It is a battle for the soul of the
or old-school Catholicism
The priest reminded us that the Samaritans were outcasts, “unclean” in Jewish eyes. As left-behind descendants of the ancient Israelites (the ten northern tribes whom the Assyrians had led into exile in 722 BC (more or less, exact year uncertain), the Samaritans worshiped Yahweh and had the Five Books of the Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), albeit in their own language and with considerable variation from the Hebrew Text. Because they worshiped God at their own temple on Mount Gerizim and not in the Jerusalem Temple, and because they followed religious law that differed from the Jewish standards, they were considered particularly unclean. The devout Jews of Jesus day were convinced that while the Greeks and Romans were unclean and thus unworthy of God’s attention, the Samaritans should have known better and thus their sins were particularly foul. But the Samaritan in today’s gospel received the same mercy as his Jewish colleagues and, moreover, was all the more appreciative of it because he had been an outcast, not only as a leper (as were the 9 Jewish lepers with whom he met Jesus) but as one who had always been told that, as a Samaritan, he stood outside the mercy of God. Jesus’ dealings with the Samaritans—whether in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Woman at the Well, or today’s exercise of mercy towards a leper—were a red-flag to the pious Jews. In the same way, Pope Francis’ agenda of reaching out to those whom pious Catholics consider to be “sinners” or in need of “repentance” and “conversion” before they are welcomed back into the community of the faithful is offensive to today’s scribes and Pharisees. We are stewards of the Divine Mercy, not protectors of it; we are meant to had it out generously and freely as there is a (literally) inexhaustible supply of God’s Mercy. It should be squandered on sinners; it was meant to be squandered on sinners. But only those who have received the Mercy, like the Samaritan in today’s gospel, can appreciate it sufficiently to revel in its excess without worrying that it might someday be exhausted. Those who would be stingy in spending it will never themselves be given its abundance because they don’t know what it is for.
I have done a number of posts on “Evangelical Catholicism” based on my reflections on George Weigel’s book by the same name. Weigel defines Evangelical Catholicism as
The Catholic Church is being invited to meet the Risen Lord in the Scriptures, the Sacraments, and Prayer and to make friendship with him the center of Catholic life. Every Catholic has received this invitation in Baptism, the invitation to accept the Great Commission, to act as evangelists and to measure the truth of Catholic life by the way in which Catholics give expression to the human decency and solidarity that flows from friendship with Christ the Lord.
I am not happy with how Weigel unfolds this ideal in his book with concrete proposals for how the Church might act in regards to its mission in the contemporary world, but I think his definition of Evangelical Catholicism is exactly on target. As he defines the specifics of what he means by the above vision of the Church, Weigel attempts to somewhat squeeze the broad foot of Christ’s Risen Body into the somewhat narrow shoe of Pope Benedict XVI, whereas Pope Francis seems content to let Christ enjoy the freedom of being barefoot.
Looking at Weigel’s definition of Evangelical Catholicism we get the following elements.
1. We are all called to meet the Risen Christ and make friends with him in the Scriptures
2. We are all called to meet the Risen Christ and make friends with him in the Sacraments
3. We are all called to meet the Risen Christ and make friends with him in Prayer
4. We are all called to become evangelists, going out into the world to make disciples of all peoples, teaching them what Christ has taught us, and baptizing them in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (The Great Commission.)
5. We are called to give witness to the truth of our Catholic faith by the way our friendship with Christ leads us to express our human decency and our fundamental ties (solidarity) with all others.
Looking at the fifth principle (spelled it correctly this time, Anonymous of 11/10, thank you for making me more carefully aware of my propensity to choose the wrong spelling of that word) let me draw your attention to the fact that Weigel mentions human decency and solidarity as essential elements of how we relate to others. I think this is the problem with those of the “Burke School” of Divine Mercy (as differentiated from the “Pope Francis School” of Divine Mercy. With solidarity—the key concept of Pope John Paul II—we understand that we are all in the boat together and that the salvation of the one depends on the salvation of each of the others. With solidarity there is no “them” and “us,” there is only a we. We do not judge, as Pope Francis has declined to judge, precisely because we know that we are in the same boat as the most miserable of sinners.
In light of that, let me say that I don’t judge Cardinal Burke. O, I might make fun of him and his propensity to dress up like the Empress Maria Teresa (always one of my favorite people in history, and, like the Cardinal, a devout Catholic), but I have no doubt that he is sincere in his faith. The problem is the construct of that faith. I understand him because I once saw things very much as he did. I had very clear concepts of moral right and moral wrong and expected people—including myself—to conform to those constructs. I am approximately of the same age as the Cardinal, but I have been fortunate, however, through the years to come to know people in ways that Cardinal Burke and others seem not to have. I have come to realize that while there are clear boundaries of right and wrong in the world of abstractions, in the reality of people’s lives there are immense complexities that cast shadow and/or light on our moral structures. I have met people who have made difficult—very difficult—decisions in their lives and not always the right ones. I have met people who have made wrong decisions—sometimes seriously wrong decisions—and yet remained essentially good people. I have seen that certain decisions—objectively wrong—have not deprived individuals from great graces in their prayer (sanctifying grace) or in their actions (actual grace). In my career as an educator, I have been to 12 step meetings for people with addictions to drugs, with addiction to alcohol, with addictions to sexual behaviors—and I have heard some of the greatest stories of God’s grace and favor that have ever been told. I have met divorced and remarried; I have met active homosexuals; I have met unmarried couples whose capacity to empty themselves for others in profound acts of charity motivated by their faith in Christ and their love of God and nourished by their participation in the sacramental life of the Church and their confidence in the gospel has stunned me into understanding that I simply cannot judge the state of another’s soul no matter the external circumstances of their lives. I am deeply sorry that Cardinal Burke and those who have rallied to his side in opposing the hopes of Pope Francis for a more welcoming Church have not had this same grace. It is sad that Raymond Burke sought office in the Church and it is the failure of the Church that she (the Church) rewarded his quest for power. Perhaps had he stayed a country priest, faithful to the confessional and the hungers of his flock, he might see things somewhat differently.
The story is that Francis too, when Provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina, was known to be hardassed and rigid in his administration of the rules of the Society over the priests and brothers entrusted to his care. The plight of those same priests during the Argentine “Dirty War” seems to have been the shock that Bergoglio needed to view the challenges of life from a different perspective. Two of the Jesuits under his care were arrested by the Argentine military and were tortured, but many of the Jesuits were in great danger because of their identification with the poorest and most abused in Argentine Society. Bergoglio became involved with the underground, helping several flee the country and giving up his own passport to one journalist to use to escape. It seems that the “Dirty War” was the agent of Bergoglio’s radicalization.
It is difficult for those who have not experienced the sort of personal conversion that Jorge Bergoglio underwent to understand the direction he has taken since becoming Pope last year. We can only pray for the grace for our hearts to be opened and to see the world with the compassion that fills the Sacred Heart of Jesus rather than the judgment of the scribes and the Pharisees. Scribes and Pharisees, and even rogue Cardinals, can be as good people as martyred nuns and tortured priests or even as maligned and misunderstood Popes, it is all a matter of allowing God to replace the stony heart with one of flesh.