Eighth and last in a series
Having read and re-read Cardinal Walter Kasper’s small gem of a book, “Pope Francis’ Revolution of Tenderness and Love” (New York: Paulist Press, 2015, pp. 117, $16.95), I think that due to Cardinal Kasper, I have a good understanding of the Holy Father’s vision of the Church.
Now when the pope is quoted in the daily press I think I can put his comments into context. My basic understanding of Pope Francis’ approach has both grown and deepened.
As an example, a statement that Pope Francis made that I immediately understood – and was able to relate to many other statements he has made – is referred to in Cardinal Kasper’s chapter on ecumenism.
The statement, I think, reveals what I would call the Holy Father’s profound understanding of human nature. That understanding seems to influence everything Pope Francis says. The statement Cardinal Kasper quotes, taken from a speech Pope Francis gave on Nov. 30, 2014, is the following:
“Meeting each other, seeing each other face to face, exchanging the embrace of peace, and praying for each other, are all essential aspects of our journey toward the restoration of full communion. All of this precedes and always accompanies that other essential aspect of this journey, namely, theological dialogue. An authentic dialogue is, in every case, an encounter between persons with a name, a face, a past, and not merely a meeting of ideas.” (pp. 54-55)
My opinion is that Pope Francis’ vision of human nature reveals his insightful humanism. Often when people use the term humanism, they mean secular or atheistic humanism. In fact, that is the way that I frequently use the term in philosophy courses I teach at St. John’s University.
No Unimportant Person
Of course that is not Pope Francis’ humanism. Rather, the pope’s vision of human nature is tied to belief in God and the mystery of human persons’ relationship to God. There is no such reality as an unimportant person. It is obvious that Pope Francis believes this deeply. There is no person who does not have a special gift to give. This is how God has created us. To be a human person is to be called to be a gift-giver. This is one of the most profound truths about a human person.
In the statement quoted by Cardinal Kasper, Pope Francis is referring to what seems like magic when people meet one another in an atmosphere of mutual respect and openness to God’s grace. I love Pope Francis’ reference to the uniqueness and history of each individual. A person’s background can have an enormous influence on how the person thinks and judges. When people come together in a spirit of prayer, the Holy Spirit is present. What might initially seem impossible may become possible.
The ecumenical movement is a wonderful example of how prayerful meetings can remove obstacles that may have seemed insurmountable.
When I was a student in the major seminary, a classmate arranged for some of our classmates to meet some young men who were studying for ministry in other religious denominations. The meeting was wonderful. I had never previously had a discussion with people studying in other Christian denominations. Unfortunately, different schedules prevented us from making the dialogue ongoing, but I still recall that one meeting.
I have taught at Princeton Theological Seminary, Brooklyn College and Queens College. My experience of other professors and of students who did not share my faith was always enlightening for me. I treasure those experiences.
In my more than 50 years as a priest, I’ve been involved with what seems like countless discussion groups. For the last 30 years, I’ve met with a group of priests five or six times a year, and with a group of lay people almost once a month. These meetings are one of my life’s great blessings. At each session I discover again Pope Francis’ description of people – everyone has a name, a face, a past. Each is a gift-giver, and I am the recipient of their gifts, of their goodness.
Channel of Grace
In his own life, Pope Francis seems to be what he is teaching all of us to be. He is calling us to be people deeply aware of God’s love for us and for everyone. The way Pope Francis meets others, and thinks of others and speaks about others seems to make him a channel of God’s grace. He is a light in the world. Recently, a priest friend told me how grateful he is to God that he has lived to experience Pope Francis’ pontificate. I feel the same gratitude.
Father Robert Lauder, philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, is the author of the recently published “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).