Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Holy Family: what Pope Francis actually said ..... (and Pope Benedict)

Before putting the homily of Pope Francis for the Feast of the Holy Family alongside Pope Benedict XVI's account of the finding of Jesus in the Temple in his book on the Infancy Narratives, it is worth noting this from the very last section of Pope Benedict's account:
It is also important to note what Luke says about Jesus' growth not only in stature, but also in wisdom. On the one hand, the answer of the twelve-year-old made it clear that he knew the Father - God - intimately ....He lives in his presence. He sees him. As Saint John says, Jesus is the only one who rests in the Father's heart and is therefore able to make him known ...
And yet it is also true that his wisdom grows. As a human being, he does not live in some abstract omniscience, but he is rooted in a concrete history, a place and time, in the different phases of human life, and this is what gives concrete shape to his knowledge. So it emerges clearly that he thought and learned in human fashion.
So, perhaps, even accepting the theological audacity of the suggestion contained in Pope Francis homily, does Jesus learn for us how to seek forgiveness?

If Pope Benedict's account (understandable both because of his previous background and of the context of a published book) is that of the theologian, that of Pope Francis (again understandable because of his previous background as a Bishop) is that of a practically minded pastor.

For Benedict, the pilgrimage of the Holy Family to a meeting with God in the Temple at the three great Jewish feasts represents a faithfulness to the pilgrim community of the whole people of Israel to its encounter with God in the Temple. For Pope Francis, the reference is to the pilgrimages undertaken by whole families to places of popular piety - or to enter through the Holy Door during this Year of Mercy:
Indeed, we could say that family life is a series of pilgrimages, both small and big.
Pope Francis then develops the theme to refer to the pilgrimage of "education in prayer" that was part of the life of the Holy Family and should be a part of the life of every family. He refers, too, to the "pilgrimage of every day life", encouraging parents to bless their children (that is, to entrust them to God so that he might care for them through the day) and to pray a short grace at meal times.

Pope Benedict, on the other hand, identifies a theological import in the dialogue between Mary and Jesus when they meet each other again in the Temple: Mary is corrected, so that God the Father is recognised as Jesus' true Father rather than Joseph; and that Jesus "must" be about his Father's business establishes a link between this event of the finding in the Temple and the "must" that characterises Jesus acceptance of his suffering and death. The apparent disobedience to Mary and Joseph is in fact a manifestation of his filial obedience to the Father. Following Rene Laurentin, Pope Benedict also suggests the experience of three days absence of Jesus is part of an arc connecting the first Passover of Jesus earthly life to his final Passover on Calvary.

Pope Francis makes something much more immediately concrete of Jesus disobedience, suggesting (and the Italian appears to be more suggestive in nature than the English translation which, whilst accurate, communicates a greater degree of certainty than it does of suggestion) that this was something for which Jesus "probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents" (a more literal translation of the Italian might read: for which "probably even Jesus had to ask pardon of his parents"). Pope Francis observes, on this suggestion, that "The Gospel does not say this; but I believe that we can presume it" ("suppose it" might be a more direct translation from the Italian).
Moments like these become part of the pilgrimage of each family; the Lord transforms the moments into opportunities to grow, to ask for and to receive forgiveness, to show love and obedience.
I do not join those who would accuse Pope Francis of being theologically inexact, or even erroneous. On previous occasions when Pope Francis, speaking off the cuff, has himself suggested that his words might lack theological exactness I have usually found the contrary (see here, for example). The thought that Jesus had himself to learn to seek forgiveness is certainly audacious from the theological point of view; but why should that not, at least at the level of a pastorally oriented suggestion that models in the Holy Family the pilgrimage of our earthly families, be part of what is intended by the Scriptural observation that "Jesus grew in stature and in wisdom"?

UPDATE: Go here for an update to this post.

No comments: