Monday, August 5, 2013

Matthew Fox to Pope Francis: "With All My Heart I Hope Your Papacy Is One of Compassion in Its Fullest and Richest Meanings"

Matthew Fox
Theologian (and former Catholic priest) Matthew Fox writes Pope Francis an impassioned, theologically rich open letter in the Jewish journal of theology and spirituality, Tikkun. Fox tells Francis that he hopes with all his heart that Francis's papacy will be about compassion in its fullest meaning: compassion must comprise justice, since both for the Jewish  and the Christian tradition represented by Fox's mentor Meister Eckhart, love is never real and apparent in the absence of justice. Echoing the psalmist, Eckhart insists that compassion is found where peace and justice kiss.

Fox takes as the centerpiece of his statement to Francis the observation of Rabbi Joshua Heschel that religion itself is to blame for its eclipse in modern society. Not secularism or science, but the inability of many religious groups to hew true to their central messages of compassion and justice results in the indifference of large numbers of people in developed societies to religion. 

Fox quotes Heschel on this point:

When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion—its message becomes meaningless.

Building on the themes embedded in Heschel's prophetic analysis of the failure of religion in modern times, and applying them point by point in relentless fashion to the situation of the Catholic church today, Fox contrasts the kind of religiosity that has come to dominate the Catholic church from top down in recent decades with the kind of religiosity that is central to biblical teaching and to the kingdom proclamation of Jesus: 

Obey, obey, obey. That is the only "theology" I see in studying the sects that have been pushed so hard by the Vatican of late: Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, and the Legion of Christ (which boasted a special vow of never speaking badly about the founder who turned out to be a pervert beyond measure). Obey, obey, obey—that is the very definition of fascism. Its patriarchal message of control and domination is all that matters, its image of God as a punitive father is perverse and it in turn gives legitimacy to punitive attitudes of "superiors"—all that plus sexism is found wherever fascism reigns. An ideology of obedience and authority is no substitute for theology. And it is miles from anything Jesus taught or lived. 
Such ideology is the polar opposite of compassion, which is what Jesus taught. As theologian Dorothy Soelle puts it, the opposite of obedience is…solidarity. Yes, we are here to live lives of solidarity, especially with the poor and oppressed. Community and gatherings of solidarity are key to undoing authority-based religion. Compassion is the expression of true solidarity for it is not feeling alone but action we take to share the mutual joy and suffering that is our lot as humans. It is our struggle to relieve one another’s suffering from injustice that causes so much pain; but it is also our shared desire to celebrate life and its joys. That, too, is compassion. As Meister Eckhart taught, "what happens to another, whether it be a joy or a sorrow, happens to me."

And for the sake of a church about which many of us care deeply, and of our entire planet, which finds itself in dire peril now due to the inability of many world religions to disengage their core messages of compassion and justice from patriarchal systems of being in the world, I hope Francis listens. I hope he finds it possible to listen, in particular, to Fox's insistence that religion is "oppressive of women when it forbids them to hold leadership roles even though the early church championed them and counted them among the earliest followers of Jesus."

Such listening on the part of an aging man raised in a heavily patriarchal culture which exalts machismo and male domination and who lives in a clerical bubble that is totally male and hermetically sealed to women will, of course, not be easy--as it not easy for all of us men raised in patriarchal cultures presuming male entitlement and the male right of domination. But it's surely possible, if the pope really intends for his refurbishing of the church's pastoral image to be about reality and not mere image-shifting.

P.S. Please see my next posting for a continuation of the preceding discussion about responses to Pope Francis on the question of women's status in the Catholic church.

(Thanks to my Facebook friend Roberta Desalle for sharing this article with me and other friends.)

No comments: