opinion_TEO_2021_10_08_Generosity and freedom
Professor of the School of Theology at the University of Navarre
For their more general interest, we focus on three interventions of the Pope during his apostolic trip to Hungary and Slovakia: his homily at the closing of the 52nd International Eucharistic congress in Budapest (the main reason for his visit); the meeting with pastors and educators in Bratislava; and the dialogue with young people in Košice (Slovakia).
1. Eucharist and advertisement, discernment and journey with Jesus.
In his homily during the closing Mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic congress (Budapest, 12-IX-2021), taking his cue from the Gospel of the day (cf. Mk 8:29), Francis asked those present in the name of the Lord: "But who am I really to you?" A question that asks for an answer staff, an answer of life. And from this answer, he said, is born the renewal of the disciples' journey, which is a journey of generosity. This took place in three steps.
1) Jesus' advertisement . As representative of the disciples, Peter responds "You are the Messiah!". But surprisingly, Jesus orders "that they should tell no one about him" (v. 30). Why, the Pope asks, such a prohibition? And he answers: "For one precise reason, to say that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, is accurate but incomplete. There is always the risk of announcing a false messianism, a messianism according to men and not according to God".
This is also why, from that moment on, Jesus begins to reveal to them his "paschal identity," which passes through the humiliation of the cross (cf. Mk. 8 :31 and 32). And here comes the Pope's first message that day: "The Eucharist is before us to remind us who God is. It does so not in words, but in a concrete way, showing us God as Bread broken, as Love crucified and given (...) in the simplicity of a Bread that allows itself to be broken, distributed and eaten. He is there to save us. To save us, he becomes a servant; to give us life, he dies". And if we remain in awe of what Jesus does, we open ourselves to discernment with him.
2) Discernment with Jesus. The cross is not fashionable, but it clarifies for us the difference between "two logics": the logic of God (of humility, sacrifice and generosity) and the logic of worldliness (attached to honor and privilege, prestige and success).
What happened to Peter (who was attached to "his" Jesus, but not to the true Jesus) can also happen to us: that we take the Lord "aside", that we put him in a corner of our heart, that we even feel good, but without letting ourselves be conquered by the logic of the true Jesus, who asks us to purify our religiosity before his cross, before the Eucharist.
This is why we need adoration before the Eucharist. Second message: "Let us allow Jesus, the living Bread, to heal our closures and open us to sharing, to heal us from our rigidities and from closing in on ourselves, to free us from paralyzing slavery, from defending our image, to inspire us to follow Him wherever He wants to lead us. Not where I wish". And so we come to the third step.
3) The journey with Jesus. Jesus reproaches Peter, but it is to help him to rectify (changing "his Jesus" for the true Jesus) and to follow him well. "The Christian journey is not a quest for success, but begins with a step backward, with a liberating decentering, with removing oneself from the center of life."
It is then that we can walk in the footsteps of Jesus. That is to say, to go forward with his same confidence (beloved son of God), to serve and not to be served (cf. Mk. 10:45), to go to meeting of others, in this same Body (the Church!) that we form with them through the Eucharist. For this we must allow the Eucharist to transform us, as it did the saints.
Third message of the day: "Like them, let us not be content with little, let us not resign ourselves to a faith that lives on rituals and repetitions, let us open ourselves to the scandalous novelty of God crucified and risen, Bread broken to give life to the world. Then we will live in joy; and we will bring joy".
Indeed, and this is the Pope's central message on this journey: the Eucharist transforms us so that we can recognize the Lord, discern our way in his footsteps and serve others.
2. Freedom, creativity and dialogue
In his meeting with bishops, priests, men and women religious, seminarians and catechists in Bratislava (13-IX-2021), the Pope started from the passage of the Acts of the Apostles 1, 12-14, pointing out that we also have to walk together according to this style: in prayer and in the same spirit, welcoming the questions and longings of others, avoiding self-referentiality, excessive concern for ourselves, for our Structures, for how society looks at us. He concretized his teaching in three words.
1) First word: freedom. Evoking the hard history of Slovakia, Francis pointed out. Freedom is necessary, but it is not something easy and static, it is a tiring path. It is not enough, he explained, an external freedom, but freedom calls to "be responsible for one's own decisions, to discern, to carry out the processes of life in the first person". And this is arduous, this frightens us, because (like the journey through the desert after the departure from Egypt) it is a difficult path.
We too may be tempted to reject the risk of freedom. And he evokes the story of "The Grand Inquisitor" according to Dostoyevsky. The Pope summarizes: "Christ returns incognito to earth and the Inquisitor reproaches him for having given freedom to men".
It is the temptation to think that "it is better to have everything predefined - the laws to be observed, security and uniformity - rather than to be responsible Christians and adults who think, question their conscience and allow themselves to be questioned. It is a matter, he continued, of the temptation, in spiritual and ecclesial life, "to seek a false peace that leaves us at ease, instead of the fire of the Gospel that makes us restless, that transforms us". But then the Church would run the risk of becoming a rigid and closed place, a kind of desert. And this is certainly not attractive, especially for the new generations.
For this reason, the Pope advised educators and ecclesial formators not to be afraid to form people in interior freedom and trust in God. He invites them to reject a rigid religiosity, preoccupied with defending one's own image.
2) Second word: creativity. And here Francis proposed to let ourselves be enlightened by Saints Cyril and Methodius, luminous beacons in the evangelization of Europe. Like them, we too are called to invent, in cultures, a "new alphabet" to proclaim and transmit the Christian message, for the inculturation of the faith. And this," he said literally, "is perhaps the most urgent task of the Church in the peoples of Europe.
Peter's successor photographs the reality of the country that welcomes him in a way that applies to many other places in Europe and the West: "We have a rich Christian tradition in the background, but today, in the lives of many people, this tradition remains in the memory of a past that no longer speaks and no longer orients the decisions of existence. Faced with the loss of the sense of God and the joy of faith, it is not enough to lament, to entrench ourselves in a defensive Catholicism, to judge and accuse the evil world, no; the creativity of the Gospel is necessary", knowing that "the great creative one" is the Holy Spirit, who is the one who urges us to be creative.
The Pope insists: Cyril and Methodius deployed and sowed this "new creativity", even with the difficulties and misunderstandings they encountered. In the Gospel Jesus points out that the farmer sows, then goes home and sleeps, without wanting to control life too much, letting the seed grow, because otherwise he ends up killing the plant.
3) Third word: dialogue. Together with the training in inner freedom and creativity, dialogue is necessary, assuming the fatigue of a religious search, also with those who do not believe.
Francis knows well where he is. That is why he walks the path of a good educator in the perspective of the Christian faith:
"Unity, communion and dialogue are always fragile, especially when in the past there is a history of pain that has left scars. The memory of wounds can lead to resentment, mistrust and even contempt, inducing us to erect barriers in the face of those who are different from us. But wounds can be openings, openings that, imitating the Lord's wounds, allow God's mercy to pass through, his grace that changes lives and transforms us into agents of peace and reconciliation".
Here, therefore, is the Pope's proposal for Catholic educators in Slovakia (in harmony with what he has also told them in his ecumenical and interreligious meetings): a "journey in the freedom of the Gospel, in the creativity of faith and in the dialogue that flows from God's mercy".
3. Love, cross and joy
In dialogue with young people in Košice, Slovakia (14-IX-2021), Pope Bergoglio answered three questions with direct, attractive and at the same time demanding language.
To the first one, about love in the couple, he answered clearly: "Love is the greatest dream of life, but it is not a low-cost dream. It is beautiful, but it is not easy, like all great things in life. It is the dream, but it is not an easy dream to interpret (...) Let us not trivialize love, because love is not only emotion and feeling, this is in any case at the beginning. Love is not having everything and fast, it does not respond to the logic of use and throw away. Love is fidelity, gift, responsibility".
He added that, today, the true revolution consists in rebelling against the culture of the provisional, going beyond instinct and the instant, loving for life and with all our being. We are not here to go along, but to make our lives heroic. "In great stories," he pointed out to them, "there are always two ingredients: one is love, the other is adventure, heroism. That is why we must not let life go by like the episodes of a soap opera.
And he argued: "Therefore, when you dream of love, do not believe in special effects, but that each one of you is special, each one of you. Each one of you is a gift and can make of your own life a gift. The others, the society, the poor are waiting for you. Dream of a beauty that goes beyond appearance, beyond make-up, beyond fashion trends".
Francis encourages them to form a family, to share life with another person without being ashamed of one's own fragility. Because love is to love the other as he or she is, and that is beautiful. "The dreams we have tell us about the life we long for. The big dreams are not the powerful car, the fashionable clothes or the transgressive trip." He advises them not to listen to the manipulators of happiness, who talk to them about dreams and instead sell them mirages.
The Pope speaks to young people, in his language, of living a unique and unrepeatable life, an adventure and a fascinating story. "It is not about living sitting on the bench to replace someone else. No, each one is unique in the eyes of God. Do not let yourselves be 'homologated'; we were not made in series, we are unique, we are free, and we are in the world to live a story of love, of love with God, to embrace the audacity of strong decisions, to venture into the wonderful risk of loving." Boldness is, in fact, synonymous with true youth.
He also advises them not to forget their roots, which are in their parents and especially in their grandparents. Today we run the risk of filling ourselves with virtual messages and losing our real roots. "Disconnecting ourselves from life, fantasizing in a vacuum is not good, it is a temptation of the evil one. God wants us well planted in the earth, connected to life, never closed but always open to everyone. Rooted and open".
He asks them not to let themselves be carried away by the principle of "let everyone mind his own business", by sadness and pessimism, because we are made to raise our eyes to heaven and to others.
Upon arriving here, he responded to a second question about how to overcome the obstacles on the road to God's mercy. Francis advised them to always get up and go to confession of sins. But without putting sins at the center, as punished persons who must humble themselves, but as children who run to receive the embrace of the Father, the mercy of God who always forgives in the sacrament of joy. To the one who feels shame, Francis says that this is good, because it is a sign that we are not content with ourselves, that we can overcome ourselves with the financial aid of God. And to those who lack confidence in God, he encourages them to celebrate the feast that is celebrated in heaven every time someone goes to confession.
The last question was about how to encourage young people not to be afraid to embrace the cross. And the Pope answers that the cross cannot be embraced alone, because pain by itself does not save anyone. "It is love that transforms pain. Therefore, the cross is embraced with Jesus, never alone! If Jesus is embraced, joy is reborn, joy is reborn. And the joy of Jesus, in pain, is transformed into peace." Francis said goodbye to the young people, wishing them that joy and that they may take it to their friends.