Tuesday, October 8, 2013
POPE FRANCIS PRACTICAL CATHOLICISM AND CATHOLIC OPTIMISM ABOUT PEOPLE
The young couple who were my hosts in Trani, Italia, former parishioners of mine from Macon, commented on some of their new Italian friends. Matt told me that many of them do not practice the Catholic faith, in terms of knowing the content of the Faith or attending Mass, but they have hearts of gold.
We both agreed that while many, many Italians do not practice the Faith, they live it out in their personal goodness. This must be attributed to the ancient Catholic culture here that they inherit from their families and the culture in general. But of course all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God and we all have God's goodness imprinted in our very being. Thus this awareness, this positive teaching of the Church on the goodness of God's creatures, we human beings, was elucidated by Pope Francis in his Monday morning homily at the chapel of his place of residence at the Vatican Motel 6:
(Vatican Radio) “Open up your heart and listen to what God is saying to you. Allow your life to “written” by God”. Just as the Good Samaritan did when he stopped to help the stranger, we must all listen to God’s voice and sometimes put our own projects on hold to do his will.
Speaking to those present for morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta on Monday, Pope Francis pointed out that it can happen that Christians, Catholics, priests. Bishops and even the Pope sometimes turn away from God!
Not to listen to his voice, not to take heed in our hearts of his proposal and his invitation– the Pope said – is a daily temptation. And he said there are many ways in which one can turn away from God, polite, sophisticated ways… And to better illustrate his message, Pope Francis recalled the parable recounted in the Gospel in which there is a half-dead man lying in the road. A priest walks by – a zealous priest wearing a cassock and on his way to say Mass. The priest looks at the man and says to himself “I will be late for Mass” and goes on his way. “He didn’t hear the voice of God” – Pope Francis pointed out.
Then a Levite passes by – the Pope continued – and perhaps he thinks “If I get involved and the man dies, then tomorrow I will have to before the judge and give testimony…” so, the Pope continued “he too goes on his way. He too – Francis points out - “turns away from the voice of God”…
Only the Samaritan, a sinner, someone who habitually turns away from God had the capacity “to hear God and to understand his request”. Someone – the Pope observes – “who wasn’t used to participating in religious rites, who didn’t lead a “moral” life, who was theologically “wrong”, because – Pope Francis explained – Samaritans believed that God should be adored elsewhere, not where the Lord had said”. And notwithstanding,“the Samaritan understood that God was calling him and he did not turn away. He went to the man, bound up his wounds, poured on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn and took care of him”. He gave up his whole evening for him.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis said, the priest was on time for Mass and the faithful were happy; the Levite’s schedule was not upset…. And the Pope asked: “why did Jonah run away from God when the Lord asked him to go to Ninevah and he boarded a ship to Spain? Why did the priest turn away from God? Why did the Levite turn away from God? Because their hearts were closed, and when your heart is closed you cannot hear the voice of God. Instead the Samaritan - said - “saw and was moved with compassion”: his heart was open, he was human, and humanity brought him close to God.
Those – Pope Francis said – who have a design for their lives, who want to map out their own stories – do not allow God to write their lives.
“I say to myself, and I say to you: do we let God write our lives? Or do we want to write it ourselves?” And he exhorted those listening “to be docile to the Word of God. To have the capacity to hear His voice and to listen to it.
MY FINAL COMMENT: We also spoke of why so many Italians are no longer engaged with the institution of the Church, especially their parishes. For a very large number it is because the Catholic Church in Italy, all the way from the Vatican to the local bishops involve themselves in the politics of Italy too much. There is and has been for
decades resentment toward the Church because of this and a very powerful anti-clerical attitude in many Italians.
I know this to be true of my Italian relatives here, most of whom do not practice the faith either. They do not like the Church meddling in Italian politics.
I would say the strength of the USA up until President Obama is the respect the state had for the Church and the Church for the state in the sense of the so-called "separation of Church and State." However, as our politics have become more divisive and the our culture more intimately involved in promoting the "culture of death" and disdain for Orthodox Judaism and Christianity, there is more involvement by the clergy of the Church, especially bishops, in terms of politics. This may have a deliterious effect on USA Catholicism in the long run making us more like our Italian counterparts. But I am not clairvoyant or am I?