Tuesday, 17 December 2013

This is what the Gospel looks like

Pope disfigured man

Pope Francis has given another interview - this time to Andrea Tornielli (a contributor to the always up-to-date Vatican Insider blog) at the Italian La Stampa newspaper - and the following are some of my favorite passages:1
“[Christmas] speaks to us of tenderness and hope. When God meets us, he tells us two things. The first one is: have hope. God always opens doors, he never closes them. He is the dad who opens doors for us. Second: don’t be afraid of tenderness. When Christians forget about hope and tenderness, they become a cold Church that doesn’t know where to go and that entangles itself into ideologies, into worldly attachments. Instead, God’s simplicity tells you: go forward, I am a Father who caresses you. I am scared when Christians lose hope and the capacity to embrace and caress.”
Christmas is about hope and warmth, fueled by and in imitation of God and directed towards others.
“What we read in the Gospels is an announcement of joy. The evangelists have described a joy. No consideration is given to the unjust world, to how God could be born into such a world. All this is the fruit of our own contemplations: the poor, the child that has to be born in uncertainty. is born into a precarious situation. Christmas was not a condemnation of social injustice, of poverty; instead, it was an announcement of joy. Everything else are conclusions that we draw. Some are correct, others are less so, and others still are ideologized. Christmas is joy, religious joy, God’s joy, interior, luminous, of peace.”
Christmas is, first and foremost, joy. Let’s not rush to its implications at the expense of overlooking that deep joy that it heralds.
“A teacher of life for me has been Dostoevskij, and a question of his, both explicit and implicit, has always gone around in my heart: “Why do children suffer?” There is no explanation. [...] In front of a suffering child, the only prayer that comes to me is the prayer why. Why, Lord? He doesn’t explain anything to me. But I feel that he is looking at me. So I can say: You know the why, I don’t it and You don’t tell me, but You are looking at me and I trust You, Lord, I trust your gaze.”
Suffering can’t - and mustn’t! - be explained away, but it can be lived while trusting in God’s loving gaze.
“The other day at the Wednesday General Audience, there was a young mother with her baby that was only a few months old, behind one of the barriers. As I passed by, the baby cried a lot. The mother was caressing it. I said to her: madam, I think the little one is hungry. She replied: Yes, it’s probably time … I responded: But, give it something to eat, please! She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing. So, I wish to say the same to humanity: give something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child, in the world we have enough food to feed everyone.”
There is food for everyone - let’s not make our shyness an obstacle for it to get to its rightful recipient.
“Marxist ideology is wrong. But in my life I have met many Marxists who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”
Don’t conflate ideology with its adherents. Even wrong ideologies have good people following then.
“During these first nine months, I have received visits from many Orthodox brothers, Bartholomew, Hilarion, the theologian Zizioulas, the Copt Tawadros: this last one is a mystic, he’d enter the chapel, remove his shoes and go to pray. I felt like their brother. They have apostolic succession, I received them as brother bishops. It is painful that we are not yet able to celebrate the Eucharist together, but there is friendship. I believe that the way forward is this: friendship, common work, and prayer for unity. We blessed each other, one brother blesses the other, one brother is called Peter and the other Andrew, Mark, Thomas …”
I have no comment to add - only to say how it warms my heart to hear Francis refer to the Orthodox patriarchs as his brothers and liken their relationship to those among the apostles. This is very much in continuation of the tremendous advances made by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but I am moved by the beauty of the simplicity with which Francis puts the situation.
“I knew a parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the catechism. After him, in the line of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same reason. Their blood became mixed. That parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: “I will continue to deal with the cause, but for both of them, not just the Catholic priest’s.” This is the ecumenism of blood.”
That we are followers of Jesus, regardless of what Church we belong to is a matter that goes to the bone, into our blood. There we are already one.
“We must try to facilitate people’s faith, rather than control it. Last year in Argentina, I condemned the attitude of some priests who would not baptize the children of unmarried mothers. This is a sick mentality.”
We are not gate-keepers, but each other’s brothers and sisters instead.
“A few months ago, an elderly cardinal said to me: “You have already started the reform of the Curia with your daily masses at St. Martha’s.” This made me think: reform always begins with spiritual and pastoral initiatives rather than with structural changes.”
Structures must be a consequence of life and the best leadership is by example. This point of Pope Francis’ is also in sync with my previous criticisms of his actions being explained away as only “pastoral” and with comments made by Fr. Antonio Spadaro in the New Yorker interview, where he says, when asked about the style-versus-substance debate concerning Pope Francis: “Style is not just the cover of the book. It’s the book itself! Style is the message. The substance is the Gospel. This is what the Gospel looks like.”

1 Please, note that the following quotes are close to the official English translation, but that I have modified them here and there based on the Italian original - not necessarily in the belief of making them “better” - only with the aim of preserving some of the nuances of how Pope Francis expresses himself.