20 September 2013

Do yourself a big, big favour

Please, gentle reader. Don’t go to the New York Times, with their misleading headlines and watered-down excerpts, served up expressly for an audience with a notoriously narrow hearing range. Please go to America magazine and read the entirety of their interview, ‘A Big Heart Open to God’, with Pope Francis. It is deep, wide-ranging and - most importantly - gracious and intellectually beautiful, and it shows us that, though the Roman Church had lost in the former Holy Father Benedict XVI a man of sterling intellect and analytic acuity, they have also gained an intelligence which, though it works in a very different style, is hardly inferior. And it absolutely tickled me pink as an expat and Chinese history geek that he mentioned the Chinese rites controversy within the Society of Jesus (over whether or not, essentially, Confucianism was a religion) - perhaps the task of exploring that anti-capitalist and alter-political common ground between Confucianism and Catholic social teaching hinted at by Han Thomas Hong-soon is not as far off as I had thought, at all!

It is disheartening to me, incredibly so, to see that, just as most American news media just don’t get it when it comes to religion generally, the New York Times just doesn’t get it when it comes to Catholicism. The central message of Pope Francis - which is one that Jesus has already saved us, and that the job of the Church is to follow his example, to actively go out and seek out that salvation in every person, and to cultivate it even in the midst of great uncertainty - appears lost on the Times, which engages in a textbook case of projection when it obsesses pruriently over Pope Francis’ stance on sexual ethics. On which topic, by the way, as he makes clear in the interview, he is simply following the Catechism and does not diverge from the Church of which he is head at all. But the Times sees a Papal praxis whose essence approaches grace, and - failing to understand that it is the orthodoxy of the Church which inspires and informs that praxis - attempts to squash it into the indifferent and static mould of ‘tolerance’.

The fact remains, though: this Pope is bringing a fresh breath to Catholicism, the same way (to me) first Kierkegaard, and then Lewis and Chesterton brought a fresh breath to my faith in Christianity. He is living an adventure that is orthodoxy; to him, the Papacy is something dynamic and challenging. To him, God is all promise, and that promise is there for all people, where they are.

God bless Pope Francis! May his reign be long and fruitful, and may there be many more like him.

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