Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Reframing Pope Francis

Here's an except offering a rather realistic and sensible picture of Pope Francis, as written by Michael Cook (editor of MercatorNet) in an article titled, 'Reframing Pope Francis'
Perhaps we need a fresh framework to understand him. Francis is not a conventional Bishop of Rome. After 150 years of Popes who have been mostly diplomats or intellectuals, in 2013 the cardinals elected a Latin American Jesuit, a bishop with a profoundly pastoral heart. In John Paul II, the Church had a strikingly original philosopher; in Benedict XVI, one of the world’s finest theologians; and in Francis, a distinguished spiritual director. 
The figure of the “spiritual director” is a familiar one in the Catholic Church and the Jesuits are famed for producing them. They are priests (usually) who “direct souls”, that is, give prayerful and practical advice to people one-by-one. 
Their role is to help each person reach the heights of Christian life, sometimes by comforting and consoling, sometimes by scolding and berating, always by helping people to be more prayerful and centred on Christ. It’s no accident that the Pope’s Christmas present to the members of the Roman Curia – the officials at the Vatican – was an Italian translation of stern textbook by a 17th Century Jesuit, Industriae ad curandos animae morbos (Curing illnesses of the soul)
The harsh side of Francis as a spiritual director seems to have deeply offended some clergy. “We’ve stuck with the Church through thick and thin, we get paid peanuts, and this guy rips into us for not being holy enough! Just who does he think he is?” But this has always been the reaction of weary clergy in past eras of reform. Just read the lives of the 16th Century Counter-Reformation saints Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. It’s an understandable complaint, but it’s not holiness. 
Sadly, a bit of berating seems to be in order after the world-wide sex abuse scandals, profligacy in the Vatican, and, worst of all, a collapse in the number of church-goers. Francis seems to believe that if there had been more Padre Pios in the pulpits, there would be more Catholics in the pews. 
The important thing to remember about a spiritual director—unlike a philosopher or theologian -- is that his advice is imparted personally, soul by soul. It is not delivered in sermons, books, or Facebook groups. It is not an off-the-rack suit but bespoke spiritual tailoring. All of Francis’s advice in Amoris Laetitia is perfectly conventional if viewed through the prism of personal spiritual direction. He is showing the Church how to apply to prodigal sons and daughters the principles of Vatican II and of the two great Popes who implemented its spirit. 
There are risks, of course. Francis’s approach will only work if priests (all Catholics, actually) are willing to be shepherds with the smell of the sheep. If too many of them settle for being managers or “collectors of antiques or novelties”, it will fail. 
History will be the judge of how effective this will be, but Francis is taking for granted that John Paul II and Benedict XVI had already created a robust intellectual framework for evangelization by producing the Catholic Catechism and their brilliant encyclicals. Now it is time for action, for reaching out, for bringing the Gospel message to a secularized world.
So the critics’ view is topsy-turvy. Instead of contesting traditional Catholic notions like exceptionless moral norms, the indissolubility of marriage, or the possibility of living according to the moral law, Francis assumes them. OK, he is saying, we’ve spent the last 40 years updating the language of traditional moral theology. It’s time to roll this out on the battlefield and set up our field hospitals.
Read the whole article here.

Time permitting read also the comments that follow the article.  Most of them seem to feel offended to hear that there is more to Christian faith than doctrine.  They seem to be perfectly at home with the idea of a well-defined doctrine, near-perfect liturgy, pious sermons ... even if all of this is at the cost of a living and life-giving experience of God, in accordance with the Gospels.  

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