Tag Archive: ecclesiology


AMDG

1102014686_univ_cnt_5_xlI have been thinking a lot about Pope Francis’s ‘Eldest Son Problem’.  If you remember the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the elder brother who has worked hard and kept the rules all the time seethes with resentment  as the dissolute younger brother is forgiven and embraced by the father.  In fact his resentment at the Father (Gods) unlimited mercy and forgiveness stops him from going in and enjoying the banquet.  They appear to be a sizeable group – particularly in The States, often an elite of some type or other, who seems to resent the popularity of Pope Francis outside of the borders of the church.  It;s as if they don’t want the wrong type of people included in their church which has become a comfortable country club. They can seem to dominate the English Language Catholic Blogosphere and so they appear to be many, but in reality they create an ‘echo chamber’  and they are not representative of most Catholics.

private-club-members-only-sign-k-0249_grnrevFrancis’ inspiring model of the ‘field hospital church’ that gets out there in the middle of the messiness of life, that tends wounds and listens to those hurting, is very threatening to some people, even if it may well be very close to Jesus’s vision.  So an alternative ecclesiology is at play – rather than the field hospital church it is the ‘officers mess‘ church. They create an elitist Catholicism,  have an ideological spin on history, often use the labels of tradition and orthodoxy  as weapons  and don’t seem to take into account the reality of many peoples messy lives.  So they create a type of Virtual Gated Community – and their criticisms of Francis are out in the open, relentless and already they are splintering (always a sign of the bad spirit).  What worries me is the effect that these blogs are having on some of my students – perhaps even on some of our bishops.  The less you are pastorally engaged – the more tempting it is to live in these echo chambers, and feel good about your Catholic Identity.

ddeb78bb63620d00e54880ddb8b12536 So how do we bring these dissenters along with us?  I think we can learn something from the Japanese here and how they discharged soldiers.  After the defeat in the Second World War, many returning soldiers were not fit to return to their communities. Their only identity for their formative years had to be a loyal soldier for their country and now they needed a broader identity. So some very wise communities created a public ceremony where they were welcomed back and praised effusively for what they had done.  The community realised that they needed to move on  so they created this ritual for closure and transition for ex-soldiers to return to civilization.  After the praise and thanksgiving, an elder would stand and declare ‘The war is now over – The community needs you to let go to what has served you until now, the community needs you to return as a man, a citizen and something more than a soldier.’ Maybe the Pope needs to do the same with some of our culture-warriors that are finding it difficult to move with him.

AMDG

downloadJust finished reading an excellent book on the Pope called ‘Pope Francis – Untying the Knots’ by Paul Vallely.  Of all the books rushed out to capitalise on the widespread interest of a new pope – this seems to be the best so far in English. The title is well chosen because it refers to a painting of Our Lady – Untier of Knots that Bergoglio has a special devotion for, but also refers to the task that the author was facing looking at a complicated life of a Jesuit who has often found himself in leadership roles, often in very difficult circumstances, with a legacy that isn’t straightforward to tease out.  I think the author seems to do a fairly good job.  However what was fascinating for me – was the account of Bergoglio’s ‘intervention’ (speech) which made such a big impact amongst the other cardinals at the general congregation before  the conclave started.  Unlike many of the other speeches, which have been reported as being inward looking – this electrified the synod hall – because it was simple, spiritual, theological and most important from the heart.  

download (1)The only purpose of the Church is to go and out and tell the world the good news about Jesus Christ.  Evangelizing presupposes in the Church the “parresia” of coming out from itself. The Church is called to come out from itself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographical, but also existential: those of the mystery of sin, of suffering, of injustice, those of ignorance and of the absence of faith, those of thought, those of every form of misery.

When the Church does not come out from itself to evangelize it becomes self-referential and gets sick (one thinks of the woman hunched over upon herself in the Gospel). This self-referentiality, is a sort of theological narcissism. In Revelation, Jesus says that he is standing at the threshold and calling. We often assume that the text refers to the fact that he stands outside the door and knocks to enter. . . But at times I think that Jesus may be knocking from the inside, that we may let him out. The self-referential Church presumes to keep Jesus Christ within itself and not let him out.

mq1The Church, when it is self-referential, without realizing it thinks that it has its own light; it stops being the “mysterium lunae”.  The mystery of the moon is that it has no light but simply reflects the light of the sun.  When the church thinks it gives out its own light it gives rise to a grave evil, that of spiritual worldliness (according to Henri De Lubac, the worst evil into which the Church can fall).  To simplify, there are two images of the Church: the evangelizing Church that goes out from itself; or the worldly Church that lives in itself, of itself, for itself. 

Thinking of the next Pope: a man who, through the contemplation of Jesus Christ and the adoration of Jesus Christ, may help the Church to go out from itself toward the existential peripheries, that may help it to be the fecund mother who lives “by the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”

The speech delivered in Italian – was short – just over 3 minutes, but it made a big impact.  Cardinal Schonborn turned to a neighbour and said – ‘That’s what we need’.  Cardinal Ortega from Havana asked Bergoglio later if he could have a copy to distribute.  It was only a few scribbled notes, but overnight Bergoglio transcribed from memory what he said and passed it on, giving permission for it to be put up on the website of the Archdiocesis of Havana in Cuba.  My version (above) is a mixture of Vallely’s, Sandro Magisters and my own translation.