Fr. Dale Matson
Pope Francis has been portrayed in the liberal media as a man they can do business with. He will return the spirit of Vatican II (whatever that means). They have ‘cherry picked’ some of his remarks in interviews like, “Who am I to judge?” regarding homosexual behavior. Some Conservative Roman Catholics have expressed concern that Pope Francis has downgraded the importance of church doctrine and dogma. Actually, he spoke at length in his document on the importance of catechesis and descipling.
Pope Francis is a visionary but he is a visionary guided by Tradition and Scripture. Much of what he said was quotes from his predecessors like Pope Paul VI. I believe Pope Paul VI is the man (besides St. Francis) that he included as his model. If you understand Pope Paul VI, you will better understand Pope Francis. He also liberally quoted Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the synod of bishops, Augustine, Aquinas and John Henry Newman. He is not building a new church. He is putting a fresh coat of paint on the front door. It is the new wine of the Gospel, which is both eternal and eternally new. His exhortation is addressed to his entire church and is thus very much in the ‘vernacular’.
Like Luther, it is the priesthood of all believers when it comes to Evangelism. All have this duty because evangelism is the greatest way to love our neighbor.
Perhaps the best way to get to know the man charged with leading the largest Christian denomination on earth into the future is to go to a source document.
“EVANGELII GAUDIUM” or “The Joy of the Gospel” in English, is not simply an ‘exhortation’. It is a book length document, 224 pages in length. In it, I believe he is resetting the priorities of the Roman Catholic Church. As an Anglican Priest, I have learned to pay attention, for in God’s Kingdom, all Christians are one in Christ. I prefer writing which is generally more precise and linear like the style of Popes John Paul II and Benedict. Pope Francis can be precise and immediately restates the great commission in contemporary language (Matthew 28:16-20).
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”
I liked reading this and it immediately gave me a fresh sense of my own salvation and the freedom this salvation has given me. I have a sense that like me, Pope Francis believes that converted hearts lead to converted minds. That is why he may seem to be backing away at times from controversy. This is not completely so.
“Our redemption has a social dimension because 'God, in Christ, redeems not only the individual person, but also the social relations existing between men'” (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace)
“[taking from Scripture]Here, 'the creation' refers to every aspect of human life; consequently, the mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ has a universal destination. Its mandate of charity encompasses all dimensions of existence, all individuals, all areas of community life, and all peoples. Nothing human can be alien to it” (181).
I agree with him that the Gospel connects us to others not just spiritually but morally and socially. The church has the right and duty to speak against social injustice. We are not just Sunday Christians. He quoted Pope Benedict XVI here, “If indeed 'the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics'; the Church 'cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice'”.
He has much to say about the poor, the mistreated and the vulnerable that need the help of the church. This also includes unborn humans. How we treat the unborn keeps us oriented and consistent about all human rights issues. He also speaks about the contemporary emphasis on the rights of individuals that undermines the common good.
“'You yourselves give them something to eat!' (Mk 6:37): it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter. (188)” I have some reservations about how Pope Francis understands this verse from Matthew and his understanding of how capitalism works. Are we called to equally distribute all that we have? Is private property inherently evil?
“Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down, however much it may talk about social issues or criticize governments. It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk.” Amen to that Pope Francis!
As a retired plumber and professor, I appreciate his appeal to reality. “There also exists a constant tension between ideas and realities. Realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out. There has to be continuous dialogue between the two, lest ideas become detached from realities. It is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone, of images and rhetoric. So a third principal comes into play: realities are greater than ideas. This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.” This is a 'dirt under your fingernails', blue collar Pope!
He also places a great deal of emphasis on preparation and preaching of the Gospel. I hope ministers and priests read this section carefully.
His emphasis (like Pope Paul VI) on the ecumenical dialogue including Judaism (244) is important, welcomed by many and necessary for the good of the universal church.
At the end of his document he returns to evangelism. It must be Spirit Filled. I know what that term means to me. What does this mean to you?
Finally, I hope I have given him a fair hearing. It spoke to me as a priest. I trust it will speak to his entire intended audience. I am comforted by his ideas. He is a visionary speaking in the context of Tradition and Scripture. God Bless you Pope Francis.