Restoring Faith in the Triumph of Christ

Pope Francis has recently criticized the modern versions of Pelagianism and triumphalism in a way that has left some devout Catholics scratching their heads.   The Holy Father seems to be taking aim at the more traditionally minded that are intent on bringing about a restoration of Catholic life, and they find it hard to understand why the Vicar of Christ would have a problem with, of all things, “traditional Catholicism.”  So what exactly is Pope Francis trying to accomplish?

Faith and Future

I believe the Holy Father is attempting to underscore the supernatural character of faith in a time when everyone is affected by the deviations of modernity, including the very people who are reacting against these deviations.  In his encyclical Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis says that faith is a supernatural gift that lights our way, “guiding us through time.”  It comes from the past as a “foundational memory.” Yet, because faith proceeds from the Risen Christ it is also a light that comes from the future, “opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion” (4).  Thus, Pope Francis calls faith memoria futuri, “remembrance of the future” (9).  Coming from the past, faith is an unshakable memory of what God and done for us in Christ Jesus, and what He has revealed to us through His Son.  Coming from the future, faith is bound up with hope in the promises God has made and guaranteed by the resurrection of His Son.  Thus, in practice to keep the faith means never allowing ourselves to be robbed of hope.  It means never being frozen in time because we are afraid of the future (57). Continue reading

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Pope Francis on Ideology

The following remarks were made by Pope Francis yesterday to the leadership of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean concerning he Church in Latin America.  Take it for what it is.  Personally, I do not believe the critiques apply only to that part of the world.  Stay away from the fringes.

4. Some temptations against missionary discipleship

The decision for missionary discipleship will encounter temptation. It is important to know where the evil spirit is afoot in order to aid our discernment. It is not a matter of chasing after demons, but simply one of clear-sightedness and evangelical astuteness. I will mention only a few attitudes which are evidence of a Church which is “tempted”. It has to do with recognizing certain contemporary proposals which can parody the process of missionary discipleship and hold back, even bring to a halt, the process of Pastoral Conversion.

1. Making the Gospel message an ideology. This is a temptation which has been present in the Church from the beginning: the attempt to interpret the Gospel apart from the Gospel itself and apart from the Church. An example: Aparecida, at one particular moment, felt this temptation. It employed, and rightly so, the method of “see, judge and act” (cf. No. 19). The temptation, though, was to opt for a way of “seeing” which was completely “antiseptic”, detached and unengaged, which is impossible. The way we “see” is always affected by the way we direct our gaze. There is no such thing as an “antiseptic” hermeneutics. The question was, rather: How are we going to look at reality in order to see it? Aparecida replied: With the eyes of discipleship. This is the way Nos. 20-32 are to be understood. There are other ways of making the message an ideology, and at present proposals of this sort are appearing in Latin America and the Caribbean. I mention only a few:

a) Sociological reductionism. This is the most readily available means of making the message an ideology. At certain times it has proved extremely influential. It involves an interpretative claim based on a hermeneutics drawn from the social sciences. It extends to the most varied fields, from market liberalism to Marxist categorization.

b) Psychologizing. Here we have to do with an elitist hermeneutics which ultimately reduces the “encounter with Jesus Christ” and its development to a process of growing self- awareness. It is ordinarily to be found in spirituality courses, spiritual retreats, etc. It ends up being an immanent, self-centred approach. It has nothing to do with transcendence and consequently, with missionary spirit.

c) The Gnostic solution. Closely linked to the previous temptation, it is ordinarily found in elite groups offering a higher spirituality, generally disembodied, which ends up in a preoccupation with certain pastoral “quaestiones disputatae”. It was the first deviation in the early community and it reappears throughout the Church’s history in ever new and revised versions. Generally its adherents are known as “enlightened Catholics” (since they are in fact rooted in the culture of the Enlightenment).

d) The Pelagian solution. This basically appears as a form of restorationism. In dealing with the Church’s problems, a purely disciplinary solution is sought, through the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful. In Latin America it is usually to be found in small groups, in some new religious congregations, in tendencies to doctrinal or disciplinary “safety”. Basically it is static, although it is capable of inversion, in a process of regression. It seeks to “recover” the lost past.

2. Functionalism. Its effect on the Church is paralyzing. More than being interested in the road itself, it is concerned with fixing holes in the road. A functionalist approach has no room for mystery; it aims at efficiency. It reduces the reality of the Church to the structure of an NGO. What counts are quantifiable results and statistics. The Church ends up being run like any other business organization. It applies a sort of “theology of prosperity” to the organization of pastoral work.

3. Clericalism is also a temptation very present in Latin America. Curiously, in the majority of cases, it has to do with a sinful complicity: the priest clericalizes the lay person and the lay person kindly asks to be clericalized, because deep down it is easier. The phenomenon of clericalism explains, in great part, the lack of maturity and Christian freedom in a good part of the Latin American laity. Either they simply do not grow (the majority), or else they take refuge in forms of ideology like those we have just seen, or in partial and limited ways of belonging. Yet in our countries there does exist a form of freedom of the laity which finds expression in communal experiences: Catholic as community. Here one sees a greater autonomy, which on the whole is a healthy thing, basically expressed through popular piety. The chapter of the Aparecida document on popular piety describes this dimension in detail. The spread of bible study groups, of ecclesial basic communities and of Pastoral Councils is in fact helping to overcome clericalism and to increase lay responsibility.

We could continue by describing other temptations against missionary discipleship, but I consider these to be the most important and influential at present for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Pope Francis Lighting the Way Forward

And this is the judgment: Because the light is come into the world and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil.  For every one that doth evil hateth the light and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. But he that doth truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest: because they are done in God.

—John 3:19-21

Pope Francis has been shining a light on issues of conscience and preaching the faith in his daily homilies and applying the Word of God to the lives of his hearers.  In a particular he continues to return to the them of docility to the Holy Spirit and discerning the way through the modern world, avoiding the extremes and staying on the path of reform and renewal. Continue reading