On Christian Ecumenism and Pope Francis

Via First Things, and another First Things, and then there’s this

Pope Francis apparently would often pray and read the Bible with the financial manager for his diocese, who is an Evangelical Christian. I’ll leave it to others to draw possible connections and make predictions about the possibility of Pope Francis following the lead of his predecessors and participating at an ecumenical prayer service at Assisi or to note that it would be especially appropriate for Pope Francis to make a meaningful visit to Assisi for extremely obvious reasons.

Apparently, he will also be able to follow up on some of Benedict XVI’s work with Lutherans, and the Patriarch of Constantinople will attend Pope Francis’ inauguration Mass… something that hasn’t happened for almost 1000 years. I have heard it said that Benedict XVI was the Pope of Christian Unity; if so, I very much hope that we see more of the fruits of his labors in the years to come.

I don’t think I should have to justify my interest in religious ecumenism. It was in fact in the context of ecumenism that I first heard of Irenicism (If there is any novelty in my use of the term, it is in my application of the idea to political discourse).

One Spirit, One Breath, One Lung

Habemus Papam!

Yesterday, we learned the identity of our new Pope. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is now Pope Francis!

In the Internet era, there are already volumes upon volumes of information available on any major public figure , and the former archbishop of Buenos Aires is no exception to that rule. My Facebook newsfeed was soon inundated with pictures of, quotes from, and factoids about the former Cardinal Jorge, now Pope Francis (probably as close as we’re going to get to a pope from Chicago).

There is a lot to be said about our new Pope. As Archbishop, he declined to live in the episcopal mansion and rejected the luxuries that come with it, instead living in an apartment, cooking in his own meals, and taking public transportation.

He publicly criticized a bill that legalized gay marriage in Argentina: “Let’s not be naïve, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God

He also has said, with respect to economic injustice, that “Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that creates huge inequalities.”

His beliefs on political issues are quite distinctly and coherently Catholic, which makes them incomprehensible to the average American. His concern for economic justice makes him sound like a man of the left, while his stances on moral issues make it seem as though he’d be at home among Republicans.

The point I want to make in this post is that Catholic teaching is more coherent than partisan politics makes it seem. It fits together. The Catholic Church doesn’t talk out of one side of its mouth to please conservatives, and out of the other to satisfy the liberals. We don’t have social teaching on one hand, and moral teaching on the other. They are not two wings with which the Church flies or two lungs which the Church needs to breathe.

And here we come to one of the facts about Pope Francis which I found at least a little symbolically potent: he has lived most of his life with just one lung. What he has said has sprung from the same place. He doesn’t have a liberal lung and a conservative lung, or one for social teaching and one for moral teaching. There ought to be no such distinctions. We must let the Church’s social and moral teaching spring not from alternating lungs, but from a single source. Or, as St. Paul put it,

1 Corinthians 12: 4-6

Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit; And there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord; And there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all.

Although some may feel themselves called to articulate or live out some particular portion of Catholic teaching and therefore might find one idea or another to be particularly relevant or pressing with respect to their particular efforts, the teaching itself is true for all of us. There may be a symbiotic or complementary relationship between “social justice” and “family values” Catholics, but this is due to a difference in talent and inclination, not to any incoherence in Catholic teaching. The vainest part of me would like to think that my own ministry includes articulating how exactly economic justice and traditional values fit together in the context of Catholic teaching, and I hope to do that in future entries in this blog.

P.S. Maybe I’m trying too hard to turn the fact that Pope Francis has just one lung into something pastorally significant, but if I was ever going to get started on this blog, I had to do it eventually, and I had fun with the timely metaphor. So there.