Pope Francis Explains Himself

There have been endless (and I do mean endless – they are still going on) articles published in both print and online regarding the interpretation of Pope Francis’s interviews. Among the most contentious statements he is reported to have made was the one in the Jesuit interview where he said: 

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible…. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

That ended up getting reported everywhere as “Church must not obsess over abortion, gay marriage” etc. And from there the fight was on.

I wrote in a post on this blog that what I thought Pope Francis was saying was that in our proclamation of the Gospel, we should get back to the primary kerygma of the New Testament. I now feel entirely vindicated in that interpretation by a speech he made yesterday on the topic of the New Evangelisation

This short speech seems to me to sum up just about everything the Holy Father has been trying to say since day one of his pontificate. It also gives (I think) the interpretative key to his encyclical, which shows that I wasn’t that far off in my interpretation of it in the Inform pamphlet I wrote. Basically, in my introduction to Lumen Fidei, I suggested that the pattern of the life of faith in Francis’ view is 1) encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, 2) the journey of faith from that point toward the horizon, 3) the telos or arrival point of communion with the Holy Trinity. 

In this speech, he elaborates on part two of that schema – what we are doing after our encounter with Jesus Christ on our journey to communion with the Holy Trinity. He says:

Here we move to the second aspect: [after] the encounter [with Jesus], to go out to encounter others. The New Evangelization is a renewed movement towards him who has lost the faith and the profound meaning of life. This dynamism is part of the great mission of Christ to bring life to the world, the Father’s love to humanity. The Son of God “went out” of his divine condition and came to encounter us. The Church is within this movement; every Christian is called to go out to encounter others, to dialogue with those who do not think the way we do, with those who have another faith, or who don’t have faith. To encounter all because we all have in common our having been created in the image and likeness of God. We can go out to encounter everyone, without fear and without giving up our membership.

I really like that highlighted bit – I think I could make that the mission statement of my work in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. 

But, and this is now the important bit, he goes on to clarify in more precise terms what he was saying in those ramblng interviews. 

Chew on this:

In the Church all this, however, is not left to chance or improvisation. It calls for a common commitment to a pastoral plan that recalls the essential and that is well centered on the essential, namely on Jesus Christ. It is no use to be scattered in so many secondary or superfluous things, but to be concentrated on the fundamental reality, which is the encounter with Christ, with his mercy, with his love, and to love brothers as He loved us. A project animated by the creativity and imagination of the Holy Spirit, who drives us also to follow new ways, with courage and without becoming fossilized! We could ask ourselves: how effective is the pastoral [plan] of our dioceses and parishes? Does it render the essential visible? Do the different experiences, characteristics, walk together in the harmony that the Spirit gives? Or is our pastoral [paln] scattered, fragmentary where, in the end, each one goes his own way?

And so I am convinced that he is indeed talking about the primative kerygma of the Church: the simple proclamation of the name of Jesus Christ, of his suffering, death and resurrection for the salvation of the world, and of the coming Kingdom of God. This is what Pope Benedict was talking about in the first paragraph of Deus Caritas Est, when he wrote:

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should … have eternal life” (3:16).  

So the Kerygma, the Proclamation, is essential to evangelisation! BUT does that mean that we shut up about everything else in the Christian faith? No, of course not. But we recognise a sequence of activity: first the Kerygma of the Gospel that brings about that first encounter, that first spark of faith; then the journey of Catechesis (the Didache or Teaching) of the Faith, which includes all the dogmas and the moral teachings of the Church, which leads to a life led within a fuller horizon.

And so Pope Francis ends his speech with these words:

In this context I would like to stress the importance of catechesis, as an instance of evangelization. Pope Paul VI already did so in the encyclical Evangelii nuntiandi (cf. n. 44). From there the great catechetical movement has carried forward a renewal to surmount the break between the Gospel and the culture and illiteracy of our days in the matter of faith. I have recalled several times a fact that has struck me in my ministry: to meet children who cannot even do the Sign of the Cross! Precious is the service carried out by the catechists for the New Evangelization, and it is important that parents be the first catechists, the first educators of the faith in their own family with their witness and with the word.

 As we are wont to say on this blog: “Evangelisation and Catechesis – it isn’t rocket science”. Perhaps I could modify that a bit to be a little more precise, and say “Proclamation and Catechesis” because it is becoming clear to me that in Catholic theology, Evangelisation includes both the primary Kerygma and the follow up Didache. 

But aside from all that: here we should have no argument. The Pope knows what he is about. We have not evangelised people when all we have told them is “Believe in God and be a good person” (to quote Archbishop Porteous of Hobart). Evangelising our culture does not begin with insistence “on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods”. Nor is Evangelisation simply what people falsely attribute to St Francis, ie. “Preach always and if necessary use words”. As Pope Paul VI said in the aforementioned Evangelii Nuntiandi (22):

There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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3 Responses to Pope Francis Explains Himself

  1. Joshua says:

    Indeed. What is worrisome is how few seem to know and love Our Lord Jesus – and I mean within the Church!

  2. Matthias says:

    I agree Joshua
    Thanks Schutz for putting this up. It explains a lot.Especially highlights the way the media manipulate things.
    i just read a link where Bishop Fellay of the SSPX in a sermon calls the Pope a Modernist. I felt decidely uncomfortable so this has come at a good time

    • Joshua says:

      Compared to the SSPX, everyone is a Modernist!

      It reminds me of my first day in Paris: I wandered out from my hotel, popped into the local parish church – and found a full congregation attending Low Mass, which was just ending. I knelt in delight, received the blessing, and then, afterwards, started looking around the beautiful church – a note informed me that its then parish priest had been martyred during the French Revolution. As I peered about, three priests came back into the sanctuary – and sang Sext. It was only when I reached the back of the church on the left, and saw a poster advertising a pilgrimage from Chartres, rather than the one heading there (which I was about to attempt), and then another poster advertising a certain bishop’s talks on “the strange theology of Pope Benedict” (as I think it translated) that I realized that all innocently I had stumbled across the SSPX church in Paris!

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