Christianity must be given back its strength in us, which means, first and foremost, that we must rediscover it as it is in itself, in its purity and its authenticity. In the last analysis, what is needed is not a Christianity that is more virile, or more efficacious, or more heroic, or stronger; it is that we should live our Christianity with more virility, more efficacy, more strength and, if necessary, more heroism—but we must live it as it is…it is not a case of adapting it to the fashion of the day. It must come into own again in our souls. We must give our souls back to it.
Henri de Lubac, Drama of Atheist Humanism
Reflection – I have cited from this marvelous book previously on the blog. I recommend it highly; it is short, readable, and penetrating in its insight of the modern world. Published in 1967, it reflects the conditions and concerns of its day, but really is still profoundly relevant.
I said yesterday that I’m going to sit out the latest ‘controversy’ over Pope Francis’ interview in the Jesuit press. I’m standing by that… but on the other hand, this quote from de Lubac seems to me to put things very well. The nub of controversy is that the Pope seemed to be saying that the Church needs to stop talking about abortion and gay marriage all the time. The secular press was happy to pull that one or two sentences out of a long interview and blare it in headlines: ‘Pope to Church: Shut Up About Abortion’.
This is not remotely what the Pope said. As usual. The. Media. Got. It. Wrong. Sing along with me: ‘The media gets it wrong, the media gets it wrong, hi ho the dairy oh, the media gets it wrong!’ What the Pope was saying was that we shouldn’t talk about it ‘all the time’, and when we do talk about it, to talk about it in the whole context of God and Christ and love and mercy.
We live in a world where everything in the public sphere gets reduced to politics, and where politics gets reduced to simplistic binary left-right, liberal-conservative, pro-anti posturing. Nuance and a concern for human beings, an awareness that while right and wrong may indeed be simple in essence, human beings are complex and tortuous, and the placing of certain moral truth in a whole matrix of truths at the core of which is the merciful love of God—all this tends to be wholly absent from public discourse.
No, in the secular world it’s always a matter of picking your side and waving your flag, a then it’s a fight to the death against those no good SOBs on the other side. This is not Christianity. Christianity is concerned with the salvation of souls, with going out from the 99 sheep to the one lost sheep. Or, if it happens that 99 sheep are lost, we go out to them. And this going out is fraught with dangers and delicacy, with incredible sensitivity to the person and boundless compassion and understanding.
In other words, “we should live our Christianity with more virility, more efficacy, more strength and, if necessary, more heroism—but we must live it as it is…it is not a case of adapting it to the fashion of the day. It must come into own again in our souls. We must give our souls back to it.” De Lubac in his book has traced the whole history of atheistic thought, with great emphasis on Marx, Nietzsche, Comte, and Sartre, showing how the overthrowing of God in the world has led to the overthrowing of humanity and the denial of human dignity and freedom.
His answer is indeed this radical taking up of Christian love and Christian faith into our souls and from there our minds and actions. I personally believe that the core of the matter is the presentation of the mercy of God. As a priest I see people constantly who struggle to really believe in God’s mercy. Of course if God is not merciful then we cannot face squarely the evils of our world. Abortion is murder. Sex outside of marriage, or sex deliberately made sterile by an act of the will is intrinsically evil. And let’s not even start talking about our financial systems and globalized exploitation and impoverishment of much of the world for the enrichment of one narrow slice of it. So much evil, and so many lives destroyed because of it.
But if we don’t know—really know—that our God is a merciful Father who wants nothing but to forgive us, heal us, cleanse us, and restore us to the dignity and joy of being his sons and daughters, we cannot face up to all that stuff and our own personal cooperation with it. This is really why I wrote my book Going Home. I see so clearly how the absence of mercy from our conversation makes it near impossible to actually have a conversation about these critical social and moral matters.
So that’s what Pope Francis is saying, you know. It’s what he is calling us to, to truly be Christians and to not allow our Christian preaching and mission to be subsumed to the shallow, narrow, loveless polarized dictates of modern public discourse. It’s not easy, what he’s asking us to do, but did anyone ever suggest that following Christ was supposed to be easy?