Posts Tagged ‘Pope Francis’

A Return to the Original Plan for Creation

Saturday, June 20th, 2015

“From the beginning, it was not so” (Matthew 19:8).  With those words in response to a question about marriage and divorce, Jesus recalled to our attention that the world has not turned out as God originally intended.  But he also held out the possibility that, with the help of grace, we could return to the original plan and live as God created us.

These words immediately came to my mind as I read the Holy Father’s new encyclical, Laudato Si.  The secular media has generally portrayed it as the Pope’s “climate change encyclical”, or more accurately as his “environmental encyclical”.  But this misses the most significant point in the Holy Father’s contribution to the Church’s rich social teaching.

More than any prior Church document, Laudato Si calls us to a personal and social conversion of heart, so that we can return to God’s original plan for humanity and all creation.

This central purpose of the encyclical is evident right at the beginning, when the Holy Father points out that the harms to our material world come from the sin in our hearts.  And he notes that we have forgotten the fundamental truth that we are an intrinsic part of creation, formed from the “dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7), and that our lives depend on the material bounty of the Earth.  This is evident to us, not just from divine revelation, but by a reasoned contemplation of nature itself.

The theme of returning to God’s original plan is then woven throughout the encyclical.  Again and again, Pope Francis comes back to the idea that the troubles of our world are the result of our sinfulness, particularly our loss of a sense of the universal moral law and the abuse of our freedom.  We see this in the underlying causes of environmental and economic exploitation and degradation —  a utilitarian and technocratic way of treating each other and the absence of solidarity between people.

All these problems rest on a faulty understanding of the nature of the human person, which the Holy Father analyzes with great care and detail.  Although he does not use this phrase, Pope Francis sees clearly that our modern world considers humanity to be “homo economicus” — a being whose entire existence is determined by self-interested material needs and pursuits, centered only upon themselves.   In fact, much of the criticism of the encyclical that we have seen from conservatives rests on this very assumption.  The Holy Father calls this an “excessive anthropocentrism”, a failure to understand our true place in this world, particularly our interlocking relationships with creation, or fellow beings, and our Creator.

It is in his discussion of these relationships that we see most clearly the Holy Father’s true Christian anthropology, and his perception that God’s original plan is the antidote to our modern world’s problems.  In Chapter Two of the encyclical, Pope Francis sets forth an extended exegesis of the Scriptural passages that reveal God’s intentions for creation.  The key passage, paragraph 66, is so important that it needs to be quoted in its entirety:

The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself.  According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual (cf. Gen 3:17-19). It is significant that the harmony which Saint Francis of Assisi experienced with all creatures was seen as a healing of that rupture. Saint Bonaventure held that, through universal reconciliation with every creature, Saint Francis in some way returned to the state of original innocence.[40] This is a far cry from our situation today, where sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature.

Later, in a very profound passage, Pope Francis explores how the nature of creation reflects the image of the Trinity itself.  He cites St. Bonaventure, one of St. Francis of Assisi’s greatest followers, saying:

The Franciscan saint teaches us that each creature bears in itself a specifically Trinitarian structure, so real that it could be readily contemplated if only the human gaze were not so partial, dark and fragile. In this way, he points out to us the challenge of trying to read reality in a Trinitarian key….  The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures. In this way, they make their own that trinitarian dynamism which God imprinted in them when they were created. Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity.

It is certainly important to view Laudato Si as a document intended to address the environmental and social problems of our day.  But I believe that its true significance will only be known when we begin to absorb the Holy Father’s extraordinary treatment of Christian anthropology.  This encyclical is a call to all of us to try to recapture the remnants of God’s original plan for humanity, so that we can live as God intended, in peace and harmony with all creation.

“From the beginning, it was not so”.

Encounter and Evangelization

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

In this time of rapidly shifting cultural values — usually not for the better — the Church and Catholics are struggling to find the right way to proclaim the Gospel and live according to our faith.  The public witness of the Church and Catholics is becoming increasingly difficult, as our government and secularized culture becomes more hostile to us.  Each new day seems to bring a new challenge, and everyday Catholics are confused, uncertain, and frequently upset.

I think that in times like these, it’s crucial to make sure that we remind ourselves of the fundamentals.

The entire purpose of the Church is not to decide who can attend what dinner, or who can be part of a parade. The mission of the Church is to bring people into a loving encounter with Jesus Christ. That means we have to bring people to the real Jesus, and the model for this is the story with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11).

That meeting involved two things — compassion and conversion. Both are essential, and can never be separated. The woman was treated with compassion and mercy by Jesus, and thus was open to his call to conversion. If we fail to present both aspects of the encounter, we are lying to people and presenting a false Jesus — he’s not just about mercy, and he’s not only about conversion (and he’s never about condemnation). The real Jesus simultaneously says “I love you even when you’ve sinned”, and “come, follow me”.

I think our Holy Father and our own Archbishop have realized that there are significant impediments in our culture to hearing the Gospel message, and thus people are unwilling to come to meet Jesus.  In the minds of all too many people, we are not seen as merciful and compassionate, but judgmental and condemnatory.  In response, our leaders have decided that we have to emphasize the message of mercy, so that people will be more open to hearing the message of conversion. In his closing remarks to the young men and women who attended World Youth Day in Rio, Pope Francis said this:

Every one of you, each in his or her own way, was a means enabling thousands of young people to “prepare the way” to meet Jesus. And this is the most beautiful service we can give as missionary disciples. To prepare the way so that all people may know, meet and love the Lord.

This is the task of the New Evangelization, and of the Church.  We have to make sure that when people encounter us, they’re encountering Christ, and feel both his compassion and his call to conversion.  When they see his face in our face, we will be fulfilling our mission.

The Holy Father Puts First Things First

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

The Holy Father recently gave a lengthy interview to a Jesuit journalist, and it has now been published around the world.  The secular media, once again displaying their strange ideological obsessions (and their habitual failure of reading comprehension), has cherry-picked some quotations on their favorite topics, resulting in some serious misinformation about what the Pope really said.

The interview itself is long, and very rich in content.  I urge everyone to read the original, and not the New York Times version.  I actually think that it will take several readings to get the full impact of our Holy Father’s thoughts.

One thing that’s clear is that the Pope is not changing any Church teaching, nor is he criticizing the way that the Church has taught about the “hot button” issues of abortion, contraception, and homosexuality.

It really is a beautiful and evangelical interview — the Holy Father does a wonderful job of expressing the essence of the New Evangelization.  To read his words, you clearly see his vision of the Church’s mission — to proclaim to the world that the Church is open to everyone who wants to come to God, even with all our imperfections.  So, for example, he says this:

This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. And the church is Mother; the church is fruitful. It must be.

As for his comment about the “hot button” issues, Pope Francis said this:

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing….

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

He’s right, of course.  We can’t reduce Church teaching to just the issues of abortion, contraception and homosexuality.  It’s about so much more than that — the essence of the Christian life is to have life and love in communion with God and each other, not just to follow rules.  The irony is that the world makes just that same error that they accuse us of — they think that we’re all about those issues and nothing else.  But that just means that they’ve missed the point of what the Holy Father was talking about.

The key point is that the Holy Father wants us to put first things first:

We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.  The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

That means that our focus must always be on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, his mission to us sinners and his offer of peace and healing and redemption.

If only the media would focus on this section of the Pope’s interview:

I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.

The message of the Holy Father continues to engage and attract the world.  May his words lead more and more people to the beauties of the Gospel and to the love of God.

An Easter Message of Hope

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Easter has come!  He is Risen!

Easter is the great feast of faith, hope and love — but particularly of hope.  This is a great consolation for people like me, who frequently feel troubled and lost, weighed down by life’s disappointments and struggles.

In his homily at the Easter Vigil, Pope Francis reminded us beautifully that Easter is the perfect time for us to turn to God and have hope:

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! Are we often weary, disheartened and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him…

Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.

I pray for hope, for the courage to take the risk to trust God, and to welcome the Risen Lord into my life.

Have a blessed Easter!

A Missionary, Not a Functionary

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

I sat with a group of my colleagues in the Family Life Office Conference room, filled with excitement as the white smoke rose from the chimney.  We all awaited our new Holy Father with great anticipation.  And when Pope Francis finally came out on the loggia, we were all filled with joy and we joined with our brethren around the world in welcoming our new Supreme Pontiff.

Now, having had a few days to learn more about Pope Francis, I am still excited and filled with anticipation.  This has the promise of being an amazing papacy.

If you read the secular media, you would think that the greatest challenge facing the Church is the reform of the Roman Curia — the bureaucracy of the Holy See.  It’s funny.  I think that 99.99999% of Catholics have no idea what the Curia is and does.  Honestly, after almost twenty years of working in the Archdiocesan chancery (our local version of the Curia), I don’t really have much of an idea of what the Roman Curia does, nor can I identify a single instance in which the Curia has had any impact on anything that I’ve ever done.

Most Catholics innately understand that the focus of the Church isn’t inwards, on administrative matters.  We all know, in our hearts, that the Church is always a missionary, going out to the regular people, walking with them in their joys and sorrows, and offering them the hope of a personal loving friendship with Jesus Christ, and life eternal in the loving embrace of the Trinity.

That’s why we have so quickly fallen for Pope Francis — he is that kind of man.  Humble, ordinary, straightforward, uncompromising on teaching the truth, and unstinting in his care and concern for poor people.

He also sees very clearly that the mission of the Church is outward, not inwards.  That we must take the Gospel — and the Cross — with us to the ends of the world.  His first homily at his Mass with the Cardinals says this loud and clear:

We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO [non-government organization], but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord. When we are not walking, we stop moving. When we are not building on the stones, what happens? The same thing that happens to children on the beach when they build sandcastles: everything is swept away, there is no solidity….

When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

My wish is that all of us, after these days of grace, will have the courage, yes, the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s Cross; to build the Church on the Lord’s blood which was poured out on the Cross; and to profess the one glory: Christ crucified. And in this way, the Church will go forward.

Our new Holy Father is a missionary, not a functionary.  Thanks be to God.