Thursday 31 December 2015

Concerns about the Holy Father's sermon

I am by nature, upbringing and temperament quite a deferential sort of chap, and being traditionally inclined, my natural inclination is deference to those in Holy Orders of whatever degree - and proportional to the degree of orders.  Thus a priest trumps a deacon, a bishop trumps a priest and the Holy Father is (below God) the Ace of Trumps, as I think I may have mentioned before

However, that parenthesis (below God) is of course in brackets not because it is unimportant, but because it should go without saying.

Al of which makes it particularly painful when the reigning pontiff says something I find hard to reconcile with Catholic thinking.

I mentioned the other day (here, in fact) that I had some concerns about what the Holy Father had said in his sermon about the Holy Family. But I wanted to pause, think and pray before blogging about it. However, the passage of time has not eased my concerns: if anything, the reverse.

First, here is what he said (for the full homily, see here, for the Italian original, here):
At the end of that pilgrimage, Jesus returned to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents (cf. Lk 2:51). This image also contains a beautiful teaching about our families. A pilgrimage does not end when we arrive at our destination, but when we return home and resume our everyday lives, putting into practice the spiritual fruits of our experience. We know what Jesus did on that occasion. Instead of returning home with his family, he stayed in Jerusalem, in the Temple, causing great distress to Mary and Joseph who were unable to find him. For this little “escapade”, Jesus probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents. The Gospel doesn’t say this, but I believe that we can presume it. Mary’s question, moreover, contains a certain reproach, revealing the concern and anguish which she and Joseph felt. Returning home, Jesus surely remained close to them, as a sign of his complete affection and obedience. Moments like these become part of the pilgrimage of each family; the Lord transforms the moments into opportunities to grow, to ask for and to receive forgiveness, to show love and obedience.

What initially troubled me was the phrase 'Jesus probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents.'

On further reflection, I am also troubled by 'escapade', and also by 'the Lord transforms [moments like these] into opportunities to grow,' etc.

Clearly, the teaching the Holy Father wishes to draw from the incident is a good teaching: that families need to grow in their ability 'to ask for and to receive forgiveness, to show love and obedience.'

However, that does not justify doing such violence to Catholic teaching (or at the very least, to Catholic sensibilities.)

For the first question that arises is: why did Our Lord, God incarnate, have to ask forgiveness? It is a difficult question to answer. Clearly, he cannot have done anything wrong.  Likewise, he cannot have done anything that would accidentally have caused distress to his Mother and his foster Father: all is done in love and knowledge.

Some have hypothesised that he had to apologise out of filial obedience (cf fourth commandment), as an apology was demanded of him by his Mother or by St Joseph. But that is wrenching the text apart too much. The moment for that (if there were such a moment) was the encounter described, when Our Lady asked her question. But we get no hint of an apology here, despite her expression of her own and St Joseph's anxiety. Are we really to think that, after this conversation, these two great saints were to return later to their hurt feelings and demand an apology from their Divine Son?  I find that hard to imagine.

Moreover, even if one or other of them had demanded an apology, would Our Lord have been bound to apologise? I think not: he would have fulfilled his filial obligations, I suspect, by correcting their error. One of the character-notes of Our Lord throughout the Gospels is that He is unapologetic. Consider the conversation at Cana; that with the Syro-Phoenician woman, his comments on Herod, the incident with the money-changers, his trials by the High Priests and by Pilate...  And considering who He is, that could scarcely be otherwise (indeed, on reflection, that is one of the reasons why the 'great moral teacher, but only human' view of Our Lord is so implausible - for a mere man, He would have been insufferable!)

So why, according to the Holy Father, can we presume that Our Lord had to apologise?  I can't see it. My concern is that it lays the seeds in peoples' imagination for a less-than-Divine Christ.

That concern is what sits behind the word 'escapade.' Can we really think of any action of Our Lord's in such terms? Can we even imagine that Our Lady or St Joseph would have done so?   I find that hard to imagine, too, and for all the same reasons.

And that other phrase:  'the Lord transforms [moments like these] into opportunities to grow.' Surely that is true in our fallen families; surely it cannot apply to the Holy Family - for what is being transformed? The phrase implies something wrong, some failing, some lack of charity: can any of these apply to the Sinless Son and his relationship with the Sinless Mother?

Maybe I am missing something. The Holy Father, of course, is probably wiser and more steeped in Scripture, Tradition, and the Faith than I am. But if that is the case, I would be grateful if someone could explain to me how to read this part of this sermon in a way that does not diminish the Son, nor His Mother.

UPDATE: see also And another thing...


Rita said...

I think it is in the very nature of Jesuits to tread on Catholic sensibilities, it is what they do best, they teach best through making us uncomfortable.

Having said that, I'm still not convinced over the point the Holy Father is making. Our Lord is revealing himself as the Divine Teacher. When the Lord reveals Himself in this way, the lessons we learn can be painful on the sentimental level. There are many times when it has felt like God has hurt me because He has not behaved the way I was expecting. I've never had an apology! But there has always been lessons to learn, things to store in one's heart, the realisation that what was happening was Love, and that it was always in preparation for something that He was asking me to do; a foreshadowing of something greater.... and this to me is the very context of this "escapade".... remove the sentiment and it is a HARD lesson, gently delivered and with great humility.

What I'm trying to say is that I find the episode has more significance if there is no apology from Our Lord for the hurt He has caused. Divine pain requires no apology.

I think it best to leave the Holy Father be, more and more I feel like he's the father talking to the prodigal son in language the prodigal son can understand, I really don't want to become the sulky elder brother. He continually hurts my sensibilities and I'll never get an apology from him......

With God's blessings for the New Year,

Celia said...

Our parish priest (big Francis fan) gave us a homily from the same school- the Holy Family is just like any other family, Jesus as stroppy teenager, etc. It stems as I think you rightly indicate from the modern emphasis on the humanity of Jesus at the expense of His divinity.
I turned with the usual relief to Pope Benedict's far more rewarding reflections in Vol III of 'Jesus of Nazareth'.