Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Evangelii Gaudium, Part 2

Continuing from our prior post:

36. All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel. In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council explained, “in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith”.[38] This holds true as much for the dogmas of faith as for the whole corpus of the Church’s teaching, including her moral teaching.

This section isn’t nearly as controversial as some claims I’ve heard would make it out to be. Even Ott notes these differences, as did Cardinal Ratzinger in the explanatory text for Ad Tuendam Fidem.

One thing to point out here, though. The Pope makes a reference to God’s saving love. The word salvation crops up several times throughout the exhortation. Is there an indication of what we are being saved from? There seems to be a common idea that all we are saved from are “sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.” With the concept of damnation left vague, do we really understand the basics of what salvation is? If we don’t understand the basics, can we really grasp things like divinization (theosis) or the Beatific Vision?

37. Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that the Church’s moral teaching has its own “hierarchy”, in the virtues and in the acts which proceed from them.[39] What counts above all else is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). Works of love directed to one’s neighbour are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit: “The foundation of the New Law is in the grace of the Holy Spirit, who is manifested in the faith which works through love”.[40] Thomas thus explains that, as far as external works are concerned, mercy is the greatest of all the virtues: “In itself mercy is the greatest of the virtues, since all the others revolve around it and, more than this, it makes up for their deficiencies. This is particular to the superior virtue, and as such it is proper to God to have mercy, through which his omnipotence is manifested to the greatest degree”.[41]

Holy smokes! It’s a St. Thomas sighting!

38. It is important to draw out the pastoral consequences of the Council’s teaching, which reflects an ancient conviction of the Church. First, it needs to be said that in preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained. This would be seen in the frequency with which certain themes are brought up and in the emphasis given to them in preaching. For example, if in the course of the liturgical year a parish priest speaks about temperance ten times but only mentions charity or justice two or three times, an imbalance results, and precisely those virtues which ought to be most present in preaching and catechesis are overlooked. The same thing happens when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.

Again, I have to wonder what the Pope is getting at. Is this really the imbalance that exists or is he just using it as a hypothetical? Are there really a shortage of homilies on charity/justice, grace, Christ, or God’s word? I’m not sure I’ve heard a homily on temperance, the nature of the Church, or the Pope since I was in grade school.

39. Just as the organic unity existing among the virtues means that no one of them can be excluded from the Christian ideal, so no truth may be denied. The integrity of the Gospel message must not be deformed. What is more, each truth is better understood when related to the harmonious totality of the Christian message; in this context all of the truths are important and illumine one another. When preaching is faithful to the Gospel, the centrality of certain truths is evident and it becomes clear that Christian morality is not a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults. Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options. The message will run the risk of losing its freshness and will cease to have “the fragrance of the Gospel”.

So all the truths of the Faith are important. And ideology can’t take the place of truth. Has someone told the LCWR this stuff? Have the liberation theologians been made to grasp that social justice isn’t the ends they make it out to be? I would like to have seen Leonardo Boff’s reaction to this section.

41. At the same time, today’s vast and rapid cultural changes demand that we constantly seek ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out their abiding newness. “The deposit of the faith is one thing... the way it is expressed is another”.[45] There are times when the faithful, in listening to completely orthodox language, take away something alien to the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ, because that language is alien to their own way of speaking to and understanding one another. With the holy intent of communicating the truth about God and humanity, we sometimes give them a false god or a human ideal which is not really Christian. In this way, we hold fast to a formulation while failing to convey its substance. This is the greatest danger. Let us never forget that “the expression of truth can take different forms. The renewal of these forms of expression becomes necessary for the sake of transmitting to the people of today the Gospel message in its unchanging meaning”.[46]

Two things here. First, shocking as it may seem, the Pope seems concerned about orthodoxy in this passage. I'm sure secularists and dissenters find this completely bizarre.

Second, let us also not forget:

Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding.

Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, First Vatican Council

In other words, this whole notion of "re-formulating" stuff has to be done with utmost care. This was ostensibly the goal of the Second Vatican Council and the result was pandemonium.

43. In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God “are very few”.[47] Citing Saint Augustine, he noted that the precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation “so as not to burden the lives of the faithful” and make our religion a form of servitude, whereas “God’s mercy has willed that we should be free”.[48] This warning, issued many centuries ago, is most timely today. It ought to be one of the criteria to be taken into account in considering a reform of the Church and her preaching which would enable it to reach everyone.

I have no idea what the Holy Father is talking about here. What are these practices and customs that can be seen as so burdensome? Part of me wonders if my not being from Latin America is a problem in my understanding all this. In the American church, where we can’t even have Ascension Thursday as a real Holy Day anymore, I don’t know where the relevance might be.

On the flip side, what about those customs that were abandoned to the detriment of evangelization? For example, has the uglification of so many churches contributed to the preaching of the Gospel? Do we see more interest in the Church now that so many of our popular devotions to the saints have fallen by the wayside?

I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best.

And yet again, is this really a problem, and, if so, where and how?

48. If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, “the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel”,[52] and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.

49. Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).

Pope Francis says a lot here about the poor. Most of it is completely ignored in light of some of the following passages. Notice, though, that the primary things spoken of in these sections here relate to tending to the spiritual needs of the poor. Before anyone accuses me of going all Ayn Rand here, I’m not begrudging the poor temporal helps here any more than the Pope is. However, in the modern “social justice” framework, the spiritual needs of the poor are almost entirely neglected if not outright assaulted. People want to make sure they have plenty of food, shelter, and contraception/abortions. It’s not going to do them a lot of good to go to bed with a full belly, only to find they wind up in the same place as Dives once they die.

We need to distinguish clearly what might be a fruit of the kingdom from what runs counter to God’s plan. This involves not only recognizing and discerning spirits, but also – and this is decisive – choosing movements of the spirit of good and rejecting those of the spirit of evil. I take for granted the different analyses which other documents of the universal magisterium have offered, as well as those proposed by the regional and national conferences of bishops.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of these things can’t be taken for granted anymore. Which is weird because the Pope seems to agree with that in other sections where he talks about needing to get back to the basics of the Gospel.

At long last, more than fifty sections in, we finally come to some of the stuff that has actually been reported on.

53. Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

The second paragraph here reminded me a lot of Brave New World, wherein the society never mends or patches things that need repair. In an effort to keep the consumerist culture going, they just buy everything new.

Also, I think what Pope Francis says here could be applied equally to the business world. The bigger entities set up barriers to the smaller entities’ ability to compete on a level playing field, including getting government to adopt absurd regulatory schemes to drive out competition.

54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and na├»ve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

The Pope is a Marxist!!!!

Or not. There appears to have been a translation issue with this part. I’ll pass this part of the commentary off to Fr. Zuhlsdorf, who goes through this pretty succintly.

So there's our second installment. Part 3 coming soon.

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