2012 we commemorated the 50th Anniversry of Vatican Council II and called attention to the convergence of the fundamental Francican options with the Council Documents. 2013 we want to deepen this issue and want to point out how the "Franciscan Perspectives" correspond with the Vatican Council.
Contrary to the ethical crisis: hope that promises future
"Though mankind is stricken with wonder at its own discoveries and its power, it often raises anxious questions about the current trend of the world, about the place and role of man in the universe, about the meaning of its individual and collective strivings, and about the ultimate destiny of reality and of humanity. Hence, giving witness and voice to the faith of the whole people of God gathered together by Christ, this council can provide no more eloquent proof of its solidarity with, as well as its respect and love for the entire human family with which it is bound up, than by engaging with it in conversation about these various problems. The council brings to mankind light kindled from the Gospel, and puts at its disposal those saving resources which the Church herself, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, receives from her Founder. For the human person deserves to be preserved; human society deserves to be renewed. Hence the focal point of our total presentation will be man himself, whole and entire, body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will.
Francis and his respect for God's Creation
"When he washed his hands, he chose a place where the rinse water would not be trampled underfoot. When he had to walk on stones, he did so with fear and respect for love of Him who is called "the Rock."90 When he recited the passage from the psalm: "He set me high on a rock," he changed it to: "Under the feet of the rock you have exalted me."91 He recommended to the brother who went out to cut fire wood not to cut down the entire tree, but to leave a part of it; he gave the same order to a bro¬ther in the friary where he was staying. Likewise he told the brother gardener not to plant vegetables everywhere, but to leave a part of the ground for hardy plants which in time would produce our sisters the flowers. He even said that the brother gardener ought to reserve a place in a corner for a beautiful small garden where he would put all kinds of aromatic herbs and flowering plants so that in their season they might invite all men who looked at them to praise God; for every creature says and proclaims: "God has created me for you, O man!" (LegPer 51)
The worship of God's creation: http://www.ccfmc.net/sonnengesang-1
Contrary to the ethical crisis: hope that promises future
“It is the main task of the Council to safeguard and explain the divine depositum of the Christian doctrine with effective methods.
In order for this doctrine to reach the manifold fields of human activity, either by individuals, families and social life, it is particularly required that the Church does not withdraw her attention from the treasures of truth that she has inherited from her fathers. Then she also has to do justice to current trends that has created new environmental conditions and new living conditions and also opened new ways for the Catholic Apostolate.
Thus, the 21st Ecumenical Council that is effectively and highly supported by experienced scholars of canon law, liturgy, the Apostolate and the administration, wants to convey the Catholic doctrine pure, undiminished and without distortion, as it has quasi become a joint inheritance of humanity despite difficulties and controversies. This inheritance does not please everyone, but it offered as an abundant and valuable treasure to those with goodwill.
But it is not our task to keep this precious treasure as if we are only interested in something old but we will now joyfully and fearlessly get to work that our time requires and we will continue the journey that the Church has taken for 20 centuries.
The Depositum Fidei is something different or the verities that are contained in the revering doctrine and the method how they are proclaimed is also somewhat different, although in the same sense and the same meaning (John XXIII at the opening of the Council: Herder Correspondence 17 (1962/63), 85-88)
Maybe the wording of the Pope is already based on the misunderstanding that has turned into the tension of the Church today. Is it possible to speak of a ”depositum" if it is about faith? Is it really a “depositum”, something objective that is available and is passed on from generation to generation as if this matter – untouched and unchanged as it were and without touching and to shaping? Is it about dogma that has to be passed on?
Is it permitted to differentiate as John XXIII does: on the one hand there is the content of a sentence and on the other hand the way something is said. Is timelessness demonstrated by temporary wording or by modern apparel?
The sentences by the Council Pope may be helpful to some extent, but the question still remains: Is faith no more an affair of the heart? Should the emphasis not be on the heart, the true place that tradition flows through? And in such a way that the flow will change and become vivid at that moment when it enters the heart and will the flow not remain marked by all hearts that it has passed?
I grew up in the so-called Catholic environment, I studied the traditional, even scholastic theology, but it did not touch me. In 1968, when I was part of the student unrests, this theology ‘failed’. It died in me to become ‘alive’ again, soon after I experienced my command of language and also the skill to articulate Christian faith in a new way. Since then I am convinced that each dogma has to fail in the heart first before the real thing is set on fire. In order to recite liturgical texts I soon after created the term “creative reproduction“: everything that is presented has to be internalized first before it can be finally – in such and such a way – be fully used.
This is how it probably was when Francis of Assisi rediscovered the Gospel as a practical form of life. The text that had been read and explained for thousands of years turned into a convincing, incredible and new practice that fascinated the entire 13th Century and that is still valid today - provided that she is not used as objective depositum that has to be passed on unchanged to future generations.
At this point the barrier between tradition and traditionalism becomes evident. Traditionalism is bloodless because it does homage to the mere past and does not have contact with the present, let alone the future. Tradition, however, is a vivid river flowing into the here and now and that will continue to flow in the future. Tradition is a vivid present and future promise.
Having said this, it is easy to understand why the CCFMC is partially highly controversial. Traditionalists regard it is as betrayal, but for those in the here and now it means life in language and method that comes from the past, the visualization of a tradition with a future.
The sometimes shallow spoken words, the disposable texts, yet even the texts by non-believers were extremely valuable for Francis. The word was really “made flesh“. With any letter of any text it is possible to write the Gospel or Jesus‘name. For Francis, the Gospel is all of the sudden no longer a boring, a recurring text, but ”spirit and life”(2 LtF 3). He discovers the Gospel for the poor(see Test 12f.; LtCL 12; LtOrd 36; 1 C 82).
Thus the encounter with the leper gets a new meaning. The outlaw turns into the figure of the presence of God. Francis was educated that way. The encounter with the leper and the poverty has become his form of life.
Thus it was not at all surprising that the Brothers had to spend their probation in a leper home? (see. LP 9; 1 C 39).
Thus, Franciscan vocation today should also take place in the same spirit: in support of those suffering from AIDS, the homeless, street children, and drug users and of other marginalized people of our society.“ (from CCFMC, Lesson Unit 4, C 1.3)
Against the impasses of the Church: Francis as Pope
The transfer of the Franciscan Programme onto the Church and her structures
A novel has already been written about the event that became reality on 13 March2013: there now is a Pope, who calls himself Francis. In 1999 in Milan a novel by P. Farinella was published entitled "Habemus Papam: Francesco". This publication transfers the programme of life to the Church and her structures.
Before saying more about the topicality of Francis when looking at the renewal of the Church, I would like to briefly describe the content of the novel. It is about a conclave, which opens to the Holy Spirit and a simple priest, whose orientation is the bible, and who is close to people: Giovanni Battista Sciaccaluga. He is elected pope and calls himself Francis. He has to find a programme for himself first and, therefore, he spends a longer period of time praying to ask God for it. Subsequently, he consults two common people, with Dom Helder Camara (+1999), the bustling Archbishop of Recife, who consequently lives the solidarity with the poor and who is an important reference person in the field of liberation theology as well as with Bernhard Häring (+1998), the world-famous morale theologian, who attempts to find the ethical response to modern-day issues according to the spirit of Jesus, and also with the Jesuit Jacques Dupuis (+2004), who concentrates on matters of faith within a modern context of religious pluralism. His papal programme stems from this elite circle of five persons.
The details of the programme are as follows:
• Pope Francis hands over Vatican State to the laity. He radically depoliticises his post, he privately travels throughout the world and visits people to hear their questions, he refuses to accept government support.
• Pope Francis leaves the opulent buildings of the Vatican and lives among the poor. He puts down all insignia, abolishes the Curia, because he realizes that the Curia has turned into an authority that surpasses the papal power. "Transeant papae, curia permanet – The popes leave, the Curia stays". History is not permitted to paralyse.
• Pope Francis passes the most urgent resolutions: one of them is that priests are allowed to get married. He summons a Council to Jerusalem for 2005. All Sisters Churches are permitted to take part with the same rights as the Catholic Church, if they desire to do so. Topics to be covered should be: Priesthood of women, Ecumenism, the future function of the Pope, the canon law reformation...
The described fictive papal programme is certainly a utopia that can hardly be put into reality. Nevertheless, the new Pope should use this impressive fiction as an orientation.
When referring to Francis of Assisi, you have to look at the historic figure of Francis. There are perspectives that have to be transferred to the church-related practice. In particular, using my terminology and translated to today, I would like to mention:
1. Against the dogmatic paralysis as it characterised today's Church despite opposing intentions of Vatican Council II, it is all about the vivid liquefaction of the Gospel in concrete lifestyles. It is not about sentences and teachings, yet about concrete traces of a path that Jesus has left behind and that every Christian resp. the Church has to follow. It is mostly about immerging into the secret of Jesus, who conveys a particularly consistent experience of God: God means unconditional love and mercy, devoted presence to which one gladly and thankfully responds: Ejus qui nos multum amavit, multum es amor amandus – the love of the One, who loved us so much, we have to love with great love", Francis sums of his spirituality. The Gospel may not be regarded law or demand and surely not be conveyed as a rigid teaching system. "for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life", Francis quotes the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 3,6) and adds: "And those religious are killed by the letter who seek only to know the words that they may be esteemed more learned among others (Adm 7).
2. Francis uses his concept of brotherly-sisterly relationship and obedience against the isolation of church officials and individualism. The interrelationship on the same level is extremely important that obedience needs to be also part of the necessary serving functions in the Church and in the congregations. Each and every one has to be sensitive to one's inner self, to the other you encounter, to the group, to the congregation, to the community, the Church one belongs to, to humanity as a whole, yet even to creation and also to the, sogar auf die "Bestien und wilden Tiere" (GrTug). Ultimately the aim is to appreciate everything as God's place of revelation; God speaks to us with everything and through everything. Furthermore, all levels of the Church should acknowledge Jesus as the privileged place for the manifestation of God and to be sensitive every day for his presence within the Church and the congregations. Persons bearing special responsibility for service have to perceive themselves primarily as those to listen and should also be sensitive towards the each individual believer. They should not demand obedience that they do not fulfil themselves. Is it still valid to ask for obedience given this kind of understanding of obedience?
3. Francis sets his radical poverty against greed and possessiveness. He realized that God is a mystery of poverty: God means love that does not hold onto itself: love that sacrifices itself and that is continuously available through the love of Jesus Christ. This love seeks to overflow our thoughts and hearts. Coexistence in the love, solidarity, shared life with everyone, renouncing priority and privilege, the art of reducing possessions – these features are not only to be glorified as ideals, but they also have to determine the concrete practice of the Church. This is demanded by an alternative economy and a different way of handling money and property.
4. Francis sets his universal thinking against any racist, national, sexual and anthropological restriction; which is demonstrated by the poetic expression in the Canticle to the sun. Brother/Sister is not only the companion, not only the Christian, not only the other person, but also every stone, each plant, every animal. Every creature has an individual face that needs to be recognized. Everything bears a mystery and has to be worshiped reverently. Every creature has its own God-given value. Thus, everything withdraws from mere use, consumption and the consumptive grip. An economy that is not ecological, is to be called a crime. All action has to be characterized by conservation, non-violence, carefulness, and placidity.
5. Francis sets his eccleciality against a mixed-up religion, only referring to the institution indirectly. Primarily, it is about a mystical experience: the unapproachable God becomes approachable through the incarnation in Jesus, respectively in his words and in the signs of his permanent presence: in the water we dip into; in the bread we eat, and in the wine we drink, in the Holy Scriptures we meditate... In baptism and Eucharist the resurrected Christ becomes present if the word worships these signs. It is essential that we encounter the words and the signs of the liveliness of Jesus. Yet, the authentic word and the true signs of the presence of Jesus are only available within the Church. If institutions are important but only outlines the framework of a mystical experience, the emphasis has to be be shifted: the local Church, the local community in the midst of which the resurrected Christ reaches out to us. It is self-evident that this Church also has to fulfil the four first points of teh Franciscan programme. Thus eccleciality is explained by a mystical basic experience.
Does Pope Francis know what bearing this name means?
Afterward the Lord gave me and still gives me such faith in priests who live according to the manner of the holy Roman Church because of their order, that if they were to persecute me, I would still have recourse to them. And if I possessed as much wisdom as Solomon had and I came upon pitiful priests of this world, I would not preach contrary to their will in the parishes in which they live. And I desire to fear, love, and honour them and all others as my masters. And I do not wish to consider sin in them because I discern the Son of God in them and they are my masters. And I act in this way since I see nothing corporally of the Most High Son of God in this world except His Most holy Body and Blood which they receive and which they alone administer to others. And these most holy mysteries I wish to have honoured above all things and to be reverenced and to have them reserved in precious places. Wherever I come upon His most holy written words in unbecoming places, I desire to gather them up and I ask that they be collected and placed in a suitable place. And we should honour and respect all theologians and those who minister the most holy divine words as those who minister spirit and life to us. (Testament)
Against the impasses of the Church:
Francis as Pope
The transfer of the Franciscan Programme onto the Church and her structures
Argumentation against aggression and violence:
jointly accessing the truth
This development coming so rapidly and often in a disorderly fashion, combined with keener awareness itself of the inequalities in the world begets or intensifies contradictions and imbalances.
Within the individual person there develops rather frequently an imbalance between an intellect which is modern in practical matters and a theoretical system of thought which can neither master the sum total of its ideas, nor arrange them adequately into a synthesis. Likewise an imbalance arises between a concern for practicality and efficiency, and the demands of moral conscience; also very often between the conditions of collective existence and the requisites of personal thought, and even of contemplation. At length there develops an imbalance between specialized human activity and a comprehensive view of reality.
As for the family, discord results from population, economic and social pressures, or from difficulties which arise between succeeding generations, or from new social relationships between men and women.
Differences crop up too between races and between various kinds of social orders; between wealthy nations and those which are less influential or are needy; finally, between international institutions born of the popular desire for peace, and the ambition to propagate one's own ideology, as well as collective greed existing in nations or other groups.
What results is mutual distrust, enmities, conflicts and hardships. Of such is man at once the cause and the victim.
Gaudium et Spes 8
For centuries Church and society have experienced tensions and conflicts on all levels that led quite frequently to violent confrontations. The global terror reflects the crisis between the western and the Arab cultures. The frequently aggressive fundamentalism in many problem areas refers to ‘crisis of link’ between yesterday, today and tomorrow. The youth riots in Stockholm and Bern question the responses by the older generation. The increasing number of divorces is a disturbing indication of the problems in the self-image of men and women and their relationships with each other that by far exceed individual aspects and touches the fundamental issues.
How can these conflicts and tensions be overcome? What can be said from a Franciscan perspective?
First of all, Francis gives a basic and practical advice. He believes that the Gospel serves as the basis for a form of life, which could connect different views and convictions, and especially the different social groups and standards. However, this does not mean that differences in thinking and behaviour would be eliminated! But the common will to follow Jesus leads to a brotherly-sisterly relationship. This approach also implies that those people, who do not commit themselves to joint Franciscan life or who are even followers of other religious confessions, forms of life and cultures, meet with a positive prejudice: they are definitely brothers and sisters, whom you should encounter respectfully, humbly, thus without external force and also without aggressive allegations and arguments (cf. his comments on life under the influence of Islam in Regula non-bullata 16). The radical denial of possessions of any kind also includes abandoning the belief that one is in the sole possession of truth. Whatever I cling to with all my heart I cannot ask others to give up. As much as Francis would be delighted if every political power and science would submit to the Christ event and would only follow the logic of love “this is not true joy“. This is based merely on being true to yourself and leaving behind all thoughts of success.
On the practical level there are two very nice texts by Francis that show respectively how Francis discovered “the path of truth“.
In his letter to a minister Francis explicitly covers the intra-community conflict. The reason is the violent conflict that one brother suffered and that led him to resign from his assignment and to begin living in an allegedly conflict-free hermitage. Francis denies him this way out. Firstly, the conflict is a normal circumstance of joint living, and secondly, each conflict bears a chance. The answer is close at hand for those who remain in a conflict and sense what it truly means or what it indicates. The answer is by no means definite; it comes from concrete life itself. The truth does not only stand behind me, in me, but also above all in front of me. But I have to develop it. The reality we live in has revelatory character as Francis demonstrates with his comprehensive sense of obedience. The truth “reveals“ itself to the extent you engage with reality.
Francis showed this in his renowned Bird Sermon. He spontaneously approaches a flock of birds that he discovered when walking by. He gets surprised by the birds and then dares to address them in a sermon. Afterwards, he walks away pondering. As this situation showed him that his mission is to address in future all of creation - humanity, animals, and nature as a whole – by proclaiming the Good Lord.
The way Francis behaves can develop into a joint methodology. Reality itself reveals the inner truth. Two critical remarks are in order here:
- Pope Francis confirms the measures of his predecessor Benedict XVI against the American Women Religious. Even though he has introduced many Franciscan aspects in many areas of his administration, he misjudges the opportunity to reveal the truth when dealing with reality. The Religious are Christians whose mission it is to search for new tracks; they have to venture forward with their lives to the untested. This is the only way for the Church to become fertile.
- The way Church and Christians handle the topic „gay marriage“ just as much contradicts the postulate I would like to mention here, i.e., the unconsidered legal equality of marriage and homosexual partnership. After centuries of condemnation of homosexual relationships and after the dreadful injustice they had to suffer from society and the Church, the Church needs to re-orient itself. She has to become more empathic to the reality that becomes apparent in such relationships. She also has to realize extent to which she had disregarded same-sex sexuality in the past. Eroticism and sexuality can be explained as “loci theological" demonstrating that it, apart from inconsistent and sinful things, also contains something deeply divine. On the other hand, every reasonable person has to understand that marriage can primarily be defined by loving procreation and loving reception. Thus it is a basic biological reality that a homosexual partnership will never achieve. Why should something therefore be put on a level, which can only be compared analogically in the end? It is reality itself that reveals it. On this basis it will be possible to find legal and social solutions that neither degrades marriage nor will they diminish the rights and obligations of same-sex couples.
Against sexism: Brotherhood and Sisterhood
as well as equity for men and women
Where they have not yet won it, women claim for themselves equity with men before the law and in fact. (9)
For in truth it must still be regretted that fundamental personal rights are still not being universally honoured. Such is the case of a woman who is denied the right to choose a husband freely, to embrace a state of life or to acquire an education or cultural benefits equal to those recognized for men. Therefore, although rightful differences exist be-tween men, the equal dignity of persons demands that a more humane and just condi-tion of life be brought about. (29)
Firmly established by the Lord, the unity of marriage will radiate from the equal per-sonal dignity of wife and husband, a dignity acknowledged by mutual and total love. (49)
The family is a kind of school of deeper humanity. But if it is to achieve the full flowering of its life and mission, it needs the kindly communion of minds and the joint deliberation of spouses, as well as the painstaking cooperation of parents in the education of their children. The active presence of the father is highly beneficial to their formation. The children, especially the younger among them, need the care of their mother at home. This domestic role of hers must be safely preserved, though the legitimate social progress of women should not be underrated on that account. (52)
Gaudium et Spes
Women now work in almost all spheres. It is fitting that they are able to assume their proper role in accordance with their own nature. It will belong to all to acknowledge and favour the proper and necessary participation of women in cultural life (60). Gaudium et SpesThese text fragments from Gaudium et Spes of Vatican Council II can undoubtedly be regarded as a progress compared with shameful statements from pre-conciliar times: men and women have the same personal dignity, the female position in society has to be raised in many areas and should not be impaired. However, these sentences still sound somewhat reluctant: the "proper role of women", "the legitimate social progress of women". This reluctance is presuma-bly caused by male ideological preconceptions that prevent the official Church to this day from accepting women as equal partners of men.Already in 1963 John XXIII had already regarded the women's movement as a 'Sign of the Times'. The question is whether the Church is confronted through these 'signs' with the face of Jesus. One does not get the impression that the Council and the subsequent Church hierarchy have really read and understood these signs from a contemplative viewpoint. Although there have been some theological comments by theologians and even by Bishops and Bishops' Con-ferences, yet they did not influence the centre of the Church. Furthermore, there was a state-ment by the Papal Bible Commission that had declared with a vote of 12 against 5 that priest-hood of women does in no way contradict Jesus' basic intention. The Jesuit and exegete David Stanley, who participated in these deliberations clearly stated: "The Congregation for the Doc-trine of the Faith has constructed its own biblical arguments that had nothing to do with what we had presented." When the Pope calls for an end to discussion and even forbids any further discussion you can only shake your head. And when even in 2013 before the papal election conservative circles argued that this issue had definitely been settled by the decision of the Pope, their theological reason can come under doubt.Of course Francis of Assisi did not address this issue directly. However, some conclusions may be drawn from his way of thinking that may lead us out of the dead end that we have blundered into by an unenlightened theology. It is clear for Francis of Assisi that men and women live in a brotherly and sisterly relationship. In his Canticle to the Sun he arranges all of creation on the basis of a brotherly-sisterly relationships. The mutual relationship of male and female is a consti-tutive feature of creation: only mutual brotherly-sisterly performance of the humane will make men and women what they are before God. He is certainly involved in the entire tradition that has only been brought to an end through the discovery of ovulation and its significance in 1842 by the physiologist Theodor von Bischoff. Until this point the man was believed to have the active part, while the woman was the passive partner. The active light of the sun (= male) is reflected by the moon (= female); the water (=female) absorbs the wind (= male) through gentle ripples or through stormy waves; the earth (= female) has to go through fire (= male) to endure; death (=female) is overcome by life (= male). On this biological model only man is able to represent Christ, respectively God. In terms of their consequences, these dangerous arrangements are definitely overruled by the discovery of the active female part in the creative process of human life. What that kind of thinking may lead to is demonstrated by the Church process in Milan against Mayfreda and her entourage that had regarded Willemina, the Sister of Saint Agnes of Prague, as the "Incarnation of God in womanly flesh" . While perceiving incar-nation as man-carnation leads to senseless theological conclusions on the part of men as well as on the part of women, the meanwhile outdated opinion by Theodor von Bischoff is quite inter-esting: „The preoccupation with the study and exercise of medicine contradicts and violates the best and noblest aspects of the feminine nature, namely, the modesty, shamefacedness, com-passion and mercy, through which the feminine distinguishes itself from the masculine."The Vatican's discriminating statements on the equality of women will just be as ridiculous in some years. Francis points out yet another aspect. In his first admonition Francis regards priest-hood as the image of Mary. The way she accepts the earthbound likeness of God (Jesus) to her womb, a priest also takes the presence of Christ in the form of bread and wine "into his hands" to "share him with others". The model figure for priests is thus Mary, the Mother of God; the priest cannot be compared to Christ. On this level, renewed considerations regarding the un-derstanding of ministry could lead to different results, the more so as Francis writes about men and women elsewhere that they are mothers of God: "We are mothers, when we carry Him in our heart and body; through divine love and pure and sincere conscience and when we give birth to HIM through our holy manner of working, which should shine before others as an ex-ample. Oh, how glorious it is, how holy and great, to have a Father in Heaven! Oh, how holy, consoling, beautiful and wondrous it is to have such a spouse! Oh, how holy and how loving, pleasing, humble, peaceful, sweet, lovable, and desirable above all things to have such a Brother and such a Son: our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave up His life for His Sheep." (2 LF 10ff).On this basis the relationship between men and women within the Church can be defined oth-erwise. Sexist discrimination in the Church is not possible, neither from a theological nor a prac-tical perspective.
Succession Marked By Friendship
In the early days of San Damiano, when Francis is still the responsible person, Clare requests him to write down the "sisterly way of life". The brother is to prepare a brief text regarding what constitutes the calling of the sisters. Francis is a poet and the text he creates on the way of life is ingeniously dense. While Hugolin's rule of Sisters will contain 15 chapters of instructions, the Poverello limits himself to one single sentence. While the Cardinal demonstrates his paternal concern for the vulnerable daughter who is to be protected, the brother promises loving care and support to his sisters. While the prelate gives instructions to inexperienced women, Francis describes the independent choice of life of Christ's female disciples. The "me" ranks completely behind the "you" and the one and only master, who determines the life of this community:
"Since by divine inspiration you have made yourselves daughters
and handmaids of the Most High Sovereign King,
the Heavenly Father, and have espoused yourselves
to the Holy Ghost, electing to live according
to the perfection of the Holy Gospel,
I promise for myself and my friars always tohave for you, as for them the Brothers, a special solicitude.« (RCl 6,3–4)
(From Clare impulses 2011/12 by Niklaus Kuster OFMCap, picture by Ulrich Viereck.)