Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Thinking Aloud About Another Papal Interview

I have been thinking about the Holy Father's latest interview - or conversation, perhaps, to be more accurate, ever since reading it earlier today.

I wonder if one of the problems I have is that I have become used to, and am a great fan of, the thoughtful and precise approach taken by his illustrious predecessor, the Pope Emeritus.

I am naturally inclined, to take language seriously, literally; and Pope Benedict was inclined to talk and write with a precision that encouraged that.

So when I read Pope Francis being quoted as saying: The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old' then I mentally jump up and exclaim: 'But, but...'

But perhaps that is precisely because I am being too literal. Perhaps this Holy Father's rhetorical style is more inclined to impressionism and even hyperbole.

If he means that these are grave social issues, then of course I agree. So perhaps I merely need to recalibrate my internal ear, as it were, to his particular personal style.

The other thing I certainly need to do is to ensure that the 'But, but...' response does not deafen me to the positive messages he has: particularly those that are most pertinent (and therefore most discomforting) to me.

God does everything for each of us, I think. This Holy Father is a gift to me, personally: it is for me to accept this gift from God and work out why he is giving it to me.

I've already got a shrewd idea about that. I am not great at personal charity: at befriending people, helping them, and regarding them with unconditional charity. Nor am I as generous as I should be with the many blessings I have been given.

So the most important thing I can do is attend to those important parts of the Holy Father's message. How do I even presume to point out the mote (which may be of my imagining) in his eye, considering the logjam in my own?

And yet, and yet, and yet...

We also have a duty to listen intelligently; we even have a duty, in charity, to help each other to discern.  And there have been some things the Holy Father says which, with the best will in the world, I find concerning.  I am not sure that the right response is necessarily silence and acquiescence.

For one thing, I often find that when I raise questions, there are people good enough to answer them.  For another, if there are real problems, then it may be more valuable to identify them and consider what, if anything, is best done.

Consider this, for example:
Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.
I struggle with that. How does that fit with the Divine mandate given to the Church: 'Go therefore, baptising all nations, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit'?

If someone can explain that to me, it will be really helpful: but if I don't ask, nobody is likely to do so.

Likewise, I have real difficulty with this: 
Your Holiness, is there is a single vision of the Good? And who decides what it is?"Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good."
Your Holiness, you wrote that in your letter to me. The conscience is autonomous, you said, and everyone must obey his conscience. I think that's one of the most courageous steps taken by a Pope."And I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place."
It would appear that the Holy Father is effectively abdicating, on behalf of the Church, the authority or the need (or both) to teach definitively on matters of Faith and Morals.  Now, I imagine my reading here is wrong, but I am not clear how, so if someone can enlighten me, that would be valuable.  And valuable not just for me, as I am sure there are others struggling with the same passages.

So whilst I will continue to try to read the Holy Father's words in the most positive way I can, assuming that they are both wise and good, I do think that it is helpful to have the public discussion about the difficult bits (or what I perceive as the difficult bits) as long as we don't let that distract us from our first duty: to listen to what Christ is saying to us through our Holy Father, and to act on it as necessary. 


Ttony said...

Can I add to your "and yet, and yet" (while agreeing with what comes above it and fully accepting my need to change) by pointing out that the teaching office of the Pope - of any Bishop - needs to be founded on clarity.

Imagine only being able to answer the rhetorical question "Is the Pope Catholic?" with "Yes, but you have to bear in mind that when he says ..."

Hermit Crab said...

The wisest of Catholics at any time is not necessarily the pope.

Bookclubber said...

First, I think you are right about Pope Francis’s rhetorical style. From what I have read of him, he seems to go for the big impressionist effect, just the opposite of Pope Benedict. I think your reactions to this totally different style are spot on – and I found your remarks very helpful.
As for his teaching and the teaching of the Church: I’ve thought about this quite a bit, and I’d say that the “tryptich” of the last three Popes, which I think you linked to, sums it up: thanks to the last two Popes, we know what we believe, and we know why we believe it. Francis sees that what the world needs is for Catholics to “go do it”.
“Being right” isn’t going to get us anywhere without love shown in deeds. Perhaps Francis is thinking that knowing the faith is useless without deeds of love, real charity – in fact, exactly and literally what St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13. I might well prefer to have angelic knowledge and faith to move mountains rather than have charity, which involves getting messy and smelly and uncomfortable, as Fr Ray famously pointed out – but I’d be wrong.
Is the Pope being naive? Most Catholics don’t know their faith – surely that is what needs tackling. But if we wait until they do, nothing is going to happen. And perhaps he also has in mind the episode of the sinful woman in the house of Simon the Leper: even if someone is wrong and has done wrong, God can put it right as long as that person “loves much”. I think he finds the present situation of the world frankly intolerable, which it is to anyone who really loves God. “If we were true Christians there would be no pagans,” – we are to convert people by living out what we believe to its fullest extent, not only by logical argument where that’s not going to work, or by “proselytizing” in the negative sense, manipulating and coercing people. - I'm just trying to put myself in his mindset here.
Pope Francis means we have got to go out. He said as much at the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, “Yo quiero lío” – I want a mess, I want you to really stir things up! He wants all of us who believe in Christ to go out and act on our belief instead of staying at home.
In the conversation with Scalfari, he’s acting on what he or Pope Emeritus Benedict said in Lumen Fidei – “Clearly, then, faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others. One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all.” Pope Francis is thinking about the person he’s talking to. Like many others, Scalfari has been there, done that, will be left cold by any authoritative teaching on faith or morals. The Pope isn’t abdicating his duty; but at this point, what will get through to this person is a discussion that starts from where he is. Looked at like that, when he says “everyone has their own idea of good and evil...” it isn’t some kind of hopeless subjectivism. If people honestly followed their consciences, helped by seeing Catholics living out their faith, their consciences would lead them to listen to accept the truth. But I don’t want to make this into a sort of sermon!