Pope Francis remains an enigma for most people. Seeing how the Church garners the attention of many media and even those who do not care for Rome, his every word is commented and that was recently the case of his first complete interview with the Jesuit publication La Civiltà Catholicca.
Let me then use it ( with according link to the America Magazine authorized English version found at the bottom of this Post ) to explain again Pope Francis.
“I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
The Saint-Matthew analogy.
Pope Francis answers the interviewer on who he is with the sentence found above. And then links it to the following painting :
Jesus-Christ, despite the period costume is the finger pointing man on the right. Matthew is the worried one found below :
That is an essential element of the Gospels. Christ asks people to follow him. Why? Because in fact, what being a mere Christian as C.S. Lewis put it is not a position, it is a road. It is embracing a path from yourself as a normal human, an animal torn between its nature and the promises of free thought, … “a rope ( or bridge ) between the animal and the SuperMan – a road bridge over an abyss.” as written by Nietzsche in Thus spoke Zarathustra which the Pope meant by calling himself a sinner.
This is the central beauty of Christianism and also its most enduring flaw in the sense that the path is so treacherous in its span, the entirety of which is seldom if ever understood by the believer himself that it leads to erring. Not able to envision where the road ends, many, probably most, chose in order to maintain their sanity to either diminish the tension by broadening the path or ignore the destination and trudge along. Jesus is in fact, by way of his life and passion, holding the door eternally open so that some light may shine down on that path?
Let’s explain this by coming back to Matthew as Pope Francis would want us to. Jesus chooses Matthew. But points out the Pope, in the Caravaggio’s painting of “The calling of Saint Matthew”, we see Matthew clutching his money or at least despairing over it for he was a tax collector and lived off his share of the collections he made! Why?
Because Matthew is an honest man, if practicing a not so honest profession. He has heard of the Messiah and knows his calling to leave the world behind and embrace the promise at the end of the bridge and also knows that this means shedding the love of earthly possessions. He thus knows that he is asked to part with his money if only as a way to unburden himself for the long road ahead. As anyone truly accepting the message of Jesus, he should leave behind Matthew the man; he will become a traveller on the road to Matthew the Promise?
To put it yet another way, let us examine what Jesus asks of his disciples then and now and in order to spare the load on the self-reflecting reader, I the writer will as the Pope did take the examples off myself.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus states the 2 great commandments :
Thou shall love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength;
Thou shall love thy neighbor like thyself.
The first of these is pretty much self-explanatory, valid to most believers regardless of the professed creed and certainly accepted by all three Religions of the Book as it is central to Judaism, confirmed hence in Christianity and certainly still central to Islam.
The second is not that simple for two reasons. You could just read the Sermon on the Mount still in Saint-Matthew Chapter 5 and have a set of “Laws” handed down by Jesus to direct the Faithful in daily matters. That is in fact what has been the mainstay of dogmatic considerations by the Church over the Centuries past since Christ enunciated them. For the normal daily lives of Christians, those are the rules to follow. Overcoming anger, making all attempts at peace with others, overcoming lust and desires brought forth by it, in general fighting your weaknesses, speaking the truth, being humble in your person and your Faith, clear and simple in your expression, the precise way to pray to God known as the Our Father or Lord’s Prayer, charity, do not judge, keeping clear of the Devil even as incarnate in life ( Mammon ), etc.
Missing at some point on any of these and recognizing the possibility of failing on any of them in the future is what Pope Francis basically meant by calling himself a sinner, you see? As promised, I can discharge the reader by admitting to breaking many if not all of these rules myself at times. But there’s more!
That sermon also carries part of the explanation relating to the second of the great commandments, stating : Thou shall not kill but also forbidding vengeance and going one step further than ever before him by saying that one should turn the other cheek and :
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”
That sentence above opens up the flaw that I mentioned earlier and the reason why I felt the need to refer to Nietzsche’s bridge over the abyss allegory. Again, as promised, shedding the clothes of the Christian, I will admit to not having gone that far yet; not in the past on average nor being able to promise as much hence in all truthfulness. I’d have to wonder if anyone can save saints?
Let’s take a step away from Matthew for a moment to John’s Gospel :
“ This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” 15-12
Jesus asks us to Love Each other as He loved us? What does that mean? Well, he submitted to the Passion, to the horrendous death of the crucifixion of the Roman Empire, to take on all sins from humanity?
So that while Love thy neighbor as thyself might be construed as simple, thy neighbor meaning the person next to you wherever you may happen to be and as yourself meaning the basic rights and needs of say, food and health, the whole idea being akin to the modern era laws that stipulate that we have to assist a person in danger, this last understanding is something else. Never mind that I and times and most of us alongside have disregarded the needs of others. Never mind that in everyday life, being a christian thus could be seen as accomplished by anyone ( regardless of their Faith ) that contributes to feed the homeless and fight diseases by spending their time or hard earned cash on donations to related causes, thanks to them. Beyond forgiveness, being nice to my enemies, which the Crusaders ( and Djihadists ) conveniently forgot, beyond turning the other cheek ( which I am still personally that good at ), I should be ready to die for the idea of Love and good of others even as they are not? Now, wait? I did not mind taking a lithe load off the reader by answering the questions for myself but … would you go that far? I’ll once again admit that I cannot promise as much!
OH! Wait! *facepalm* Of course not! For I am not a SuperMan yet! I am but the rope over the abyss. Not even a traveller on that bridge if truth be told. Maybe I am but the tension in that rope?
That is the flaw of christianity. It does not offer a solution. It offers a path, a path so difficult that most will not reach its destination but remain perilously walking that tightrope? It calls to realize this, to realize yourself as an attempt? An attempt at greatness likely beyond your reach? No wonder it is tense! No wonder, Matthew was scared! No wonder Pope Francis calls himself a sinner? How very Jesuitic of him!
For in the following part of the interview, this sinner Pope adds when asked to explain why he became a Jesuit and what the first Pope to stem from that order means :
“The Society of Jesus is an institution in tension,” the pope replied, “always fundamentally in tension.”
ending by saying that the main tool of a Jesuit is “..to manifest his conscience, …” using words as “… looking at the horizon towards which he must go, …” and “The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking.”.
Doesn’t that complete the picture of the rope over the abyss? Jesuits, as I put it up there, see themselves as the tension in the rope? The goal is to keep the attempt happening? The effort is the path?
That is Pope Francis! A man of humility that does not consider himself having achieved but attempting. Preoccupied with the needs of the poor and ready to tense himself to be a better rope for the funambulists that are Christians. He will likely concern himself less with tackling the dogmas as those are sacred to the rest of the curia but you now know that he will not cease and desist to express concern for the poor in fortune, ways, body, mind and spirits.
Forget the nay sayers and expect a lot more from him!
And since this slight attempt of mine is utterly incomplete, do read the whole interview on its proper channel :
Good road Francis S.J. and good day all, Tay.
Additional reading :
for the above Gospels excerpts.