Here’s Benedict Helping Francis

Yesterday I got itchy about Pope Francis seemingly saying that evangelism was a ‘solemn nonsense’.

Still pondering yesterday’s papal interview with Eugenio Scalfari I came across this article from Pope Benedict’s 2007 visit to Brazil. In the article Pope Benedict XVI discusses the matter of proselytization and says to the Latin American bishops,

“To you who represent the Church in Latin America, today I symbolically entrust my Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, in which I sought to point out to everyone the essence of the Christian message.” He then explained that the Church “does not engage in proselytism.  Instead, she grows by ‘attraction’,” “just as Christ draws all to himself by the power of his love.”

Benedict XVI stressed then that “this is the priceless treasure that is so abundant in Latin America, this is her most precious inheritance: faith in the God who is Love, who has shown us his face in Jesus Christ.”

Re-reading the Scalfari interview we can see that this is essentially what Pope Francis is also saying. So why did I, and so many others get itchy about Pope Francis’ comment?

I think there are several reasons. Firstly, the comment was stated negatively. The Pope said he wasn’t going to convert Scalfari and he said “proselytization was a solemn nonsense.” Contrast this with the positive way in which Benedict XVI said the same thing. He did condemn proselytization, but he did so in the fuller context of explaining the Catholic method of evangelization which is “attraction of love”. He referenced his comments back to a papal teaching so that we can gain a fuller understanding.

Secondly, Pope Francis’ interview had other disturbing hints which colored our reading of his proselytization comment. His new age sounding words about “the light of God infusing all souls and becoming one at the end of time” sounded like squishy universalism, and if this was right, then the need for any form of evangelization is eliminated.

Thirdly, we picked up these two subtexts and combined them with the words about “going out and showing love and making the world a better place” and the words about “infusing a feeling of brotherhood for all” and heard what sounded like the usual bland, universalist, social gospel mush that has been a force of stupendous weakness in the church for the last fifty years.

I was much helped therefore, by reading not only Benedict XVI’s comments on evangelization but also re-reading Bl.John Paul II’s encyclical Novo Millennio Ineunte — into the new millennium. Their words about evangelization and the church’s mission harmonize completely with Pope Francis’. However, we will probably still have to take some time to get used to Francis’ approach. His words and actions will be in harmony with the teachings of JP2 and B16 but his approach will be his approach–that of a pastor from Argentina–with his own unique perspective and emphasis.

As for me. I’m learning and listening, and if my blog posts yesterday were a bit scrappy–well that’s part of the process.

No forward motion without friction.

  • Christopher M. Zelonis

    As a brother priest, and as a rank-and-file blogger, I respect the Catholic blogosphere’s attentive and charitable re-readings of Pope Francis’ interviews. The “publish or perish” mentality that once and still energizes professors and writers, seems more intense today. Every word that comes forth from the mouth of Francis is being projected onto the public screen, and many will not be able or willing to distinguish between the weight of magisterial teaching and “personal” conversation. Catholic writers bear a certain responsibility to interpret, clarify, amplify, and perhaps challenge what we are hearing. The (especially) recent pontifical words corroborate the current ones, although our ears may bristle at the differences of tone and content. Like you, I will not cease to stand on my head.

  • Dan Kennedy

    Indeed, Father. I too have to work on finding ways to put his comments into a context that makes sense. If it’s hard for me, it would seem to be nearly impossible for the secular media to do so. Perhaps it will work like reverse psychology. They will be so intrigued by their perception that he “rejects” Church teaching, that they will begin to listen when it is explained? That would be a unique gace.

  • I Stand Corrected

    Novo Millenio Ineunte was not an encyclical…

  • Romulus

    The most indulgent take I can muster is that Pope Francis is a muddled, careless, and sentimental speaker. That still does not solve all my troubles, some of which you point out above. Catholics don’t do universalism or pantheism. On the lips of any Christian the notions referenced above would be bizarre. Can you imagine recommending for ordination any seminarian volunteering such views? We live in a very strange time. Very.

  • Chesire11

    I just wonder how long it will take us to give our Pope the benefit of the doubt, and not assume that apparently problematic comments represent a collapse into heresy, and first considered the far more likely probability that any error just might be in our interpretation of what he said, or in our misinterpretation of doctrine.

    It seems that any time we have trouble with one of his comments, we assume to ourselves a personal infallibility that we would never imagine in a pope!

    Take a breath, trust our Holy Father, and welcome the opportunities for evangelization that he is creating with his “messes.”

  • Augustine

    That’s what I’ve been wondering too, if the Pope pressed some buttons on some that triggered an actual uncharitable reaction to what they thought the Pope said. I say it’s part of the plague of sentimentalism that infest even those on the side of the angels.

  • Claudia

    Communication makes all the difference in the world I don’t care what you believe if you can’t communicate the message what good is it Pope Benedict and John Paul II were great and clearly communicated the message very well There was no need to question anything We never went through what we are going through now. Claudia

  • LongIslandMichael

    Another insightful post Father. Thanks for pointing out the tie in of Pope Francis’s comments to Blessed JPII and Pope Benedict. I tell my Catholic and non Catholic friends over and over again that in order to understand what the current Holy Father is talking about has to be taken not in liberal media sound bites but in its full context especially when it relates to the Church’s teachings and previous content as put forth by John Paul and Benedict. The liberal media was not so lazy and did some actual research and examination of content of the Church’s teaching and how Pope Francis is presenting that same content the Holy Father’s honeymoon would be over with the liberals and they would turn their venom on him. That said maybe, just maybe this is how the Holy Spirit is guiding the Holy Father to evangelize rather then to proselytize.

  • Charles Mac Kay

    Excellent guidance here. Many thanks for the last paragraph

  • dreich27

    Thank you, Father. I wasn’t especially troubled in the first place by the “proselytism” comment as I had heard this word conceptually distinguished from “evangelisation” before. It is a distinction bourne of specific circumstances especially in the light of Muslim tactics, although of course “proselytism” is stated quite positively in many Catholic writings. This is a matter of context. I am still troubled by the content on conscience and apparent universalism. Another blogger priest, following Fr. Lombardi the Pope’s spokesman, reminds us that of course an interview is not infallible. I think I had experienced such filial devotion to the previous Popes that I had loved each interview of theirs. We are reminded that love for the the Holy Father is love for the office, and even Pope Benedict stated that we were free to disagree with his books on Jesus Christ. Personally, as a convert from atheism, I became Catholic because I wanted to experience the fruits of Christ’s redemption and because I knew I could not be saved outside of the Catholic Church. I am troubled by the theology, which goes further than any Council. It could easily sow the seeds of indifference in people’s hearts – anecdotally, this is already occurring. My devotion to the Pope is expressed now fully in offering every minute for Him and praying intensely.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    I simply can’t find myself getting hot and bothered about it. Maybe I’m really not a true Catholic.

    People are still miserable and leaving our congregation whilst the Evangelicals in our town now have something to talk to me about. They love him. Maybe for the wrong reasons, but they do, and it’s opened great opportunities for me to evangelise them.
    As a result, I’ve had several opportunities to say, ‘Here, watch this DVD’, or, ‘Read this book’, and them to return it with a, ‘I didn’t know Catholics believed X’, and they want to know more. I’ve started to have lunch regularly with one of the ministers in our town to talk about Catholicism, for example.

    But I’d have been really thrown if a Marcial Maciel or John Corapi figure had become Pope, or even worse, the former, beatified if his cover-up had been successful until after the event, as a result of the fast-tracking procedures now in place.

    If a Borgia can be Pope, I think we ought to consider ourselves damned lucky…

  • faithandfamilyfirst

    Part of the problem also is the fact that the media have taken a much keener interest in PF than in BXVI. That is to say, the media seemed resigned to the fact that BXVI would speak hard-line Catholic doctrine, and never vary a bit. As a result, the media were not quick (in fact, they didn’t at all) to distort his words. For the most part, they ignored them, except when they tried to make him look foolish (which they couldn’t do) or bigoted (again, without success). PF is different, however, because now the media is actively trying to bend his words to fit their view of what the Church should be. I think the media know that PF will not (indeed, cannot) change the moral teachings of the Church, but they don’t care. What they want to do is convince enough of the lay faithful (especially those who hold true to the teachings of the Church) that PF is abandoning her most sacred doctrines (even though he’s not). The media will continue to do this, much to the detriment of the faithful. The Church they cannot touch, so they will try to beat down and discourage the faithful.
    I for one have stopped viewing and reading the mainstream media. They have proven time and again that they cannot report on any matter in a non-biased, objective way. Gone are the days of just-the-facts, and instead we see an active mission to bend the world to their views. This is not journalism. This is propaganda.