Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Chi sono io per giudicare?"

As the regularly repeated, if somewhat tiresome analogies - Rock Concert, Catholic Woodstock, etc. - suggest, World Youth Day is an ecclesiastical "feel good" event. You bring together a couple of million excited, energetic young people, and, of course they are going to have a good time. So will the adults! How often, after all, do a bunch of bishops in habitus pianus get to get up and dance? And since WYD is admirably free of the drugs, sex, and violence associated with some other youth-oriented events, it's really a win-win situation for everyone.
The challenge of WYD is not to create an exciting religious experience for those participating (old as well as young). In that respect every WYD since Blessed Pope John Paul II started them in 1984 has been a great success. The real challenge (as with all experiential movements) is to sustain the enthusiasm afterwards, in the hard slog of ordinary life when religion may seem less exciting and when there is so much else competing with it.
And that may be the most significant thing about the Pope's unexpected, unscripted press conference on the return flight to Rome. John Paul II, before he became too ill to do so, used to engage the press on his travels. So the event was not completely without precedent. But it was unexpected, especially since Pope Francis had given the impression earlier that he would probably not be doing that. In the end, he did do it, did more than anyone would have anticipated, and did it quite well. 
But it wasn't just that the Pope engaged the press and answered their unfiltered questions. It was the way he did so. Thus, for example, the "gay" question. As John Allen observed on the PBS Newshour last night, in what might constitute the first time a Pope has ever publicly used that word, Pope Francis showed himself comfortable talking in ordinary language. As Allen notes, he didn't introduce the term into the discussion, the questioner did (admittedly in the somewhat pejorative context of the so-called "Gay Lobby"). But the Pope didn't use some euphemism in his answer. He used the ordinary word.
The Pope isn't just anybody. There are times when he has to speak very formally and precisely using technical theological language. There are times when, like any priest celebrating the liturgy, he needs to employ a specifically sacred idiom. But there are other times when, again like any pastor, he does well to speak the ordinary language of the world. Doing so on the plane suggests an understanding of the need to connect the elevated experience of WYD with the experience of daily life - for people at any age.
Of course, it was the substance of what he said that got most of the attention and also most demonstrated a connection with the concerns of people today - and, just as important, did so not in secular but in gospel-language. Commenting first on the accusations against one particular Vatican official, the Pope said:
"But I would like to add one more thing to this: I see that so many times in the Church, apart from this case and also in this case, one  looks for the "sins of youth," for example, is it not thus?, And then these things are published.  These things are not crimes.  The crimes are something else: child abuse is a crime.  But sins, if a person, or secular priest or a nun, has committed a sin and then that person experienced conversion, the Lord forgives and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives.  When we go to confession and we truly say “I have sinned in this matter,” the Lord forgets and we do not have the right to not forget because we run the risk that the Lord will not forget our sins, eh?  This is a danger.  This is what is important: a theology of sin.  So many times I think of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins denying Christ.  And with this sin they made him Pope.  We must think about fact often."
Indeed, we must!

Then, returning to the  issue of the so-called "gay lobby," Pope Francis elaborated further:

"They say there are some gay people here.  I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good.  They are bad.  If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says, wait a moment, how does it say, it says, these persons must never be marginalized and 'they must be integrated into society.'
"The problem is not that one has this tendency; no, we must be brothers, this is the first matter.  There is another problem, another one: the problem is to form a lobby of those who have this tendency, a lobby of the greedy people, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons, so many lobbies.  This is the most serious problem for me. And thank you so much for doing this question. Thank you very much!"
Not only did the Pope explicitly separate being gay from the issue of the so-called "gay lobby," he also returned this issue to the ordinary realm of moral discernment rather than separating it out as problematically unique. 
The challenge of WYD (and of any religious experience) is to produce results that last and are in harmony with the fundamental message of the Gospel. In this instance, implicitly recalling Matthew 7:1 (Stop judging, that you may not be judged) may have been a very good place to start.

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