CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 May 2019

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Pope talks of a practical Christian humanism

FLORENCE (SE): Pope Francis received a meal coupon and a plastic plate from the staff at the Caritas St. Francis Soup Kitchen in Florence, Italy, as he left the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore after speaking to 2,500 delegates at a gathering sponsored by the Italian Bishops’ Conference on what he called practical Christian humanism on November 10 last year.

He then proceeded to collect his lunch ration and sat down with 60 of the city’s poorest who have lost their jobs and their homes, but still cling desperately to a thread of their dignity.

His gesture reinforced the content of his speech at the gathering  in which he said that the Church must be with and accompany the marginalised and those on the peripheries of society.

The pope had told the gathering in the cathedral, “I don’t want to design, in the abstract, a new humanism, a certain idea of man, but to present with simplicity some features of the practical Christian humanism that is present in the mind of Christ Jesus.”

As he laid out his vision for a new humanism in Christ Jesus, Pope Francis called Jesus his starting point, as it is in the person of the saviour that we can find the authentic faces of man and woman.

“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,” he said, suggesting that the key to discerning this attitude lies in the Beatitudes.

He isolated humility, selflessness and disinterest in the tinsel trappings of this world as the key values of the simplicity of Christian humanism.

He said that these three values have a deep message for any Church that brings people together in an attempt to walk as a leaven in society. “These features tell us that we must not be obsessed with power, even when this assumes the appearance of a useful or functional power in the social image of the Church,” the pope said.

He added that if the Church cannot get inside the mind of Jesus then it becomes disoriented and loses its way.

However, he stressed that a Church with these three features is a Church that recognises the action of the Lord in the world, in culture and in the daily life of the people.

“I have said this more than once and I will repeat it again today to you,” Pope Francis told the gathering.

“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,” he continued.

Pope Francis then quoted from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, describing disinterest as living primarily for the interests of others and not falling into the trap of narcissism by being all wrapped up in personal agendas.

He said that is what working to make the world a better place means, but it is also a path to contentment and happiness, which is why each Beatitude begins with a blessing and ends with a promise of consolation.

However, he pointed out that there are hurdles that stand in the way of the Church, the people and society, naming two major ones as Pelagianism and Gnosticism.

Pelagianism is a fifth century heresy that denies the existence of God’s grace in human affairs and also denies the evil effects of sin.

Pope Francis said that a modern Pelagianism in the Church is manifest in placing hope and faith in structures, in organisations or in plans that are perfect, because they are but abstractions from reality.

He added that progress in humanism does not just involve a reorganisation of structures, but calls for everything to be rooted and grafted in Christ.

He explained that in this way the Church allows itself to be led by the Holy Spirit.

Gnosticism, the pope believes, leads to placing trust in a logic and clear reasoning that ignores the pliable softness in the human person.

He described its fascination as being a purely subjective faith, whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideals and bits of information, which are meant to console and enlighten, but ultimately keep us imprisoned in our own thoughts and feelings.

He then spoke about the humility of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Philip Neri, whose example he said can help people to live with humility, disinterest and joy.

Pope Francis also mused over the literary Don Camillo, a parish priest in Italy whose love-hate relationship with the Communist mayor led to many a fascinating conversation and controversy that was always tempered by the priest’s ability to mould prayer with closeness to people.

Based on an historical character who fought for freedom during World War II, Don Camillo is a great example of evangelical poverty, as he was creative, open and supportive, as well as welcoming of all comers.

He is a fine example of social inclusion that found new and creative ways, often bold, yet sometimes seemingly simplistic, of ministering to his people in a meaningful way and progressive manner.