“Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
—Benedict XVI, quoted by Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, 7
The Year of faith has just ended with the proclamation “Christ is the center of the history of humanity and also the center of the history of every individual.” And today Pope Francis has released his first Apostolic Exhortation in which he encourages us to create the conditions in which all men may find Christ in an “event,” a personal encounter capable of bringing a “new horizon and a decisive direction.” Both Benedict and Francis have invested much in this event of the encounter with Christ, and have proposed it as the way that supersedes all ethical choices and lofty ideas. This is the new evangelization.
With this post I would like to examine a specific problem regarding the reception of Pope Francis’ teaching. Unfortunately, some have already pigeonholed Pope Francis as a liberal and are poised to parse his every word in that light. I would suggest his teaching ought to be approached not simply through an assessment of “lofty ideas,” but as an encounter—a personal opportunity in the here and now to accept a transformative grace. It is too soon for me to write anything in depth about the Apostolic Exhortation, but not too soon to suggest a manner of reception that will prove to be fruitful. And for that we need to avoid a serious pitfall. Continue reading