Friday, December 13, 2013

Pastoral conversion which Pope Francis is urging the whole Church Towards

The “Evangelii Gaudium” is a treatise on moral theology. The Apostolic Exhortation presents some moral teachings of the Church on the open horizon of pastoral conversion which Pope Francis is urging the whole Church towards.

And yet the few references the Pope makes to the dynamics of moral life, some of which are presented in an implicit manner in the text, seem to break certain stereotypes that are evident in so many old cultural and media disputes surrounding the Church and moral issues.

In the “Evangelii Gaudium”, Pope Francis eloquently approaches the issue of communication. According to the Pope, in communication processes, some questions relating to the moral teaching of the Church are often “taken out of the context which gives them their meaning.

The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message.”

What is more, Francis says, “we need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.”

Some of the Church’s teachings and moral precepts can only be understood and appreciated by experiencing the faith and belonging to the Church community, “beyond the level of clear reasons and arguments.” This is why the “pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed.”

The Christian message must be proclaimed in such a way that it reaches everyone: “When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone without exception or exclusion, the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing.”

Focusing on “what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary,” does not mean overshadowing the moral teachings of the Church. Pope Francis quotes St. Thomas Aquinas and the Second Vatican Council: some truths “[give] a more 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, “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.”

The relationship between individual truths and the core Christian message ensures that neither are set aside and forgotten about. “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.

St. Thomas of Aquinas himself “pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God “are very few”.” Quoting St. Augustine, the Dominican saint 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.”

Freeing ecclesial communication from an excessive insistence on moral issues is not a great tactic to portray the Church as more modern. “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.” Francis’ aim is not to advocate a way people “must be” or to teach them how to conform to a certain code of conduct.

The Christian under standing of moral action has always recognised that by nature of the concrete historical condition of original sin, all humans are “wounded in naturalibus”, in their natural state. Even the Church’s doctrinal pronouncements, from the Council of Carthage in 418 AD to the Council of Trent, from the Council of Orange in 529 AD to the Creed of the People of God issued by Paul VI, have reiterated that the will is weakened and as such intelligence is blurred as well.

Our concrete everyday experiences are conditioned in so many ways that what is naturally obvious can and does become blurred and less clear. For example, the procreational vocation to protect the lives of those about to be born. The human condition being what it is, the primary aim of the Christian message has never been to drum self-evident moral teachings into people’s heads.

St. Paul and St. Augustine were perfectly aware that even Christian doctrine, which is true, can kill if it lacks delectation and dilectio, meaning the loving appeal of grace. Francis quotes his predecessor, reiterating that: “It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction”.”

At the start and at every step of the Christian adventure, faithful develop and grow thanks to the attraction of grace. Even in moral life, grace blossoms and manifests itself in freely given mercy. St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Francis writes in the “Evangelii Gaudium”, taught that “mercy is the greatest of all the virtues” in terms of moral action.

“The foundation of the New Law is in the grace of the Holy Spirit, who is manifested in the faith which works through love” and that performing acts of love towards our neighbour are the most perfect external manifestation of the Spirit’s inner grace. Mercy, bearing the misfortunes of others, is typical of God. This is why it is said that “it is proper to God to have mercy, through which his omnipotence is manifested to the greatest degree”.

As a pastor of souls and as a confessor, Pope Francis has on numerous occasions witnessed first hand how the experience of being embraced by mercy and forgiveness can reawaken men and women’s perception of their personal limits, of evil, of sin that hardens the heart and of good that attracts and brings happiness.

As Joseph Ratzinger explained in March 2000 in the mea culpa address of the Jubilee Year 2000: “It seems that only forgiveness, the fact of forgiveness, makes it possible to recognise sin frankly. The certainty of God’s forgiveness renews us and is an essential part of the Gospel.”

Today Pope Francis expresses the same faith in mercy as a “medicine”, the only medicine that can cure and change even those lives which seem lost. Hence he invites pastors and all Christians to “accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur.”

It is important to be patient and give mercy the time it needs to work. Mercy is reflected in concrete experiences not rigid abstractions. A truly missionary heart never “[renounces] the truth, the goodness and the light which it can bring A missionary heart is aware of these limits and makes itself “weak with the weak... everything for everyone” (1 Cor 9:22).”

A truly missionary heart always bears in mind that “a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties.” “Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.”

The Christian view of moral life stems from the experience of freely given mercy. Any discussions on ethical and moral issues that do not take this into account or mistreat mercy, branding as “soft” neglect the dynamics of Christianity. This is also the case when Christian words are exploited, sometimes to further one’s ecclesiastical career.

Any such discussions and attitudes, the Pope warns in the “Evangelii Gaudium” “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.”
Post a Comment