Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pope Francis called Christ a failure?

Pope Francis' homily at Vespers in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York during his visit to the United States included one paragraph that prompted screaming headlines like "Pope Said Christ Failed On the Cross." What did he really say? and What does it mean?

Here's the actual passage: "Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus… and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross."

At first glance it seems like nuts like Alex Jones have caught the pope red handed. But look closely and note the qualifiers. Francis said, "at times our efforts and works SEEM to fail and produce no fruit", and Jesus' "life, HUMANLY SPEAKING, ended in failure". And in fact the passage above begins with the statement, "The cross shows us a different way of measuring success."

Despite the screaming headlines, there are no theological problems here. The Holy Father's overall message was that the world does not often appreciate the value of sacrifice and looks upon it as a waste, but in God's eyes it does have value. He opened his talk with the theme of sacrifice--of those who built St. Patrick's and connecting that with the generations who sacrificed to build up the church in this country.

"Once we realize how much God has given us, we learn that a life of sacrifice, of working for him and for others, becomes a privileged way, a privileged way of responding to his great love," he said. That is not always appreciated at the time or by those outside the church, but God reveals its true value. In a similar way, St. Paul pointed out how the crucifixion of Jesus was "a stumbling block for Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, . . . [it reveals Christ as] the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).

Interesting in that regard is that the pope apparently deviated from the opening of his prepared remarks and began instead with a charitable greeting to Muslims. He said, "I would like to express two sentiments for my Muslim brothers and sisters: Firstly, my greetings as they celebrate the feast of sacrifice. I would have wished my greeting to be warmer. My sentiments of closeness, my sentiments of closeness in the face of tragedy. The tragedy that they suffered in Mecca."

It's especially interesting because Muslims do not believe Jesus died on the cross for this very reason--it would have been a shame and a failure and God's prophets cannot fail. The resurrection makes it look even worse since it testifies to Jesus' divinity. So they just deny the whole thing ever happened. Pope Francis could have extended this special greeting at any time, but chose to do it on this occasion when he was about to talk about the hidden value of sacrifice. It was an invitation to take a closer look at the man they already revere, but do not yet recognize as the incarnate power of God and the wisdom of God.

Monday, September 28, 2015

An Anglican Pope?

In the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent invitation for a gathering of Anglican primates, he noted, “We have no Anglican pope. Our authority as a church is dispersed . . .” (Actually, there was one “Anglican pope,” i.e., an Englishman named Pope Adrian VI from 1154 to 1159.) But a serious point is commonly made that unlike the pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury has no real jurisdiction in other provinces. That makes it more difficult to solve global church problems. But let us not be led to think there’s no pope for Anglicans.

The Church of England was in full communion with the pope in Rome for well over a millennium. That sadly came to an end at the time of the English Reformation, though we should note that we never repudiated communion with Rome. The “reformation parliament” ended appeals to Rome and papal jurisdiction in England, but it wasn’t until Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I that the breech became finalized. Both sides have said they are committed to healing the breech.

The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) released a joint statement in 1999 called The Gift of Authority. It reiterated, “There is no turning back in our journey towards full ecclesial communion” (58). It described the papacy (which succeeds Peter’s apostolic ministry) as rooted in scripture and tradition and as a gift to be shared and received among the churches. Peter’s ministry was to articulate God’s revelation and to strengthen the brethren. ARCIC called on Anglicans and Roman Catholics to find ways in which the future restoration of our communion can start to be lived out even today.

There is no Anglican pope, but there is a pope for Anglicans. He lives in Rome and his name is Francis.