Evangelii Gaudium and the Culture War

“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

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St. Francis through the Eyes of . . . Updated

Several weeks ago I gave a conference to our Third Order in New Bedford on St. Francis and his charism entitled “St. Francis through the Eyes of St. Bonaventure, through the Eyes of Pope Benedict, through the Eyes of Pope Francis.”  It is largely based on three general audiences that Pope Benedict delivered in March of 2010 (3, 10, 17), about St. Bonaventure, his life, his influence on the Franciscan Order and his theology.

Pope Benedict is somewhat of an authority on St. Bonventure, having written a thesis on the Seraphic Doctor’s theology of history.  Some have said that it is Pope Benedict’s understanding of this teaching of St. Bonaventure’s that is a key to his papacy.  At least, I would contend that it is a key to what Pope Benedict called the “hermeneutic of continuity.”

I believe this is all helpful to understanding where the Church is headed under Pope Francis and may help to explain the style and content of his comments, particularly in his interviews.  In the following audio recording of my conference one will hear me make reference to the  interview with Eugenio Scalfari, in which, according to Scalfari, the Holy Father stated that that the most the “most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old.”  I suggested, with Zygmunt Bauman, writing in L’Osservatore Romano,  that Pope Francis may be saying something more than is suggested in the all the commentary.  Since I gave the conference the Scalfari interview has been removed from the Vatican website, presumably because Scalfari’s recollection of the Pope’s words leaves something to be desired.  This is all worth keeping in mind.

In any case, even if the Holy Father said nothing like the quote above, I believe it remains true that his emphasis on the relational aspects of the new evangelization will continue to be key to his pontificate and its advisability will continue to be debated.

Of that debate, I will have more to say in the next few days.  Here is the conference:

Update: Scalfari Confesses to having published his own invention under the title “interview.”

Francis the Builder

He’s great because he is everything. He is a man who wants to do things, wants to build, he founded an order and its rules, he is an itinerant and a missionary, a poet and a prophet, he is mystical. He found evil in himself and rooted it out. He loved nature, animals, the blade of grass on the lawn and the birds flying in the sky. But above all he loved people, children, old people, women. He is the most shining example of that agape we talked about earlier.

—Francis on Francis

Pope Francis’ description of his namesake, given in his recent interview with Eugenio Scalfari, is a popular one, both in style and content.  In it is found the reason why the St. Francis-with-the-bird statue winds up in many a garden of those whose identity as Catholics is otherwise nominal.  St. Francis had a love for nature.  For some that will be the take home from the above statement of the Pope.  But there is more in the Holy Father’s description.  St. Francis was like Jesus.  His life was poetry.  He achieved a life of charity rarely found in mere mortals.  Pope Francis is building, like his namesake.  He is making something more significant of that statue in the garden.  Thus, the pastoral method of Pope Francis in his interviews is personal, direct and spontaneous, but I believe we would be mistaken if we took them has haphazard. Continue reading