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Pope's Catholic health check


Apple and stethoscopeWorld Youth Days stir some and leave others untouched. But they are always interesting because they allow the Pope to address enthusiastic young people in a variety of contexts. He has the chance to talk of what he believes important to pass on to the next generation. In the talks the distinctive themes of a papacy can emerge.

So it is instructive to compare the way in which Pope Francis addressed the young adults at World Youth Day in Brazil this week with Pope Benedict's style of address. Unsurprisingly they have much in common. Both men emphasise that Christian faith in the Catholic Church is the privileged way of finding meaning in life. Both compare Christian faith with other competing ways of finding meaning. Both call for a deeply grounded faith and solid formation in it.

But within these shared themes there are differences. They are of style, but substantial. To hear the two men speak is like hearing sermons from a representative of the Evangelical wing of the Anglican communion and one from the Anglo Catholic wing. Both commend the same Gospel, but they differ particularly in the centrality that each gives to the Church and its traditions.

The differences can be best understood through images, inadequate though they are. Benedict might picture the Church as a museum or treasury of all the beliefs, relationships, liturgical details and traditions that compose its life. He tries to draw young people into the treasury to appreciate its beauty and coherence and to find in it a home. In his language he puts on display the rich symbolic resources and intellectual power of the Catholic inheritance, just as in his celebration of liturgy he brought out significant treasures from the Vatican vaults.

He sees the enemy of the Church to be impoverished intellectual traditions which seduce people and have to be combated with robust intellectual argument. These alternative treasuries promise much but are empty.

The task of the curators of the treasury — bishops and priests in particular — is to be present in it and safeguard its contents. They are also to draw people in by their enthusiasm for the beauty of what it contained, and are to explain faithfully the living connections that unify the collection.

Francis might imagine the Church as like a dispensary from which health workers go out to share their life saving medicines. They have something precious to offer people, too precious for them to waste their time in the dispensary. In Brazil Francis urged the young people repeatedly to go out among people, to take risks, even at the risk of annoying their bishops. This has been a constant theme of his pontificate. He speaks in the salty, epigrammatic and concrete language of the market stalls.

For him the enemy is not intellectual systems but concrete things like money and wealth and security that crush people's ability to see what matters more deeply. These things lead people to see wealth as something for personal accumulation and not for the common good, so perpetuating human misery. The world to which he sends people out is the world in which asylum seekers are mistreated, in which there is little compassion for the poor and neglected, and where people are driven by fear of losing their possessions. This breeds fear, the globalisation of indifference, and eventually leads to violence against imagined enemies.

Francis believes that if Catholics are to commend the Gospel to the poor they must appeal to the heart, not primarily to the mind. So the Gospel needs to be presented as something joyful and simple, not in its complexity. He acknowledges the role of theologians, but it is to serve the health workers, not to mystify the medicine.

The virtues that Francis seeks in bishops and priests (and in young people) are not the curatorial gifts of security, reliability and arcane knowledge, but the entrepreneurial gifts of passion about what they have to offer, travelling light, becoming part of the people whose healing they seek. Shepherds must smell like their sheep. Their greatest failure would be to waste their time in the dispensary and to be ambitious for administrative positions.

The perspectives of Benedict and Francis are different, but each has its place in the Catholic tradition. Benedict's perspective is Benedictine, Francis' is Franciscan; one reflects the world of the monastery where the monks spend their lives, the other the world of the friary from which friars go on mission among the people. But in a world that is changing and a Catholic world that is disconcerted, the reception that Francis has received suggests that the path to Catholic renewal may be Franciscan.

Andrew Hamilton headshotAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Health image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Pope Francis, World Youth Day, Pope Benedict



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Existing comments

Heartfelt and perspicacious - a very healthy combination.

Pam | 31 July 2013  

Thank you this interesting article.

John Herring | 01 August 2013  

Beautiful, Andy! You offer an insightful & heartfelt article which connects with me, a young person. Thank-you.

Mathew Crane | 01 August 2013  

To a doctor this is an interesting analogical treatise. Applied to the idealistic young who aspire to being doctors, Andrew, your analogy seems to say, "If you wish to cure the sick go off and start doing open heart surgery with the vision , desire and dedication to cure the sick but without any training! A recipe for failure, I would suggest. Perhaps the young of the Catholic Church need to be trained and equipped in Catholicism before they become effective evangelists. Time (long overdue) to restore teaching of the Catholic faith principles in the schools and adult education programs before setting off to practise life changing mission for others. How can the young possibly "Go forth and teach all nations" when the vast majority of them and their families do not practise the faith and worse,through the failure of the Catholic education system in this country, have very little knowledge of what Catholic teaching is?

john frawley | 01 August 2013  

Rather like Father Pierre Teilhard (1881-1955), Pope George Bergoglio may be more Franciscan than Jesuit – more Scotist than Thomist. In the world-view of Dominican Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), Jesus was sent down to Earth from the heaved-up Heavens at the Annunciation 2013 years ago to atone for sins that we originally committed maybe 200,000 years ago. But as Blessed Franciscan John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) saw it, Jesus was in the World from the beginning 13.7 billion years ago as the centre of the universe and of cosmic history [“Redemptor Hominis”]. “Yes – cosmic!” Pope John Paul II exclaimed [“Ecclesia de Eucharistia”]. And in 2009 Pope Benedict XVI exhorted us to restore God to the Universe in “Cosmic Liturgies” and in songs of “Cosmic Praise”.

Grahame Fallon | 01 August 2013  

And perhaps it is neither of these traditions but rather the tradition of Augustine where meeting and sharing our gifts in community (especially food and drink) which will allow the laity to take their rightful role at the table of the passover celebration.

Laurie | 01 August 2013  

Any pastoral priest knows that you don't cover all aspects[eg trinity,eschatology, soteriology,preambulae fidei.creeds] in a homily geared to a particular congregation be they nursing home worldly wise geriatrics,or idealistic vibrant youth neither require or are given a total theol/apologetic course. To suggest pope Francis zeroed in on his personal essentials of faith in toto is at best gratuitous . He focused on concrete pastoral sitz im leben characterising Copacabana ambience-just as Pope John Paul tailored his message to communist Poland and differently to aboriginal NT issues in Australia. None of Popes reduced WYD to all important dogmas/doctrines of Faith and Morals but all WYD Popes acculturated their message to concrete needs[Ask Gorby and general Wojciech Jaruzelskilski re jp2 acculturation[the general and KGB would have preferred JP2 talk on true traditional devotion to Mary and Nicene creed or transubstantiation WYD is not a yardstick of Papal priorities re doctrine[eg in plane Pope Francis used the Catholic Catechism on Gays and rejected [more vehemently than WYD/pilgrimages Benedict or WYD JP2] the possibility of priestesses

Father John George | 01 August 2013  

Nice article, thanks. I am so grateful for this Bishop of Rome, and the Cardinals who voted him in...how surprising was that after decades of conservative manipulation of episcopal appointments! Thank God for the power of the Holy Spirit! i was tickled by John Frawley seeing the action of the church in the world as like Cardio-thoracic surgery...very high-end technological stuff indeed, benefiting very few and having no public health advantage. Although the whole thing is a bit of a strangled analogy, isn`t it this approach that Francis (and Fr Hamilton) are on about? Like bare-foot doctors spreading the message on clean water, good nutrition and anti-mosquito nets which cheaply benefit millions, what the young disciples of the church , and the rest of us , are being asked too do is spread far and wide the love and mercy of Jesus Christ into peoples` lives. How much training did then Apostles need for that...or us?

Eugene | 01 August 2013  

JOHN FRAWLEY, when Andy says "if Catholics are to commend the Gospel to the poor they must appeal to the heart, not primarily to the mind" he doesn't mean learning to do heart and brain surgery. "Heart" here is not something to be learnt at university, but by the Holy Spirit - and being compassionate - prepared to walk the same path, suffer and die like the poor. Pills and surgery might save the body for a short while, but only a sense of common humanity will save our souls.

AURELIUS | 01 August 2013  

Mr Fallon sir, Jesus was incarnated 2000 years ago not 13.7 billion y.a. He co created the universe with principal creator God the Father,from the beginning, Its timing not scientifically certain given that the 13 billion year ago event cant be reconstructed for optimum 'in situ' retesting today [eg 'Blind experiment'[among others] A 'blind or blinded experiment' where some of the people involved are prevented from knowing certain information that might lead to conscious or subconscious bias on their part, invalidating the results. [such among others scientific in situ 'retesting' is a scientific requisite of authenticity] Moreover contrary to some Chardinian notions Christ did not enact a cosmic liturgy that transubstantiated the cosmos,nor worse, Christ did not evolve with the cosmos, though cocreating and engracing it.

Father John George | 01 August 2013  

Is the aim of church to bring God to the people or to bring the people to God???

john frawley | 01 August 2013  

Thankyou so much Andrew for the perceptive essay, sharing insight into the defining elements of our present and immediate past popes. It seems to me that Francis is aligned more closely than his predecessor to Jesus approach of being aware of and loving to everyone. The religion of Jesus' time can be judged as conforming to a Darwinian model of behaviour where the core structure was to be preserved for the "fittest" and those on the fringe, through physical or mental illness, or poverty and disconnection, were expendable. Such behaviour would have been innate to our ancestral primate ancestors, not yet evolved to the level of self-consciousness and the capability of communicate and store knowledge in the way that Homo sapiens has done. Jesus insight was to recognise that these evolved traits separated us from the "rule of the jungle" and allow aspiration to what we call "humanity" in our dealings with each other. Pope Francis' approach is a lively affirmation of Jesus' example which must be the aspiration of us all who have adopted the Christian faith as our guide.

Mike Foale | 01 August 2013  

“Both men emphasise that Christian faith in the Catholic Church is the privileged way of finding meaning in life.” Jesus proclaimed the Two Great Commandments: “Love God, and love your neighbour”, and added “On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.” There has been a long history of people trying to form a material symbol of the God they seek, and in some cases falling into idolatry, by elevating the symbol they created above their need to observe the two Great Commandments.The Catholic Church is an advanced example of such a material symbol. It was created as an attempt to assist in the promotion of the 2 Great Commandments, but at times it has been in danger of becoming an obstacle to their observance. An example was the Crusades, when shouting “God wills it,” they slaughtered so many innocent men, women and children. There is a reflection of this in the misguided attempt to preserve the reputation of the Church at the expense of the victims of clerical sex-abuse. There is no “privileged way of finding meaning in life“. Both Peter and Paul asserted that God does not have “favourites”.

Robert Liddy | 01 August 2013  

...Peter and John were unschooled, ordinary men... and yet...

Game Theory | 01 August 2013  

Mr Liddy sir,for a balanced treatment of Crusades versus classic comic genre please note: "Certainly, the Church supported the ideal of the Crusade, but rarely controlled events and was often at direct odds with the Crusaders themselves. The horrors of warfare as fought at the time – and the ruthlessness of the slaughter that often followed victory – was neither caused by the Church, or was the Church capable of limiting it in any great fashion. The means used by the Franks in particular in warfare were hardly surprising for the time, or subject to control by the Church. There was no Church presence to mitigate the sack of Jerusalem in the First Crusade. In the Fourth Crusade, the responsibility for the destruction of Constantinople must be placed on the Doge of Venice and the schemes of the pretender to the imperial throne, rather than at the foot of Pope Innocent III who was horrified at the Christian slaughter of Christians that made a crusade to the Holy Land impossible. The attacks on the Jews in the Rhineland that took place on the eve of the First Crusade were in direct contradiction to Church teaching and the local hierarchy would be the only physical defenders of the Jewish population...." http://www.catholicleague.org/?cat=88

Father John George | 01 August 2013  

Thanks for a thoughtful article: but 'faith' , in the end we must take our lead from St Anselm 'fides querens intellectum'. And stick at/with it!

Hugh Laracy | 01 August 2013  

If I remember rightly,Pope Benedict's first official Letter was on''Love''

bernie introna | 01 August 2013  

Peter ran a fishing business in Bethsaida and it was he who first believed Jesus was the Son of the living God. And Jesus said to Peter , who do you say I am? The actual Greek word order is as follows, You, who do you say I am? The Greek language places the most important word first in the sentence. In this verse "you" occurs first. The emphasis of Jesus’ question is upon "you". He wants to know what His disciples thought - not the crowds . In truth, Jesus already knew what they believed, Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” When Peter said that Jesus was the Son of God, he declared that he believed Jesus was God himself. Peter did not discover this himself by observation and investigation. No secular Egyptian scroll, Babylonian astronomer, Greek scientific genius, or Jewish theology class revealed this truth to Peter. The Holy Spirit was the one who revealed this truth to Peter. Shalom.

peter bohm | 02 August 2013  

A beautiful and enlightening article.

Georgie | 02 August 2013  

Game Theory, one ought not dumb down Peter as 'ordinary, unschooled'. Biblical Archeology locates local schools attached to Palestine synagogues providing good education for a young Peter. Peter was also involved in a lucrative fishing industry near to the busy Via Maris: Via Maris is the modern name for an ancient trade route, dating from the early Bronze Age, linking Egypt with the northern empires of Syria, Anatolia and Mesopotamia — modern day Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Its earlier name was "Way of the Philistines", a reference to a passageway through the Philistine Plain (which today consists of Israel's southern coastal plain and the Gaza Strip). From the Philistine Plain, the Way continues north through the Sharon. At Dor (near modern Hadera) the Way branches into two Ways — one continuing along the Mediterranean coast, and the other following an inland route through Megiddo, the Jezreel Valley, the SEA OF GALILEE and Dan. Peter thus probably had a reasonable competency in a cosmopolitan lingua franca of a thriving trade centre with multicultural demographics.

Father John George | 02 August 2013  

Lord, help us! In response to "Pope's Catholic health check" we're now talking about transubstantiation and the crusades?

AURELIUS | 02 August 2013  

Moving on from Bible History and Geography to Cosmic History and Geography, whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke focused mostly [not only] on the Jesus of History, Paul and John focused mostly [not only] on the History of Jesus, which extends from before the beginning to beyond the end of time as we know it. Like the Cosmopolitan Paul – formerly the Jewish Saul of Tarsus – it dawned on Pierre Teilhard (1881-1955) that there is more in the Total Christ than Man and God. There is also the cosmic body of his incarnation and of our incarnation, having each been chosen in Christ beforer the world was made (Eph.1:4; 9-10).

Grahame Fallon | 02 August 2013  

Mr Fallon Sir, history is time bound,whereas, before beginning of Creation and beyond the end of time,there is by definition, infinity, [timelessness]. History ceases before creation, and at end of universe The disciplines of philosophy /theology and Divine Revelation are the tools of pre and post-historical study of infinite realities. By way of caveat,Christ had 2 hypostatic 'natures' [certainly no 3rd cosmic 'nature' in the hypostasis] At the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) the Church declared that the two natures of Christ are joined "in one person and one hypostasis" (Denzinger 302), Finally the term 'incarnation' is reserved for Christs conception rather than mundane human conceptions, even if used for ancient pagan god emanations or embodiments.

Father John George | 02 August 2013  

"To hear the two men speak is like hearing sermons from a representative of the Evangelical wing of the Anglican communion and one from the Anglo Catholic wing. Both commend the same Gospel, but they differ particularly in the centrality that each gives to the Church and its traditions." Yes. Unfortunately these are, broadly speaking, the two parties in the Church of England who are opposed to the equality of women in the matter of sacramental order. Francis, given his inaction over the LCWR situation, and his dismissal of the desire for opening the priesthood to women, is simply misguided and unjust to half the human race. He'll wash a woman's feet, but not anoint her head or endorse her calling from God. Way to go!

Mary Wood | 02 August 2013  

Why this emphasis on the styles of Popes Benedict and Francis? Their commitment to perennial Church teaching on faith and morals displays no variation. Catholic allegiance to the papacy is not a matter of personality cult or preference.

John | 02 August 2013  

Fr John George, St Peter after having been in the presence of The Holy One of Israel, undoubtedly, would have not regarded himself anything but unschooled, ordinary and even dumb. So why honor him for his education and fishing business?.. Besides, have you forgotten, St Thomas Aquinius when Reginald begged him to get back to work, replied: “Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me” (mihi videtur ut palea).

Game Theory | 02 August 2013  

The Crown of Creation – centred on Jesus At the Heart or Centre-Point of the Universe there dwells the phenomenon of Man. That is the Mystery of Human Beings discovering their Selves to be God’s sons and daughters in the course of an historical and psychological process in which constraint and freedom - as well as the weight of sin and the breath of the Spirit – alternate and struggle for the upper hand. – Pope Paul VI 1971 “Octogesima Adveniens” n.37

Grahame Fallon | 02 August 2013  

Interestingly Mr Fallon I recall De Chardin was implicated in the Piltdown affair: "The Piltdown Man was a hoax in which bone fragments were presented as the fossilised remains of a previously unknown early human. These fragments consisted of parts of a skull and jawbone, said to have been collected in 1912 from a gravel pit at Piltdown, East Sussex, England. The Latin name Eoanthropus dawsoni ("Dawson's dawn-man", after the collector Charles Dawson) was given to the specimen. The significance of the specimen remained the subject of controversy until it was exposed in 1953 as a forgery, consisting of the lower jawbone of an orangutan that had been deliberately combined with the skull of a fully developed modern human".[wiki]

Father John George | 02 August 2013  

I am increasingly concerned by the moves by Pope Francis to "dumb down" the faith and return the church to the lowest ebb it reached under Paul V1. Pope Benedict was a man of faith, culture, intellect and elegance and the first Pope to understand that the church is in the world but not of the world and that it stands oppossed to the values of the world. Pope Francis will do irreperable damage to the church with his misguided approach

Stephen Early | 03 August 2013  

Father John George 01 August 2013 "for a balanced treatment of Crusades"... It is necessary to look at the whole picture. Muhammad admonished his followers to respect the Christians and the Jews as being fellow ‘children of The Book’, and there were generally good relationships between them all. However many years later, when the Muslims had taken control of many of the lands that had previously been Christian, an over-zealous and eccentric Muslim ruler of Jerusalem began to harass Christian pilgrims, and even demolished one of their churches. He died soon after, and his successor restored both the building and the good relationships with the pilgrims. Peace and harmony lasted there for another hundred years, when Pope Urban II, in1095, thinking to add ‘glory’ to the Church, and to unify the feuding Christians of Europe, called on the forces of Europe to ‘rescue’ the Holy Land from the Turks, thus letting loose the dogs of war, resulting in all that sadly followed.

Robert Liddy | 03 August 2013  

Mr Liddy Sir "Adding glory to the Church" is an oversimplistic reductionism of an historical complexity,though cut above normal anticatholic anachronisms and retro-projections "Why did Urban support the idea of a Crusade to the Holy Land and put the weight of the Church behind it? Clearly, the return of the Holy Land and the defense of the Christian communities in the Near East were the first objectives. But there were additional concerns. There was the clear threat of the Seljuks. If Constantinople fell, all Eastern Europe would be wide open to Islamic advance. Additionally, the pope certainly believed that allying with Constantinople could heal the disunity of Christianity cause by the schism of 1054. But even more was involved. Urban was of the line of the great reforming popes that had greeted the new millennium and would continue through the 13th Century. Led by a strong papacy, the goal was to sanctify the world through a combination of the Church’s need to reform its institutional life free from control by secular lords, and to build a Christian society. The defense and unity of this goal of a new Christendom was at stake.'[CL]. I fully concede Mr Liddy sanitised "dog"less wars are comic genre!

Father John George | 03 August 2013  

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