In his Saturday meeting with priests from the diocese of Caserta, Pope Francis moves from creativity to transcendence. But he begins with simple relationships with others:
But there is also another transcendence: opening oneself up to others, to one’s neighbor. We must not be a Church closed in on itself, which looks at its navel, a self-referential Church, who looks at itself and is not able to transcend. Twofold transcendence is important: toward God and toward one’s neighbor.
What is this? Usually we think of moving to God when we use the word “transcendence.” Pope Francis is tying this in with navel-gazing–is that what a mysticism is all about? I think we need to be careful.
Coming out of oneself is not an adventure; it is a journey, it is the path that God has indicated to (people), to the people from the first moment when he said to Abraham, “Go from your country.” He had to go out of himself. And when I come out of myself, I meet God and I meet others. How do you meet others? From a distance or up close? You must meet them up close, closeness.
Three things coming together …
Creativity, transcendence and closeness. Closeness is a key word: be near. Do not be afraid of anything. Being close. The man of God is not afraid. Paul himself, when he saw many idols in Athens, was not scared. He said to the people: “You are religious, many idols … but, I’ll speak to you about another.” He did not get scared and he got close to them. He also cited poets: “As your poets say…” It’s about closeness to a culture, closeness to people, to their way of thinking, their sorrows, their resentments. Many times this closeness is just a penance, because we need to listen to boring things, to offensive things.
And there is our fear. Fear of a society that is beyond our control. Fear of loss. Fear of being tripped up somehow and losing our faith. What is the way out beyond fear? I suspect it is part of the journey.
A story followed:
Two years ago, a priest went to Argentina as a missionary. He was from the Diocese of Buenos Aires and he went to a diocese in the south, to an area where for years they had no priest, and evangelicals had arrived. He told me that he went to a woman who had been the teacher of the people and then the principle of the village school. This lady sat him down and began to insult him, not with bad words, but to insult him forcefully: “You abandoned us, we left us alone, and I, who need of God’s Word, had to go to Protestant worship and I became Protestant”. This young priest, who is meek, who is one who prays, when the woman finished her discourse, said: “Madam, just one word: forgiveness. Forgive us, forgive us. We abandoned the flock.” And the tone of the woman changed. However, she remained Protestant and the priest did not go into the argument of which was the true religion. In that moment, you could not do this. In the end, the lady began to smile and said: “Father, would you like some coffee?” – “Yes, let’s have a coffee.” And when the priest was about to leave, she said: “Stop here, Father. Come.” And she led him into the bedroom, opened the closet and there was the image of Our Lady: “You should know that I never abandoned her. I hid her because of the pastor, but she’s in the home.” It is a story which teaches how proximity, meekness brought about this woman’s reconciliation with the Church, because she felt abandoned by the Church. And I asked a question that you should never ask: “And then, how things turn out? How did things finish?” But the priest corrected me: “Oh, no, I did not ask anything: she continues to go to Protestant worship, but you can see that she is a woman who prays. She faces the Lord Jesus.” And it did not go beyond that. He did not invite her to return to the Catholic Church. …
And some might wonder: why not? He judged the situation was sufficient as it was, perhaps: the conversation had begun. Or it was not yet time to ask. Or he had no moral standing or credibility to ask. Sometimes we acknowledge we are in situations in which we can do nothing but listen. And get close. Is that creative? Or passive and fearful?
We’ll wrap up tomorrow.