Sunday, April 6, 2014

Understanding Pope Francis

There is no Sunday in the calendar that was more changed with the Second Vatican Council than today. And yet, I dare say that most Catholics hardly noticed. And next week they will still call it Palm Sunday. In Latin the current name is the combination of the two Sundays, Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, dominica in palmis de passione Domini.

Today until 1959 was Passion Sunday and marked a two week period that focused on the Passion, that is suffering, of the Jesus. The part of this period that some of you may remember and is still available in many countries as an option is the covering of statues and other images. The name was chnaged to the Fifth Sunday of Lent and Passion Sunday was collapsed into Palm Sunday.

Instead of two weeks about suffering, today's gospel is the raising of Lazarus, and the focus is shifted, from suffering and death to life. We are reminded that the end of Lent is not the crucifixion but the Resurrection. Lent is not a 40 day mediation on Good Friday, but a preparation for Easter.

Why did I entitle this entry understanding Pope Francis? Because I believe he is like this Sunday. The Catholic Church has not changed her theology. We cannot change the theology. Our task for 2000 years has been to faithfully and completely hand on to the next generation the Gospel entrusted to us by Jesus Christ, and to assist each generation in its application, we call what we are entrusted to hand on without change the Deposit of Faith.

Those who think that Pope Francis is going to make some radical shift in the teaching of the Church, both those who are hoping he will and those who are afraid he will, are I believe sadly mistaken. What we are seeing in him is a shift in focus. In the same way the Church, in altering the calendar, shifted the focus from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection. He is shifting in a variety of areas the focus. Did the Church do away with Good Friday? No. Did we do away with our theology of suffering? No. As always it is a both/and not an either/or.

The Second Vatican Council made no substantive changes to our theology. It shifted focus, presentation, and articulation. As the Church has done from the outset when it shifted from the Aramaic/Hebrew language of Jesus to the Greek language of the New Testament.

There is truly nothing new in the so-called New Evangelization of Blessed Pope John Paul II. It is simply the Church doing what is has always done and what is must do with each new generation, find the way to re-articulate the 2000 year old message of Jesus Christ. 

There is something in our human nature that seem drawn to binary choices: black or white, liberal or conservative, contemporary or traditional. We like simple. The Catholic Faith is about AND not OR.
Jesus is true God AND true man. We human are material AND spiritual beings. And this Pope and the Church are and must always be liberal AND conservative, traditional AND contemporary. And we must learn to live peaceably  with the tension, live peaceably with the complexity.