Friday, March 15, 2013

Pope Francis and Evangelical Catholicism

George Weigel, has written a book titled Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church, which one reviewer called a "masterpiece of Catholic history and thought" and a "possible guide for the Church’s mission in the centuries ahead" that he would have, if he could have gained access to the conclave, "smuggle[d] in enough copies ... to place one on the chair of each elector".

Weigel's Evangelical Catholicism is held out as a way of moving beyond what he refers to as the "Counter-Reformation Catholicism" that has shaped the Church's practice and devotions for the last 500 years. Weigel starts from this premise:
“In the catechetical-devotional Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation Church, the Catholic learned about Jesus Christ through brief catechism formulas that aptly summed up the Church’s doctrine about the Son of God who became the son of Mary. Evangelical Catholicism begins not with knowing about Jesus, but with knowing Jesus.”
In essence, building the Church of the 21st Century and beyond begins exactly where it began 2000 years ago - with a personal relationship and knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh who continues to dwell among us and continues to offer us salvation:
“Evangelical Catholicism proclaims the great gift of friendship with Jesus Christ, not as one attractive possibility in a supermarket of spiritualities, but as the God-given and unique means of salvation for everyone.”
Now, I know that in many Catholic quarters - among both traditionalists and so-called "progressives", the phrase "personal relationship with Jesus" sets off alarms. It calls to mind those pesky protestant evangelicals that many in both traditional and progressive circles see as having had a pernicious influence on the direction that American Catholicism, in particular, has taken in the last couple of decades, including (in their analysis, but not mine) such ecumenical efforts as Evangelicals and Catholics Together.

But Weigel states that the Catholic Church being influenced by and acting like protestants is not what he is referring to:
"Evangelical Catholicism is not a way of being Catholic that adapts certain catechetical practices and modes of worship from evangelical, fundamentalist and Pentecostalist Protestantism."
Rather, it is an acknowledgment that Catholicism is uniquely qualified to spread the Gospel message that offers each and every individual a friendship with Jesus Christ, or, if you will, a "personal relationship with Jesus". And I don't think Catholics should shy away from using that admittedly protestant terminology to spread what is an essentially Catholic message. Because THAT IS THE GOSPEL. That the Catholic Church is the means by which the human person can have friendship and a personal relationship with his Savior. For that personal relationship is a Eucharistic one in which our Lord continues to come to us and feed us, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. That is what each soul craves - to have that God-shaped hole filled, literally, with the One who loves us so much that he died for us. I can think of no more personal relationship with Jesus than to have him physically enter into us and fill us with Himself through the Eucharist.

So, if the thrust of the Catholic Church's Gospel message in the 21st Century and beyond lies with moving people toward personal knowledge of and friendship with Jesus, I say "Amen!"

And, in a piece yesterday at National Review, Weigel writes that, in Pope Francis, the Church has found just the man to lead the way:
The election of Pope Francis completes the Church’s turn from the Counter-Reformation Catholicism that brought the Gospel to America — and eventually produced Catholicism’s first American pope — to the Evangelical Catholicism that must replant the Gospel in those parts of the world that have grown spiritually bored, while planting it afresh in new fields of mission around the globe. In our May 2012 conversation, the man who would become pope discussed at some length the importance of the Latin American bishops’ 2007 “Aparecida Document,” the fruit of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean. The essential message of that revolutionary statement (in which there was not the least bit of whining about Protestant “sheep-stealing” but rather a clear acknowledgment of Catholicism’s own evangelical deficiencies in Latin America) can be gleaned from this brief passage, which I adopted as one of the epigraphs for my book, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church:

The Church is called to a deep and profound rethinking of its mission. . . . It cannot retreat in response to those who see only confusion, dangers, and threats. . . . What is required is confirming, renewing, and revitalizing the newness of the Gospel . . . out of a personal and community encounter with Jesus Christ that raises up disciples and missionaries. . . . 

A Catholic faith reduced to mere baggage, to a collection of rules and prohibitions, to fragmented devotional practices, to selective and partial adherence to the truths of faith, to occasional participation in some sacraments, to the repetition of doctrinal principles, to bland or nervous moralizing, that does not convert the life of the baptized would not withstand the trials of time. . . . We must all start again from Christ, recognizing [with Pope Benedict XVI] that “being Christian is . . . the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
Here, in a statement that then-cardinal Bergoglio had a significant hand in drafting, is what John Paul II and Benedict XVI have called the “New Evangelization” in synthetic microcosm:
  • The Church of the 21st century cannot rely on the ambient public culture, or on folk memories of traditional Catholic culture, to transmit the Gospel in a way that transforms individual lives, cultures, and societies. Something more, something deeper, is needed.
  • That “something” is radical personal conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ and an embrace of the friendship he offers every human being: a friendship in which we both see the face of the Father of Mercies (who calls us out of our prodigality into the full dignity of our humanity) and learn the deep truth about our humanity (that it is in making our lives into a gift for others, as life itself is to each of us, that we come into human fulfillment).
  • This conversion of minds and hearts builds a community that is unlike any other: a “communion” of disciples in mission, who understand that faith is increased as it is offered and given away to others.
  • That communion-community best embodies the truth of the human condition if each individual member of it, and the Church itself, fully embraces the entire symphony of Catholic truth, and in doing so, lives the moral life as a life of growth in beatitude, in compassion for others, and in evangelical charity.
  • Finally, this communion-community lives “ahead of time,” because it knows, through the Easter faith the Church will celebrate in a few weeks, the truth about how the human adventure will end: God’s purposes in creation and redemption will be vindicated, as history and the cosmos are fulfilled in the New Jerusalem, in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, where death will be no more and every tear will be wiped away (Rev. 21:2–4).
That is the message that Pope Francis will take to the world: Gospel-centered Catholicism, which challenges the post-mod cynics, the metaphysically bored, and the spiritually dry to discover (or rediscover) the tremendous human adventure of living “inside” the Biblical narrative of history.

[Read the whole thing]

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