Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pope Francis and Blessed Pope John XXIII on the Church & the World

I had the opportunity last night to hear a lecture given by Dr. Michael Higgins, an esteemed Catholic scholar who studies Merton in addition to a multitude of other figures.  His lecture was on points of connection between Blessed John XXIII and Thomas Merton, but included some interesting comparisons between John XXIII and Pope Francis.

One of the texts Dr. Higgins quoted last night was from John XXIII's opening speech for the Second Vatican Council, and specifically the often-quoted section of the speech having to do with the Catholic church's attitude toward the world:
In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too
much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life. They behave as though at the time of former Councils everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life and for proper religious liberty.
We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.
In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by men's own efforts and even beyond their very expectations, are directed toward the fulfillment of God's superior and inscrutable designs. And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.
After hearing again Pope John XXIII's words, I immediately recalled an important section of Pope Francis' interview with America:
[T]here is a temptation to seek God in the past or in a possible future. God is certainly in the past because we can see the footprints. And God is also in the future as a promise. But the ‘concrete’ God, so to speak, is today. For this reason, complaining never helps us find God. The complaints of today about how ‘barbaric’ the world is—these complaints sometimes end up giving birth within the church to desires to establish order in the sense of pure conservation, as a defense. No: God is to be encountered in the world of today. (emphasis mine)
A little over a month ago I attended a conference at which one Catholic biblical scholar gave a talk that consistently referred to contemporary 'culture' and 'world' derisively and with scorn, as if the world was diametrically opposed to the values and ideas of the church and could therefore provide nothing of value.  I have to admit that I simply don't understand this perception of the world.  It doesn't accord with my own experience, but more importantly, it doesn't accord with the way in which the church has viewed the world throughout its history.

And it would appear that Blessed Pope John XXIII would have no truck with this sentiment, nor will Pope Francis.

Image of Blessed Pope John XXIII from The Washington Post website.

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