By FR. BERNARDO CERVELLERA
(Editor’s Note: Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, a missionary of the PIME [Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions], is the head of AsiaNews.)
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ROME (AsiaNews) — One year since the election of Pope Francis as Successor to the Apostle Peter, we are becoming increasingly aware that he is guiding the Church toward a revolution, fought not by the sword but by personal witness, without throwing away the past, but by helping authentic tradition to flourish once again.
This has been evident right from the outset, that first evening of March 13, when presenting himself to the world from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica he asked us to pray together, and silence immediately descended on the packed square, which previously had been full of restless murmurs. Instead of proclaiming programs, he called for silence to listen to God’s program (the one that “always precedes us”).
The Bishop of Rome asked for the prayers of the faithful. Some naive television commentators saw this gesture as a sign that he would dispose of hierarchical clericalism. Indeed, with his silent bow, the Pope lowered himself: to show that he is not a monarch, but a person with a mandate, someone who takes very seriously what one billion Catholics do every day with the rosary: “We pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.”
The most traditional element was expressed in unison with the single most revolutionary, most . . . progressive element.
The uniting of these two elements, the traditional and the progressive, appears to be characteristic of Francis. When he speaks of the poor, the Church of the poor, some see this as a sign of a redemption of the old liberation theology, the Church that “finally” take sides in society and fights. . . . As long as the poor — as we see in Evangelii Gaudium (EG) — are not deluded or manipulated by messianic politicians, or led astray by deaf and abstract intellectuals, but first of all nourished with the Word of God and the Eucharist!
From this point of view, Francis is the ripest fruit of the Second Vatican Council, and especially of a “sound” reading of that council. In these intervening decades — as was masterfully explained by Benedict XVI — the Church has been divided between a hermeneutic of rupture and a hermeneutic of continuity. The former read the council as a watershed between the past and present-future: The latter read the development of the life of faith in unity with the past, albeit a past that is reread and reapplied to the needs of modern man.
In a strange shortsightedness, the “rupture” was attributed exclusively to progressive Catholicism, which was finally able to rid itself of the golden vestments, the tabernacles, and Gregorian Chant to become the master of its own liturgies. It willingly forgot the sacraments in its desire to implement the class struggle; it preferred orthopraxis to orthodoxy and judged anyone who objected to this as the enemy.
However, what went unnoticed was that a “rupture” is also present in the repetition of stale tradition, in the affirmation of orthodoxy without any concern for orthopraxis, in a rigid liturgy that fails to communicate the faith, in pounding on about laws and precepts from the pulpit, while despising the world and the man that Christ came to save.
Fifty years after the council, Pope Francis goes beyond these two ruptures, the right-wing and the left-wing, and reaffirms the Second Vatican Council and the reading thereof as an exegesis of continuity. This is why his every action is both traditional and modern; he spends time in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and in a moving and loving silence draws close to the long lines of the ill and sick who each Wednesday fill the front rows at the general audience, worshiping both the “body” and the “flesh of Christ.”
This overcoming of rupture is seen in his ability to reconcile his own priesthood and that of all of the faithful (instead of leaning toward one or the other) in his continuous enhancement of the role of the laity without diminishing that of priests; living as the Bishop of Rome, enhancing [the role] of the bishops conferences; his evoking universal charity: toward Syria, Ukraine, Central Africa…the other churches and Christian communities around the world, members of other religions.
All those who place Pope Benedict XVI and Francis in opposition to one another (another rupture, once again aligned to the right and the left) should take note of how Evangelii Gaudium liberally and with great precision quotes from the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, who — in Pope Francis’ own words — is his adviser and friend.
The Church And The World
Perhaps the most critical point of the hermeneutic of rupture was the Church-world relationship. Some saw the Church as a leaven that penetrates the mass, or the salt that flavors it, but they ended up forgetting what it actually brought to the world by becoming hangers-on of often anti-Church and increasingly anti-human policies and ideologies.
Others saw the Church as a citadel unsoiled by the dust of the villagers and that condemned and launched its arrows from on high, strengthening the ramparts to protect itself, while the world and the men were in danger of perishing far below.
From the outset of his Pontificate Francis, has spoken of the “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing” (taking the words of Paul VI ), and the Church “called out of itself and to move out to the outskirts, not just the geographical, but also existential outskirts.”
In this journey toward the world — the same as the Son of God — the Church brings the joy of encountering Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Church does not drown in the world, but gifts itself and its faith, and must not close itself up in its citadel, or among the remainders of its flock, condemning the world as irrecoverable.
Instead it brings the fertile and healing presence of Jesus Christ among a wounded humanity. John Paul II had already said (in Redemptor Hominis, nn. 13 and 14) that “man is the principal path of the Church” and that “Christ is the path of the Church” showing that these two paths in the end are one.
However, the world and those on the fringes of the Church are precisely those unlikely to understand this Pope’s witness, in their tug of war pulling him from the right and from the left, from above and below, without ever really allowing themselves to be touched by his vital message.
Alongside those who ask him to clarify his teaching, speak out in defense of those “values ” that contemporary society wants to rid the world of, there are those who see him merely as a representative of Latin America, an emblem of how the Church from the developing world has defeated the wealthy Church of the North Americans and Europeans; those who study his commitment or his lack thereof against the Argentine generals, in an attempt to resurrect the past.
There are those who pull him even further, applauding his “openness” (real or supposed) toward homosexuals, “gay marriage,” communion for the divorced, women cardinals, in a rush toward the future.
But none of these interpretations stop to consider the present: a transparent man in his faith and the joy of his relationship with Christ, which is why he does not offer the world a doctrine or an ideology, but an encounter with Christ Himself.
The Pope, who — in keeping with the tradition of the social doctrine of the Church — said that an economy cannot exist without ethics, is accused of being a Marxist. At the same time, those who seem to applaud him as a revolutionary at every unusual gesture, are turning him into a “cult” icon of mass consumption, without being touched in the slightest by his invitation.
These lame interpretations of Francis’ Pontificate fall under the ax of his judgment, when he warns the Church (and the world) against becoming “self-referential”; from the narcissism that is self-congratulatory and forgets all else, and against “spiritual worldliness,” the use of sacred things for personal gain. Often these judgments are applied to the priests who launder money, but never to oneself, or the defenders of conservative or liberal ideologies, who use the Pope to justify themselves and to keep the status quo.
If there is a simple way to define the Francis revolution, it is in the word “movement”: His is a Church that moves, comes out, willing to travel a beaten path and even to strip itself bare to render the truth and the sweetness of the Savior available to everyone.
After all, this is the mission of the Church and of every Christian: This is why we missionaries feel this Pope to be so close to our style and our concerns.
But even in the world, in Italy and in other continents, especially in Asia — where Francis will travel soon — this Pope’s witness is perceived as that of a friend capable of drawing close to one’s own situation much like “a field hospital.”
Immersed in the decay of ideologies (fundamentalist, economic, nationalist, all conjugated with great egos), only a friend who is the bearer of a new, long-awaited light, can offer real hope.