My first impression of Evangelii Gaudium was that it demonstrates once more the Holy Father’s fascination with novelty; that tendency among modernists of which Pope St. Pius X solemnly warned in Pascendi.
In this post, I’d like to take a closer look at this theme, with quotes from the exhortation offered below in boldface.
In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.
On the one hand, Pope Francis is pointing to the same “old” path upon which the Church has been stumbling for the last fifty years; the pathway of dialogue with the world whereupon the call to conversion to the one true faith is strictly verboten.
On the other hand, all indications are that we are being prepared for real changes to come as well; changes that one imagines may well shake the faith of many, but more on that in future posts.
If nothing else, Pope Francis is consistent. For some time now he has spoken of a need to embrace the new; even going so far as to suggest that the faithful do well to favor uncertainty in matters religious, as though such were a virtue.
Also by way of consistency, or perhaps better stated, predictability, even as he lauds novelty while preparing the rank and file for still more, the Holy Father cannot help but take aim at faithful Catholics (or “traditionalists” if you prefer) along the way. Evangelii Gaudium is no different, but this too will be the subject of a separate post.
Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world. Every form of authentic evangelization is always “new”.
Notice that “newness” is being presented here after the manner of the conciliar progressives, who in the process of chipping away at tradition, did so under the banner of ressourcement, deftly convincing the naïve that theirs was but a quest for Christian purity. (Sound protestant? It should.)
As an aside, I am reminded here of Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga’s insistence upon returning to “the original priesthood of Jesus,” as if Our Blessed Lord had failed to rise from the dead to reign in glory.
In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of his Spirit. The real newness is the newness which God himself mysteriously brings about and inspires, provokes, guides and accompanies in a thousand ways.
Pay close attention! The Holy Father, again predictably, is attempting to convince us (as he himself appears to be convinced) that all of this magnificent “newness” is not the fruit of mere human beings; no, it is a gift from God Himself who is leading His Church to depart from the sure path traveled by the Saints over the course of nearly two thousand years!
This comes as little surprise from a pope who attributes to the content of Vatican II, without distinction, the voice of the Holy Ghost.
Nor should we see the newness of this mission as entailing a kind of displacement or forgetfulness of the living history which surrounds us and carries us forward. Memory is a dimension of our faith which we might call “deuteronomic”, not unlike the memory of Israel itself.
Note the subtlety! The Holy Father is urging us to think of tradition not so much as the bedrock of doctrinal certainty that it is (and who can forget his harsh words for those who might dare to seek such certainty), but as little more than a fond memory.
Does the Holy Father really mean to suggest that Catholics in our day must shed their attachment to tradition just as the People Israel were called to leave behind the idolatrous ways of their erstwhile Egyptian masters? One is hard pressed to understand his words otherwise.
In any event, if as yet it had not abundantly clear, the Holy Father, in speaking of “the newness of this mission” is indicating that the “new path” of which he speaks refers to nothing less than a departure from the “old” mission, this being the one that Jesus gave to His Church:
“Go ye therefore to all nations, Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them everything whatsoever that I have commanded.”
Indeed, one finds in Evangelii Gaudium many indications that the mission of the Church as this pope envisions it is very different than the one given by Christ.
Consider, for example:
He sends his Spirit into our hearts to make us his children, transforming us and enabling us to respond to his love by our lives.
Bear in mind, this quote hasn’t been lifted from a secular newspaper, and it causes one to wonder why, the pope of all people, feels the need to avoid plainly stating one of the most basic tenets of our faith; namely, that God “makes us His children” through Baptism?
One answer immediately comes to mind, his affection for the People well defined as having rejected Jesus Christ; the Jews. The Holy Father, it seems to me, is using the language of Jeremiah 31:31-34, quite deliberately.
Whatever the motivation may be, one thing is certain, in sidestepping Baptism one is necessarily avoiding the Great Commission.
Here I have chosen to present some guidelines which can encourage and guide the whole Church in a new phase of evangelization, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality.
Indeed, this “new phase” is one in which calling out to those in darkness to enter the one true Church through the waters of Baptism will no longer do; rather:
We are called to bear witness to a constantly new way of living together in fidelity to the Gospel.
From where does the impetus toward newness come? As stated, we are being urged by the pope to understand that the driving force is God Himself, and yet, the attentive reader of Evangelii Gaudium will have noticed that the pope, in a moment of candor, appears to give us a glimpse at the true source of this quest for novelty. It is, of course, humankind:
Young people call us to renewed and expansive hope, for they represent new directions for humanity and open us up to the future, lest we cling to a nostalgia for structures and customs which are no longer life-giving in today’s world.
If what we have examined thus far is not disturbing enough, the Holy Father seems to come uncomfortably close to professing the belief that Divine Revelation is continuing!
In the Christian customs of an evangelized people, the Holy Spirit adorns the Church, showing her new aspects of revelation and giving her a new face.
Having already been instructed by Fr. Federico Lombardi that we are witnessing in Pope Francis “a new genre of papal speech that’s deliberately informal and not concerned with precision,” perhaps he really means to say that the Holy Spirit is granting us a deeper understanding of that which has already been revealed.
God knows, and perhaps so will we in time.
At this, I will conclude by saying that the sage advice of Pope St. Pius X below is more needed today than ever:
We decree, therefore, that in every diocese a council of this kind, which We are pleased to name “the Council of Vigilance,” be instituted without delay … They shall watch most carefully for every trace and sign of Modernism both in publications and in teaching, and, to preserve from it the clergy and the young, they shall take all prudent, prompt and efficacious measures. Let them combat novelties of words remembering the admonitions of Leo XIII. (Instruct. S.C. NN. EE. EE., 27 Jan., 1902): It is impossible to approve in Catholic publications of a style inspired by unsound novelty which seems to deride the piety of the faithful and dwells on the introduction of a new order of Christian life, on new directions of the Church, on new aspirations of the modern soul, on a new vocation of the clergy, on a new Christian civilisation. (Pascendi 55)