by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch
AN R&G WEEK WITH POPE FRANCIS
I. THE POPE AND THE PATRIARCH
After a thousand years, the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Russia meet (read the text of the joint proclamation). This is the deepest and oldest of the divisions within Christianity (Catholic vs Orthodox, East-West schism in 1054 AD). The Orthodox Churches do not accept the authority of the Pope, but their bishops are successors of the apostles, and thus they have an apostolic priesthood and the Eucharistic Presence like the Catholics. Hundreds of years later the sundering between Catholics and Protestants led to the many Christian denominations of today. These divisions began in 1517 with the German followers of Martin Luther, and were solidified in the same century with the theology and 'Institutes' of French-speaking John Calvin.
The Pope and the Patriarch began with a proclamation of the Trinity:
By God the Father’s will, from which all gifts come, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit Consolator, we, Pope Francis and Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, have met today in Havana. We give thanks to God, glorified in the Trinity, for this meeting, the first in history.They were fully aware that it is precisely this Trinitarian formulation for which Christians are being killed in the Mideast.
Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed.The urgency and drama of this meeting is a response by bishops of Christianity that their disunity is a disgrace in the face of an ecumenism of blood that is occurring in the Mideast, South Asia, and Africa.
We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians.The implications of this sign of union have been lost on much of the secular media, as well as many "Christian conservative candidates" who in the same breath decry the loss of religious liberty in America and then aggressively call for an atheistic alliance of NATO against the Russians. The Pope and Patriarch have a much more profound historical view. They understood the significance of meeting in Cuba where a Catholic president met the atheist Empire in a great nuclear drama a half century ago. They understand that the fight against communism was not done in the name of capitalism, but by religious nations and movements allied against the armed atheistic superstate. The possibility of true peace for America, the European nations, and Russia which both Gorbachev and Reagan believed in has been squandered by the baby-boomer foreign policy establishment of NATO and the US.
The Pope and Patriarch see it this way:
In affirming the foremost value of religious freedom, we give thanks to God for the current unprecedented renewal of the Christian faith in Russia, as well as in many other countries of Eastern Europe, formerly dominated for decades by atheist regimes. Today, the chains of militant atheism have been broken and in many places Christians can now freely confess their faith. Thousands of new churches have been built over the last quarter of a century, as well as hundreds of monasteries and theological institutions.They present to Europeans a different strategy for union:
The process of European integration, which began after centuries of blood–soaked conflicts, was welcomed by many with hope, as a guarantee of peace and security. Nonetheless, we invite vigilance against an integration that is devoid of respect for religious identities. While remaining open to the contribution of other religions to our civilization, it is our conviction that Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition."Religious identities" in this context do not refer to the Muslims, Jews, and Christians of Europe. Hungary, Poland, Serbia, Italy, and Greece -- all the nations of Europe are, in fact, different civic expressions of Christian identities which have been erased in the technological modernist definition of the European Union. The Argentine Bishop of Rome and the Russian Patriarch of Moscow are not leaving the movement to recover the national identities of Europe to the nativist pagans. That was done once before. The different nations are in fact "religious identities."
Though separated for a thousand years, there are some Christian truths about the bonds of human love that are so fundamental, they are still shared;
The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience. We call on all to respect the inalienable right to life. Millions are denied the very right to be born into the world. The blood of the unborn cries out to God (cf. Gen 4:10).This meeting, in direct response to the persecution of Christians in the Mideast, will hopefully stir the political imaginations of Christian men and nations to unite in creating a more just world, with nations who accept the sovereignty of God and liberty of men as fundamental laws. To read the text is to put on the mind of Christ for it is to see humanity as a whole. It is a purifying view that helps a man imagine the role of his own beloved country in the context of this wider drama of all humanity.
II. POPE FRANCIS AND FRATERNITY: HOW MEN RELATE - FACE TO FACE AS BROTHERS
When Pope Francis called together bishops for the Synod on the Family, he told them to talk as brothers. They should disagree and contend but do it "face to face like men." In the joint declaration with the Patriarch we see those words again:
It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith who encounter one another “to speak face to face” (2 Jn 12), from heart to heart, to discuss the mutual relations between the Churches, the crucial problems of our faithful, and the outlook for the progress of human civilization.And off the cuff, when Pope Francis addressed infighting among bishops talking with the Mexican bishops, he used the same language:
“If you have to fight, fight. If you have to tell each other off, say it to them. But as men, face to face,” he instructed. “But as men of God, pray together … and if you crossed the line, ask for forgiveness. But be sure to maintain the unity of the episcopate.”We are brothers. There is a wide-radius public communion at the heart of our relations, but there are disagreements and it is better to contend openly than by back-biting and gossip. How many priests, bishops, and laymen do we know who are always "nice" to a man's face, but then biting behind his back? How much better, how much more masculine, how much more fitting for the tasks of public life that we talk to one another as men, face to face, in the Church and civic life.
III. POPE FRANCIS IN MEXICO: HE PRAYS BEFORE THE MOTHER OF THE AMERICAS AND ADDRESSES HIS FELLOW BISHOPS
Pope Francis prayed before Our Lady of Guadalupe and addressed the Mexican bishops. His vision has always been rooted in the common pious practices of the faithful. Thus, in Mexico his visit was centered around shared devotion to our Lady of Guadalupe.
How could I not come! Could the successor of Peter, called from the far south of Latin America, deprive himself of seeing la Virgen Moronity?He chastised the bishops not to be "princes," but told civic and ecclesial authorities alike to stand up to the violence of the drug cartels. But, above all, he brought this priestly and fatherly message to the brotherhood of fathers:
God exists and is close in Jesus Christ. Only God is the reality upon which we can build, because, “God is the foundational reality, not a God who is merely imagined or hypothetical, but God with a human face” (Benedict VI, Address to CELAM, May 13, 2007). Observing your faces, the Mexican people have the right to witness the signs of those “who have seen the Lord” (John 20:25), of those who have been with God. This is essential. Therefore, do not lose time or energy in secondary things, in gossip or intrigue, in conceited schemes of careerism, in empty plans for superiority, in unproductive groups that seek benefits or common interests. Do not allow yourselves to be dragged into gossip and slander. Introduce your priests into a right understanding of sacred ministry. For us ministers of God, it is enough to have the grace to “drink the cup of the Lord,” the gift of protecting that portion of the heritage which has been entrusted to us, though we may be unskilled administrators. Let us allow the Father to assign the place he has prepared for us (Matt. 20:20–28). Can we really be concerned with affairs that are not the Father’s? Away from the “Father’s affairs” (Luke 2:48–49) we lose our identity and, through our own fault, empty his grace of meaning.
IV. MR. TRUMP AND POPE FRANCIS IN THEIR OWN WORDS
In another off-the-cuff airplane interview, Pope Francis' words have been twisted by the liberal media to advance their agenda. That blatant misinterpretation is then amplified by being faithfully broadcast as more evidence of the pope's perfidy by Catholic conservatives. The latest case in point: "Pope says Trump is not a Christian." But what did Mr. Trump and Pope Francis really say?
MR TRUMP: "It's gonna be a great wall," Trump said. "This will be a wall with a big, very beautiful door because we want the legals to come back into the country."All living things have an outer covering which must do two things: there must be a barrier and there must be permeability. This is true of cell membranes, national borders, Vatican City walls, and regulations for Catholic Communion. If you only have a barrier, there will be no life. This is not Christ. If it is all permeability, there is no internal identity -- this was the destruction of the Flood. Biologically it is the rupturing death of swelling cells that let in too much water.
POPE FRANCIS: "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel,”
A barrier and permeability -- both necessary for life -- a great wall and a big door. The Pontiff (which means "maker of a bridge") and the nationalist (who says there can be no nation if we cannot control borders) will talk face to face some day in fraternity. Meanwhile across South Carolina's Evangelical landscape, it will never hurt any candidate to dispute with a Catholic Pope over Christian credentials.