All In: the Deep Evangelization of Pope Francis -UPDATED

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Sadly, my phone is not letting me have the picture I took today, for this piece, but honestly, I didn’t get any really good shots, anyway. I am a bad photographer, and too short to get much more than pictures of taller people getting better shots. Such is life. This pic above is from 2011.

So, my recovery continues apace, and this morning I was able to be part of Pope Francis’ audience with the press. Unfortunately, his Italian was too much for mine, so I had to wait for the translated release of his remarks before I could write anything.

Even without understanding the Holy Father, though, I could tell when he was departing from prepared remarks, which he did frequently, and always, it seems, when he wanted to make an emphatic point. Also, this pope gestures with his hands, which I kind of like — he points his fingers, or arcs his arms, to punctuate his works, or perhaps to propel his thinking forward. Being raised Italian/Irish, I appreciate that; it’s very human, familiar and comfortable to me. I wonder how others receive all that motion, though.

And man, this guy is a hugger! After delivering his remarks and a blessing, he met with various members of the media, and while he received the ring-kisses with something like resignation — he is Peter, after all, and kissing the ring isn’t really about him, but about that office — he seemed perfectly fine with people coming up to him and hugging him. He betrays no sense of vulnerability or fear of intimacy. This, of course, makes me worry that he is perhaps reckless with his safety. But then, a truly faith-filled man generally does leave things like safety up to God. The lesson so many of us need to learn and relearn: the hour of our demise isn’t up to us, really, so we may as well just get on with things.

Upon reading Francis’ remarks (I calls him Francis ’cause I likes him) I found a great deal to cheer about, one thing I wasn’t sure I completely understood, and one thing that left me just plain wondering.

I liked this a lot:

I am particularly grateful to those who viewed and presented these events of the Church’s history in a way which was sensitive to the right context in which they need to be read, namely that of faith. Historical events almost always demand a nuanced interpretation which at times can also take into account the dimension of faith. Ecclesial events are certainly no more intricate than political or economic events! But they do have one particular underlying feature: they follow a pattern which does not readily correspond to the “worldly” categories which we are accustomed to use, and so it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wider and more varied public. The Church is certainly a human and historical institution with all that that entails, yet her nature is not essentially political but spiritual: the Church is the People of God, the Holy People of God making its way to encounter Jesus Christ. Only from this perspective can a satisfactory account be given of the Church’s life and activity.

Spot on, of course and timely, given everything that has happened in our church since February 11. Speculation about movtives, positions, camps and campaigning will always arise when dramatic events occur, but it is always necessary, when considering church actions, to remember that — whether a reporter believes it or not — the church’s thoughts are always reasoned relative to both the natural and the supernatural worlds; things seen and unseen. So few wrote about the supernatural angle of Benedict’s resignation, but we understood the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the outcome of the conclave, and even in how this pope was inspired to be “Francis” which he relates here, charmingly:

I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes…he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds…he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don’t forget the poor!” And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor! Afterwards, people were joking with me. “But you should call yourself Hadrian, because Hadrian VI was the reformer, we need a reform…” And someone else said to me: “No, no: your name should be Clement”. “But why?” “Clement XV: thus you pay back Clement XIV who suppressed the Society of Jesus!

Thank goodness for translations; now I understand the audience’s appreciative laughter.

This is what I am not quite sure I understand:

How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor.

I trust that as we get to know Francis better he will make this clearer. That he has a preferential option for the poor is already clear and admirable and inspiring, but I thought we already are for the poor and always have been, although — of course — there is always more to do. But by “a Church which is poor” does he means humble? Poor in spirit? Is he talking about dispensing with what is beautiful in the church, because it is somehow insulting for the poor? I have a hard time believing this because we have heard that Pope Francis’ favorite author is Dostoyevsky and he therefore must have some appreciation of “the world will be saved by beauty” and the transcendent beauty — both material and interior — that the church offers the world. Shared and instructive, it is all meant to better access the different routes to knowing God.

Moreover, we should not be ashamed of the beauty of the Bride of Christ and his Mystical Body. I have a cousin who is a Capuchin, like Cardinal O’Malley, and he has worked with very poor people living in destitute and often violent areas. He’s told me more than once that the poor feel condescended to when they are served the Holy Eucharist from ceramic chalices and straw baskets. “The want the beautiful things,” he says, “because God should have beautiful things and they should be able to share in that.” Beauty is evangelical.

This all reminds me of a story about Dorothy Day, who knew about working with the poor. A wealthy woman donated a diamond ring off her finger as she concluded a visit with Day. Dorothy put it in her pocket and later gave the ring to a homeless woman who had come begging. Her associates were appalled and asked her if it would not have been better for the woman, if they had sold the ring and used the money to rent a room for her for several years, or something. Dorothy said, “she can do that with the ring if she wants to; or she can sell it and go on a vacation if she wants. Or she can just wear it on her finger, and enjoy it if that’s what she wants. Do you think God created diamonds only for the rich?”

Sometimes our desire to do good, and to do it as efficiently as possible, makes us forget that honoring the dignity of the human person means being less constrictively efficacious, so the simple freedom to chart one’s own course is respected.

So, I’m not sure what our Holy Father means about having a poor church, for the poor. Seems to me we can’t do much for the poor if we are poor ourselves. Unless, of course, we are poor in spirit, which might bear astonishing fruit.

This is getting long, sorry, but I’m trying to take Francis’ advice and break things down “through the dimension of faith”,(and yes, I wander as I wonder) so here’s what left me wondering via John Thavis:

The pope’s blessing to journalists was unusual, to say the least. Saying that he realized there were non-Catholics and non-believers present in the hall, he would “give this blessing in silence, from my heart, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each person, but knowing that each one of you is a child of God.”

Then, instead of the usual formal blessing – standard practice at papal audiences – he said quietly, “God bless you,” and walked off the stage.

That left some immensely pleased at the pope’s sensitivity, and others complaining loudly: “What kind of a blessing was that?”

Well, it was the kind of blessing Pope Francis wanted to give. And more and more, I’m getting the impression that this is a man who is not simply “getting used to being pope,” but who is coming into the office with clear, and very different, ideas.

Those remarks came as a kind of clarification of previous words Thavis left out, and which are both interesting and sweet:

I love all of you very much, I thank you for everything you have done. I pray that your work will always be serene and fruitful, and that you will come to know ever better the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the rich reality of the Church’s life. I commend you to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of Evangelization, and with cordial good wishes for you and your families, each of your families. I cordially impart to all of you my blessing.

That’s a straightforward, evangelical move — he’s saying he hoped every person in the room would grow in knowledge of Christ, and in appreciation for Our Lady as well. That’s as Catholic as it gets, and perhaps Pope Francis realized it and thought to clarify that in so wishing he meant no disrespect to non-Catholics. And I can get on board with that. I mean, it’s a thoughtful, sensitive move, and kind of lovely.

Apart from clarification, perhaps this was Francis’ way of demonstrating that the press, and the world, needs to be equally as respectful to the Catholic conscience as well, and if that’s the case, hey, I’m all for it — it’s a brilliant slyness!

But I don’t think Francis is about “slyness”. I think he is open and authentic. Here is what bothers me, though: if he was not simply clarifying or trying to make a point about respect and reciprocation, then why deny those Catholics present the usual Tridentine formula of blessing which typically ends such audiences? My first impression was that it seemed like overkill, mostly because media folk covering popes — whether they believe or not — expect to see pope-y stuff and hear pope-y blessings, and because they are there to simply do their jobs, they’re not supposed to grouse about the Catholicity of it all. And in fact, I’ve never heard a press person grouse about it.

So you know…why not give the Catholics there a little Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

But then again, perhaps this is the face of the New Evangelization in action, evolving into a Deep Evangelization. Pope Benedict spent eight years teaching that love mattered; perhaps Francis’ intention is to show us why it matters — because it transforms — and something so transformative ought not be constrained by boundaries of a day’s media business. Love, after all, sees the press not as the press, but as people whose souls are needy, regardless of what religion they confess or the absence of any confession at all. Imagine the impact on the heart and mind of a reporter who doesn’t believe in much of anything hearing the pope say he loves him; that he expresses respect for her person! Over time, it might bear enormous fruit that would never even bud, by intellectual engagement, alone. Spengler once said “Benedict has a mustard seed, and he’s not afraid to use it.” I think Pope Francis, via the Holy Spirit, may be Benedict’s Mustard Seed.

And yeah, if a Deep Evangelization is where we are headed, then I can go all-in for it.

Deacon Greg has video of the audience. Calah Alexander has a profound piece on Catholics playing tug of war while the church loses.

MORE: On my twitter feed some people are reading all of this and saying, “I’m worried.” Honestly, I’m not. I think we just have to get to know this pope, who is as different from our last pope as the brain is from the body. They still function together to create a wholeness.

Stop being afraid or “worried” and start wondering. Remember your Gregory of Nyssa: “ideas lead to idols, but only wonder leads to knowing.” I think if we let ourselves wonder a little about Francis, instead of letting all sorts of “ideas” run rampant between him and us (which the devil would just love) we may find that we’re on a breathtaking new journey.

And thanks be to Benedict for understanding that another speech and another encyclical would not have changed the unhealthy trajectory of the church. Something is being made new. In the gambit for the souls of the human race, we’re going all-in because nothing less will do.

Or, as one Italian nun said to me after Francis had finished his first remarks on the balcony of St. Peter’s: “hold onna you hat! The Holy Spirit is a changing wind!”

Kat has a sensible perspective on a video that has people “worried”, too.

Ed Morrissey, who was also at the media event (and shared a meal with me, afterwards) has video and pictures and his own thoughts on Francis’ way.

Sr. Mary Ann Walsh has more on the meeting

5 easy ways to love the poor in honor of this pontificate

NY Times sees nothing deeper than “tolerance” Snore.

NBC News seens not to know that Pope Benedict wore the identical “simple white robes” they find noteworthy in Francis, and isn’t wondering about Francis’ meaning. Perhaps demonstrating why Deep Evangelization is needed.

About Elizabeth Scalia
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  • Andrew Regan

    “When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.” Pope Francis. From the homily to the cardinals on 3/14.
    I wonder if this gives insight to the “poor church” comment. Just thinking, but this comment by Pope Frances has really stuck with me, especially during this season of Lent.

    [you may be very right! -admin]

  • Gina

    A very interesting read. Even as a Protestant, I like the idea of a pope whose favorite author is Dostoevsky!

  • Marye

    The Pope’s gestures and motions felt “normal” to me, though with a Latin American flair that I do not have. But I am American, and so his direct, friendly, informal style is comfortable and familiar. Just to clarify, I loved Benedict XVI, but Francis seems like someone who could be a member of my family. (Well, my family on their best behavior. ).

  • Maggie Goff

    Thank you for saying this: “Stop being afraid or “worried” and start wondering. Remember your Gregory of Nyssa: “ideals lead to idols, but only wonder leads to knowing.” I think if we let ourselves wonder a little about Francis, instead of letting all sorts of “ideas” run rampant between him and us (which the devil would just love) we may find that we’re on a breathtaking new journey.”

    I am taking it very much to heart, and I hope others do, too

  • Bill M.

    “Poor in spirit” is how I interpreted his remarks about the church. As for the final blessing . . . maybe he forgot? It’s been an overwhelming few days for him.

  • deiseach

    I think (and this is all only personal opinion) that what he means by “A church which is poor” is to forget about the trimmings and the fuss. Some parts of the blogosphere were having fits of the vapours that he came out on the balcony for his first appearance as pope without the mozzetta. You know what? That’s not necessary to be pope!

    I’m one of the ones who was delighted when Benedict XVI went back to the older traditions. I loved that he wore the camauro and the mozzetta and the red shoes. But I think the lesson this new pope has for me – and those like me – is that fundamentally, the church is not a beautiful building (not that there is anything wrong with a beautiful building), it is built of living stones which are you and I, with the Cornerstone being Christ.

    It’s going to be an interesting papacy :-)

  • elmo

    But the pope still gave us an apostolic blessing, he just did it without gestures, in the silence of his heart. That’s okay with me. I don’t need to see the trinitarian blessing to believe the pope when he says he is giving one.

  • Jerry L.

    Elizabeth, could you cite the source where you got the quote from Gregory of Nyssa? I’d like to share it with others, but I haven’t been able to track it down to any of his writings.

    [I think I have it in a hard copy file at home. will have to wait til I'm stateside again, sorry. -admin]

  • Jerry L.

    I’ll appreciate it. After some web searching, the quote appears in what I assume are two different translations, which exchange a few of the words while still retaining the meaning and syntax. The only source I found attributed to the quote was from a translation of Gregory of Nyssa’s work Life of Moses by Abraham Malherbe and Everett Ferguson, but no page number is cited.

  • kansaswheat

    Elizabeth, “ideals” should be “ideas.” This is how you typed it in another column, not a criticism coming from a bad typist and worse speller. The only book cite I could find was from Abraham J. Malherbe’s Gregorgy of Nyssa: The Life of Moses. There it is translated: “concepts create idols; only wonder grasps anything.”

    [I hate blogging on an iPad. Thanks for heads up. Admin]

  • kansaswheat

    Sorry for the repeated cite. I type very slowly.

  • Sally

    I don’t think that wealth equals beauty, or that you can only have beauty where there is wealth, which is what you seem to be implying in your comments about the Pope’s “poor church” comment. We should probably allow for some difficulty in the translation of what the Pope says, as he may be thinking in Spanish, speaking in Italian and we’re reading it in English. It could just be a language thing.

    [ not actually implying anything, just wondering, which I thought was pretty clear. And you could well be right. But I always reserve the right to wonder! :-). -admin]

  • Mandy P.

    “I think we just have to get to know this pope, who is as different as can be from our last pope as the brain is from the body.”

    This struck me the most in this piece. And I think you’re right. I adore Pope Emeritus Benedict. His quiet genius is right up my alley. But it seems to me, as a lowly convert of only two years, that the Church has spent a lot of time thinking about what it is since VII and Pope Emeritus spent the last eight years being our “brain,” articulating in his brilliant way the *reason* behind our faith. And maybe now we’re ready to have a Pope who can show us how to apply all that knowledge and reason and how to truly *live* that faith in the radical way that the Gospel requires of us. And Pope Francis, who I like quite a bit already, seems like just the man to do it.

  • Angela Sealana

    Mandy – Great insights! I really appreciate a convert’s insights.

    Elizabeth – Great piece. I appreciate your authenticity and sincerity in this reflection. Thanks for the reminder to keep on “wondering.”

    As for Pope Francis’ wish for a “Church which is poor,” judging from his previous denouncement of clericalism, and the anecdote about his calling priests “hypocrites” for refusing to baptize children born outside wedlock, I do think he means a Church less ‘concerned with Herself’, a Church whose priests no longer cause widespread scandal, a Church poor in spirit. That’s my guess. As you say, we’ll see what he means! Peace and blessings in the remainder of your time there.

  • Kat

    As a graduate of the JPII Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, we spent quite a few classes discussing how whether married or consecrated, we are all called to take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The vows just take different forms depending on the particular vocation. Poverty in both states is seen as an emptying of oneself and making a total gift of oneself. This was Jesus’ true poverty, this is the Church’s poverty. The Church is most fully Herself when she gives most fully of Herself.

  • Manny

    I’m pretty sure whatever he means for the church to be poor, it’s metaphoric. But given what they write about the Church’s finances, perhaps it is literal and perhaps it’s already a reality. IDK.

    I’m acutally more interested as to what he means for a church to be for the poor. If he means gathering energy for more charitable works and direct aid, then I’m 120% behind that. We all need to physically touch the Christ that is within the suffering and needy. That’s Fransciscan to the core. If he means redistribution through taxation and government bureaucracy, well that’ll be a big turnoff to me. I think he does mean the former though.

  • Mike

    “How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor.” is a quote from the original Francis. I read it somewhere earlier today, and now can’t find the link…d’oh!

  • Nicholas

    Jeffrey Tucker’s new article on whether chant is in danger or not has the following wonderful quote that, I think, encapsulates one side of the liturgical worries about Pope Francis:

    Why is the perception the opposite? The explanation probably dates to the late 1960s — a period I’ll apparently never understand no matter how much I study it — and the emergence of the genre of music that was called “folk” but was in fact anything but. This fake folk music was somehow supposed to be closer to the people, opposed to the corporate music empire, a restoration of fundamentals. There was a political and protest edge to it all — wholly understandable in light of the draft and all.

    Tucker’s point applies to much more than music; it applies to the whole liturgical upheaval from 1965 onwards. I would posit that, thanks to this upheaval, it is ingrained in our thinking that being poor and serving the poor must be code for bad guitar songs, ugly churches, wooden or rough clay Eucharistic vessels, tacky felt banners, and liturgical abuse. (Dare we describe it as class warfare, where both beauty and tradition together are the bourgeois and the upheaval is the proletariat?) As for it actually serving the poor, I recall that Dorothy Day had a dim view of this kind of liturgy….

    I’m less worried about Pope Francis than I am about wild interpretations of what he does, particularly those on either edge who see in his actions an implicit (and ergo damning, whomever you think is being condemned) rebuke against Pope Benedict.

  • Win Nelson

    Poor as in no more ridiculous and uncomfortable red shoes (causing Benedict to fall and hurt himself terribly in Mexico);no more Prada capes (sorry, fashion designers); poor as in ending the spoils in the Vatican, which is the fastest way to help to clean up the Curia; poor as in closing the Vatican’s bank (a Cardinal had cried out “Why does the Vatican need a bank?” – this would also clean up financial dealings); poor as in rich in God’s love and mercy.

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  • Subsistent

    Seems to me, Pope Francis’s desire for a “poor Church” is to be taken in the context of his beautiful description of the Church as “the Holy People of God” — not the notion of “the purple Church” centered on the clergy and/or on a superficial “churchy” esthetic which John Henry Newman called “gilt-gingerbread” — but the Church as all the Church on earth, clergy and laity both. So he’s far from being an iconoclast. (Otherwise I bet he would long since have become unpopular with his color-loving Argentine flock.) And his genuineness, informality, straightforwardness, and manly self-reliance (as in taking care himself of his luggage and of his lodging bill) are themselves deeply beautiful applications, I daresay, of the idea that “the world will be saved by beauty”.

  • Gayle Miller

    I think I’m (chastely) in love with this Pope! He makes me feel good about myself as a Catholic and as as human being.

  • nancyo

    Thanks for being the voice of sanity. Wondering and discovering are going to be our best tools on the interesting and fruitful journey with our new Holy Father.

    One small point:
    ‘Or, as one Italian nun said to me after Benedict had finished his first remarks on the balcony of St. Peter’s: “hold onna you hat! The Holy Spirit is a changing wind!”’ – I’m thinking you meant Francis’ first remarks rather than Benedict’s?

    [You're right, I did. Thanks for the heads-up. The perils of writing on an iPad, lots of little mistakes I don't catch for some reason. -admin]

  • dry valleys

    But he has not left the things of this world behind entirely!

    I’m sure I can be excused for saying nothing about the theological side of things.