Friday, 24 January 2014

UPDATED Evangelii Gaudium: "the most precious of the devil's potions"

In the second part of Chapter 2 of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis addresses the "Temptations Faced by Pastoral Workers". [See below for UPDATE.] In nn78-83, Pope Francis identifies a certain tiredness or torpor that can afflict those who engage in pastoral work on behalf of the Church's mission.

It is first of all worth noting that, in adopting the term "pastoral workers", Pope Francis addresses his words to all the faithful, to bishops, priests and deacons, to religious and to lay people who are engaged in the mission of the Church. In n.78, Pope Francis words appear to be addressed more particularly to those in consecrated life when he identifies "three evils which fuel one another":
...... one can observe in many agents of evangelization, even though they pray, a heightened individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervour.
But in the next paragraph n.79, he addresses similar words in the context of the media and intellectual climate that affects perhaps the lay person more than the religious:
..... many pastoral workers, although they pray, develop a sort of inferiority complex which leads them to relativize or conceal their Christian identity and convictions. This produces a vicious circle. They end up being unhappy with who they are and what they do; they do not identify with their mission of evangelization and this weakens their commitment.
Pope Francis summarises this consideration of a tiredness in undertaking the evangelising mission of the Church in n.83, citing Joseph Ratzinger and then Georges Bernanos writing in The Diary of a Country Priest:
Disillusioned with reality, with the Church and with themselves, they [pastoral workers] experience a constant temptation to cling to a faint melancholy, lacking in hope, which seizes the heart like “the most precious of the devil’s potions”.
The full passage from which the quotation of Bernanos is taken is, first in French and then in the translation of my English language copy:
Le péché contre l’espérance – le plus mortel de tous, et peut-être le mieux accueilli, le plus caressé. Il faut beaucoup de temps pour le reconnaître, et la tristesse qui l’annonce, le précède, est si douce! C’est le plus riche des élixirs du démon, son ambroise.
The sin against hope - the deadliest sin and perhaps also the most cherished, the most indulged. It takes a long time to become aware of it, and the sadness which precedes and heralds its advent is so delicious! The richest of all the devil's elixirs, his ambrosia.
I suspect that many of us can recognise in this something of our own lives in the Church.


In following up a footnote to Evangelii Gaudium n.93 - which references Henri de Lubac's book Meditation sur l'Eglise, published in English as The Splendor of the Church - I have found a chapter in that book entitled "Our Temptations concerning the Church".  The themes of this section of Evangelii Gaudium are recognisable in de Lubac's chapter, though de Lubac addresses them in a wider historical context that more represents a general reflection on the nature of the life of the Church than a critique of the immediately present experience of the Church. That in itself perhaps gives us an indication as to how we should read Pope Francis' words.

(The referenced citation in Evangelii Gaudium, though, does not come from the chapter "Our Temptations concerning the Church" but from the last pages of a chapter dedicated to "The Church and our Lady". The attention given in this chapter to the maternity of the Church is a favourite theme of Pope Francis.)

There is an onward reference that can be taken from this footnote in Evangelii Gaudium. At the end of his chapter, Henri de Lubac inserted the following footnote:
A more far-reaching examination of some of the problems discussed in this chapter will be found in Fr Karl Rahner's Die Chancen des Christentums heute.
I have not been able to follow up this onward reference as such. I did, however, find on pp.109-111 of Fr Rahner's Opportunities for Faith an account that has clear resonance to the idea of those who, though they pray, do not live out the implications of that for their relationships of charity towards others. To be fair, it should be pointed out that it is not at all obvious that Pope Francis' words in this regard share the "transcendental" philosophical perspective of Fr Rahner's account, intending as it does to recognise an implicitly present grace in an interpersonal encounter.

Henri de Lubac's chapter does make interesting reading for the way in which it might enable us to understand some of Pope Francis' more challenging and, for some at least, obscure analyses of the situation of the Church.

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