What Pope Francis may say to Europe's Nonbelievers
March 15, 2015
“We must avoid that the good [souls] be lost and we must do everything possible to save the lost ones”
The mercy to which Pope Francis is dedicating the upcoming Jubilee Year has this objective: the prodigal son of the parable whom the father welcomes [home] as a celebration of life, forgiveness among men and the infinite forgiveness of God towards His creatures. Repentance is the condition [necessary] for mercy to fall upon that soul and illuminate it with its light.
Pope Bergoglio did not pick the name Francis (unusual for the Church of Rome) by chance: the Saint from Assisi saw and loved all of God’s creatures because they all carry a spark of the divinity in them; the good shepherd is that spark which must discover and cancel with his love the dross accumulated in life itself and which has banished it into the depths, suffocating its light.
However, the theme of sin and repentance remain. And if repentance does not come? If the spark has gone out or has never existed? Pope Francis never considered that that spark could go out or that some natures could have even been deprived of it from birth; so the care for souls must never stop nor be interrupted and this is the task of the missionary work of the Church. At one of our meetings he spoke to me of that mission which concerned also unbelievers. “The missionary Church” – he said to me – does not proselytize, but strives to awaken the search for good in their souls.”
[Pope’s reply]“You don’t believe in the soul, but you have one anyway.”
This is the faith that sustains him and illuminates the way: the love of neighbor is the passion that inspires him.
I remember also saying to him that I never thought that there could have been a pontiff like him and his reply was that it was the Lord’s [business] in His endless mercy, to know the future..
Recalling the history of the Catholic Church, there are two predecessors in particular who made mercy the main theme of their pontificate: Lambertini in the 18th century and Roncalli half a century ago. Almost all the others, from the Council of Nicea onwards, held the preaching of the Gospel and the governing of temporal power together, giving the precedence to one or the other according to the times in which they lived, as well as to the disposition of their own personalities.
In a Mexican newspaper interview made public yesterday in fact, Francis also said that he had the sensation that his pontificate would be short - four or five years - and the attention of the newspapers focused on this: is he perhaps ill? Is he perhaps thinking of resigning from such an arduous office?
He denied both of these hypotheses. In any case, a year ago, on his return trip from Korea, he had already said the same thing. It is possible that he wants those who are listening (as well as himself) to remember that his anagraphical age is called “old age” and old people are [always] on the threshold of death. He does not fear death which is simply a passage to the true life in the other world. He fears suffering, yes, and has said so more than once, but death no. Death is a celebration and should be faced as such by those with faith in the Father who awaits them in highest heaven.
Yet, what about those with no faith? The answer is that if one has loved others at least as much as himself, (possibly a little more than self) the Father will welcome him. Faith is of help but that is not the element of the one who judges - it’s life itself. Sin and repentance are part of life [and include]: remorse, a sense of guilt, a desire for redemption and the abandonment of egoism.
Those who have had the fortune of meeting Pope Francis, know that egoism is the most dangerous enemy of our species. Animals are egoistic because they are prey to their own instincts, the main one being their own survival. On the other hand, man is moved also by conviviality and so feels love for others, and for the survival of the species to which he belongs. If egoism overpowers and suffocates his love for others, it darkens the divine spark within him and he is self-condemned.
What happens to that lifeless soul? Will it be punished? How?
Francis’ answer is very clear: there is no punishment, but the annihilation of that soul. All the others will participate in the bliss of living in the presence of the Father. The annihilated souls will not be part of that banquet; with the death of the body their journey is ended and this is the basis for the missionary work in the Church: to save the lost souls. And this is also the reason why Francis is a Jesuit to the core.
The Company founded by Loyola taught and still teaches its followers that the premise of mission is being in tune with others i.e. being on the same wavelength, without which dialogue would be impossible. For that reason the missionary Church has to update itself according to the passage of the times and the diversities of places.
When dialogue finally becomes possible among different peoples, of diverse cultures, civics and religions, it is then that the missionary Church may stimulate the call for the good and limit the love of self.
Francis’ teaching makes a lot of sense even for those who don’t believe because it touches a deeply human factor, which is independent of belief in God and Christ His Son. It is a teaching which highlights the difference between man and the animal from which he descends, with a mind capable of reflection and self-judgment, by holding the bridle of his own narcissism and his head hled high, gazing at the stars.
Now Francis still has to face some very hard problems, barely mentioned so far.
The first that no-one has yet posed but is nevertheless clearly evident, regards the priests who administer the Sacraments and who have the power to absolve or punish those whom they judge sinners.
The priests and the hierarchy which encompasses them all, exist only in the Catholic Church and are forbidden to marry.
Priests and celibacy do not exist in any other religion and doctrine transformed into code does not exist in any other religion either. Jews have their Scripture and precepts, but the rabbis are simply teachers, they have no sacrament nor obligations to celibacy. They explain and interpret the Scriptures, that is their task and nothing else.
Muslims also have their Scriptures and doctrine but there is no trace of the priesthood. Attention, though: the various Muslim sects have teachers who interpret the Koran, but also tribunals which indicate the overthrowing of the enemy i.e. the infidel. They are potential theocracies, at times in a direct way such as in Iran and at times indirectly, so the temptation to fundamentalism is strong and often malign.
And so it is the same also in all the other various Protestant confessions; even if Christian, they have pastors, not priests. The pastors are similar in some way to rabbis; they are teachers, have families, administer the sacraments which some confessions have conserved, but the contact between man and God is not obligatorily mediated by bishops and priests in the care of souls. It is direct contact. This was Luther’s great revolution: the believer reads the Scriptures, the Bible and the Gospels and faith permits him direct contact with God.
Well then, this is the question: will the Church of Rome be able to conserve ecclesiastical order with its duties and hierarchical rights ? The problem is even more present inasmuch as some non-Catholic confessions are drawing nearer to the Church of Rome and may even decide to join Her. It has already happened with some Anglicans and may happen with the Orthodox too. However, if the pastors decide to become Catholics they bring their families (which they have legitimately formed) with them, just like the Oriental Church which has always been Catholic but with no obligation of celibacy.
Then there is the other important theme of the family which Pope Francis dedicated most of the Synod to and which will be concluded in the following months.
Lastly, there is the theme of the Second Vatican Council: the contact with modern culture which has its roots in the Enlightenment.
That intellectual movement which experienced its maximum development in 18th century England and France and had Diderot, Voltaire, Hume and Kant as its greatest representatives, did not believe in absolute truth but in relative truth, which excludes the existence of God or admits this existence as a motor in the creation of life, which is then developed through autonomous evolution and dictated by autonomous laws.
The God of the “theists” had no attribute whatsoever that resembled the Christian God: he was neither merciful nor vindictive, nor generous; he never intervened in history and destiny; he never posed the problem of good and evil. He was a motor, a cosmogonical force that had switched on the light of life in some places of the universe and had then withdrawn, either dormant or busy with other vital creations.
Europe had the Enlightenment as a basis for modernity. The Vatican II theme which Pope Francis holds dearly, is to understand and be on the same wavelength as modern Europe (and Northern America), now greatly de-Christianized and thus mission territory. It is very likely that the Jubilee desired by Francis is precisely the start of this missionary activity, with all its ensuing results, not only ultramontane, but also tremendously concrete in the tide of terrorism, wars and local tensions, increasing violence, families shattered and desperate children; in short, the gravest of sins: inequality, ignored poverty, the supremacy of power and the war on love and peace.To conclude, mercy must be the most appropriate theme, not only religiously but also socially and economically, in order to recuperate love, peace and hope in contrast to power, war and desperation.
Long live Pope Francis.
[A Rorate Translation by Contributor Francesca Romana]