instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, September 20, 2013

"The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant."

In his epochal interview, Pope Francis said:
The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.
I think this is very much along the same lines as the point I was trying to make with a recent post in which I wrote:
But the Catholic Faith, the burning realization that God is love and His Son died for our sins, is not narrow and technical.... When Catholics talk about Catholicism, we sound like people trying to make sure we're getting all the details right, not like we're trying to keep up as best we can with the love and mercy and graces our mad lover Jesus is giving us.

I'm a little worried about agreeing with Pope Francis in what he says in this interview. Worried, because agreement makes it harder to learn from what someone else says. It's easy to think, "He used words that are superficially similar to mine, therefore his opinion and perspective are essentially identical to mine." And once that's thought, it's easy to interpret subsequent, more important statements according to a hermeneutic of he-thinks-the-way-I-do.

So let me say that Pope Francis does not think the way I do. He thinks pastorally, and I do not. He, for example, intends a pastoral dimension to this sentence, which I overlooked the first couple of times I read it despite the subject of the sentence:
The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.
My own thinking would pare this down to something like, "The Church cannot be obsessed with the transmission of doctrines to be imposed." Pope Francis was answering a question about how the clergy should respond to certain challenging circumstances. My mind turns his answer into an observation on how the laity receives the Gospel.

I don't know if those who need to hear that transmission of doctrines to be imposed cannot be an obsession will hear that. This includes both those who are repelled by their perception of a Church obsessed with insistently imposed, disjointed doctrines, and those who embrace that vision of the Church. I've already seen several responses that try to recast the Pope's words into Culture War terms, as though those are the only terms in which the Catholic Faith is expressible. Does this mean Pope Francis is now for gay marriage? Surely we are still to forcefully insist that abortion is evil!

There are those who rush to say, "Pope Francis is saying nothing new." And yes, if you filter out everything but doctrine, this son of the Church is offering no new doctrine. But Pope Francis is not talking about doctrine! If you want to talk about what the Pope is talking about, you shouldn't talk about doctrine either.

The Pope is talking about proposing the Gospel in a simple, profound, radiant way. And it doesn't matter whether you can grep up a quotation from Benedict or John Paul that says the same thing, what matters is whether the Church does something about it.

And yes, that would be new.

More than new, it's transformative. The Pope is repudiating the way lots of Catholics have been Catholic for many years -- the way of moral doctrines. This is not a repudiation of the doctrines themselves, but of starting with those doctrines, which, according to the Church herself, are only derivative teachings, second- and third-order consequences of the Gospel that Jesus founded His Church to preach to the world.

No transformative message is received easily. This one is, I think, a challenge just to be heard. After all, if the Church herself teaches that moral doctrines are only derivative of the Gospel, then isn't Pope Francis merely repeating Church doctrine? And how can repeating Church doctrine be something new, much less transformative?

A long time ago, I wrote about the high Ginger Factor of papal statements, how so much of what a pope says sounds like, "Blah blah blah abortion blah blah should not receive Holy Communion blah blah." Those who think the name of the Catholic game is the imposition of moral doctrines will not even hear what the Pope says when he is not talking about imposing moral doctrines. And I think the responses to this six-month-old papacy bear this out.