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Friday, March 22, 2013

Francis and the Mystery of Reform

After Benedict's resignation and before Francis’ election I did a post that I must admit at the time felt very much against the tide. In that post I suggested that there is a deep mystery to the process of reform and I dared to hope that a reformist pope could be elected from a conclave of cardinals who had all been named by John Paul or Benedict. I don’t often write much worth remembering, but I think these quotes are worth recall:

Those who are certain of the theological direction of the next pope would do well to remember that even a cursory look at the life of Ratzinger/Benedict (RB) shows the difficulty in predicting the future choices and attitudes of leaders of the Church. Surprise and irony abound…All of which is to say that Catholic people and institutions change and develop and reverse course in ways that are hard to predict. Reformers can become consolidators, and the men who they appoint can become reformers. It is the cycle of Church History that those consumed with the present can sometimes forget, thereby closing themselves off to the possibility of surprise and reform.

We are of course only just into the papacy of Francis and too much can be read into what everyone seems to agree was an extraordinary opening week of ministry, but when it comes to Francis and reform there is way more than just a week that can be pointed to as signs of deep change coming. There are decades of service in Latin America that give much reason to believe that what we have seen in the opening week of his papacy is NOT stylistic but reflective of substantive change to come.

There are many incidents that could be pointed to from the ministry of Cardinal Bergoglio, but for now I want to draw attention to a 2007 interview that has received inadequate attention. I would suggest that this interview displays a Cardinal bursting with reform rooted in his Latin American context and grounded in his deep love for Christ. I will do a series of posts from this interview and I hope that these words will receive a wider hearing and will be considered by those like John Allen who seem to want to tap down expectations of change.

Here, then, is Bergoglio on what I would call the mystery of true of reform:

Precisely if one remains in the Lord one goes out of oneself. Paradoxically precisely because one remains, precisely if one is faithful one changes. One does not remain faithful, like the traditionalists or the fundamentalists, to the letter. Fidelity is always a change, a blossoming, a growth. The Lord brings about a change in those who are faithful to Him. That is Catholic doctrine. Saint Vincent of Lerins makes the comparison between the biologic development of the person, between the person who grows, and the Tradition which, in handing on the depositum fidei from one age to another, grows and consolidates with the passage of time…
The early theologians said: the soul is a kind of sailing boat, the Holy Spirit is the wind that blows in the sail, to send it on its way, the impulses and the force of the wind are the gifts of the Spirit. Without His drive, without His grace, we don’t go ahead. The Holy Spirit lets us enter the mystery of God and saves us from the danger of a gnostic Church and from the danger of a self-referential Church, leading us to the mission.

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