Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Papa Francesco calls on the Church to emerge

During the recently concluded Conclave, from whence he emerged as Pope Francis, at least according to Jaime Cardinal Ortega, Archbishop of Havana, then-Cardinal Bergoglio, in a speech shortly before being selected by his brothers as the Bishop of Rome, said, “The church is called on to emerge from itself and move toward the peripheries, not only geographic but also existential (ones): those of sin, suffering, injustice, ignorance and religious abstention, thought and all misery.” In making these remarks, Cardinal Ortega said in an interview that he was given written permission by the Pope to share this publicly. In this speech, the soon-to-be Pope Francis, according to Ortega, said that the new pope needed to be “a man who… helps the church to emerge from itself toward the existential outskirts.”

In addition to being very much in concert with the charism of Msgr. Luigi Giussani, the founder of Communion & Liberation, these remarks also bring to mind something else, something heretofore limited to the Post-Evangelical Protestant phenomenon in English-speaking countries known as the Emerging Church. One of the three books that together constitute something like the theological foundation of this movement, which has lost quite a bit of steam over the past 4-5 years, is The Emergent Church: The Future of Christianity in a Post-Bourgeois World, by Roman Catholic theologian, Johann Baptist Metz, who is German.

Metz was a student of Karl Rahner, albeit a student who broke with his teacher's "transcendental Thomism," preferring instead a theology of praxis. Metz's theology exerted a strong influence on various liberation theologians, like Gustavo Gutiérrez, who wrote the landmark work A Theology of Liberation, in which he sought to link faith to life: “The unqualified affirmation of the universal will of salvation has radically changed the way of conceiving the mission of the Church in the world. . . . The work of salvation is a reality which occurs in history.” So, while Father, then Bishop, Archbishop, and Cardinal Bergoglio resisted the tendency of the more radical strains of various liberation theologies, it is clear from what already exists of his papal magisterium that he took to heart much of what the healthier, that is, more orthodox theologies of liberation, like of that of Gutiérrez, had to say about the state-of-affairs in post-colonial South America.

When taken as a whole, there is much critical that can and has been said and written about the post-Evangelical Emergent phenomenon, as with Liberation Theology. The biggest "knock" on the Emergents is that they often lack a solid doctrinal foundation. Nonetheless, there is something at the root of this phenomenon that the Catholic Church needs, not to discover, but recover. Having shown great discernment sifting the wheat from the chaff in various liberation theologies while serving as Provincial Superior of Jesuits, Pope Francis seems well-suited for this complex task of the New Evangelization. As Benedict XVI said in his homily at the Mass to begin last fall’s Synod on the New Evangelization, “The Church exists to evangelize.” This leads one to ask, What is the thrust and what are the fruits of evangelism? To introduce to others to Jesus, who, turning again to Benedict’s homily, "alone who fills existence with deep meaning and peace.”

Metz's book The Emergent Church is a compilation of various talks he gave over a two year period in the late 1970s. The first chapter is entitled "Messianic or Bourgeois Religion?" He begins the talk by saying that, by-and-large, the Roman Catholic Church of what was then still West Germany was bourgeois at the expense of being messianic. He was not using "bourgeois" strictly as a term of abuse, seeing that such a Church had "great value for society," but he asks does it have a "messianic future." He is speaking of what, at least among many Evangelical Christians in the U.S., is now called by some commentators, most recently Byron Yawn, "suburbianity."
When the church in West Germany repeats the messianic sayings regarding the reign of God and the future disclosed therein, it is speaking primarily in this case to people who already possess a future. They bring their own future, as it were, into the church with them - the powerful and unshakably optimistic to have it religiously endorsed and uplifted
In his memorable first encounter with journalists, Pope Francis mentioned that he asked his priests in Buenos Aires to rent garages in order to extend the influence of the local Church, the parish, beyond the 600 meters sociologists of religion say is the maximum distance such influence reaches. This puts me in mind of something written by the Servant of God, my beloved Madeleine Delbrêl, a piece that begins with these words, "We, the ordinary people of the streets...
When we live with others, obedience also means we set aside our own tastes and leave things in the place others have put them. In this way, life becomes an epic film in slow motion. It does not make our head spin. It does not take our breath away. Little by little, thread by thread, it eats away at the old man's frame, which cannot be mended and must be made new from the ground up
This is emergent Christianity!

According to Cardinal Ortega, while a still a Cardinal speaking to the Sacred College gathered in Conclave, Jorgé Bergoglio said, “When the church does not emerge from itself to evangelize, it becomes self-referential and therefore becomes sick. ... The evils that, over time, occur in ecclesiastical institutions have their root in self-referentiality, a kind of theological narcissism.”

In his homily for Palm Sunday Papa Bergoglio quoted something said by his predecessor to the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church: "you are princes, but of a king crucified." He went on to preach- "Why the Cross? Because Jesus takes upon himself the evil, the filth, the sin of the world, including the sin of all of us, and he cleanses it, he cleanses it with his blood, with the mercy and the love of God. Let us look around: how many wounds are inflicted upon humanity by evil! Wars, violence, economic conflicts that hit the weakest, greed for money that you can’t take with you and have to leave. When we were small, our grandmother used to say: a shroud has no pocket."

Evangelization is to point someone towards his/her destiny!

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