A while back I posted an entry entitled “Pondering Francis“. I am trying to get my head around this enigmatic man who is now the Vicar of Christ. He sends mixed signals. Surely there is a way to decode some of the puzzling things he says and does. Or so I hope.
I had posted, back in September, about a long conversation I had with South American journalist Alejandro Bermudez of CNA. The concept of “peripheries”, which seems to be important to Francis. Thus,
Furthermore, Bermudez spoke of the influence on Francis of thinkers such as the Uruguayan writer-theologian Alberto Methol Ferré, the Russian-American sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, and the pivotal Spanish-language poet Rubén Darío. To condense wildly, it seems that Francis may breathe in a school of thought that sees a kind of “manifest destiny” for Latin America. When cultures develop a interior decay, which they always do, revitalization of the cultures comes from “peripheries”. For the larger Church, experiencing an interior decay, a periphery is Latin America. Latin America, unlike any other continent, is unified in language (by far dominated by Spanish with related Portughese) and is/was unified in religion, Catholicism (though there is bad erosion). With these unifying factors, Latin America has a critical role to play. Also, if you are paying attention, Francis seems to use the word “periphery” a lot. This not quite the same thing as “margin”.
I am paying attention. Benedict has a few key concepts and code words by which he signaled key thoughts. Francis seems to as well, and one of them is “peripheries“.
I now circle back to the Q&A period Pope Francis spent with members of the Schoenstaat movement, who met in Rome for their 100th anniversary. That’s the talk in which Francis spoke about the family being “bastardized” these days. HERE
Here is something from the report by EWTN/CNA on what else Francis told Schoenstaat:
True witness propels us out of ourselves and into the streets of the world, the Pope continued, repeating his common declaration that a Church, movement or community that doesn’t go out of itself “becomes sick.” [Shades of the “interior decay” mentioned above.]
“A movement, a Church or a community that doesn’t go out, is mistaken,” he said. “Don’t be afraid! Go out in mission, go out on the road. We are walkers.” [Who have a kind of “destiny”.]
In answer to questions regarding how he can be defined as “reckless,” the Roman Pontiff admitted that although he can be considered “a little reckless,” he still surrenders himself to prayer, saying that it helps him to place Jesus at the center, rather than himself. [¡Hagan lío!]
“There is only one center: Jesus Christ – who rather looks at things from the periphery, no? Where he sees things more clearly,” the Pope observed, saying that when closed inside the small worlds of a parish, a community and even the Roman Curia, “then you do not grasp the truth.” [Christ looks at things from the periphery. So, I suppose for Francis, to see things as Christ sees them, we have to go to the periphery where Christ is also seeing things. Right?]
He explained how reality is always seen better from the peripheries rather than the center, and noted how he has seen some episcopal conferences who charge for almost every small thing, where “nothing escapes.” [HEY! Pope Francis! The Libreria Editrice Vaticana charges for use of your texts as well as Scripture. Just saying’….]
“Everything is working well, everything is well organized,” the pontiff observed, but they could do with less “functionalism and more apostolic zeal, more interior freedom, more prayer, (and) this interior freedom is the courage to go out.” [There sure was a lot of going out, of missionary work, for centuries after the Council of Trent.]
There were a few other interesting things in that Q&A, but this underscores something I have been pondering about Francis.
If there is a malaise in the Church today, if there is an interior decay (and there is), then we should look to peripheries for that which can help to revitalize our identity, get us strong and healthy again. We need what the periphery has to offer.
Traditional Catholics whose “legitimate aspirations” have been drawn to the traditional forms of our sacred liturgical worship, and who stick closely to traditional expressions of doctrine, are a periphery. They have even been made into a periphery by the Church’s own appointed pastors.
It’s time to start listening to this periphery.
Benedict XVI sure thought so. He put it in different terms. He is focused on the idea of continuity. By bringing the older, traditional forms of liturgy into contact with the present rank and file, we can renew our liturgical worship and, thereby, renew our Catholic identity. This is a vital, urgent task to be undertaken in the face of the Dictatorship of Relativism. My analogy of the Marshall Plan fits in here. After WWII the USA rebuilt Europe so that it could be a good trading partner and a bulwark against atheistic Communism. So too Benedict’s pontificate revealed what I call his own Marshall Plan, which had the three-fold task of renewing our liturgical worship (without which everything else falls apart), recalling how to read Scripture properly, and finding a proper interpretive lens for the Second Vatican Council. All three of these are like structure that sustained horrible bombing, as during a war. They have to be rebuilt.
Taking this a step farther, we might say that going to the periphery of the liturgical practice of the Roman Rite will bring the proper perspective to our liturgical worship of God. There is a rot, a malaise, in our wide-spread, main-stream liturgical practice. This must result in the enervation of every other aspect of the Church’s life. We need what the Usus Antiquoir has to give and we need it NOW. Priests and bishops must go to the periphery, learn the traditional forms, and begin using them.
Going on with the Franciscan periphery and Benedictine hermeneutic nexus, we must go to what has become over the decades another periphery, the Fathers of the Church. They can teach us how to read Scripture again in a way that connects us to the insights of the ancient Church and the regula fidei. The past seems to be a periphery. Let’s go there to gain the right perspective. Benedict explains what he means about the problems with modern exegesis in his Jesus of Nazareth (USA HERE UK HERE).
Finally, we might see the actual documents, the letter, of the Second Vatican Council as a kind of periphery. Lots of people, especially on the catholic Left, focus on a chimeric “spirit” of the Council. The media created it’s own Council, just as it did recently with the Synod of Bishops. Benedict spoke poignantly of the Council of the Media just hours before he abdicated. His famous address to the Roman Curia in 2005 was about proper interpretation of the Council, about continuity. Let’s go to what has been set aside, shoved down to the end of the shelf: the Council documents, read in continuity with all the other Councils of the Church, which themselves have been shoved aside. It is as if the history of the Church began in 1963. Our forebears are a periphery! We need Christ’s perspective from them.
At the beginning of Pope Francis pontificate, honestly disturbed by some of the signals the new Pope was sending, I really tried to get me head around what he was doing and saying by looking at what he was really doing and saying. I used a quick phrase, “Reading Francis Through Benedict” because I saw some connections between the two Popes. Those connections certainly were in matters of style. They have sure not turned out to be similar in matters of governance. When it comes to that, Benedict and Francis are both carbon-based life forms, but that’s about where it ends. Still, rather than just thrown up my hands and turn my back on Francis, puzzled by what he is trying to accomplish (which isn’t clear at all), I think we can draw some lines between the way Francis thinks and what Benedict tried to do. I wish we had had a few more years of Benedict but, hey, we didn’t. Well, we sort of do. His written remarks to the Urbaniana the other day were classic Ratzinger. (Italian HERE) We must work with what we have, which is still helpful and valid today just as it was a couple years ago. Francis makes it pretty hard sometimes to read him in continuity with his predecessors, but it can and it must be done.
Come to think of it, was there a better example of ¡Hagan lío! in the last few decades of the Church’s life than what Benedict XVI did on 7 July 2007?