Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gospel. Good News. Is What. It's All. About. Commentators Continue to Parse Pope Francis's Recent Interview

Gospel. Good news. Is what. It's all. About.

Good news. Not bad news. The video at the head of the posting is from the NALT Project.

In very many ways, what the Lord family of Memphis says in this video dovetails with the message Pope Francis has just given the Catholic church through his recent interview. Some commentary on that interview in the past few days that has caught my eye:

Michael Gerson regards Pope Francis as a troublemaker, a "subversive" and "disruptive force": noting that the most fundamental proclamation of the church is not a moral dictate, but the message that, in Christ, God offers salvific love to everyone, Gerson points out, 

There is a good Catholic theological term for this: the "hierarchy of truths." Not every true thing has equal weight or urgency. 
But this does not adequately capture Francis's deeper insight: the priority of the person. This personalism is among the most radical implications of Christian faith. In every way that matters to God, human beings are completely equal and completely loved. They can’t be reduced to ethical object lessons. Their dignity runs deeper than their failures. They matter more than any cause; they are the cause. 
So Francis observed: "Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person." 
This teaching — to always consider the person — was disorienting from the beginning. The outsiders get invited to the party. The prodigal is given the place of honor. The pious complain about their shocking treatment. The gatekeepers find the gate shut to them. It is subversive to all respectable religious order, which is precisely the point. With Francis, the argument gains a new hearing.

For Michael Peppard, here's the heart of the new direction Pope Francis is charting for the Catholic church in his recent interview (a new direction returning to the very old foundational source of the gospels):

With respect to doctrine, Francis's vivid disdain for formulas is as striking as it is refreshing. He speaks rarely of truth or error, but repeatedly of "discernment," something which only occurs in "narrative" and "not in a philosophical or theological explanation." God is "in history, in the processes," and a Jesuit must be "a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking." He is a lover of traditional prayers and books, to be sure, but the old Q-and-A Baltimore Catechism is not among them. "If one has the answers to all the questions," he quips, "that is the proof that God is not with him." 
Some of Francis’s strongest antipathy is reserved for timid, doctrinaire attitudes. Those who "want everything clear and safe," who "always look for disciplinarian solutions," who "stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists" will "find nothing." He prefers the kind of catholicity encapsulated by James Joyce as "Here comes everybody!" and denounces the notion of a smaller, purer church, which would be only "a nest protecting our mediocrity.”"
Francis does have one "dogmatic certainty," though. "God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life." This was the witness of the ministry of Jesus as well, deemphasizing rules but intensifying holiness through personal encounter. And bringing that message to the dinner table with whoever lacked hope.

Andrew Sullivan suggests that Francis's reorientation of the Catholic church around what's central--the gospels and their message of good news--is a "categorical rejection" of the hard right of the American Catholic church, which is now definitively "over" with Francis and the new (old) direction in which he's taking the church. The U.S. Catholic bishops have seized on a "small rule" in the Affordable Care Act that requires public Catholic institutions to provide contraceptive coverage for women who want it, though the act also affords a work-around to those institutions allowing them not to pay for the coverage.

Even so, the bishops have done everything in their power to make this small rule the basis for a partisan political campaign against the current administration, staging "Fortnight for Freedom" demonstrations around the country to urge Catholic voters to cast their votes solely on the basis of abortion, contraception, and gay marriage. Bishops have played cynical games with the poor and immigrants as they threaten do defund ministry programs for these groups if those programs support marriage equality. They have attacked American religious women for not hinging everything on abortion, contraception, and homosexuality--while Francis states,

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods . . . The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

And then Sullivan concludes:

. . . [H]ow can the theocons ignore the following: "If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing." To whom do they think the Pope was referring? Who else if not them? Or do they have alternative suggestions?

To whom, indeed, are Francis's questions about restorationist legalism, with its itch for clear, safe, eminently controllable, formulas directed, if not to the Catholic right? And how can Francis's words be understood as anything other than a clear and direct repudiation of that very itch--and so of that very project? 

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