“The challenge of this pontificate is far more radical than most suspect. It is a challenge for conservatives, who dont want to let themselves be surprised any more by God and who resist reforms, just as it is for progressives, who expect feasible, concrete solutions right here and now.
“The revolution of tenderness and love and the mysticism of open eyes could disappoint both groups and in the end, nevertheless, receive its due.”
Curial politicking is not a new concept, but it was usually done stealthily within the shadows of Vatican halls. Today, high-ranking Cardinals are using the media to promote and gain support for their views. One issue being discussed is the role of theology in the papal style of Pope Francis.
Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), acknowledges that Francis is more pastoral than Pope Benedict XVI. But, he is going further by insinuating that Francis does not have the theological heft of his predecessor. Therefore, Müller believes, the CDF must “theologically structure” Pope Francis’ pontificate.
For those of us who embrace the Pope’s teachings and vision, this all sounds rather ominous. Does Francis really need Cardinal Müller to interpret or approve his message for us? Should the CDF always have the final say in things theological, even over the Pope himself?
On the other side of this debate, we have Cardinal Walter Kasper. Kasper is a long time promoter of a more merciful Church. His book,Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life was personally endorsed by Pope Francis. In his latest book, titled Pope Francis’ Revolution of Tenderness and Love, Kasper argues that this pastoral pope is no theological lightweight. In an interview he stated,
“I wanted to make clear, in order to help Pope Francis, to make him better understood to theologians and more academic people, and to interpret some of his good visions — to say that he is fully in the Catholic tradition, in tradition with his predecessors, and much more with [Pope Emeritus] Benedict XVI than it seems,”
I’ve been a fan of Cardinal Kasper for many years. His support of Pope Francis’s efforts to reform the mind and heart of the church comes as no surprise. Kasper’s choice of words to describe this reform is brilliant,
the revolution of tenderness and love and the mysticism of open eyes.
Some are quick to criticize such emotional language. Tenderness and love? Is this just some hippy dippy, liberal, pie in the sky nonsense? Images of peace signs, love-beads and incense (not the good, thurible-swinging kind) threaten their traditional sensibilities.
Yet Francis shows us, in concrete ways, what tenderness and love is all about. He speaks of it, and he does it. He physically reaches out to the poor and broken. He never tires of challenging the church to focus less on clerical hierarchies and rules and more on being an instrument of mercy in the world. He is truly a genuine pastor, but being a genuine pastor does not automatically exclude having a solid theological grounding. Can you not be both a pastor and teacher? And, aren’t the best teachers those who teach with both words and actions?
The “mysticism of open eyes” is a wonderful expression to describe Francis’s mission for the church. We tend to associate mysticism with the interior life. Art depicts the great mystics with eyes closed in deep prayer or raised to the heavens in divine trances and visions. The world is forgotten as mind, body and soul are united with God and God alone.
Deep prayer experiences are wonderful, but they are meant to be more than a personal affirmation of God’s presence in our lives. They are meant as fuel for the journey, our mission to bring God’s presence into the world. To BE God’s presence in the world. The goal of prayer is not to shut out the world. The mission of the church is not to raise the ramparts against society and barricade itself inside a doctrinally pure fortress.
Pope Francis is calling us to pray with open eyes, to read “the signs of the times” in the words of the Second Vatican Council, so that we may act wisely and justly.
A church of tenderness and love. A church that is reaching out rather than closing in on itself. This is the church of my dreams.