No More Catholic Guilt! an encyclical review

Like many outside of the Catholic faith, I am a great admirer of the current pope. Francis was elected upon Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement in 2013. When he chose the name Francis (after the 12th Century Franciscan founder) and wowed the world with his simple, generous lifestyle, many have seen fresh winds of change blowing in Rome. In terms of theology, he is not significantly different from his predecessors. He lacks Benedict’s keen theological acumen (no insult here, Ratzinger is brillant!); however here is a pope who is pastorally sensitive and attentive to those on the margins. If there are indeed winds of change blowing in the Catholic church, it is one of tone.

This is what makes Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) so refreshing (yes I know it has been out a while and I’m late to the party). This is his second encyclical (though his first is regarded as largely Benedict’s work). Reading as an outsider, I hear the importance this pope places on gospel proclamation, that the church and all the faithful are given the missional responsibility of making disciples. He also stresses that the church and its ministers need to be thoughtful about how best to engage in the work of evangelization–that this involves holistic mission and care for the poor, as well as thoughtful ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. While many of his examples (and source material) make the most sense to the Catholic faithful, those of us in the other ‘ecclesial communions’ will also find in Francis an appropriate challenge toward holistic, generous and joyful proclamation.

Much of what Francis says here is rooted in Lumen Gentium (Light of Nations) from the Dogmatic Constitution of Vatican II.  Francis speaks to the following issues:

a) the reform of the Curch in her missionary outreach;

b) the temptations faced by pastoral workers;

c) the Church, understood as the entire People of God which evangelizes;

d) the homily and its preparation;

e)the inclusion of the poor in society;

f) peace and dialogue within society

g) the spiritual motivations for missions (17)

These seven topics give shape to the Pope’s discourse (notice that the alleged economic preoccupation of the Pope is couched and made subservient to the larger question of Christian mission). Reading as a Protestant, I found I could affirm much of what is said here. I still have many points of theological contention ( such as the  authority of the pope, differences on ecclesiology and soteriology) but this is such a generous and magnanimous presentation so I don’t much feel like fighting with the pope. As a preaching pastor I especially loved his words about homily preparation (145-159). As an advocate for mission with justice, I think this is a rich resource for us (especially 176-257).

Yet as I said above, what I appreciate most is tone. This is a book about the joy: joy in Christ through the church. Proclamation is not the main papal imperative here. Joyful proclamation is. Francis calls us back to the idea that the gospel–good news!–is joyful:

There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress: “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is . . .But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness . . . It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3:17,21-23,26) (paragraph 6).

I have heard too many ex-Catholics bemoan their Catholic guilt. I have heard far too much from somber saints. How nice to hear a robust ode to Catholic Joy! Well done Papa Frank! 5 Stars

Notice of material connection: I recieved this free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review!

The Heretic said to the Pope. . .(a book review)

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio ascended to the papacy, and chose Francis as his papal name, people got excited.  One person who watched with interest was former Dominican Matthew Fox. Fox is the founder of the Institute of Culture and Creation Spirituality.  He is a long time advocate of environmentalism, the inclusion of women in the priesthood, queer theology and a host of other progressive causes. Because Fox is a lover of the environment and a critic of the institutional church, he is excited by the Pope’s choice of papal name, and some of the things the pope has said and done which signal a different tone than the Vatican ‘business as usual.’ Fox’s Letters to Pope Francis are (as the title suggests) letters to the pope. These epistles both name Fox’s hopes and areas where he thinks that he feels that change needs to come to Catholic church.

Fox has a bit of an axe to grind. The previous two popes (John Paul II and Benedict XVI) are partially responsible for his teaching being regarded as suspect in the Church and his ultimate dismissal from the Dominican order. So he has a bone to pick with the institutional church and hopes that Francis signals a movement towards reform  of the church.  Some of his criticisms stick, like where he faults the Church for its handling of clergy sexual abuse.  Despite his bald progressive agenda, his hope for Francis papacy is less grand: he hopes that the Vatican would decentralize power and foster greater theological openness and freedom.  So these letters are pleas for change, often referencing Francis’s own words and actions.

If you like books where ex-Catholics lecture the pope, you’ll probably like this book.  I am not Catholic and resonate with some of Fox’s critiques of where the institutional church has run amok, but I am probably closer to the pope in my theological commitments (i.e.  orthodoxy). Fox’s Creation spirituality gets a little weird (or at least a little vague).  I think some of Fox’s criticisms of the Catholic church’s practice are incisive, while others seem the rambling musings of someone embittered by their struggle against church authority.  I found myself moved by some of his arguments but not particularly swayed.

I would give this book three stars. I think that Fox’s history in the Roman Church, and his read of Christian history gives him an interesting perspective on how and where the Church is moving.  I love that Fox calls Francis to commit to Creation care, Justice for the poor, and ecclesiastical reform in the spirit of his namesake.  I also think that Fox named well a lot of people’s frustration with the institutional church; however I don’t buy all his answers about what Francis (and by extension the Catholic church) should do.

Notice of Material Connection: I received this book via Speak Easy in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review.