Sunday, September 22, 2013

What Pope Francis is Saying

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?

Have a good Sunday!


  1. Thank you for this reflection. Truly appreciate it.

  2. Regular lay person here, who does not know what intrinsically evil means.
    Do you think Jesus spoke like that. this term intrinsically evil- how does Jesus talk about it?
    if Jesus did not give us the term, who did? And why?

    1. Sorry for the technical language. I try to avoid it, generally. An intrinsically evil act is an action that under no circumstances can be morally good. A good intention cannot make it a good action, nor can any extenuating circumstance. Murder is intrinsically evil; blasphemy is, too; as is adultery.
      Well, Jesus did not use the term, simply because it derives from technical moral theology, none of the language of which is found in the Bible. 'Sacrament', 'Eucharist', and 'Trinity' are not biblical words, either, but express biblical truths in a clear unambiguous way.
      As does 'intrinsic evil.' And Jesus does communicate the reality of it - he cites the Ten Commandments, for example, as continuing to bind his followers, and the Decalogue is indeed the biblical genesis of the notion of intrinsic evil. Hope that clears it up.

    2. So the church is turning against itself ...people wounding and ostracizing one another based on someone's interpretation of moral theology?

      I thought each person does their own moral evuation.

      It is pretty crazy ... Giving a vasectomy the same moral weight as murder. ... Especially when you consider how much how much sin it saved me from. Crazy.

      Is war intrinsically evil.? Just wondering

    3. Well, the 'someone' who is interpreting moral theology is the united teaching of the Catholic Church for 2000 years. What I am saying is not some obscure teaching, and as I say, derives directly from the biblical teaching of the nature of the moral law. Your quarrel is not with me, but with the Bible and the entirety of Catholic teaching.
      To say 'a' is intrinsically evil and 'b' is intrinsiclaly evil is not remotely saying that 'a' and 'b' are the same thing. It's saying they are the same kind of thing, not the same thing. Clear? A pebble and the Rock of Gibraltar are both rocks, but don't try to use the latter for skipping on the lake.
      My whole post, which you don't seem to have read too closely, is about mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy. We are all sinners, all in the same boat, all needing God's saving love, which is poured out on the world, principally through the sacramental graces of the Church. That is the precise opposite of wounding and ostracizing. But we cannot receive healing if we will not acknoweldge the wound. And so the Church must call things what they are: sin is sin, evil is evil... and mercy is mercy is mercy. God's love heals - that is also the united and constant proclamation of the Church, and what both the Pope and I are constantly saying.
      We each do our own moral reasoning, but the goal is not subjectivity, but to find out the truth, and that truth is not one thing for you and another for me.
      God bless you - I am happy to dialogue further, but won't get into your own personal history in a public forum.


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