"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, December 02, 2013

Evangelii Gaudium: something to offend just about everybody...

...thank God. Damian Thompson has summed up Evangelii Gaudium well enough as the outline of the Pope Francis "radical" agenda for his papacy. In our politically-obsessed media world, most of the attention has gone to what the new "apostolic exhortation" says about economics. But there's really nothing new there: Paul VI was saying much the same in the 1960s and 70s, and it's fully in keeping with how the "social doctrine of the Church" has developed before and since. Its empirical premises may not all be correct, but that's not a new issue either. What is new, at least to me, is how the Pope rips into what he calls the "spiritual worldliness" of so many Catholics active in the Church.

That must be cauterized so that we can get out of ourselves, encounter Christ afresh, and evangelize with joy. That's what's important here, and radical. Few, be they right, left, or middling, escape the critique. Here's the part that hit me hardest:
93.  Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of  piety and even love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory  but  human  glory  and  personal  well-being. It is what the Lord reprimanded the Pharisees for: “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (Jn 5:44). It is a subtle way of seeking one’s “own interests, not those of  Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:21).  It takes on many forms, depending on the kinds of persons and groups into which it seeps. Since it is based on carefully cultivated appearances, it is not always linked to outward sin; from without, everything appears as it should be.  But if it were to seep into the Church, “it would be infinitely more disastrous than any other worldliness which is simply moral”.
94.    This worldliness can  be  fuelled  in  two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings. The other is the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of  those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of  opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism.  It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity.
95.   This insidious worldliness is evident in a number of attitudes which appear opposed, yet all have the same pretence of  “taking over the space of the Church”.  In some people we see an ostentatious  preoccupation  for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time.  In this way, the life of the Church turns into a museum piece or something which is the property of a select few. In others, this spiritual worldliness lurks behind a fascination with social and political gain, or pride in their ability to manage practical affairs, or an obsession with programmes of  self-help and self-realization.  It can also translate into a concern to be seen, into a social life full of appearances, meetings, dinners and receptions.  It can also lead to a business mentality, caught up with management, statistics, plans and evaluations whose principal beneficiary is not God’s people but the Church as an institution.   The mark of Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen, is not present; closed and elite groups are formed, and no effort is made to go forth and seek out those who are distant or the immense multitudes who thirst for Christ.  Evangelical fervour is re- placed by the empty pleasure of complacency and self-indulgence.
96.    This way of  thinking also feeds the vainglory of those who are content to have a modicum of power and would rather be the general of a defeated army than a mere private in a unit which continues to fight.  How often we dream up vast apostolic projects, meticulously planned, just like defeated generals! But this is to deny our history as a Church, which is glorious precisely because it is a history of sacrifice, of hopes and daily struggles, of lives spent in service and fidelity to work, tiring as it may be, for all work is “the sweat of our brow”. Instead, we waste time talking about “what needs to be done” – in Span- ish we call this the sin of “habriaqueísmo” – like spiritual masters and pastoral experts who give instructions from on high. We indulge in endless fantasies and we lose contact with the real lives and difficulties of our people.
97.    Those  who  have  fallen  into  this  worldliness look on from above and afar, they reject the prophecy of their brothers and sisters, they discredit those who raise questions, they constantly point out the mistakes of others and they are obsessed by appearances.   Their hearts are open only to the limited horizon of  their own immanence and interests, and as a consequence they neither learn from their sins nor are they genuinely open to forgiveness.  This is a tremendous corruption disguised as a good.  We need to avoid it by making the Church constantly go out from herself, keeping her mission focused on Jesus Christ, and her commitment to the poor.

He shoots: he scores!

Most "professional Catholics" can find something of themselves in that. If Pope John Paul II liked to repeat Duc in altum!--"Go out into the deep"--Francis is reminding us that what we need to go out from is ourselves--especially our churchy selves.
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