“I do not know what might be the most fitting description….I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
Pope Francis’s candid answer to the first question of the interview read ’round the world set the tone for all that would follow.
I like to think that I’m not the only one to notice the simularity between the first question of Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J. and the passage from Matthew’s gospel when Jesus asks, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
Of interest to me is that Pope Francis did not wish to dwell upon the question of who he is. Instead, he stated the simple truth about himself, and vicariously that of his entire flock, and pointed consistantly away from himself in deference to that which is greater than himself. It seems fitting for the captain of the greatest hospital ship the world has ever know, whom he has been chosen to helm, to point to Her and away from himself.
I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon. I am one who is looked upon by the Lord. I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo [By Having Mercy and by Choosing Him], was very true for me.”
The Pope’s description of the Jesuit Order as being “an institution in tension” is true for the Catholic Church as a whole as well. His simple, humble, and casual description of the Society, which I read as the same as for the Church as a whole. Because it fits, see? Just replace “Jesuit” with “Christian,” and “Society of Jesus” with “the Catholic Church,” and it should be clear.
“…the Jesuit (Christian) always thinks, again and again, looking at the horizon toward which he must go, with Christ at the center. This is his real strength. And that pushes the Society (Church) to be searching, creative and generous. So now, more than ever, the Society of Jesus (Catholic Church) must be contemplative in action, must live a profound closeness to the whole church as both the ‘people of God’ and ‘holy mother the hierarchical church.’ This requires much humility, sacrifice and courage, especially when you are misunderstood or you are the subject of misunderstandings and slanders, but that is the most fruitful attitude.”
One of the most interesting parts of the interview to me was the subject of thinking like the Church. Being conformed to the mind of Christ is the lifelong pursuit of a Christian. If it isn’t, then something is wrong. Both here on earth, and throughout all eternity, this is what we should seek, putting no other gods before Him. So when Pope Francis says,
Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together.
I say Amen. But quickly on the heels of that, I wonder, “but how?”
THE CHURCH, MOTHER AND TEACHER
2030 It is in the Church, in communion with all the baptized, that the Christian fulfills his vocation. From the Church he receives the Word of God containing the teachings of “the law of Christ.”72 From the Church he receives the grace of the sacraments that sustains him on the “way.” From the Church he learns the example of holiness and recognizes its model and source in the all-holy Virgin Mary; he discerns it in the authentic witness of those who live it; he discovers it in the spiritual tradition and long history of the saints who have gone before him and whom the liturgy celebrates in the rhythms of the sanctoral cycle.
2031 The moral life is spiritual worship. We “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,”73 within the Body of Christ that we form and in communion with the offering of his Eucharist. In the liturgy and the celebration of the sacraments, prayer and teaching are conjoined with the grace of Christ to enlighten and nourish Christian activity. As does the whole of the Christian life, the moral life finds its source and summit in the Eucharistic sacrifice.
It’s been good reading the Catechism during the Year of Faith, though it’s sad that some folks thought this was a bad idea, you know, like some think far reaching papal interviews are a bad idea.
But when the Pope tells the world that the Church is a Mother and Teacher, folks who don’t realize this is nothing new may get the wrong idea. For the inquisitive Christian, the question “how can I do this?” pops up. With the big four secular news agencies who recieved advance copies of the papal interview (the New York Times, CNN, AP, and the Wall Street Journal)? Not so much.
See, to them, Pope Francis’s words were a lot like the Beatles singing “Roll up! Roll up for the Mystery Tour!” Of course, that is a good thing, if it gets folks looking deeper. Pope Francis knew what he was talking about, and so must us we Seaman Apprentice Catholics. To wit,
I. MORAL LIFE AND THE MAGISTERIUM OF THE CHURCH
2032 The Church, the “pillar and bulwark of the truth,” “has received this solemn command of Christ from the apostles to announce the saving truth.”74 “To the Church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls.”75
Salvation of souls is Job One. This is obvious to Pope Francis, as his handy guide for homiletics for pastors in the interview made clear. And in order to get these ideas across,
The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.
Because as the Catechism puts it,
2033 The Magisterium of the Pastors of the Church in moral matters is ordinarily exercised in catechesis and preaching, with the help of the works of theologians and spiritual authors. Thus from generation to generation, under the aegis and vigilance of the pastors, the “deposit” of Christian moral teaching has been handed on, a deposit composed of a characteristic body of rules, commandments, and virtues proceeding from faith in Christ and animated by charity. Alongside the Creed and the Our Father, the basis for this catechesis has traditionally been the Decalogue which sets out the principles of moral life valid for all men.
Juxtaposed against what Pope Francis is saying nowadays, the revelations of coverups in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Archdiocese of Newark, the Jesuits in Chicago and the latest example of bureaucratic blunders in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, destroy the bridges of trust that the Church’s teachings are ordained to build. It erodes the trust of the sheep for their shepherds, and makes us question whether we just talk a good game, or if we’ll actually do the hard work of putting the gospel to work in the world.
2034 The Roman Pontiff and the bishops are “authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people entrusted to them, the faith to be believed and put into practice.”76 The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for.
And when the bishops teach the truth, and fail to honor the truth with actions and with mere words, “the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together,” that justice is not being done. Justice for the victims of abuse requires that the perpetrators of harm be medevaced out of the field hospital and transferred to a major, full bells and whistles hospital away from the front lines. Otherwise, we’ll be stuck back in the situation that the prophet Hosea warned about back when he was preaching prior to the Assyrian conquest.
Yet let no one contend,
and let none accuse,
for with you is my contention, O priest.
You shall stumble by day;
the prophet also shall stumble with you by night,
and I will destroy your mother.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.
The more they increased,
the more they sinned against me;
they changed their glory into shame.
They feed on the sin of my people;
they are greedy for their iniquity.
And it shall be like people, like priest;
I will punish them for their ways,
and repay them for their deeds.
They shall eat, but not be satisfied;
they shall play the whore, but not multiply;
because they have forsaken the Lord
to devote themselves to whoredom.
Wine and new wine
take away the understanding.
Ouch. But wait, there’s more.
Hear this, priests,
Pay attention, house of Israel,
Household of the king, give ear!
For you are responsible for judgment.
But you have been a snare at Mizpah,
a net spread upon Tabor,
a pit dug deep in Shittim.
Now I will discipline them all.
But as Pope Francis points out, there is Good News nowadays, just like there was when these words were proclaimed by Hosea.
“Come, let us return to the LORD,
For it is he who has torn, but he will heal us;
he has struck down, but he will bind our wounds.
He will revive us after two days;
on the third day he will raise us up,
to live in his presence.
Let us know, let us strive to know the LORD;
as certain as the dawn is his coming.
He will come to us like the rain,
like spring rain that waters the earth.”
What can I do with you, Ephraim?
What can I do with you, Judah?
Your loyalty is like morning mist,
like the dew that disappears early.
For this reason I struck them down through the prophets,
I killed them by the words of my mouth;
my judgment shines forth like the light.
For it is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice,
and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Like the healing balm of Pope Francis’s message to a prodigal people. A people who deep down, if we are honest with ourselves, know the truth of our condition. Cue today’s reading from the prophet Ezra,
At the time of the evening sacrifice, I, Ezra, rose in my wretchedness,
and with cloak and mantle torn I fell on my knees,
stretching out my hands to the LORD, my God.
I said: “My God, I am too ashamed and confounded to raise my face to you,
O my God, for our wicked deeds are heaped up above our heads
and our guilt reaches up to heaven.
From the time of our fathers even to this day
great has been our guilt,
and for our wicked deeds we have been delivered up,
we and our kings and our priests,
to the will of the kings of foreign lands,
to the sword, to captivity, to pillage, and to disgrace,
as is the case today.
“And now, but a short time ago, mercy came to us from the LORD, our God,
who left us a remnant and gave us a stake in his holy place;
thus our God has brightened our eyes
and given us relief in our servitude.
For slaves we are, but in our servitude our God has not abandoned us;
rather, he has turned the good will
of the kings of Persia toward us.
Thus he has given us new life
to raise again the house of our God and restore its ruins,
and has granted us a fence in Judah and Jerusalem.”
For today’s Gospel reading resonates with Pope Francis’s field hospital metaphor as well,
Jesus summoned the Twelve and gave them power and authority
over all demons and to cure diseases,
and he sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God
and to heal the sick.
He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey,
neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money,
and let no one take a second tunic.
Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there.
And as for those who do not welcome you,
when you leave that town,
shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them.”
Then they set out and went from village to village
proclaiming the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
Amen. Amazing how Pope Francis is so attuned to the mind of the Church. Amateur tip: Reading the daily readings can help us do the same.