Saturday, September 28, 2013

Richard Gaillardetz: For Francis, Thinking with the Church Is Thinking with Whole Church and Not Just the Ones Who Count Ecclesiastically

In my theological reflection on Pope Francis's interview, I wrote,

Francis (with Vatican II) envisages thinking with the church in a quite different way [i.e., from that of restorationist Catholics] : God has entered into the dynamic of the human community, and if we want to find God, we have to get inside that dynamic--which is a journey dynamic, a dialogue dynamic, and not a handing-down-truth-to-passive-recipients dynamic.

The church he calls for would be messier because it makes a space for honest dialogue, listening and even disagreement. For example, in his recent interview with Jesuit publications worldwide, he reflects on what it means to "think with the church." For him, this starts with getting beyond our own self-styled and often self-serving credos. Yet "thinking with the church" also means much more than a scrupulous, servile obedience to every ecclesiastical decree. It means thinking with the whole church and not just the ones who count ecclesiastically. It means daring to enter into a "complex web of relationships," living in receptive solidarity with all God's people. It means recalling not only the infallibility of the church's teachers but also, as the council taught, the infallibility of the believing church.

It means thinking with the whole church and not just the ones who count ecclesiastically: this strikes me as a very fine way to summarize something central to the Vatican II ecclesiology of the new pope. Contrast this with George Neumayr's demand that Pope Francis be corrected by "powerful cardinals," which I've just discussed (with a hat tip to Andrew Sullivan), and the two visions of the church could not be starker. 

For the restorationists of the JPII and BXVI period, "powerful cardinals" count above all. Many of us have counted so little, in fact, during the reign of terror of the two previous popes that we have been effectively read out of the smaller, purer, truer church of the restorationists.

For Francis, as for Jesus in the gospels, everyone counts--and those on the margins count first and foremost. I can well understand why this vision of the church terrifies Catholics who have everything invested in worlds in which power, influence, and money count above everything else, and in which the little people are completely dispensable. 

The gospels are absolutely terrifying in their insistence that the values of the reign of God turn the presuppositions of the rich and powerful on their head. And that to follow Jesus, we need to think with the non-rich and the non-powerful with whom Jesus made himself one.

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