Francis continues to open doors
In his short time as pontiff, Pope Francis I has opened many doors of dialogue previous have chosen to keep shut. From the resignation of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to being the first pontiff from the New World, his plain dress, and announcement that he is not to judge those who are homosexual, Francis’ engagement with the secular world has been a refreshing breath for those in and outside the Roman Catholic Church.
The dialogue between the Vatican, the faithful, and the secular world continued in dramatic ways in recent weeks.
First, the newly inaugurated Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, said in a Venezuelan newspaper interview that ecclesiastical celibacy was not a matter of dogma but a matter of tradition. This is reflective of an earlier interview Francis gave while still a Cardinal declaring celibacy as “a matter of discipline, not faith.”
Though it is understood that priestly celibacy is unlikely to change anytime soon, the fact that Vatican staff is unafraid to address these issues continues to enliven the faith of Catholics worldwide.
Yet, the faithful are not the only ones Francis is opening doors of dialogue with.
In July and August, the Italian daily newspaper, La Repubblica, was printing editorials written by the paper’s founder and self-proclaimed agnostic, Eugenio Scalfari, who publicly posed questions to the pope on whether the Christian God forgives non-believers, if absolute truth exists, and if God was a creation of the human mind.
To Mr. Scalfari’s surprise, and to the surprise of the Italian public at large, Francis responded to the editor’s questions with a four-page letter simply entitled, “Francesco.”
He begins by articulating the two circumstances under which he is writing:
“The first circumstance derives from the fact that, down in the centuries of modern life, we have seen a paradox: Christian faith, whose novelty and importance in the life of mankind since the beginning has been expressed through the symbol of light, has often been branded as the darkness of superstition which is opposed to the light of reason. Therefore a lack of communication has arisen between the Church and the culture inspired by Christianity on one hand and the modern culture of Enlightenment on the other. The time has come and the Second Vatican has inaugurated the season, for an open dialogue without preconceptions that opens the door to a serious and fruitful meeting.
“The second circumstance derives from the fact that this dialogue… is an intimate and indispensable expression. The believer is not arrogant; on the contrary, the truth makes him humble, the security of faith makes it possible to speak with everyone. This is the spirit of the words I am writing to you.”
He then responds to the Scalfari’s direct questions of faith.
Concerning God’s forgiveness of non-believers, Francis wrote that God’s mercy has no limits, “the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience. In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or to be evil. The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision.”
Responding to the question of absolute truth, Francis said he viewed Truth as a relationship with God, experienced through each individual’s life in a dynamic and living way. God’s love is not subjective, he insisted, but it is experienced as journey.
On God being a creation of the human mind, Francis turned the question around, saying it is true “the greatness of mankind lies in being able to think about God.” He continued by saying that the idea of God is based on experience, a reality with a capital R.
In a world where leaders are so entangled in economic pressures, military struggles, and moral inconsistencies, the pope’s honest and seemingly humble response to the questions of a modern society gives hope to the western world in need of moral guidance.
Unlike our elected officials, it is expected that Francis will fill his seat for a long run and will be speaking with and challenging the world for many years to come. Let’s hope he does not fall from his current grace and continues to address the world “ so extensively and so affectionately, with such fraternal spirit” as Mr. Scalfari said after receiving the letter.
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