Friday, March 15, 2013

Pope Francis and the Media, Jesuits, Eastern Orthodox, Eucharist, Mary, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

After Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (pictured) of Argentina was elected Pope Francis I, I found it difficult to locate much first-hand information on this first "American" Pope. Since his Wednesday election, here are some thoughts and references.

In the context of this papal election, the secular media, as is unfortunately often the case when reporting on the Church at all, demonstrated an inability or refusal to view the Church or office of the papacy as a theological rather than political. Even prior to Pope Francis' election, a variety of opiners expressed hope for a Pope whom would reverse Church teaching on contraception, abortion, the male priesthood, or marriage requiring a man and woman.

For example, an NBC staff writer expressed, "Pope Francis will likely keep to Catholic teachings that reject abortion and same-sex marriage, experts said Wednesday." CNN news anchor Suzanne Malveaux said, "Because we know that Benedict was very conservative when it comes to gay rights, when it comes to women being ordained in the church, when it comes to birth control. Many of those things that people are looking to and wondering if the church will, in fact, alter or adjust to the times." Similar statements are not hard to find. Any "expert" whom says the Church is not "likely" to change these teachings is, by the very assertion, not an expert on the Church.

In the minutes following Pope Francis' election, Wikipedia quickly updated the Pope Francis and Cardinal Bergoglio entries with the assertion: "Like most people, he supports the use of contraception to prevent the spread of disease." The footnote link for this claim was inaccessible. The claim itself has since been removed and remains unfounded. This misrepresentation itself was done to Pope Benedict XVI, as covered previously at The Catholic Voyager in What the Pope really said about condoms. On the Kresta in the Afternoon radio show Thursday (MP3), Dr. Janet Smith called such false rumors "wishful thinking."

To state the obvious, it is impossible for a dogmatic teaching on a matter of faith or morals to be "rejected." Sentiments such as these demonstrate a view of the papacy as a political office. Candidates go in and out, bringing to the table or legislatures whichever "laws" are determined. Such rules can be affected by a "vote." But the Church does not operate in this fashion, teaching that such truths are transcendent to manufacturing and are rather identified from reality. Such members of the media do not afford the Church the very views it professes to assert in expressing its teaching on such matters. In other words, in order to understand the Church's teachings, one at a minimum must confront the Church's own basis for those teachings.

Here is an analogy to understand the Catholic teachings on such moral dogmas as are above mentioned. To ask the Church to "reject" one of these views is tantamount to demanding that the Church "adjust to the times" and recognize that three-sided objects should be called "squares." It is, in reality, an impossibility for a square to have three sides. The Church is powerless to change that reality. If you can understand the ignorance required to demand a three-sided object be called a square, then you can understand the ignorance involved in those demanding the Church reject immutable dogma.

At a minimum, even if someone disagrees with the Church's teaching, it would be basic, prudential reporting to notify one's audience that the Church teaches that it is impossible for these teachings to be "rejected." As an apparent strategy, the media sometimes showcases a "Catholic," or perhaps even a priest or religious, whom rejects these teachings to give the impression that the issue remains unsettled in the Church. However, this belies the Church's teaching that dogma is formulated and recognized by the body of the Magisterium, that is, the Pope and bishops in union with him. Dissenters do not effect dogma. The sensibilities of unbelievers do not effect dogma.

Pope Francis brings at least couple "new" attributes to the papacy.
  • First Jesuit
  • First American
Some Catholics are concerned by Pope Francis' status as a Jesuit. This is apparently due to a Jesuit reputation to, perhaps similar to the media, challenge Church dogma. This is not a matter I have studied extensively, but if it is true that some Jesuits have a heterodox bent, this needn't be forced onto Pope Francis as his personal characteristic. After all, Father Mitch Pacwa from EWTN, for example, is a Jesuit and has been an excellent teacher of the faith.

Regarding Pope Francis' Jesuit background are a couple quotes I've come across from respectable Catholic commentators:
An incisive thinker and intensely holy man living a devout life, it is held against him that he is a Jesuit, although he has suffered the slings and arrows of Jesuits of a more "progressive" bent. (The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of First Things on Cardinal Bergoglio, 2007)
He was known in Argentina as the Jesuit who lived like a Franciscan. ... He's a very different kind of Jesuit. He's an old school Jesuit. Think of Father James Schall from Argentina and you begin to get the idea. Bergoglio was persecuted by his leftist Jesuit brethren in Argentina.  There were not champagne corks popping around the corner from where I'm sitting right now at the Jesuit Generalate last night, I'm quite sure. (George Weigel, on Kresta in the Afternoon radio show, March 14, 2013 (MP3))
First American and the Eastern connection
Sometimes you might hear that Pope Francis is the first non-European pope, however, there have been three popes from Africa. One of the things that strikes me most about then-Cardinal Bergoglio's position in Argentina is in the first sentence of his Vatican bio: "Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Ordinary for Eastern-rite faithful in Argentina who lack an Ordinary of their own rite..."

For those of us hoping to reunite with the Eastern Orthodox Church, this attribute may help. It has apparently been some centuries, perhaps over 1000 years since there was an Eastern Rite pope. I have a particular affinity for a number of early saints mutually recognized by both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, especially St. John Chrysostom from the fourth and fifth centuries, whom I have cited a number of times on this blog and in forums. There remains a mutual foundation upon which reunion can transpire.

For those whom do not know, the Eastern Orthodox Church and Catholic Churches went into schism, commonly acknowledged to have taken place in the year 1054. Now, there is a difference between Eastern Rite Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Churches, one of which is that the former are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, i.e. the pope. Though Eastern Rite Catholics are in union with the Pope, they practice different forms of the Liturgy and have non-doctrinal differences in discipline or sometimes different spiritual emphases native to different cultures, many of which are viewed as similar to the Eastern Orthodox.

Although the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are in schism, there exists between them a certain familial kinship to the point that many in each Church recognize the validity of each other's priesthood and the ultimate sacrament in each other's churches––the Eucharist.
On each side it is recognized that what Christ has entrusted to his Church--profession of apostolic faith, participation in the same sacrament, above all the one priesthood celebrating the one sacrifice of Christ, the apostolic succession of bishops--cannot be considered the exclusive property of one of our Churches. (Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, 1993, #13)
To fortify optimism for the reunion of these two great Churches some day, the following news appeared in today's Catholic World Report:
In a historic development, it was announced today that Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, will attend Pope Francis’ installation Mass in Rome March 19, the first time such an event as taken place since the Great Schism in 1054. (Catherine Harmon, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople to attend Pope Francis’ installation Mass, Catholic World Report, March 15, 2013)
When something happens for the first time in almost 1000 years, something for which countless generations have prayed, there is cause for attention and hope.

One piece from Cardinal Bergoglio I have read over is a catechesis he preached on the Eucharist in 2008. In that catechesis, Bergoglio emphasized a critical attribute in understanding the Eucharist, and by comparison the Church, and really much of Catholic theology. That attribute is the nuptial nature of Christ's sacrifice. (See a little about this nuptial character in a prior post Christ, the bridegroom.)

The Cardinal states:
In receiving the Eucharist, we are the ones assimilated to Christ. In this manner, through giving Himself over to be eaten as Bread of life, the Lord starts making the Church. He begins transforming within His Body – in a process of mysterious and hidden assimilation as it is completely given over to the process of nourishment – at the same time, whenever this process can count with the free “yes” of the Church, that assents in faith to the Covenant offered by her Spouse, it transforms into His bride.
There is so much theology loaded into that paragraph. All members of the Church are, in a theological sense, the bride. Utilizing what Pope John Paul II called the Theology of the Body, we can recognize in the union of man and woman a figure of Christ and the Church. The Church "receives" life from Christ, so to speak. And the Eucharist is itself an image of assimilation, which we consume, which by the very form of eating communicates the merger of two entities into one. Yet, as Cardinal Bergoglio points out, unlike normal eating where food is broken down into us, with the Eucharist, we are broken down into Christ. In the sacrament, in the union with the divine Son, we, though fallen, are loved by God, and are raised up through His Son, whom condescended to us, and nuptially joined his Church by his ultimate "giving of himself" on the Cross.

The Cardinal continues, relating the matter to Mary, herself a figure of the Church:
Mary, therefore, is a model of the Covenant, between the Lord and His bride the Church, between God and each man. Model of a Covenant that is company of Love, confident and fruitful abandonment and fullness of hope that irradiates joy.
Here, the Cardinal eludes to Mary assenting to the angel Gabriel's prompt to bear the incarnate Christ, when she said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38) One of the reasons Mary figures so importantly in Catholic theology is because of her role in divine revelation as figure of the Church. She sets a pattern by which the bride, the Church, is to follow. When she submits to the divine bridegroom, what is begotten? Life. We, as Church, are called to the same response, the same "yes," as Cardinal Bergoglio wrote above, and by that graced assent, life eternal is begotten.

The complementarity of bridegroom and bride itself relates to the dogmas discussed earlier. A marriage only exists if the "ingredients" of man and woman are joined. This is visible in the natural world, that only a male and female union "bears fruit" in the form of life. The Church has recognized also the spiritual reality of these complementary genders, which effect a true marriage. The matter of contraception is pertinent here as well. In the marriage, the marital act is seen as the giving of the self to the other. Jesus demonstrated the bridegroom's part when he extended his arms and literally gave all of himself to his bride. When a contraceptive is introduced, part of the self is withheld, especially one's fertility, and perhaps other factors such as a willingness to sacrifice with the other to raise a child, which itself fosters the objectification of the other (as predicted by Pope Paul VI in Humana Vitae in 1968). In a way, the denial of the necessary ingredients of man and woman in a marriage is an attack on the Eucharist.

In another letter from 2010, Cardinal Bergoglio wrote emphatically to protect the complementary genders necessary for the institution of marriage.

The future of the Church promises to be, at the very least, fascinating. It has literally been centuries since a retired Pope lived in concert with a current Pope. It must have been an intriguing experience for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to experience the election of his own successor, especially in a world of technology where he could, if he did choose to, watch the dramatic events of the past week unfold. Pope Francis has already spoken on the phone with his great predecessor, and still plans to meet with him in the future. Pope Benedict himself welcomed a large community of Anglicans, themselves a "liturgical" Church, even if the Catholic Church does not recognize the validity of their priesthood or Eucharist. Such acts at that by Pope Benedict might that serve as the needed springboard for ecumenism and reunion with the Eastern Orthodox Church. If we do not see reunion in this generation, future generations may look back to Pope Benedict XVI as a catalyst.

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