Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Don't read Francis through Benedict
The Bishop of Rome returns from Brazil in triumph, even the western media seemed impressed. In everything he did he excelled. There was no complex theology, indeed his short addresses were not great teaching moments and in many ways predictable, which seems to be Francis' charm. His nonchalant attitude to security, his obvious delight at being with the crowds, his casual homely way, his pleasure at being disruptive himself, the almost anarchic revelling in being 'not the Pope', I mean his obvious joy on his visit to the slums, in saying he would like to visit everyone's house, to ask for a glass of water, or perhaps have a cup of coffee, actually seemed to make him appear as visiting great uncle, a friend, rather than a visiting bishop. Someone willing to listen as much as someone come to teach.
For me his lack of theology actually seemed a strong point. For the media, he seemed to say what they expected a Pope to say, a message of reconciliation. Francis preaching by smiles and hugs, even a few tears, a cup of mate, a sombrero, an indigenous headdress, casual conversations with embraces and kisses, in fact his physical openness to the world was actually much more coherent than any words he had to say. His message was simple, "to the streets, bring Christ the edges of society". Francis himself through his actions is a model of this.
Personally, I have had difficulty with the transition from Benedict to Francis, maybe because I was trying to "read Francis through Benedict" rather than seeing both as gift from God to his Church.
Francis intention seems to be simply to show human warmth as a means first to being human, then to evangelisation, Benedict actually did the same, he visited drug addicts embraced the poor, sat down and eat with the homeless, which Francis has yet to do but it was his words, his teaching we wanted. Francis really has nothing very exciting to say, it is a bit ambiguous, imprecise, often he appears to contradict on Monday what he said the previous Wednesday. His words are stream of consciousness stuff, it is his actions that are important. I think we should stop reading or hearing Francis through his predecessor but rather see his actions through the theology of his predecessors.
If we can see anything of God's Providence through Francis, perhaps God is saying enough of theology, enough words, enough discussion, now go and embrace, smile hug, show kindness, go the slums, reach out to the young, embrace the unbeliever, draw in the outsider.
On the plane back he seemed to show the same sense of reconciliation, he wants to emphasise the positive, whether it is about homosexuals who genuinely seeking Christ, or any other section of the Church. We really do not need to see that Church as a fortress keeping out the enemy but rather a ship come to rescue fallen frightened humanity. The Church does not exist for its members but for humanity, we are indeed sent to evangelise. I am beginning to see Francis as an antidote to illness of the Church since the Council, where for the past 50 years we have been looking inwards to such an extent that the world sees Christ's disciples not as a source of goodness and hope for the world but as something evil, corrupt and immoral.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake