Well it appears that Pope Francis has just revoked the great commission! Preaching the Gospel is now “nonsense”. This latest “shock and awe” statement by the Pope was made in an interview with the founder of the Italian publication “La Repubblica”, Eugenio Scalfari, who is of course a non believer. It is quite a gem and it proves several points I have been making about Pope Francis. I think because the statements are on their face so outrageous they bear some commentary before we move to a new topic.
As always to really understand what is going on it pays to read the whole article which can be found here.
The article has been getting plenty of attention for the following little exchange. It is relayed to the world by Scalfari whose comments are indicated below in Blue, the Pope’s words are in red:
And here I am. The Pope comes in and shakes my hand, and we sit down. The Pope smiles and says: “Some of my colleagues who know you told me that you will try to convert me.”
He smiles again and replies: “Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”
That’s right the Pope said proselytism is nonsense! What then to make of the words of the Pope’s boss, Jesus himself, who in Matthew’s Gospel says the following
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
It would seem that proselytism is not nonsense but in fact is clearly a command!
Now if the Pope actually believed there was no value in preaching the Gospel he would not only be contradicting, Jesus, he would be contradicting what he has said earlier to a different audience. Just recently on August 7, in his message to missionaries on World mission Sunday, Pope Francis said the following:
“The work of evangelization often finds obstacles, not only externally, but also from within the ecclesial community. Sometimes there is lack of fervor, joy, courage and hope in proclaiming the Message of Christ to all and in helping the people of our time to an encounter with him. Sometimes, it is still thought, that proclaiming the truth of the Gospel means an assault on freedom. Paul VI speaks eloquently on this: “It would be… an error to impose something on the consciences of our brethren. But to propose to their consciences the truth of the Gospel and salvation in Jesus Christ, with complete clarity and with total respect for free options which it presents… is a tribute to this freedom” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 80). We must always have the courage and the joy of proposing, with respect, an encounter with Christ, and being heralds of his Gospel. Jesus came amongst us to show us the way of salvation and he entrusted to us the mission to make it known to all to the ends of the earth.”
So it appears the Pope endorses evangelization. I suspect what is going on here is that the in the Pope’s mind he is reassuring his atheist buddy Scalfari he has no intent to ram Christianity down his throat they are just going to “chat”.. Scalfari can relax. By extension he is saying the same thing to all those “euro- atheists” in Italy who are readers of La Repubblica. The rest of the article makes it clear that the Pope is going to try and at least gently evangelize Scalfari. Late in the interview Pope Francis asks Scalfari this:
“But now let me ask you a question: you, a secular non-believer in God, what do you believe in? You are a writer and a man of thought. You believe in something, you must have a dominant value. Don’t answer me with words like honesty, seeking, the vision of the common good, all important principles and values but that is not what I am asking. I am asking what you think is the essence of the world, indeed the universe. You must ask yourself, of course, like everyone else, who we are, where we come from, where we are going. Even children ask themselves these questions. And you?”
I can appreciate the Socratic teaching method here, very Jesuit like. It is pretty obvious where the Pope is going with this, and I will leave it to the reader as an exercise to look at the rest of the article.
I think this demonstrates several things that we have discussed previously. The Pope has both a personal style and perhaps a strategy consistent with the liberals of the Vatican II period. He was likely shaped as a Jesuit during the period post council, when the “Spirit of Vatican II” was sweeping the Church. Rigorous scholastic theology was “out”, and the vague jargon filled spirituality of theologians like Edward Schillebeeck was “in”. Pope Francis has this “flavor”, the leftists in the Church sense it, and are ecstatic. To the extent that this is merely a style and not really anything more substantive it can be defended, as a strategy. The cultural elites hate the Church and to the extent they think Pope Francis is going to remake the Church, well they will give him a hearing. Pope Francis takes advantage of the trust to gently prod the unbelievers to rethink their animus and be open to the Gospel. I get it. May even do some good.
Still there are risks. For one, the media loves this kind of tone since it implies a kind of theological relativism, and theological relativism leads nowhere. The various religions are mutually exclusive, Therefore they can not logically be simultaneously true, they can only be simultaneously false. If you think all religions are equal, you will soon think they are all equally fictitious . In addition, this sort of “liberal” style, gives support to the heterodox and radicals who ran roughshod over the Church until the papacy of John Paul II. The destruction they have wrought is obvious, in the closed parochial schools, falling vocations, abandonment of attendance at mass among Catholics, moral decay, and apostasy of our present time. Last time I checked historically Catholic European nations like France and Ireland had all but abandoned Christianity. The Spirit filled, “We are Church”, Catholics had their time and they basically burnt the house down.
To the extent Pope Francis’s approach is not a tactic, but a philosophy that he is intellectually serious about, it is completely illogical. Christianity makes certain claims about objective reality. To wit that a real man Jesus of Nazareth, was born in a real place (Israel of antiquity) in a real time around 28-35 AD, and died a real death, being crucified by the Romans. Subsequently, in a truly inexplicable miraculous manner, he really rose from the dead. Oh, by the way, this man happened to be God incarnate, and his death atoned for the sins of all mankind. Islam specifically denies these claims, as does Judaism, atheism, and a number of other religious systems. So if Christianity is true, then it follows atheists, Muslims etc are simply wrong. As a Christian I think Christianity is true and other religions are incorrect, that is they are false religions, made up by men as opposed to the one true religion revealed by God. This does not mean their adherents are “bad”. They are merely wrong about something very important. If you think someone is in serious error, than it is a kindness to correct the error. If you don’t believe that these other faiths are in fact incorrect, well why on Earth would you be a Catholic? That is not merely my opinion; it is a simple incontrovertible logic. If Christ was God, Islam is false, period, If Christ was not God, and then Christianity is a fraud. There is no way around it.
Beyond this, the Pope has a tendency to make statements that verge on the obviously absurd, so in the same La Repubblica interview we have the Pope allegedly state: “The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old.”
Say What? Now I grant these are problems but the most serious evils that afflict the world? Really? They are worse that rising Islamic Jihadist persecuting and murdering Christians in horrific scenes of torture as described in the British press here. Are these problems worse than any number of other terrible problems afflicting the globe? Wide spread hunger in Africa? Industrial scale abortion in the West? Mass apostasy? A slow economic train wreck occurring as the Western nations drown under the weight of expanding entitlements while undergoing a demographic implosion as their populations shrink, the impending economic tsunami likely to drown the poor nations as well, and so forth. Is it really credible to say youth unemployment and loneliness in old age (bad as these might be) are really the greatest problems faced by the world?
So here is the bottom line we know have a Pope who is a liberal in temperament and whose of the cuff remarks will often be very fallible indeed. This will truly be a test for those of us who believe in Papal authority but are faced with a Pope who sounds quite peculiar at times.
Here then is the key:
A Pope who really is this liberal in temperament will simply never say anything that he intends bind the Church universally. He is always the Bishop of Rome speaking off the cuff and informally, and rarely if ever the Pope, Vicar of Christ addressing the whole world with an intent to bind. Rather than panic and explain what the Pope “means”, the approach for a Catholic who was loyal to the prior 2000 years of Church history, as well as the current Church should be to:
1) When the Pope says something that is consistent with prior Church teaching we acknowledge it, and even if it’s not first on our list, consider that God may be using Pope Francis to remind us of something we need to remember. God’s ways are not man’s ways.
2) When the Pope says something that is inconsistent with the prior 2000 years we recognize that he is simply not correct and is likely shooting from the hip, or he is being misreported. Do not panic, just point out we do not believe the Pope is God, and when speaking informally he can be wrong.We might also point out occasions in which he has said something more orthodox, which is often the case, and remind folks that the media is reacting to him through the prism of their own biases. As the song says “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”.
3) We need to pray very hard that the Lord protects the Church in what is likely to be a difficult time.
Ok… We are now just about at our 50th post in this young blog born on June 3rd. Not sure how many people are reading but we are enjoying ourselves and would like to celebrate. What better way to celebrate as we come up to the Feast of the Rosary is with a series of posts on our Lady? In fact at time when the Pope is flirting with heresy… (Just kidding…) We need the Blessed Mother more than ever. We are going to step back from the controversies of the moment and my son Thomas will take a break from his studies reading about neurotransmitters and graded action potentials to do a series of Marian posts.. Stay tuned…