Posts Tagged ‘ Pope Francis ’

Live and Let Live is Not Good Enough

“We are all called not to reduce the Kingdom of God to the confines of our ‘little churches,’ but to dilate the Church to the dimensions of the Kingdom of God.”

–Pope Francis, 10/12/2014 Weekly Angelus Address

Call me a heretic, but I would pick a slight battle with Pope Francis here.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the Church expanding itself and getting outside of itself and turning to the needs of the periphery as he describes.  And it’s his job to help us keep that in mind.  But first we need to get our own house in order, as it were, before we can effectively “dilate to the dimensions.”  What Pope Francis is calling “little churches,” I think, is remaining complacent in our small groups, essentially patting each other on our backs and saying how holy we all are.  I agree with the Pope in emphasizing more outreach and focus on the marginalized.  But I do think we need to get our house in order, in a different way.

Another connotation for “little church” is the family.  The family is the little church, the amazing cenacle where grace meets grace, and begets new life.  To borrow another metaphor, the family is a place where the ground for growth is tilled, weeded, and cured–where growth is cautiously guarded, and masterfully, indifferently, and meticulously tended.  I want to spend a moment with that metaphor.

As a father, I have learned a lot about myself and my personality through this process of tending and guarding.  I(1) have a vision for my(1) family and it is my responsibility to do everything I can to grow towards that vision.

God is the master gardener–he gives the seed and makes the seed grow.  His goodness and grace are the sunlight, water, and nutrients.  Comparatively, the good things that help us grow are good and glorious gifts from Him.  God entrusted this local garden to me.  Now, there are many ways to go about gardening.  One extreme is to have careful control of every part of the gardening enterprise, such as the temperature, air pressure, humidity, pH content of the soil, etc.  The other extreme would be to let the garden grow as it will without much or any interference.

There are two extremes–complete control and complete autonomy.  If my vision for my garden–say, of vegetables–was to harvest the vegetables when ripe, it would probably make sense to have some control over the environment.  Is it necessary to have complete control?  What if that tomato sags too much into the broccoli, which is getting in the way of the spinach’s sunlight, which is crowding out the basil.  Complete control is a myth–it’s a fantasy.  I can never completely control what is going on, my garden, my environment, etc.

But the other extreme of letting the garden grow naturally without any cultivation is equally inadequate, and is an affront to justice.  I have been given this great and amazing responsibility, along with my knowledge, skills, and ability (been reading too many clinical psychology competency-based supervision articles…).  I have this vision of the garden.  And I daresay that I have discerned this vision to in line with the will of God.  God ordains this vision of our garden, I have the ability and knowledge to tend the garden like this.

So it is with my family.  What does this have to do with anything, much less Pope Francis’s comments?  While Pope Francis was talking about a different concept of the “little church,” I think there is too little emphasis on taking care of in-house matters, and there is too much emphasis on being mindful of outside factors.  One perspective on parenting suggests for parents to let their children live and let live.  This hands-off approach is very important when the garden is grown a bit, is hardy, and can withstand the heat of the environment.  But I would never want my little chick-pea to be exposed to the harshness of the frost or the desert–after she has developed enough to stand firm while withstanding the heat.  But as the chick-pea is still developing its characteristic heartiness, the gardener needs to guard, protect, and nurture it, so that it can, when it is mature, fully withstand the glorious yet harshly tumultuous and whimsical environment.

Our little church, our family will grow, expanding the dimensions of the Kingdom of God, in due time.  Our little chick-peas and florets will know the sting of the first frost before they know it.  It’s my job to make sure they have enough warmth in them to withstand it.

(1) I use the pronouns “I” and “me” here and throughout this post, which imperfectly reflects reality.  It’s a glorious job to be a parent–even more glorious when the job is done together, with the spouse who helped beget the child(ren).  That is, a lot of what I am talking about, the responsibility, the gardening, etc., happens together with my wife.  But I am thinking a little existential here, acknowledging my ultimate aloneness.  Fully united with my spouse makes me fully alive; and yet, I am here, ultimately alone.  It’s a paradox/mystery I’d like to explore, preferably over a glass of wine or two!


Reading Francis through Benedict

I like Fr. Z’s approach of reading Francis through Benedict.  Let’s all keep that in mind, and realize that Francis is really saying the same thing that Benedict and JPII did when they were popes, just in a different way.  Here’s putting that more clearly:

God’s mercy on sinners is the key in which Francis exercises the Petrine ministry. This represents no great change from the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who spoke frequently of the mercy of God and the reality of sin and, in the case of the former, wrote an entire encyclical on the divine mercy.

Pope Francis loves gays and abortion-seekers: Antinomianism or grace?

Pope Francis knows how to shake things up, eh? While I have net yet read the whole interview (another post to come about that), it made me think of a comment that Adam recently posted on this site.  I had posted about how I get caught up in thinking about theology that I fail to encounter the One I study.  Or I argue about a point about the faith, but ignore the reason for the faith in the first place, Jesus.

It’s hard.  I think our intentions are right and true in that we want to seek out God.  But that is the problem.  We are seeking for God, while God is seeking for us.  It’s not like a meet in the middle kind of thing.  When we go looking for God, as if we are on an expedition, we won’t find him.  I think it’s about, rather, allowing God to find us.  Accepting God’s invitation.  The problem is, while that may be true, it seems so ethereal, so touchy-feely.  I get the feeling like holiness is much more simple, much more common, everyday.  If holiness isn’t simply living a bunch of rules (like our pope recently indicated), but rather an encounter, what does that mean?  What are the practical implications?  If it doesn’t actually involve doing something, then what is it?  Holiness isn’t just doing good.  It is accepting grace.  But what does that mean?

How does one encounter the Lord Jesus?  I don’t really know.  But I think it has something to do with mercy, accepting forgiveness, and following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  I think it involves a search for Truth and Goodness.  I think it involves healing and being and allowing Love to seep through the bark to the place we are most vulnerable.  Rules do not come quite yet.  Once we have this encounter with Jesus, we are given a choice–much like Jesus’ contemporaries had a choice after they encountered Him.  Will I come and follow?  Will I put down my nets, my boat, my family, my friends, my life as I know it, and follow?

But why?  Why would anyone in their right minds follow?  Our post-modern, skeptical self says, “What’s in it for me?”  Everything: living water, eternal life, everlasting food.  It’s the ultimate bargain with implications for eternity.  The question lingers–what will I choose?

Jesus tells those he healed:

“Go, and sin no more.”

After healing, forgiveness, and change of heart, then we are compelled, on our own accord, to seek the Kingdom of God, to know His ways, and to sin no more.  The grace we receive from healing and forgiveness opens our hearts to the longing that we have had all along, to live according to God’s commandments, such as living an authentic person-affirming chastity or living the virtues.

But didn’t you say that the natural virtues–living a good life–should lead unbelievers to Christ?  What now, you equivocating sophist?

I may be a sophist, but I don’t equivocate (here at least).

If we live the virtues, we will have a taste of Truth and Goodness, which can lead us to that encounter.  Living a good life takes us far, but only accepting God’s supernatural grace into our lives–and in response to God’s gift of grace, live our lives according to His will–can we live truly and deeply, with supernatural virtue.  Holiness, ultimate living, requires us to take a step beyond just “being a good person,” or even living a virtuous life.  It requires us to constant encounter with a person, Jesus Christ.

It’s a cycle of encounter, healing, grace, and transformation.  That transformation gives us a deeper sense of Jesus Christ, which in turn leads to a deeper encounter, and thus, the blessed cycle continues.

Transformation without healing and grace can only lead to idolatry.  That is, if I teach my children to follow God’s rules, but don’t teach them about the God who gives the rules, and His Son, Jesus Christ, whom he sent to set me free from the bonds of death, in order that I can have eternal life, I lead my children to an idol.  I need to lead them to the Person of Jesus Christ.

This is what Paul teaches in 1 Timothy:

For there is one God.
There is also one mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus,
who gave himself as ransom for all.
This was the testimony at the proper time.

This is the Gospel. This is what it is all about, and this is, I think (though I haven’t fully read the piece) is what Pope Francis is driving at when he talked about the Church being “obsessed” with homosexuality and abortion. From the little I have read, this is what it is all about. He teaches that it’s not about living a code of rules. Christianity is not a code of rules. It is an encounter with a Person, Christ Jesus.

By his most recently published comments, he is not eliminating rules from Christian Living.  He is not saying that we shouldn’t have rules or follow rules.  Thus, he is not an antinomian.  But rather, he rightly emphasizes grace which only comes through an encounter with the Living Christ, Jesus our Lord.

A Call to Arms

In the culture wars, everyone has an opinion.  As Catholics, our opinion, of course, is that Heaven is our destination, and that we need to get on that road, fast.  Part of getting on that road is pointing out the way for others to get on that road too.  This is the new evangelization.

The road to Heaven is the road to Truth and Goodness.  Jesus is the most pure Truth and most Good.  Of course, even people who don’t know about Jesus can know aspects of His Truth and aspects of His Goodness.  I think that logic is behind Vatican II documents’ and Pope Francis’ recent point about how non-Christians can be “saved,” of sorts.  People who know and live the Goodness and Truth of life, written in their hearts by the Author of life, essentially know Jesus.

We call this naturally-observed Goodness and Truth “virtue.”  The natural virtues are part of natural law.  CS Lewis, one of my Christian heroes, in his treatise on natural law Abolition of Man compiled a list of several virtues from across times and cultures throughout the world (pp 34-40 of the pdf).  Not surprisingly, each virtue he listed had support from east to west, north to south, since the beginning of written time.  Humble as ever, Lewis admits that this compilation is not a scholarly endeavor in that it is not a work of cultural anthropology.  However, one can easily deduce that the compilation demonstrates that virtues are more or less universally found in cultures throughout history.

If the natural laws are universal, and thus are written on the hearts of all, I am not surprised about the vitriol with which culture warriors argue against natural virtues.  People have written on their hearts the way to Truth and Goodness as exemplified by natural virtues.  Because of our collective fallen nature, it is not easy to live that way.

Here is my inchoate hypothesis about why.  Fallout from the industrial revolution splintered communities, making it more difficult to receive emotional security from the world.  It was harder to connect to people around them, but they still needed to connect on a deep way–we need connection and intimacy.  We are built to reflect the unity of the Trinity.  We need and crave community.  Though still connected with their family, and still connected, albeit in a less predictable and effective way to their greater community, isolation left a deep social-spiritual-emotional wound.  Without community and intimacy to help heal, people turned inward.  The pleasure principle took over–people turned to biological-ecological means of healing.  This ranges from the hard core (drugs, alcohol, binge eating) to the seemingly innocuous (exercise, mild use of antidepressants).  Either way, due in part to social isolation people tend to cope with the difficulties of this world and their isolation by biological means.

Because this pattern is naturally reinforcing (people feel bad, they turn to some external means to feel better, they feel better, and then they are more disposed to turn to that same means to feel better), it becomes an integral part of people’s functioning.  However, the pattern may be at times at odds with our tendency to live natural virtues.  The pleasure principle wins the day, and anything standing in the way of living that principle becomes anathema.  This explains the vehemence against the Church, Christianity, and Tim Tebow, as I discussed in my last post.

This brings us to practical considerations.  As I explored in my last post words are weapons in the culture wars.  Calling Tebow “polarizing” is an attack on Christian living, defending the belief that there is no right or wrong and thus maintaining the primacy of pleasure.

Two can play that game.  We have at our disposal more battle-weathered tools.  The virtues, written on our hearts, are our way to connect Jesus manifest in all our hearts with people who do not believe.  Using virtue-promoting language in secular contexts is our way to fight fire with fire.  We don’t have to debate first principles if we, like our “enemies,” implicitly promote Truth, Beauty, and Goodness by using virtues-promoting language.

The way that we describe our world in secular contexts can have a profound impact on how others view those contexts.  There are great benefits to this approach.  First of all, it does not necessarily presuppose revelation.  Thus, we don’t get into circular debates about epistemology or the relative costs or benefits to using scripture as the basis for debate in secular contexts.  Secondly, people are already used to hearing this sort of rhetoric.  It has become part of the cultural vernacular to imbue into our language our perspectives.  Third, it directly challenges the perspectives put forward by the “other side,” using their own tactics.  People are used to philosophical messages being subsumed by more overt statements.  Finally, this tactic is especially amenable to new media–texts, memes, twitter, facebook, instagram, youtube, blogs…all of these media thrive on the 10-second or 10-word bold statement.  By staking a claim on those platforms using virtues-promoting language, the message of Truth can thrive on screens, and therefore, in hearts and minds.

There is a caveat here.  Reducing Christianity and Jesus Christ to simply a model of living by focusing on the virtues is a dangerous heresy.  True Christian living is changing one’s heart as a result of an encounter with the Living Christ.  Without that encounter, virtue-guided living ends up as a sort of pantheism, which is one step away from relativism.  Additionally, this is not an easy tactic.  It takes a great command of language, an in-depth understanding of faith and philosophy, and, more practically speaking, an outlet.  Finally, it takes commitment.  Courageous Catholics need to step up.

Many already do–bloggers such as Marc Barnes takes this approach in his blogging and meme creation.  His approach is a model since he does a wonderful job writing for a broad audience.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love Fr. Z, Simcha Fisher, and others.  But these fantastic bloggers tend to write for and attract a primarily Catholic audience of a certain flavor.  And that is fine, and necessary.  Their audience loves and needs them.  But as Pope Francis stresses, we can’t just be a church turned inward.  We need to reach out and get dirty.

The culture wars are far from over.  That said, it is up to us to be able to read between the lines and refute the implicit assumptions embedded in contemporary oral and written public discourse.  Furthermore, we need to ingest solid Catholic and Christian theology and philosophy and hone our expressive arts so we can embed in our discourse the language of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.