The Ecclesiology of Pope Francis

Vatican Radio recently revealed the contents of an intervention given by Cardinal Bergoglio during the General Congregations preceding the papal conclave, in which the future Pope Francis spoke about evangelization, with the implication being that the Church in our day is not fully living up to its mission.

The future Holy Father stated:

“Evangelizing implies Apostolic Zeal. Evangelizing pre-supposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.”

He goes on to say, presumably in reference to the Church in our day, “The self-referential Church keeps Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him out.”

He concludes:

“Thinking of the next Pope: He must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother, who gains life from ‘the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.’”

I agree with much of what the future Holy Father has to say, but his treatment of evangelization begs a very important question:

Is it really true that the Church “gains life” from evangelizing?

I realize that this may strike some readers as hair splitting, but Cardinal Bergoglio’s statement, for all of its simplicity, sheds great light on how he conceives of the Church’s understanding of herself and therefore her understanding of her mission, each of which will undoubtedly serve as an impetus for his papacy.

I would submit that Catholic ecclesiology suggests that the Church does not so much gain life through evangelization as she gives life by carrying out her mission. The difference is substantial.

If one truly believes, as Catholic doctrine most certainly teaches, that the Church is that perfect society established by Jesus Christ, who entrusted to her His life giving truth, then the work of evangelization must be understood as one that gives life to the world as she converts it to Him, and in so doing manifests for all to see that she is His mystical Body and Bride who already possesses life and truth and goodness in all of its magnificent fullness.

It would seem that “the self-referential Church” of which Cardinal Bergoglio warned is precisely that which sees her work of evangelization as a source of life; an ecclesiology wherein the Church looks to herself and her own efforts as the animating principle when indeed it is Christ!

The missing component, not just in Cardinal Bergoglio’s ecclesiology as he presented it during the General Congregation, but in the self-awareness of the Church as articulated over the last four-plus decades, is Christ the King who has real authority over the civic affairs of men, societies and States.

This glaring lacuna is the reason why the Church so often behaves as if her mandate from the Lord includes nothing more than swimming against the currents of the popular culture that oppose her, as just one more interest group or idea among many, when in truth she is the “bulwark of truth” who has been charged with “baptizing all nations,” a mission that will never be accomplished by a Church that simply does “good works” that appear only to compete for attention among the “random acts of kindness” performed by the Lord’s enemies.

Cardinal Bergoglio was correct, the Church has become self-referential, but I am beginning to wonder if he realizes that she will remain as much until such time as she begins behaving once more like the Bride of the Sovereign Lord, unafraid to proclaim His “sweet and saving yoke” (Pius XI – Quas Primas) and conversion to the Holy Catholic Church, the one true Faith, as the only gateway to every grace and every blessing, freely given by Christ the King who will never be outdone in charity.