Phil Pullella, Reuters: Today, you spoke very eloquently about the problems of immigration. On the other side of the border, there is a very tough electoral battle. One of the candidates for the White House, Republican, Donald Trump, in an interview recently said that you are a political man and he even said that you are a pawn, an instrument of the Mexican government for migration politics. Trump said that if he’s elected, he wants to build 2,500 kilometers of wall along the border. He wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, separating families, etcetera. I would like to ask you, what do you think of these accusations against you and if a North American Catholic can vote for a person like this?
Pope Francis: Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as ‘animal politicus.’ At least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people. And then, 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. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.
Please note: Among the top thing in life in which I am deeply uninterested : Donald Trump’s spiritual life and any related protestations.
Put away the shocked face at the Pope supposedly calling another person’s faith into question. It’s true that he was not targeting Trump specifically (that “if”), and who cares anyway, but the language here is completely consistent with Pope Francis’ rhetoric. This is his love language.
It is, in fact, one of his most reliable verbal tics, and one that composes the core of almost every homily he preaches, especially at daily Mass:
- Read Scriptures
- Find, in said Scripture, a characteristic that can be held up as either a) emblematic of a Christian or b)not emblematic of a Christian
- Go with it.
So just today:
Pope Francis went on to make explicit mention of the lines from Matthew’s Gospel, which foretell of the Last Judgment, when God will call men to account for what they have done to the hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, strangers. “This,” said the Holy Father, “is the Christian life: mere talk leads to vanity, to that empty pretense of being Christian – but no, that way one is not a Christian at all.”: “May the Lord give us this wisdom to understand well where lies the difference between saying and doing, and teach us the way of doing and help us to go down that way, because the way of saying brings us to the place where were these teachers of the law, these clerics, who liked dressing up and acting just like if they were so many Majesties – and this is not the reality of the Gospel. May the Lord teach us this way.”
And just a few from the past:
Instead, said Pope Francis, we should all know how to forgive, and forgive “forever” as Jesus invites us to do “seven times in a day” if those who have wronged us ask for it and have repented. Jesus, says Pope Francis, “exaggerates to make us understand the importance of forgiveness” because “a Christian who is not able to forgive causes scandal: he is not a Christian.”
And when a little vanity creeps in, when someone believes themselves to be a winner of the ‘Nobel Prize for Holiness,” then memory is also good for us: ‘But … remember where I took you from, the very least of the flock. You were behind, in the flock.’ Memory is a great grace, and when a Christian has no memory – this is a hard thing, but it’s true – he is not a Christian, he is an idolater. Because he is before a God that has no road, that does not know how to move forward on the road. Our God is moving forward on the road with us, He is among us, He walks with us. He saves us. He makes history with us. Be mindful of all that, and life becomes more fruitful, with the grace of memory.
God’s mercy, the Pontiff said, reaches even to those who decline the invitation or pretend to accept it but do not truly participate in the feast. Listing the excuses given by those in the parable who were too occupied to attend, Pope Francis said: “They participate in the banquet in name only, but they do not truly accept the invitation”.
“They say yes,” but they really mean no. He likened the invited guests in the Gospel to “Christians who are content to remain on the guest list”. Unfortunately, he said, “being listed as a Christian is not enough… If you do not enter into the banquet, you are not a Christian; you will be on the list, but this does not help your salvation”.
A person might have five theology degrees, the Holy Father said, but not have the Spirit of God. “Perhaps you will be a great theologian, but you are not a Christian, because you do not have the Spirit of God! That which gives authority, that which gives you your identity and the Holy Spirit, the anointing of the Holy Spirit.”
“Joy, which is like the sign of a Christian. A Christian without joy is either not a Christian or he is sick. There’s no other type! He is not doing well health-wise! A healthy Christian is a joyful Christian. I once said that there are Christians with faces like pickled peppers [sour faces – ed] … Always with these [long] faces! Some souls are also like this, this is bad! These are not Christians. A Christian without joy is not Christian. Joy is like the seal of a Christian. Even in pain, tribulations, even in persecutions”.
“If you can’t forgive, you are not a Christian. You may be a good man, a good woman…. but you are not doing what our Lord did. What’s more, if you can’t forgive, you cannot receive the peace of the Lord. And every day when we pray the ‘Our Father:’ Forgive us as we have forgiven those……It’s a condition. We are trying to ‘convince’ God that we’re good, that we’re good by forgiving: in reverse. (It’s just) words, right? As that beautiful song went: ‘Words, words, words,’ wasn’t it? I think it was (the Italian singer) Mina who sung it. Words! Forgive one another! Just as the Lord has forgiven us, do likewise.”
“So it is always with God’s love,” said Francis, “that, in order to reach us, takes the way of humility.” This was the same way that Jesus walked, a way that humbled itself even unto the Cross. Pope Francis went on to say that, for a Christian, “[T]his is the golden rule,” according to which progress and advancement always come through lowering oneself. “One can take no other road,” he said, adding, “if I do not lower myself, if you do not lower yourself, you are not a Christian.”
The Holy Father took his cue from a Confirmation administered during the Mass. The person who receives this Sacrament, Pope Francis said, “manifested the desire to be a Christian. To be Christian means to bear witness to Jesus Christ.” A Christian is a person who “thinks like a Christian, feels like a Christian and acts like a Christian. And this is coherency in the life of a Christian. Someone can be said to have faith, “but if one of these things is missing, he is not a Christian, there’s something wrong, there’s a certain incoherence. And Christians “who ordinarily, commonly live in incoherence, do so much harm”:
If you read his homilies and speeches you see the same type of paradigm used over and over – a dividing, if you will, a shadow from light.
Some – many – find this type of discourse inspiring and challenging in a good way. Some find it a useful tool with which to judge others. YMMV.
What interests me about it is the role this rhetorical structure plays in his speech in general.
This might seem to be one more meandering, come-at-things-from-the-side post, and perhaps it is, (upon reading the finished mess..I know it is…sorry) but I think it’s important to just attempt a broader understanding instead of constantly stabbing at individual statements.
This is what I have said about Pope Francis’ words since the beginning of his pontificate: they are largely untethered from the the depth and breadth of Catholic tradition. That is not saying he does not believe it. It’s saying that he apparently has little use for much of it in his public speech. It’s not his point.
I could site many examples, but this “you are not a Christian” tic serves the purpose well. Popesplainers tell me that what he means is that authentic discipleship or deeply dedicated faith or radical faith is characterized by these features: joy, memory, coherence, forgiveness, and that is undoubtedly true.
But the repeated judgment of individuals or types in this way is problematic. It’s theologically inaccurate, and is just not a part of Catholic language. It seems to me an overly simplistic way of articulating the challenges of Christian discipleship. It’s a clean finish, it seems to stick the landing, it gets your attention, but what is it, really?
Every preacher, they say, has one sermon, and they preach that one over and over. The trick though, in preaching or even teaching, is to allow your own interests and priorities to dialogue with the material at hand, not dominate it.
So I, as a teacher, may have a deep interest in the history of women in Catholicism, but if I am teaching a high school church history class and I work that interest into every single lesson, and use the lessons mostly as a hanger for my hobbyhorse, I’m allowing my priorities to shape the message to an unhelpful extent. What am I trying to do here? Am I really interested in inspiring my students to learn as much about the big picture as possible, or in the end, is my own personal vision limiting theirs?
When I read Pope Francis’ homilies and speeches, for the most part, I don’t experience an exploration of the Scriptures as they are, or a presentation of a particular facet of Catholic teaching or devotion. I don’t get the Big Catholic Picture. In fact, there is even a sense that the Big Catholic Picture might function as a wall between a person and Jesus, rather than the bridge to him.
His habit is to find an angle in the text or moment at hand to make the point he has in mind, and there are in general just a few of those to pick from. The Scripture, the day, the place, the interview question serves as an opportunity to elucidate one or more of his favorite themes: mercy, inclusiveness, accompaniment, hypocrisy, and the plight of the materially poor.
And what’s so bad about that? Who votes against more mercy and justice? Not me!
But the ultimate effect is a bit impoverished. As I said, it is not so much the richness of the Scriptures that are preached, but Pope Francis’ priorities and themes. It is, to me, another expression of the tendency I previously wrote about: a pope’s priorities shaping the exercise of the papal office rather than humbly dialoguing with it and all that underlies it.
As I said every preacher does this to a certain extent. I know a priest who never fails to bring up death. He’s old. It’s on his mind. Another priest homilist, obviously a neat and well-organized fellow, tends to regularly bring up the beauty of God’s plan of salvation and how it all fits together pretty nicely.
The trick is, as I said before, to be careful to let the Scriptures and the Church speak through your own particular charism and yes, priorities.
What I hear in Pope Francis’ words are his favorite themes. What is missing is the broader, deeper context of Catholic life, tradition and teaching. Maybe you don’t miss it. I do. I like for all that stuff to be summed up and reflected and flowing through Catholic-talk.
One might argue, “But it’s pastoral” and “What, you expect a theology dissertation every time a pope opens his mouth? So hard to understand! This line-drawing is so much simpler and easy to apply to everyday life!”
Nope. I don’t expect dissertations in homilies. That would be terrible. But here’s the thing. Every time I go to Mass in Alabama, I hear homilies that my eleven-year old can understand, homilies that acknowledge and embrace the brokenness of the human condition from a place deep, secure and confidently flowing from Catholic tradition. They are not all great, but they are trying.
I hear homilies that reflect the joyful belief that the gift of faith we meet in Catholicism reflects two things: it reflects life and it reflects God’s answer to life, met in Christ and given to us through his Body, the Church.
That Catholicism is not imposed on life. Is not an extra. Its philosophical and theological ground is simply the ground of life, articulated, written, prayed, sung and even suffered through.
And it for sure – for certain – is not presented as an obstacle to Christ, as something to shrug off, minimize and skirt around, as barriers to the real Christ, the loving, accepting Christ.
So what does this have with the Trump thing? Well, this: Catholicism is no stranger to the issues of movement of peoples; of refugees; of the right of nations to live in security ; of the rights of people to find decent, safe, homes. There are innumerable facets to the immigrant situation as it relates to the US, Mexico and Central America: crime, poverty, exploitation, accommodation and political games.
What Catholicism brings to this table is far more than assertions that building walls is not Gospel teaching and reflexively pulling out the “not a Christian” card.
It’s not really about the Church (insert harrumph here) staying out of politics. Catholicism is the oldest continually existing political body in the world. Empires, monarchies, city-states, revolutions, nations, republics, warmongering popes, peace-making popes, you name it, we’ve been there. We have a lot to say about politics and political movements and the movement of peoples.Been there, done that, still doing it.
So, the Trump thing? What was said here and has been in situations like this is predictable. It’s the way the Pope speaks and sees things, evidently.
The fundamental issue, though, is why. What moves the Pope and his people to present his off-the-cuff remarks and answers in this way? Why the insistence that his thoughts on or his reaction to any of this matter? Why the highlighting of his own personal priorities and constant presentation of them through, for example, these daily homilies, as the focus of Catholic interaction with the world today?
Because aren’t we about decentralization?
And isn’t he just the humble Bishop of Rome?