Friday, October 2, 2015

a matter of ordinary action

by James Carroll
in The New Yorker      

(the rest of the article)...The Pope's list of denunciations in America was long:  ...nuclear weapons, the death penalty, torture in prisons, the arms trade, homelessness, neglected children, the cast-off elderly, religious fundamentalism,

abusive priests and enabling bishops, abridged environmental rights, organized crime, greed and walled-off wealth. 

Nor were these denunciations always popular among his liberal-minded fans.  That he waded into the swirl of controversy -- validating, for example, the self-anointed conscientious objector Kim Davis by meeting with her in private -- guaranteed some measure of disapproval from all sides. 

But here is the surprise:  because he insisted on what he called "a constant and effective will,"

he made the tackling of such problems,

not just the naming of them,

seem a matter of ordinary action. 

At the U.N., he rejected a "declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences."  He added: 

"We need to insure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges."

The institution with which he begins is his own.  His passionate engagement is changing a Church that still insists it cannot change. 

Francis is too busy to take up that argument. 

He has seized the levers that are available to him,

and to everyone's surprise (surely including his) those old levers are still geared to the engines of world improvement.


This Pope is modeling the humane exercise of real power, the responsible action of global citizenship. 

But, for him, there is more -- that gospel of meaning.  The power of Francis's offer of a coherent hope comes from the fact that, in the tradition he so loves, meaning is more than meaning. 

The human capacity for intellectual order and moral harmony is nothing less, as Genesis puts it, than the "image" of God. 

This sacramental projection in no way denigrates the material world, as critics of religious faith insist.  On the contrary, the material world -- Creation -- has absolute value in itself, which Francis shows every time his love of Earth and its people spills over. 

He is a man for whom every perception, both in itself and in what it points to, is sacred. 

As he wrote in his summer encyclical on the environment, "We are speaking of an attitude of the heart, one which approaches life with

serene attentiveness,

which is capable of being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full."

James Carroll is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University and the author of "Christ Actually:  Reimagining Faith in the Modern Age."

------------------------- [end excerpt, The New Yorker]


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