September 29, 2013

September 29, 2013 Column Father De Celles

The Parish Picnic is Today (Sunday)! I hope to see you all this afternoon from 1 to 4pm at the parish picnic. Please come join us for lots of good food, fun and fellowship. I especially invite new parishioners and guests—this is a great way to meet new people and get involved in the life of the parish. And I encourage everyone else to come to get reacquainted with old friends and make new ones (See the announcement later in the bulletin for more info).

Papal Interview. I am continually mystified when Catholics believe everything they read or hear in the secular media, especially when it comes to matters involving the Church. After all, they have very different priorities than we do. For example, their priority is often money over truth. They print or report what sells, not necessarily what is true.

But more importantly, they all seem to embrace a common ideological perspective that basically rejects traditional Christian values.

So why would any Catholic trust the media, especially when it comes to matters related to morality or eternal truths, or to the Church itself?

A little over a week ago the media went hysterical over a long interview given by Pope Francis, spinning his words, out of context, to make it seem as if Francis was being critical of traditional Catholic teaching and practice. For example, they quote him saying:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible….it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

First of all, what the pope said is true, but the media’s spin was false. We can’t “only” preach on those topics, and “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” And we don’t: neither the Church as a whole nor any priests I know does that.

But the media presented this as the Pope rejecting Catholics, especially priest and bishops, who give these issues priority over other issues, even suggesting that the Pope didn’t care much about these issues, and thinks other issues have greater priority. But that is not what he said, and not what he meant. In fact, the very next day, the Holy Father himself spoke out strongly against abortion, and the Post’s headline read: “Pope blasts abortion in olive branch of sorts after denouncing church’s obsession with rules.”

And if you read the actual text of the Pope’s interview itself, you see that the Pope Francis was saying nothing different than Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI said before him: that is, you have to present all Catholic teaching in the context of the mercy and love of God, because that’s the only way they can be fully understood. Isn’t that exactly what John Paul did in his encyclical on abortion, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)? Isn’t that exactly what Benedict did in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), where he beautifully explained the love of God, and explained how abortion as contrary to that love. But you didn’t get that from the press.

Perhaps the New York Times’ headline summed up the medias spin the best: “Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control.” And yet Pope Francis said no such thing. What he said is that the Church “cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines.” In other words, we have to present not “disjointed” doctrines, as if abortion wasn’t intimately related to the radicalness of God’s love, but explain, simply but clearly how abortion is wrong because it radically opposes God’s love. And he spoke of how this cannot “be imposed insistently.” Which is the same thing both John Paul and Benedict said before him: “the Church proposes, it does not impose.”

But in the end, as most of the media had to admit, though buried near the end of their coverage: “no doctrine was changed.”

Now, sometimes Pope Francis can be hard to understand, even confusing. And you might easily misinterpret some of what he says—especially if you see everything through your own ideology and with antagonism toward the Church. His style, both in speaking and writing is very different from John Paul II and Benedict, especially Benedict who was one of the most brilliant but also clear and concise writers you will ever read. Francis is also brilliant—if you read the interview you will see that. But he’s not always very clear, especially when he’s talking off the cuff. And when he tries to be concise, it often comes out as an oversimplification.

I am not attacking the Pope here, I’m just talking about his style. The journalist that did the interview described this: “The pope had spoken earlier about his great difficulty in giving interviews. He said that he prefers to think rather than provide answers on the spot in interviews…[T]he pope interrupted what he was saying in response to a question several times, in order to add something to an earlier response. Talking with Pope Francis is a kind of volcanic flow of ideas that are bound up with each other.” And His Holiness says of himself, in the interview: “I am a really, really undisciplined person.”

Another thing to remember is that both John Paul and Benedict were trying to clarify the Church’s teachings after the confusion of the 1960s and 70s, and so they were very precise in how they taught. But Francis seems to think that they did their job, that the teaching is clear, and not he’s trying to simplify the manner in which people are invited to learn and experience that teaching. As he says in the interview: “The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant.” Is he criticizing or rejecting his predecessors approach? No—he’s just proposing his own approach, building on them, today.

Moreover, in an effort to seem more accessible, he does things more off the cuff—like this interview. But while this approach may be leading many people to turn to the Church for a second look, it also carries the risk of causing some confusion and providing the opportunity for some to set Francis against Benedict and John Paul, as they have done with this interview.

I have previously written about the need to follow what Pope Benedict called the “hermeneutic of continuity”—the idea that what one Pope says must be understood in the light of all that came before in the Church, including the writings of his predecessors. We must assume continuity between Popes and reject the “hermeneutic of discontinuity”—trying to set one Pope against another. So I had to smile at one of Pope Francis’s responses in the interview: “Yes, there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity….”

Oremus pro invicem, et pro Papa. Fr. De Celles