I love this Pope
Pope Francis engages with an atheist
The Morning Call, October 12, 2013
Eugenio Scalfari, an outspoken atheist, is the founder of Rome’s La Repubblica newspaper. He recently sought an interview with Pope Francis.
Francis agreed, with an impromptu telephone call.
They joked during the interview about converting each other.
“Convert you?” Francis said. “Proselytism is solemn nonsense. You have to meet people and listen to them.”
I love this Pope. Eight popes have spanned my life in the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches. I’ve given all appropriate respect. I loved three, and Francis is now at the top of that trinity. The other two are John XXIII and John Paul I.
A quote from the interview: “Those most affected by narcissism – actually a kind of mental disorder – are people who have a lot of power,” Francis said. “Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers.”
Don’t you love this Pope?
Thinking about Pope Francis and two remarkable interviews he gave over the past few weeks led me way back into my past.
Josef Fuchs, a German Jesuit who taught at the Gregorian University in Rome during the 1960s, informed my first experience of Christian moral theology. It was not what I was expecting.
I was expecting to study the law. God’s law, church law, case studies, morality and legality. Answers. I was primed for clear and sure answers. Rules for life.
Several years earlier, in college seminary, I had begun collecting answers. On 3x5 index cards.
On the upper right corner of each card, I wrote topical words and phrases. From my reading, I’d make notes on the cards. “The Catholic’s ready answer,” a quip used by a Roman Catholic bishop on whose staff I later worked. Answers for my ministry as a priest.
Only once did I question my system. Three-by-five cards did not accommodate complexity. I upgraded with 5x7 cards. Ya gotta love a linear thinker.
Armed with 5x7 index cards, I was ready for the clear answers I’d discover in Father Fuchs’ moral theology class.
During the first few days or weeks – I don’t remember – he read and talked about passages from St. Paul’s letters. “Hello,” I thought. Was this the moral theology class? Someone’s reading from the Bible. So at odds with my expectations, Josef Fuchs walked his students through passages where Paul says we have been changed, transformed, reborn. In Christ.
He suggested again and again that in this rebirth, we discover the defining moment for Christian living: that the answer to “What must I do?” is contained in the question, “Who am I?” and that the Christian moral imperative is rooted not in law but in Jesus Christ and in the person I have become in Christ. An early version of WWJD?
Paul soon follows “You are a new creation,” Fuchs pointed out, with “Therefore, BE (who you are)!” This sequence was Paul’s moral theology. You are a new creation in Christ. You are mystery. Let the mystery unfold. Let the secret be told. Be reconciled. Be glad. Be thankful. Be compassionate. Be a new creation.
That, Father Fuchs suggested, was the heart of Christian morality: Jesus Christ and the new creation we have become in Christ. He called it the Pauline Indicative-Imperative: You are a new creation in Christ. Therefore, be…
It’s crucial to recognize the priority of the Indicative. Reversing the order, putting the imperative before the indicative, can lead to frustration and despair, even some hypocrisy. That we are a new creation has to be first. Only then, can we be or do with integrity.
The Pauline Indicative-Imperative is the basis for the priority of prayer and worship in our lives.
I eventually tore up my index cards.
Francis, it seems, is rewriting the papal user’s guide.
“From the way you talk and from what I understand,” Scalfari told Francis, “you are and will be a revolutionary pope.”
I love this Pope.
[Canon Bill Lewellis, firstname.lastname@example.org, a retired Episcopal priest, served on the Bishop’s staff of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem for 24 years and on the Bishop’s staff of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown for 13 years before that.]