Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Pope Francis is a "good thing"

Twice in the last couple of weeks or so I have found myself in the position of being asked by others what I thought of Pope Francis. It's a tricky question, because in giving an answer one can wonder whether or not one's interlocutor is unconsciously evaluating one's own ecclesial stance rather than one's view of Pope Francis.

However, I have ended up with three components to my answer to this question.

1. If the experience of our recent Popes is anything to go by, I do believe that at each moment we have been gifted with the Pope who we needed at that particular moment; and I trust that this extends, too, to Pope Francis. My own sensitivity particularly includes in this consideration Pope Paul VI, who I would really like to know much more closely than I feel I do. Equally to be included are Pius XII and John XXIII. For me, this consideration represents a fundamental basis for suggesting a "hermeneutic of continuity" between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, rather than a "hermeneutic of rupture".

2. Much has been made of Pope Francis' simplicity, represented by his living arrangements, and of his more informal style represented by his preaching "off the cuff" (though this should perhaps not be identified with preaching un-prepared) at his morning celebrations of Mass and his on occasion setting aside a prepared text to engage in a question and answer session. It is quite right to note this, and the way in which it attracts people to the person of the Pope is perhaps part of what enables me to see Pope Francis as the Pope that we need for our present moment. But what I do not think works is the representation of this simplicity and element of informality as a contrast with or a break from that of Pope Francis' predecessors, and Pope Benedict in particular. I have taken to talking about two different styles of simplicity - because one cannot see Pope Benedict's move from being one of the most significant Popes of all time to being an almost completely hidden figure in a life of prayer in the Vatican as being anything else but a manifestation of simplicity.

3. The third component of my answer has a somewhat philosophical root. I think we should approach the question with a phenemenological methodology. Instead of trying to read Pope Francis within the framework of a particular hermeneutic - be that the hermeneutic of the liberal Catholic or be that the hermeneutic of the traditionalist Catholic, or be that any hermeneutic in between - we should seek to determine the essence to be found in the reality itself. This can be exemplified very well by reflecting on Pope Francis choice to live at the Casa Santa Martha rather than in the apartments of the Apostolic Palace. For some, this a great sign of simplicity and poverty. For others, it is a sign of a turning away from a dignity of the Papal office. But what does Pope Francis himself say?

From the dialogue with the pupils and alumni of Jesuit schools, with my emphasis added:
A woman: I am Caterina De Marchis of the Istituto Leone XIII, and I was wondering: why you [Lei]— that is, you [using the familiar tu] — have renounced the riches of a Pope, like a luxurious apartment and an large car. Instead you have opted for a small apartment close by, and you even took the bus for bishops. Why ever did you give up riches?

Pope Francis: Well, I believe it is not only a matter of wealth. For me it is a question of personality: that is what it is. I need to live with people, and were I to live alone, perhaps a little isolated, it wouldn’t be good for me. I was asked this question by a teacher: “But why don’t you go and live there?”. I replied: “please listen, professor, it is for psychological reasons”. It is my personality. Also, the apartments [in the Papal Palace] are not so luxurious, they are peaceful…. however, I cannot live alone, do you understand? And then I believe, yes: the times speak to us of such great poverty throughout the world, and this is a scandal. The poverty of the world is a scandal. In a world where there is such great wealth, so many resources for giving food to everyone, it is impossible to understand how there could be so many hungry children, so many children without education, so many poor people! Poverty today is a cry. We must all think about whether we can become a little poorer. This is something we must all do. How I can become a little poorer to be more like Jesus, who was the poor Teacher. This is the thing. But it is not a problem of my personal virtue, it is only that I cannot live alone, and the matter of the car, as you said: to not have too many things and to become a little poorer. It is this.
And it is worth noting that, though much was made at the time of Pope Francis setting aside his prepared text in favour of having more time for the question and answer session, it was clearly his intention to make the full text available to the participants in the meeting through Jesuit channels and through the press spokesman of the Holy See. I expect that a more phenomenological approach to Pope Francis will reveal for us the particular charism the he will have for us as Successor of St Peter.

A couple of Pope Francis' recent activities have caught my attention. The first was a short greeting addressed to members of the Senate and National Assembly of France  - a legislature that has recently passed legislation to legalise marriage between people of the same sex. The parallel between Pope Francis' remarks and those of Pope Benedict XVI speaking at Westminster Hall are striking, and all the more so given the very different religious/political contexts of France and Britain:
Le principe de laïcité qui gouverne les relations entre l’État français et les différentes confessions religieuses ne doit pas signifier en soi une hostilité à la réalité religieuse, ou une exclusion des religions du champ social et des débats qui l’animent. On peut se féliciter que la société française redécouvre des propositions faites par l’Église, entre autres, qui offrent une certaine vision de la personne et de sa dignité en vue du bien commun. L’Église désire ainsi apporter sa contribution spécifique sur des questions profondes qui engagent une vision plus complète de la personne et de son destin, de la société et de son destin. Cette contribution ne se situe pas uniquement dans le domaine anthropologique ou sociétal, mais aussi dans les domaines politique, économique et culturel.
The second is the letter sent by Pope Francis to Prime Minister David Cameron on the occasion of the G8 summit taking place at Lough Erne. It is very striking in its placing of the human person at the heart of economic activity - and one can see in that a continuity with the teaching of Gaudium et Spes, with the particular contribution with regard to the dignity and nature of the human person represented by Pope John Paul II (both as Pope and as philosopher) and similar contributions from Pope Benedict XVI.
I am pleased to reply to your kind letter of 5 June 2013, with which you were good enough to inform me of your Government's agenda for the British G8 Presidency during the year 2013 and of the forthcoming Summit, due to take place at Lough Erne on 17 and 18 June 2013, entitled A G8 meeting that goes back to first principles.

If this topic is to attain its broadest and deepest resonance, it is necessary to ensure that all political and economic activity, whether national or international, makes reference to man.....

The priorities that the British Presidency has set out for the Lough Erne Summit are concerned above all with the free international market, taxation, and transparency on the part of governments and economic actors. Yet the fundamental reference to man is by no means lacking, specifically in the proposal for concerted action by the Group to eliminate definitively the scourge of hunger and to ensure food security. Similarly, a further sign of attention to the human person is the inclusion as one of the central themes on the agenda of the protection of women and children from sexual violence in conflict situations, even though it must be remembered that the indispensable context for the development of all the afore-mentioned political actions is that of international peace....

The long-term measures that are designed to ensure an adequate legal framework for all economic actions, as well as the associated urgent measures to resolve the global economic crisis, must be guided by the ethics of truth. This includes, first and foremost, respect for the truth of man, who is not simply an additional economic factor, or a disposable good, but is equipped with a nature and a dignity that cannot be reduced to simple economic calculus. Therefore concern for the fundamental material and spiritual welfare of every human person is the starting-point for every political and economic solution and the ultimate measure of its effectiveness and its ethical validity.

Moreover, the goal of economics and politics is to serve humanity, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable wherever they may be, even in their mothers' wombs. Every economic and political theory or action must set about providing each inhabitant of the planet with the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom, with the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one's own human potential. This is the main thing; in the absence of such a vision, all economic activity is meaningless.

In this sense, the various grave economic and political challenges facing today's world require a courageous change of attitude that will restore to the end (the human person) and to the means (economics and politics) their proper place. Money and other political and economic means must serve, not rule, bearing in mind that, in a seemingly paradoxical way, free and disinterested solidarity is the key to the smooth functioning of the global economy.

UPDATE: Posting almost simultaneously: Reading the Pope - towards a papal hermeneutic.  My own post has arisen from reflection on Fr Hugh's earlier posts: The Pope of our Punishment strikes and Papal integrity – matters arising from the previous post

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