Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

20 September 2013

Never Gonna Get It, Part Two

Yesterday the Jesuit publication America magazine published the English translation of the "Interview with a Pontiff" conducted by Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ, editor of the Italian Jesuit periodical, La Civiltà Cattolica.
(I just learned how to type variant characters on my Apple computer: à! â! æ!)
In this interview, Pope Francis says many things about many things, and I dare not attempt to summarize them, for summaries are often misleading, representing the biases of their composer.

I will mention one thing that, as far as I know, is eminently Catholic, Jesuit, and reasonable. It comes from a segment where Francis speaks about the need for pastoral approaches to matters of contemporary moral concern, such as homosexuality, gay marriage, and abortion. Church leaders  "cannot insist only on" preaching and otherwise delivering on the controversies:

"But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context."

That's what our Introduction to Scripture professor told us in the seminary regarding the interpretation of the Bible. "Just as the three most important words in real estate are, 'Location, Location, Location," the three most important words in exegesis (Scriptural interpretation) are, "Context, Context, Context." Fundamentalist approaches to exegesis tend to ignore the larger context of verses and passages.

In order to discern what the text is saying, the interpreter must consider:

  • The human authors' intention, clues to which can be found in "the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at the time, and the modes of feeling, speaking, and narrating then current" (Catechism of the Catholic Church--hereafter, "CCC," 110).
  • The Divine Author (the Holy Spirit)'s intention, which manifests in
    • The content and unity of the whole Scripture, in Testaments Old and New (CCC, 112)
    • The living Tradition of the whole Church, from the writings of the Fathers onward, encompassing the entirety of ecclesial life animated by the same Spirit (CCC, 113)
    • The analogy of faith, that is, the "coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation" (CCC, 114)

Now this interview is not official magisterial teaching, but it does deserve contextual reading. The context includes everything the Church actually teaches on these matters--none of which Pope Francis ignored or gainsaid in his conversation with Fr. Spadaro.

In addition, as we read everything with any number of cognitive biases, we may unwittingly impose those biases on what we read. There's a whole lot of head shakin' goin' on today, in light of reports that the same Holy Father today, in a speech to Catholic gynecologists, has condemned abortion, reminding us that every aborted child "has the face of Jesus Christ, the face of the Lord." Readers with any position on moral matters may raise an eyebrow, as if to say, "Well, what was that all about? What's he up to?"

While the remarks may seem strangely timed in light of the release of the interview, there really is no matter for concern, because everything the Pope has said corresponds to the Gospel and the Church's teachings, none of which he can, or would, alter.

In the same interview Pope Francis offers a splendid paradigm for preaching, one that situates even the "hard words" that homilies often must include within an appropriate context.

  • The proclamation of the saving love of God in the death and resurrection of Christ.
  • Catechesis--education on the content of faith.
  • Moral and Religious Consequences--what follows from who Christ is and what He teaches by word and action.
If all people hear from our pastors is, "Do this and shun that," their preaching is inadequate. Of course, people who live in conflict with a teaching of the Church may be hearing only what they don't want to hear, regardless of what the preacher is actually saying. We need to hear of sin, but first we need to hear of Jesus, of who He is, and what He has done in and for our human nature. People might better receive a word that challenges them, when that word is situated in the context of Gospel and catechesis; and even then, it may not go over so well. But, as always, the results are not in our hands.

The juxtaposition of the comforting interview and the jarring speech illustrate how skeptics will never "figure out" the Catholic Church. She is not to be figured out, but rather to be believed and lived. "She," meaning the hierarchy and the people--as the Pope pointed out in this interview. As long as people regard "the Church" with the third-person mentality, not including themselves among her (even while thinking or speaking of her), they will not "get" what this communion of believers is about.

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