Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Taking Francis seriously, paragraph 10: Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini.

As Christmas approaches, pageviews drop. It happened last year. It's happening again. That said, I suspect the subject matter I've taken up with this series is probably driving people away. Oh well.

When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfillment.
I'll respond to that with quotes from two friends of mine, neither of whom are famous.

1. The first quote is from a therapist who now works with the military. Back when we were in university, he once said, "Self-help books can do people good but only if they read them very quickly." What Tom meant by that was that these books consist of exhortations that are good at motivating some people provided they don't look into the philosophical foundations they are built on. Analogy: telling a stage-four cancer patient to cheer up just might work provided they don't ask you to provide reasons why they should be cheerful.

For example, we could paraphrase the above quote from Francis by saying:
Get out there and evangelize and you'll find personal fulfillment!
Well, maybe. It depends what you mean by "evangelize". You could, for example, learn to speak Arabic, fly to Saudi Arabia, set up on a street corner and start to proclaim the gospel. Most likely scenario is that an angry mob would form and assault you on the spot. If your lucky, you'll survive and an appeal to Saudi authorities would cause them to waive the death penalty in your case and your badly damaged body will be flown back home.  You probably wouldn't survive.

You may think I'm being facetious, but Saint Dominic wanted to do the equivalent of that. Fortunately, for everyone, he was denied permission by his superiors and went on to found the Order of Preachers.

Where am I going with this? I don't know. What I do know is that the one of two huge questions as we read through this is how Francis defines "evangelization". Any pope could get away with saying, "Evangelize it's your duty", but a pope who writes a long letter asking us to do so also, by this very action, puts the onus on himself to come up with a very good definition of evangelization and very good reasons why we should do it.

For now, he quotes the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops:
“Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others”
That strikes me as the sort of thing you find in a typical self-help book or even on an inspirational poster. You could accept it as true in a fuzzy sort of way but it would not stand a lot of scrutiny.

2. Which brings me to the second quote. My friend John, an economist, once said to me, "One of the things you learn when you study behavioural economics is that people who go after something in a  single-minded way succeed more often than people who are merely gifted; the ugly, five-foot nothing bald guy who makes seducing a whole lot of women the centre of his life will usually do better than the tall, good-looking guy." His point was that when the rest of us sometimes sit around and bemoan the fact that we didn't have as much sex, money, fame or adventure in our lives we are forgetting that we didn't really want these things in the first place.

To stick with the guy who wishes he could have more sex partners, we could think about this in two ways. One possibility is that something, usually the fear of rejection, held us back from actually pursuing these things. Another possibility is that we didn't pursue sex because, whether we admitted it to ourselves or not, we actually value other things more.

Thomas Cardinal Collins, as quoted by my Bishop, likes to say,
Don’t show me your mission statement. Show me your budget, and I will know what your mission is.
And that's a good way to think about it. We often say we value certain things but our real mission is better revealed by how we spend our money. If "money" seems to dirty for you, it also works with the way you spend you time and energy*: you say you love your mother but how often do you visit her? (Values", by the way, is an absolutely useless concept in morality; that's why we like it so much.)

And here is the rub: You probably don't love your mother; or, if this makes it easier to swallow this bitter pill, you don't love her as much as you think you should. I know, what a scandalous thing to say. But, be honest, you know what she did for you and you know how much you mean to her but the truth is that you've been through a lot with your mother and there are lots of things you'd rather be doing than visiting her. Evangelization is something of a similar problem. No mother, no you; no evangelization, no church. And the point is not that there are other things we'd rather do but that month after month, year after year, we keep choosing to do other things.

In part one, I suggested that Francis has set himself a logical hurdle to get over. In this second part, I suggest that he has also set himself an inspirational hurdle that makes that logical hurdle look tiny by comparison. I don't mean to be uncharitable when I say that logical hurdles are not this pope's strong point. He follows two exceptionally intelligent popes. That said, I don't think he is up to the logical challenge and that means that everything, the entire success of his papacy, depends on his ability to inspire.

And, sorry to be a downer, I think he is going to fail. Actually, it's worse than that, I think he has already failed. I think he has succeeded in becoming a celebrity but we didn't need a celebrity. We needed someone who was going to inspire people in the church and not someone the media would love. We should all pray I'm wrong pope but, even if I am right, it won't be so bad. One of the consequences of having a really great pope is that we tend to focus too much attention and hope on the pope when our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

* OTOH, the way you spend your money will almost certainly match the way you spend the way you spend your time and energy, which is the Cardinal's point.

1 comment:

  1. I suspect that you don't like Francis particularly because he's not JPII or Benedict. They might have been fine popes, but they didn't reach people, or worse people dismissed them. Except a small group of people who maybe understood what they were saying. They--or any Pope--might be spouting the most profound truths but if no one is hearing them--or able to comprehend them--what good is it? Francis is trying to meet people where they are, sort of like, well, what Jesus did. He's making himself--and the Church--available, which the two prior Popes did not. I think his humility is genuine, and he certainly isn't looking for celebrity.
    Regarding evangelization, I think we evangelize by example, which I think is what Francis is doing. How much more effective was his actually washing the feet of juvenile offenders on Holy Thursday rather than preach about it. I think Francis' actions more than what he writes (which, lets face it most people aren't going to read anyway) is the type of evangelization he's talking about. I have a buddy from the gym I've known 4-5 yrs, and we don't see each other outside the gym. We talk about different things, politics, Obama, religion, the Republicans, the Democrats, and we both know generally how the other lives. I've been open about the fact that I go to Church weekly, and get benefit from it. The other night he came up to me and said that last weekend he and his wife decided to go back to Church after roughtly 30 yrs. I don't know that what I've told him had anything to do with it, I'd like to think it did on some level.