How Pope Francis got to be such an unusual person.

Sunday, 10/4/15

The readings today deal with marriage, but a story I once read puts me off preaching about marriage.  The Irish author Sean O’’ Faolain wrote a story about women on an overnight retreat at a barren place called Lough Derg . One woman, slipping out for a smoke, met another lady who had just been to confession. That lady said, “I wish I knew as little about marriage as that poor priest does.” 

So, let me talk on a subject about which I know something. I do know something about how Pope Francis got to be such an unusual person. Years ago I came upon a T.S. Elliot essay with the title  “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” It maintained that every great talent is the embodiment of the fine traditions to which he are she were were exposed.       

Now, for Francis, one of his influences belonged to a Peruvian priest named Gustavo Gutierrez. From a wealthy family in Lima Peru, Gustavo grew up a cripple, but on gaining mobility at seventeen in 1945, he travelled to France where he studied under Father Henri de Lubac, and Father Yves Congar.

Now Henri was a Jesuit, and Ives a Dominican, but both had received Francis’s highest honor for bravery during both World Wars. But they had in common something more important. They had been saying we can ignore later church teachings when they were not in accord with the Bible. And, in 1950, Cardinal Ottaviani, the prefect of the Holy Office, banned them from teaching and publishing.

Father Gustavo Gutierrez returned to Lima, and shunning his wealthy connections, for twelve years he lived with slum people.

In 1959 things looked up for Father Lubac and Congar. Pope John XXIII announced the Second Vatican Council, and he surprised everyone by naming Fathers Lubac and Congar as special theologians to the council.

Cardinal Ottaviani, however, kept them away when he was preparing a document on what Christian teachings we honor as having been revealed by God. Then, on November 14, 1965, before the 2400 bishops attending the council in St. Peter’s, he read what he though to be the final word on what we believe. His document stated that the later teachings of the Church were as much a part of Divine Revelation as what is said in the Bible.

That was his downfall. When two thirds of the bishops rejected that document, they were also rejecting  the complete control he had wielded over them. Down in Buenos Aires, a twenty-nine year old Deacon Jorge Bergoglio rejoiced with all of Latin America. They knew they would no longer need to approach religion like members of a law firm.

Both Henre de Lubac and Yves Congar were made cardinals of the Church before they died. But,  Pope John Paul II, suspecting Gustavo Gutierrez of being a Communist, had banned him from teaching. Francis, however, was no sooner  installed as our pope, than he called in Gustavo for a long afternoon’s chat about what they could do for the Church’s poor.

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