Friday, September 20, 2013

Keeping Up with Francis

Here in Italy, Father Spadaro's interview with Pope Francis was the topic du jour, as I am sure it was in Catholic settings everywhere else. I don't have to tell you to read the real thing and not the tabloid-headline summaries that were already all over the place yesterday. This was a wide-ranging interview that spanned three sessions, not a collection of sound bites prepared for a press conference. The questions went all over the place, and so did the Pope.

Some first impressions:
Pope Francis is a man of prayer. A good Jesuit, he lives by the principles of discernment, "finding God in all things" and especially in the present moment. He spoke at length about what discernment means, and about the "risk" of faith (and the danger of an "unquestioning" faith that has no room at all for doubt). He prays the breviary in Latin; he makes an Hour of Eucharistic Adoration every evening.

He admits that his early approach to government in the Church was too authoritarian. He explains how he learned from his mistakes, and what his plans are in that regard now that he is "the" authority in the Church. That group of Cardinal advisors? He expects real advice from them.

Interestingly, Pope Francis commented that people seem to attribute too much authority to the Vatican dicasteries. He indicated that they receive a ridiculous number of reports of heresy in Rome, when that is something that ought to be dealt with on a local basis (where, one suspects, the fuller picture is better known anyway).

Do not expect to see rapid, drastic systemic change. He made it pretty clear in the interview that he is only making initial steps, preparing the ground: "I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change."

He also acknowledged that he has been "reproved" (one suspects that this has happened even recently) for not being forceful enough in his teaching. (Who are these people?) Francis is not changing Church teaching one iota. Everything he says presumes that Church teaching remains valid and intact. What he is doing is shifting the focus in the popular mind from teachings to persons. Teachings, doctrines, dogmas: all important. But God's focus is on people. God sent his Son, Truth Incarnate, to "be like his brothers in every way." So Francis is trying to teach us to be like God and put people first. Even in the "hard cases," he holds on to the truth of the teachings while keeping the person front and center. This is where he spoke of the Church as a "field hospital." Those alleged dismissals of Church teachings in the area of sexuality? In the interview, the context is pastoral care--he presumes that the person is bringing everything to the sacrament of Penance--on a regular basis. Even in the confessional, Pope Francis does not condone rigorism that sees sin everywhere, or laxism that can't recognize sin in anything at all.

What about celibacy? Pope Francis is a Jesuit, so he has been living not only with a vow of celibacy like other priests, but with the three religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience--plus that fourth vow of obedience to the Pope (which must be really tricky for him now). He sees the vow of chastity as a vow of "generativity": a vow of "fruitfulness"; of supernatural paternity. The last thing the vow of chastity or celibacy is meant to do is turn the person who professes it into a sterile, self-contented bachelor or "old maid." So expect to see Francis responding to people in a fatherly way--a way that also gives an example of fatherly responsibility.

Today's Gospel is a short passage from Luke about the women who accompanied Jesus and the Apostles, providing for their needs from their own resources. Pope Francis also spoke about the role of women in the Church in a way that some might find provocative. Men and women, Pope Francis said, are different. And yet often, the role of women in the Church is spoken of in masculine categories: "what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo. Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role." And this can only be done when we have articulated a real "theology of woman."

Something I thought helpful relates to preaching. Every homily, Pope Francis said, ought to begin with a proclamation. That sounds just like, well, "preaching," but it means a bit more. Think of the word as a pro-clamation; a resounding statement of something positive and directly life-giving. That is where the
I just happened to pass by one of Pope Francis' favorite
pieces of art yesterday: Caravaggio's "Call of Matthew."
homily begins. The Pope remarked that preachers who rarely "pro-claim" may not really know the Good News yet in a personal way.

Finally, Francis is an art critic. When asked about his favorite music and art, he mentioned Mozart ("of course"), as well as Beethoven, Bach, Wagner--but he specified particular interpretations of his favorite works. He grew up on Italian films, and especially loves Fellini. In paintings, his tastes run from Caravaggio (whose "Call of Matthew" he visited often when he stayed near San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome) to Chagall.

The interview is a long one, and each section deserves attention, consideration and prayer. I hope you are able to devote some time to reading it in its entirely!

1 comment:

Ruth Ann Pilney said...

I have read the entire article and found it so moving!! I recommended it to a friend and will continue to do so.I try to avoid interpreters and pundits.