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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Friday, 16 February 2018

CHRIST OF THE MARGINS: THE IMPORTANCE OF LOOKING FOR CHRIST AT THE PERIPHARY OF OUR VISION


 icon of Christ on the periphery of life
to gain all others on the periphery
There were “bad times” under the Romans too. But Jesus came. He did not spend the years of His life complaining or denouncing the “bad times.” He cut it short. In a very simple way. By building Christianity. He did not end up indicting or accusing anybody. He saved. He did not indict the world. He saved the world.   (Charles Peguy, Veronique)

Pope Francis is misinterpreted especially by two lots of people, the "world" with its secular media that interprets his words according to its own presuppositions and his "conservative" opponents who identify Christ's moral teaching with the code of Canon Law and who are only too willing to accept the secular interpretation of his words as this makes it easier to refute him.   Of course, there are also Catholics and other Christians who have discarded Catholic Tradition and accept modern, liberal, secular morality hook, line and sinker: they are delighted to believe that Pope Francis is one of them.

  Instead, we find a traditional Catholic who wants to reorientate the Church's focus of attention from itself to the peripheries, from the orderly and smooth running of its institutions to the disorderly or badly ordered world of sin and to those who are in various degrees entrapped in it, either as victims or as participants.  

The Church is, by its nature, a missionary Church, as the last four popes have taught, and all its members are called to be missionaries.   This is especially so now that the secular, liberal elite is taking over.  In the past, the Church was the moral legislator for western society, and Canon Law reflects that role.  Now the rules must be adapted to its main missionary role.

Pope Francis has said:


There is a tension between the center and the periphery…. We must get out of ourselves and go toward the periphery. We must avoid the spiritual disease of the Church that can become self-referential: when this happens, the Church itself becomes sick.

“A Church which “goes forth” is a Church whose doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way. At times we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it.
Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37)”
(Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 46, 49)
When Frs Luke, Paul and I arrived at the small town of Tambogrande in northern Peru to take over the parish and to found a Benedictine monastery in August 1981, the people met us with grateful delight.   Communion time at Mass was highly spectacular as people crowded in front of the altar to receive the host.   They jostled and pushed "like hungry dogs", as Graham Greene put it in "The Power and the Glory", and many whispered urgently,"A mi, Padre, a mi!" as though we were about to pass them by.


It came as a bit of a shock that very many of them were not married in church, that some were in more than one relationship and that one of the most pious, a daily Mass-goer, was mistress of a married doctor.  We learnt that the Spanish colonized Peru before the Council of Trent made it mandatory that all couples should marry in church, whether they were rich or poor and that the Council of Trent was too far away for it to make much difference to the illiterate peasants, however pious they may have been.  We also learnt that, while civil marriage and simple co-habiting did not require the families to put on a large fiesta, religious marriage does, and people simply can't afford it.  It was also a sad fact that the average parish priest in the old days had simply been content to give the sacraments and made no real attempt to teach them.

Father Luke, Paul and myself had no special theory about the sacraments and marriage other than the ordinary teaching of the Church.   For us, the question was simply this: should their obvious need and desire for Christ be met first by what we had come there to give them, leaving it to Christ himself to sort things out, or should we first meet them with Canon Law?  There was no time to theorise: they were there in front of us, whispering, "A mi, Padre, a mi!"   The question was:  Do we now, at this moment, give them Jesus or the Law?

Father Paul, as the parish priest, went to consult the Archbishop who, like us, was no liberal.  He asked him about second relationships, especially when this has taken place after a previous marriage in church.   The archbishop told him that it was his opinion that most first marriages in Peru do not fulfil the conditions necessary for a valid marriage and that the processes for annulment are both too complicated and too expensive for the majority of people.  Very often, the second marriage is the one that has the natural ingredients essential for validity.  Under the circumstances, we should give second marriages the benefit of the doubt.  Church discipline does not fit the real situation.

As the years went on, with the introduction of catechesis in which ordinary Catholic doctrine was taught and as we organised marriages in the village fiestas when the whole village was celebrating anyway, which made them very much cheaper for the families and with the training of catechists who instructed people in preparation for the sacraments, Tambogrande became, little by little, an ordinary Catholic parish in which the ordinary rules made sense.

The truth is that Pope Francis' controversial views are neither right wing nor left wing: they are the product of a normal Hispanic American pastoral experience.

According to the last four popes, the Church must be missionary, must reach out and not be content until all have the chance to enjoy a living experience of and relationship with God in Christ.   In the vocabulary of Pope Francis, we must reach out to the peripheries.  Our theology, our language and our rules must be adapted to this end.

Firstly, we must identify those on the periphery.  From the point of view of our centre who is Jesus Christ, that includes everybody, including ourselves, but some are more on the periphery than others.  Here it is worth quoting Archimandrite Aemilianos of Simonpetra, a monastery on Mount Athos:


"Think of it: Jesus Christ, the Life of all, the Creator of the universe, the only One ever to have been born without sin, was all alone, left in a common grave, outside of Jerusalem. He was alone even among his closest friends, since they never really understood Him, and thus He asked them: Do you not perceive or understand? (Mk. 8.17) Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know Me? (Jn. 14.9). At the time of His passion, His isolation became acute. In the garden of agony, when His sweat became like great drops of blood, His disciples drifted off into sleep (Lk. 22.44). One by one His friends deserted Him. He stood alone before the judgement seat of Pilate, alone on the cross, alone in the grave: everywhere alone. He went alone into Hell. Alone, always alone. Why? So that you might learn that you have to be alone with God in order to become His dwelling place.

Then the Lord will say, at the Last Judgement, to those on His left, whom He will send away into Gehenna, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels: “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me” (cf. Mt 25:33-41). Do you see? He’s a stranger, somebody who’s alone, who’s ignored: I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was alone in prison and you did not visit me (cf. Mt 25.42-43)....For many of us, this can be a rude awakening: after beholding Christ in our dreams, we find it annoying to open our eyes on a world filled with other people. Immediately we say: “I wasn’t looking for you I want Christ,” forgetting that the stranger, the poor man, the prisoner, the sinner, and especially my enemy - especially the person who seeks to harm me - is Christ for me."(Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, The Way of the Spirit, pp. 244-245, 254)

If the Church is to have an open door to those on the periphery, it must be clear in itself that it cannot be one of the forces that puts people on the periphery.
Secondly, it is not there to judge people. As the fathers of the desert used to say, the One who condemns adultery also condemns judging others:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Matt.7, 1...)
We must be clear that our function is to show others that God loves them unconditionally, right where they are and that this is revealed by Christ on the Cross.   The famous "Who am I to judge?" of Pope Francis about homosexuals must be interpreted in that context.  When Jesus asked the woman taken in adultery if there was anyone condemning her and she replied, "No one" and he said, "Neither do I condemn you," no one suggested he was going soft on adultery: condemnation was not his role and neither is it ours.

Thirdly, by getting to know them, we must discern and discover what God is already doing in their marginalised souls, for you can be sure that the Good Shepherd is already there, working away.  Anyone who has come to know the true devotion, the genuine love, even the heroic self-sacrifice present in many objectively invalidly married families will know what I mean.  And you will come across invalidly married couples who stick together by some miracle of grace and families which, if there were to be a separation as Canon Law obliges them to do, would bring about another human tragedy.  Often these are marriages that should be valid if annulment were a realistic option, but this is not always the case.  Of course, there are also invalid marriages which should end with separation.   We are talking about marriages, but there are many other moral situations which require the same treatment: we must discern what they are, avoid judging the people involved as far as possible, and discern what God is already doing within the situation and collaborate with Him: after all, He is the boss.

The object of the whole exercise is to invite people through the open door into the Church and, where this is not possible, to allow them to experience the love of God through us and through the Church.

By going out to the periphery, the Church and we as members of it grow in our understanding of life in general and of Christian life in particular.  Only by moving around and seeing from different angles, by looking at what the Good Shepherd is doing among the poor and those whose contact with him is weak or non-existent can we put our own understanding of the Christian economy into its proper context. However, when peripheries are given the importance they deserve, this may naturally result in the adoption of different pastoral solutions in different contexts, cultures and areas.  Pope Francis says:


I am convinced of one thing: the great changes in history were realized when reality was seen not from the centre but rather from the periphery. It is a hermeneutical question: reality is understood only if it is looked at from the periphery, and not when our viewpoint is equidistant from everything. Truly to understand reality we need to move away from the central position of calmness and peacefulness and direct ourselves to the peripheral areas. Being at the periphery helps to see and to understand better, to analyze reality more correctly, to shun centralism and ideological approaches….

This is really very important to me: the need to become acquainted with reality by experience, to spend time walking on the periphery in order really to become acquainted with the reality and life-experiences of people. If this does not happen we then run the risk of being abstract ideologists or fundamentalists, which is not healthy.



Patristic theology bears the mark of the pastoral experience of bishops and other ministers in the towns as well as the deep spiritual experience of monks in the deserts.  Scholastic theology became of value when friars following the humble Christ of Scripture crossed over to the margins where people were becoming all the more estranged from the Church while studying Aristotle and other Greek philosophy.   The friars like St Thomas Aquinas studied their theology, often on their knees, within the context of this alienated scholastic movement and drew the two movements into one.  We the Church must grow in understanding of the Church by rooting it in the pastoral contact with people in the peripheries.

When after Vatican II the Church has directed its attention from its centre in Rome to what Christ is doing in the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, we have made discoveries about our own Church in ways that revolutionise our understanding of it while remaining in continuity with our past.   We find our unity with other Christians in a living contact with Christ.   We will come to realise that the whole of Catholicism is implicit in that personal union with Christ, ready to become visible as we, patiently accepting our differences, we grow in ecclesial love.  Our Catholicism is not static: it grows as we cross frontiers in charity and seek Christ in the other.  Pope Francis writes:
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”.
 Ten Things To Know About Pope Francis (George Weigel - Acton Institute)





A very good video of the inclusive truth of Orthodoxy/Catholicism  is by Father John Behr:
The Shocking Truth About Orthodoxy
Pope Francis could not put this better.  He says that when the Holy Spirit is around, diversity is no longer a threat but a means of growth as we reach out for a God-given Synthesis in and through our personal contact with Christ.   In fact, for Pope Francis Catholicism is a synthesis of opposites, opposites because human beings think in different ways and in different contexts, having different experiences and different cultures and customs, and synthesis because, for all that, we are being formed by the Spirit to have one heart and one mind in Christ.   Whether we speak of the Incarnation or the Trinity, God's omnipotence and human freedom, collegiality and primacy, or anything else, Catholic teaching is a synthesis of opposites in tension with one another.  It is not "either...or" but "both...and".  In this process, there are always "conservatives" who resist the new synthesis in favour of ones already reached, and there are "progressives" who adopt a new position that seems to attack the status quo.  Then there is the Church that, by accepting both, gradually forms the synthesis.  This process can only happen when ecclesial charity, the created sign of the Holy Spirit's active presence, prevails.  Ecumenism is the process of synthesis when ecclesial charity breaks down and schism has resulted.   Authentic ecumenism can only properly take place within the context of repentance and the restoration of ecclesial love.  
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