I am about halfway through my paper copy of Evangelii Gaudium, taking it slowly, underlining with a red pencil. I will write more when I am finished, but for now, I only offer this: if this pope does not write another thing he has given the Church a great gift with this document. It is at once heartening and challenging. I doubt there is anyone, aside from a particularly pure fresh convert, whose conscience will not be stirred reading it.
You may have seen the video that was circulating last week of the pope’s smartphone message to a Pentecostal gathering, one hosted by Kenneth Copeland, no less. If you missed it, here it is:
It is long, but watch it if you can find the time. Copeland’s guest is Bishop Tony Palmer, a bishop of an evangelical offshoot of the Anglican church, one which ordains women. He is charismatic in both senses, and he happens to have made friends with the pope when Francis was archbishop of Buenos Aires; this pope makes friends across the spectrum, from atheists to rabbis to pentecostals. The pope even invited Bishop Palmer to visit him after his election by the cardinals, and when he did Francis sent a smartphone message back with him.
It is not apparent that the pope knew where this was going to be delivered; it is not unlikely that it is a generic message meant for American charismatics, not specifically for Kenneth Copeland. And if it was, it is not apparent that Pope Francis knows anything about Copeland. But then, the prosperity “gospel” is not unknown in Argentina, and the pope has criticized it in the past. And Francis’ simple lifestyle is a quiet rebuke to the sumptuous living of Mr Copeland and other preachers of the Christian cargo cult.
But then I must also face the possibility that the pope sent this message specifically to Copeland’s congregation, knowing full well that man’s false teaching and materialistic life. Even in the long ago days when I would have described myself as a charismatic Christian I had no use for Kenneth Copeland and others of his ilk.
But what if this is a challenge to those of us who have no problem empathizing with outcasts, with junkies and whores and queers and others on the margins, but for whom loving a rich white evangelist, or any rich white person, is a tall order?
The Francis Option?
What if this pope’s love is that inclusive?
What if love really has no limits?
This video, by the way, was the first time I have seen the pope speak. I have only read his words on paper or on a screen. I must say I was quite taken with his manner, the evident love and sweetness he radiates.
Archbishop John Myers, of Newark, has been getting a lot of attention for the expensive 5,000 square foot addition he is making to his already 4,500 square foot vacation home, where he is planning to retire. This, in a very poor diocese which has been closing Catholic schools for some time. The place has a swimming pool, three fireplaces, an elevator and a whirlpool bath.
This is so dense, so tone-deaf, that one hardly knows where to begin.
When I was in seminary over a quarter century ago I knew a lot of guys, including my roommate the first year, who were from the diocese of Peoria, where John Myers was the ordinary. I attended one of their ordinations in Peoria, in the cathedral that had been recently renovated under Bishop Myers, and I met the bishop, briefly.
In those days, when basic doctrinal orthodoxy was not to be assumed, and liturgical mayhem ruled, Bishop Myers was seen as a bright spot in the church, a rising star in the struggle for a restoration of sanity.
But time revealed that he, and some of the others of his type, were traditional not only doctrinally, but in less positive ways as well, clericalists of the old school, much given to privilege and luxury.
Doctrinal correctness may be important, but it is but a small part of witnessing the gospel.
Would that more hierarchs imitated the bishop of Rome.