Monday, July 29, 2013

What is missing from post-WYD Catholic commentary? "Missionary discipleship"

World Youth Day in Rio Janiero ended with a bang, not a whimper. The bang was extended to Pope Francis' in-flight news conference during his trip back to Rome. In my view, we received more evidence that the Holy Father is very savvy in dealing with the media. Being well aware that something he might say would overshadow his entire Apostolic Journey to Brazil, he refused to take questions, that is, hold a news conference on the flight from Rome to Brazil. Then, with a successful trip under his belt, he opened up and held a presser on the flight home. As one would expect, the questions spanned a wide range of topics from homosexuality, to abortion, to divorced and re-married Catholics, all the hot-button issues. Predictably, all one has heard, even from the vast majority of the Catholic press and Catholic commentators are tortured, truncated, and dessicated editorial comments on his very non-controversial statements on these subjects, but, as you might expect, mostly on homosexuality.

In his response to this delicate question, Pope Francis invoked the Catechism and said, "The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem." As one would expect, the Holy Father did not change Church teaching on-the-fly, as many keep hoping he will do, but maintained a strict distinction between orientation and behavior. Context always matters. Therefore, I think it is important to note that he was specifically speaking about priests who are homosexually-oriented, saying he does judge the fact they are sexually attracted to other males.

The fact that the ideologization (if I may be permitted the use of this neo-logism) is "the worst problem" when it comes to the issue of homosexuality is a nice segue into what I really I want to post about, which is what I believe to be the road map for Pope Francis' pontificate, something he set forth in his address to the coordinating committee of CELAM (acronym for Consejo Episcopal Latino Americano, or the Latin American Episcopal Conference), which was not part of the World Youth Day program. The road map is the so-called Aparecida document which was written at a gathering of CELAM in Brazil in 2007, which was the Fifth gathering of CELAM since its inception in 1965. This gathering was the occasion for Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Journey to Brazil. Then-Cardinal Bergoglio was the main author and architect of the Aparecida Document, which is available in its entirety en Inglés here.

What arises from the document is something called "missionary discipleship," which, unsurprisingly, is something that Pope Francis invoked several times in his homilies and addresses to the youth gathered for World Youth Day. In his speech to representatives of CELAM, the Holy Father spoke of three temptations "against missionary discipleship." The first of these is Making the Gospel message an ideology. About this he said,
This is a temptation which has been present in the Church from the beginning: the attempt to interpret the Gospel apart from the Gospel itself and apart from the Church. An example: Aparecida, at one particular moment, felt this temptation. It employed, and rightly so, the method of 'see, judge and act' (cf. No. 19). The temptation, though, was to opt for a way of 'seeing' which was completely 'antiseptic', detached and unengaged, which is impossible. The way we 'see' is always affected by the way we direct our gaze. There is no such thing as an 'antiseptic' hermeneutics. The question was, rather: How are we going to look at reality in order to see it? Aparecida replied: With the eyes of discipleship
Pope Francis following his speech to the Coordinating Committee of CELAM

Under the temptation of turning the Gospel into an ideology, he identifies four specific and distinct ways this is done:
a) Sociological reductionism. This is the most readily available means of making the message an ideology. At certain times it has proved extremely influential. It involves an interpretative claim based on a hermeneutics drawn from the social sciences. It extends to the most varied fields, from market liberalism to Marxist categorization.

b) Psychologizing. Here we have to do with an elitist hermeneutics which ultimately reduces the “encounter with Jesus Christ” and its development to a process of growing self-awareness. It is ordinarily to be found in spirituality courses, spiritual retreats, etc. It ends up being an immanent, self-centred approach. It has nothing to do with transcendence and consequently, with missionary spirit.

c) The Gnostic solution. Closely linked to the previous temptation, it is ordinarily found in elite groups offering a higher spirituality, generally disembodied, which ends up in a preoccupation with certain pastoral “quaestiones disputatae”. It was the first deviation in the early community and it reappears throughout the Church’s history in ever new and revised versions. Generally its adherents are known as “enlightened Catholics” (since they are in fact rooted in the culture of the Enlightenment).

d) The Pelagian solution. This basically appears as a form of restorationism. In dealing with the Church’s problems, a purely disciplinary solution is sought, through the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful. In Latin America it is usually to be found in small groups, in some new religious congregations, in tendencies to doctrinal or disciplinary “safety”. Basically it is static, although it is capable of inversion, in a process of regression. It seeks to “recover” the lost past
It seems many of us are content to play small ball, to major in the minors, to remain in the ideological fight, the culture war. I am not only referring to people on one side, but those on both sides. Politics is a very poor substitute for faith, which changes culture, not by fighting, but by transforming it from within, as leaven (Matt. 13:33). Playing politics with faith is playing with fire.

Pope Francis' message is the Gospel and the Gospel is nothing other than Jesus Christ. He is the sole criterion by which we judge everything.

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