis as shock therapy for the Catholic Church - John L. Allen, Jr.

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By John L. Allen Jr.

Associate editor October 10, 2015

Prefacing  remark by Blogger: I believe that Pope Francis is the hermeneutic of continuity” with Benedict XVI. Continuity of what? Continuity in  seeing being – what we take to be “the real” – in a new way. That is, the meaning of “Being” is relational , not in-itself substantial. This change is so profound, so extensive and so explosive, that certainly neither the writings, nor the personality of Benedict XVI could get it across (although he lived it and wrote it). And so, the Spirit brings Francis to do the job. There is a perfect continuity between the mind of Benedict XVI and Francis. The short answer: Sanctity, becoming Christ Himself, “divinization,” become the ordinary,  the “natural,” the constitutive of the human person. The goal of the human person is to be out of himself. The failure of the human person is to be turned back on self and living for self. Thus, the pre-consistory remarks of Francis: “Evangelizing pre-supposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and infd ifference to religion, of intellectual cur rents, and of all misery.
            “When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick…”[1]
 Consider this in the light of the core of the mind of Joseph Ratzinger :

 “With the insight that, seen as substance, God is One but that there exists in him the phenomenon of dialogue, of differentiation, and of  relationship through speech, the category of relation gained a completely new significance for Christian thought. To Aristotle, it was among t he ‘accident s,’ the chance circumstances of being, which are separated from substance, the sole sustaining form of the real. The experience of the God who conducts a dialogue, of the God who is not only logos but also dia-logos, not only idea and meaning but speech and word in the reciprocal exchanges of partners in conversation – this experience exploded the ancient division of realit y into  substance, the real thing , and accidents, the merely circumstantial. It now became clear that the dialogue, the relation, stands beside the substance as an equally primordial form of being.
            “With that, the wording of the dogma was to all intents and purposes settled. It expresses the perception that God as substance, as ‘being,’ is absolutely one. If we nevertheless have to speak of him in the category of triplicity, t his does not imply any multiplication of substances but means that in the one and indivisible God there exists the phenomenon of dialogue, the reciprocal exchange of word and love. This again signifies that the ‘three Persons’ who exist  in God are the reality of word and love in their attachment to each other. They are not substances, personalities in the modern sense, but the relatedness whose pure actuality (‘parcel of waves’!) does not impair the unity of thie highest being but fills it out. St. Augustine once enshrined this idea in the following formula: ‘He is not called Father wit h reference t o himself but only in relation to the Son; seen by himself he is simply God.’ Here the decisive point comes beautifully to light. ‘Father’ is purely a concept of relationship. Only in being for the other is he Father; in his own being in himself he is simply God. Person is the pure relation of being related, nothing else. Relationship is not some thing extra added to the person, as it is with us; it only exists at all as relatedness.
   “Expressed in the imagery of Christian tradition, this means that the first Person does not beget the Son as if the act of begetting were subsequent to the finished Person; it is the act of begetting, of giving oneself, of streaming forth. It is identical with the act of self-giving. Only as this act is it person, and therefore it is not the giver [Blogger: as a substance in which giving inheres as an accident]… In this idea of relatedness in word and love, independent of the concept of substance and not to be classified among the ‘accidents,’ Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person, which describes something other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the ‘individual.’ … Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality. It becomes possible to surmount what we call today objectifying thought;’ a new plane of being comes into view. It is probably true to say that the task imposed on philosophy as a result of these facts is far from being completed  - so much does modern thought depend on the possibilities thus disclosed, without which it would be inconceivable.”[2]

John L Allen, Jr.

For Catholics accustomed to traditional ways of doing things, Pope Francis is undeniably a shock to the system.
A summit of bishops from around the world over which he’s currently presiding in Rome is a classic case in point, because Catholics just aren’t used to seeing differences among their leaders play out so publicly and, at times, with such a sharp edge.
The Oct. 4-25 meeting in Rome, called a Synod of Bishops, is the second such event Francis has convened in the past two years to debate matters related to family life. There are 270 bishops taking part, most elected by their national bishops’ conferences, along with 90 experts, contributors, and delegates from other Christian churches.
The first edition of the synod last October featured intense and sometimes acrimonious debate over several hot-button matters, including:
·     Whether Catholics who divorce and remarry without an annulment of their first marriage ought to be able to receive Communion.
·     Whether Catholicism needs a more positive approach to gays and lesbians, one that doesn’t repeal Church teaching, but nonetheless gets across a sense of welcome and inclusion.
·     Whether the Church can recognize positive values in couples living together and other non-traditional family arrangements, rather than wagging its finger and expressing disapproval.
Now that the bishops have come together for the second time, there’s little indication that they have found common ground on those matters. Instead, a fundamental clash remains between those who believe in outreach and dialogue, meeting people where they are, and those worried that the Church must not lose its capacity to call sin by its real name.
Complicating matters further is that some of the rule changes and appointments Francis has made for the synod have produced charges of stacking the deck, especially among conservatives who fear the opposition has been given the upper hand.
Those charges have had enough of an echo that Francis felt compelled last week to give an impromptu address to the synod warning the bishops against succumbing to “conspiracy theories.”
(Only in the Vatican, by the way, could a pope issuing such a warning generate a conspiracy theory of its own. Synod sessions are closed, and in this case the Vatican’s official spokesman didn’t relay the pope’s comment during the daily news briefing. Instead, it was tweeted out by an Italian priest and a fellow Jesuit, prompting speculation about whether Francis had actually said it, and whose agenda was being served by allowing it to be released this way.)
The raucous nature of the synod captures in miniature the spirit of Francis’ papacy. From the very beginning, he’s been a break-the-mold kind of pope.
Americans got a reminder of that during his recent visit when he defied conventional left/right divisions by meeting Kim Davis, the face of opposition to gay marriage in the United States, as well as a longtime friend from Argentina who is in an openly gay relationship.
It was vintage Francis. He exudes a talk-to-everyone ethos, emphasizing that Catholicism needs to get out into the street, even at the risk of getting dirty, in order to make itself relevant. That approach has given Francis enormous popularity inside and outside the Church — including, despite what one might think from some media coverage, generally strong support among the world’s bishops and inside the Vatican itself.
Yet every so often, perhaps especially for Catholicism’s base — meaning staunchly loyal believers, driven to defend the faith against what Friedrich Schleiermacher once called the “cultured despisers” of religion — Francis can be just too much.
Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya, carried a cross as he led the Stations of the Cross from Holy Family Basilica along a street in the Kenyan capital in April, 2015. (CNS photo/Herman Kariuki, Reuters)
Cardinals and bishops left at the end of a morning session of the Synod of bishops at the Vatican Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
For some in that group, Francis represents a break with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They charge that Francis has exacerbated the Church’s internal divisions, with some even floating the prospect of a “schism,” meaning a formal splintering into rival camps.
A leader of one of Catholicism’s most important internal movements (for the record, a non-American) told me last week that he finds such sentiments among his own following, and therefore has had to think carefully about how to respond.
His answer? Francis is not the repudiation of Benedict XVI, but the “radicalization” of his predecessor’s legacy.
Benedict, he says, understood that a growing rupture between faith and culture has left Catholicism in a deep crisis, and he laid an intellectual basis for rethinking how the Church can engage a post-modern secular age.
Francis, as he sees it, is now jolting the Church out of long-established patterns to allow the rethinking Benedict wanted to occur — not at the price of diluting the Church’s teaching, but in order to revive its capacity to win hearts and to shape history.
In other words, Francis is basically shock therapy for the Church.
Such therapy is notoriously painful and unsettling, often causing patients to experience confusion and disorientation — both of which are palpably present in some circles of Catholicism these days. Yet there are times when it’s the only way to jolt the patient out of a funk.
Psychiatrists will tell you that shock therapy should be used only as a last resort, and it doesn’t always work. It’s effective only about half the time, and even when it does succeed, its effects often wear off over time.
Viewing Pope Francis this way, however, might at least have the side-effect of reassuring anxious elements of his base that he’s not out to harm Church teaching and tradition. He’s actually trying to save it.
* * * * *

[1] These words are from a document given to Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega – Cardinal of Havana, Cuba,  - by Pope Francis outlining the speech he gave during the pre-conclave General Congregation meetings of the Cardinals. Cardinal Ortega received permission from Pope Francis to share t he information.
[2] Joseph Ratzinger, “Introduction to Chr istianity,” Ignatius (2004) 183-184.

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