Holding to Benedict
“But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, the dear and venerated Benedict XVI, called the ‘tyranny of relativism’…”
(Original Italian: “Ma c’è anche un’altra povertà! È la povertà spirituale dei nostri giorni, che riguarda gravemente anche i Paesi considerati più ricchi. È quanto il mio Predecessore, il caro e venerato Benedetto XVI, chiama la ‘dittatura del relativismo’…”)
–Pope Francis, March 22, 2013 (today), in the Vatican, speaking to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, citing words spoken by Pope Benedict XVI eight years ago on the eve of the previous Conclave
Folks, Pope Francis has done it.
He has taken his stand.
He did it this morning, about three hours ago.
And his stand is with… Pope Benedict, his predecessor, with whom he will meet tomorrow.
The importance of Francis’s words today cannot be overestimated.
Francis today took his stand with the essential spiritual vision of Pope Benedict. (And note: in this talk, unlike in several previous talks, Pope Francis adhered strictly to his prepared text; he made no “off the cuff” remarks. So, this was thought-out in advance and intentional.)
If one were to summarize in a phrase, one might say that Francis today said: “I stand with Pope Benedict.”
But on what, precisely?
Francis today said he stands with Pope Benedict on the Christian conception of truth: that the truth of the Christian faith, the truth of the Christian vision of man, leads mankind toward life, more abundant life, toward justice, toward true joy.
What Francis said today was critical, and should be read carefully by all who want to understand “where he is coming from.”
So far, the “pundits” — and really, all of us — have been “circling” Pope Francis, like the group of blind men circling the elephant, one touching the rope-like tail, one the smooth, sheet-like ear, one the hard, ivory tusk, all “seeing” only a small part… none seeing the whole.
One pundit notes the Pope’s simplicity, his actual poverty, his love for the poor, and says (wrongly): “He is the people’s Pope, the Pope of the poor, so… he is a liberal, he may very well be a social revolutionary, a ‘liberation’ Pope… and perhaps also breaking with Church teaching on sexual matters…” Another pundit notes that Francis has strongly defended Church teaching on the family, on sexual morality, and says (wrongly) “he is a conservative, he won’t ‘rock the boat’ at all…”
Francis cannot be captured by these political categories.
He transcends them.
As Jesus transcended all categories, reaching out to sinners — and all are sinners — but also, asking them not to sin. Loving the sinner, but not the sin…
As Pope Benedict transcended all categories. Ceaselessly reminding all of us that our destiny transcends all worldly categories, that we are made for eternity, not just for time…
Perhaps it is time that we should all say that there are not “conservative” and “liberal” or even “traditional” and “orthodox” Catholics at all, just simply “Catholics” in a universal Church, stretching backward to the first days of the Church and forward to the end of the world in time, and global in space, unable to be described rightly by these secular categories.
So today, Pope Francis, powerfully, set his course, transcending the “left” and the “right” and pointing all of us toward higher things.
It was the first, great “programmatic” discourse of his pontificate.
His central thrust today was: (1) don’t try to confine me, or reduce me and my message, to worldly categories; and (2) don’t try to separate me from my predecessor, Benedict.
These messages were powerful, fundamental and… needed.
The “signature phrase” today was that there is spiritual poverty as well as physical poverty — a central message of Christianity, and a central message of Pope Benedict.
Pope Francis said there is truth, a truth which gives life and light, a truth which relativism obscures, leaving confusion, darkness, and ultimately, death (as Pope John Paul II put it, creating a “culture of death”).
Eight years ago, on April 18, 2005, this same thought was at the heart of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s homily to the cardinals as they were about to go into the Conclave that elected him the next day. Here are those essential, historic passages, just for the record, with the phrase “dictatorship of relativism” (in the original Italian the phrase was “una dittatura del relativismo”) bold-faced. Remember, these are the words of Pope Benedict just before he became Pope:
“How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves — flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.
“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,’ seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.
“We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An ‘adult’ faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.
“We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith — only faith — that creates unity and is fulfilled in love.” (Link: April 18, 2005 homily)
By using this same phrase today, “dictatorship of relativism,” Pope Francis was linking his own thought, and faith, and the direction of his pontificate, to these words of then-Cardinal Ratzinger eight years ago.
Two other points are very important in Pope Francis’s discourse this morning:
(1) the new Pope’s desire to engage in dialogue with Islam, something he expresses in very clear terms, and so something many western powers, which since September 11, 2001, have entered into a seemingly endless conflict with large parts of the Islamic world, will certainly note with interest; and
(2) the new Pope’s concern for creation, that human beings take care not to “hurt the earth” by poisoning it; this is a strong emphasis toward the end of this speech.
A final point: Pope Francis expresses a clear desire that “those few countries that do not yet have diplomatic relations with the Holy See” — like China — may soon establish relations.
(Also, as John Allen noted in his own useful piece on this discourse a few minutes ago: “For the French, it was a bit of a mini-scandal that Francis did not deliver his speech today in French, the language Popes traditionally use in diplomatic settings. On background, Vatican officials say that the new Pope can understand both French and English, but needs time to become accustomed to using those languages in public. Aside from a few lines in Spanish, so far Francis has used Italian almost exclusively for his public remarks.”)
So, today’s talk to the diplomatic corps is an important, “course-setting” talk for the new helmsman of the “barque of Peter.”
And tomorrow, Pope Francis will meet with the old helmsman, Pope Benedict, at the papal palace in Castel Gandolfo…
A Chair, Not a Throne…
Rome Reports has a very nice, short video on the decision of Pope Francis to use a white chair, not an ornate throne-like chair, for his public audiences.
Here is there report, with a link to the video, which I encourage you to watch, as it is only 54 seconds:
March 22, 2013. (Romereports.com) When it comes to small details, Pope Francis has already made some changes. His open attitude is obvious, but there are other things that may be overlooked by many.
The Pope has used this white chair, instead of the traditional throne seat.
Up until now, he has only used the traditional throne seat once. In his other meetings, with religious leaders and diplomats, Pope Francis has used a simple white chair, which is usually reserved for weekly general audiences.
Another point is that the chair is not elevated on a platform, rather it’s kept at the same level and height as other seats. In fact, during his meeting with religious leaders, he used the same type of chair used by the guests.
Here is the complete text of today’s important discourse to the diplomatic corps:
Discourse to Diplomats
Sala Regia of the Apostolic Vatican Palace
Friday, March 22, 2013
By Pope Francis
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Heartfelt thanks to your Dean, Ambassador Jean-Claude Michel, for the kind words that he has addressed to me in the name of everyone present. It gives me joy to welcome you for this exchange of greetings: a simple yet deeply felt ceremony, that somehow seeks to express the Pope’s embrace of the world. Through you, indeed, I encounter your peoples, and thus in a sense I can reach out to every one of your fellow citizens, with their joys, their troubles, their expectations, their desires.
Your presence here in such numbers is a sign that the relations between your countries and the Holy See are fruitful, that they are truly a source of benefit to mankind. That, indeed, is what matters to the Holy See: the good of every person upon this earth!
And it is with this understanding that the Bishop of Rome embarks upon his ministry, in the knowledge that he can count on the friendship and affection of the countries you represent, and in the certainty that you share this objective.
At the same time, I hope that it will also be an opportunity to begin a journey with those few countries that do not yet have diplomatic relations with the Holy See, some of which were present at the Mass for the beginning of my ministry, or sent messages as a sign of their closeness – for which I am truly grateful.
As you know, there are various reasons why I chose the name of Francis of Assisi, a familiar figure far beyond the borders of Italy and Europe, even among those who do not profess the Catholic faith.
One of the first reasons was Francis’ love for the poor. How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure!
After the example of Francis of Assisi, the Church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your countries you can attest to the generous activity of Christians who dedicate themselves to helping the sick, orphans, the homeless and all the marginalized, thus striving to make society more humane and more just.
But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously.
It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism,” which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.
And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth!
There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.
One of the titles of the Bishop of Rome is Pontiff, that is, a builder of bridges with God and between people.
My wish is that the dialogue between us should help to build bridges connecting all people, in such a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister to be welcomed and embraced!
My own origins impel me to work for the building of bridges.
As you know, my family is of Italian origin; and so this dialogue between places and cultures a great distance apart matters greatly to me, this dialogue between one end of the world and the other, which today are growing ever closer, more interdependent, more in need of opportunities to meet and to create real spaces of authentic fraternity.
In this work, the role of religion is fundamental. It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God. But the converse is also true: it is not possible to establish true links with God, while ignoring other people.
Hence it is important to intensify dialogue among the various religions, and I am thinking particularly of dialogue with Islam.
At the Mass marking the beginning of my ministry, I greatly appreciated the presence of so many civil and religious leaders from the Islamic world.
And it is also important to intensify outreach to non-believers, so that the differences which divide and hurt us may never prevail, but rather the desire to build true links of friendship between all peoples, despite their diversity.
Fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges: these, as it were, are the reference points for a journey that I want to invite each of the countries here represented to take up.
But it is a difficult journey, if we do not learn to grow in love for this world of ours.
Here too, it helps me to think of the name of Francis, who teaches us profound respect for the whole of creation and the protection of our environment, which all too often, instead of using for the good, we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.
Dear Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you again for all the work that you do, alongside the Secretariat of State, to build peace and construct bridges of friendship and fraternity. Through you, I would like to renew to your Governments my thanks for their participation in the celebrations on the occasion of my election, and my heartfelt desire for a fruitful common endeavor. May Almighty God pour out his gifts on each one of you, on your families and on the peoples that you represent. Thank you!
“Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and you will draw love out.” –St. John of the Cross