Friday, June 7, 2013

The New Pope: "Symbolism . . . Seeping into Substance"

Michael Gerson has written a wonderful essay about Pope Francis.  He points out that this new pope appeals to both left and right, but the traditional division of left and right fails to explain this pope.

Gerson writes this wonderful explanation of how and why Catholic thought starts from a completely different place than the American left and the American right:  "Both American liberalism and conservatism put a priority on negative rights — the freedom from external restraint. For some, this means unrestricted social autonomy and choice; for others, unrestricted economic liberty. Catholic social doctrine asserts that human beings have moral and social natures, and that true freedom is found in their fulfillment. Men and women are liberated by ethical behavior; their happiness is completed in family and community; and all who share a community are diminished when any are destitute and hopeless. This perspective is fundamentally at odds with moral relativism and economic libertarianism. It transcends our ideological debates and challenges all sides of them."

I would argue that human/Christian formation that comes from other denominations is similar.  It would be interesting to see if other religions are similar too.

We have now had several generations growing up with the idea that the human individual should be unencumbered from any sort of expectation at all:  responsibility to family, keeping the economic promises one has made, on and on I could go.  And then, we have a nation of grown people acting like toddlers, and we wonder why it feels like the social fabric is ripped and torn.

I am not one of those people who thinks the past was a better place to live.  I know the repression that can come when society has rigid expectations.  I do think we've gone too far in the other direction.  We seem to have very few expectations at all as a society.  So children don't have to do chores, and they grow up to be adults who default on their loans.

I also know that I'm simplifying.  I know that there are issues of gender, class, and race that come into play.  But this is a blog post, and so I will not be undertaking a deep analysis here.

To return to Gerson's point, let's think about the new pope.  Like many others, I'm fascinated by his simple lifestyle, by his modeling the behavior of Christ.  It gives him an authenticity that so many of us lack.

Gerson concludes this way:  "Whatever your view of Christianity, the example of Jesus remains one of history’s most surprising constants. A man who never wrote a word, who spent three years teaching in an obscure corner of a vanished empire, still stirs the deepest longings of the human heart. When we see his image even partially reflected in another human being, it appeals beyond every political division. When we see his image even partially reflected in the church he founded, true authority returns."

It's a good reminder that we're not individuals, working for our own salvation.  We're part of a larger Church, and the world will not only judge us, but will judge the whole Church by our actions.

It's wonderful to have a pope showing us some ways that we can get back to authenticity. 

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