Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pope Francis And The Self-Referential Church

You have to love our new pope. He talks a lot about the church being self-referential. What he means by that is that church people are overly concerned about the opinions of other church people and not concerned enough about interacting with people outside the church. That does not mean we change the gospel to suit what people outside the church want. What it does mean is we want to make sure the people in society encounter God's goodness, God's truth, and God's beauty through us.

I remember on Price Caspian, Peter and Caspian had a debate. Peter wanted to go out an fight. Caspian wanted to stay in the fortress and remain relatively safe. Peter points out that eventually the fortress would become a tomb. Of course the church can never die but the point still applies. If we are afraid of the battle and hide behind a defensive wall we are not being what the church is meant to be.

Pope Benedict once pointed out that this was a key difference between the old covenant and the new covenant. The old covenant had defensive barriers. It was focused on Israel so there were ethnic, political and cultural barriers. God actually made the cultural barriers larger by giving them a lot of rules, no pork, circumcision, ceremonial washing, etc. One reason why these rules were no longer required in the new covenant was because the grace we had through Jesus and the Eucharist was greater. We now had spiritual weapons strong enough to open the gates and attack the enemy strongholds!

The trouble is that when the church encounters new challenges we tend to forget that we are supposed to be on offense. People start asking hard questions about the relationship between faith and science or the relationship between faith and sexuality and it just becomes way easier to avoid those topics or just discuss them with other strong Catholics. After all, if you get in an argument with a secular person you might say something wrong and make things a lot worse. Pope Francis explicitly says he would rather run the risk of church people going into society and messing up than the risk of shutting the church doors and having secular people mess up on their own.

I do hope people listen. One of the things I found in interacting with non-Catholics is it forces you to grow. You do mess up but then you go educate yourself because you don't want to mess up again. Sometimes that education challenges you to change what you believe and how you live. It is a very good thing.

I do think Pope Francis' way of asking people, especially priests, to get out more is a lot stronger than Pope Benedict ever did it. Yes, I did remember his catechisis on the old and new covenant where he makes that point but that is pretty easy to miss. Yes, he talked about the New Evangelization a lot but people were not sure exactly what that meant. Pope Francis seems to have gotten this point through.


  1. I love Pope Francis' down to earth and upfront language.

    Did you see his homily today where he came out and said you cannot find Jesus outside the Church?


  2. I did see that. The more he talks the more I like him. He is not afraid to state Catholic teaching in a way that is going to shock and even anger people.