ANY HAVE commented on how Pope Francis’s preaching seems to be dominated by social justice and the poor. When taking up a theme from the Gospel, he never fails to show how it implies responsibility towards our neighbor. To judge from how some are speaking, it is as if we suddenly have a Pope who is “pure horizontalism” in contrast to a predecessor who was “pure verticality”—the one talking about the hungry and the homeless, the other talking about mystery, adoration, and dogma.
As with most popular assessments, this one is superficial and not a little inaccurate. Pope Francis has already preached many times about the life of prayer, the dangers of activism, the primacy of Christ and His Kingdom, the centrality of the sacraments, and other characteristically “Ratzingerian” themes; and those who know Pope Benedict XVI’s preaching well know that he was no less insistent and persistent on social themes than Francis has been, even if the media chose to ignore him or aimed their cameras on his red shoes.
Over and above this fair treatment of both popes’ emphases, I would like to suggest that it can also be extremely profitable to develop an ability to hear papal teaching in multiple “keys” or “modes.” Pope Francis, no less than Pope Benedict, has a way of formulating universal principles of thought and action, and these will be seen to apply to any number of related topics, as long as they share the same pertinent feature.
Take as an example the General Audience on Wednesday, June 5, 2013, when Pope Francis, marking World Environment Day, delivered an address on how important it is to eliminate needless wasting of food and other products. His address was in many ways vintage Ratzinger on the pressing need for a new environmentalism that is true to man’s unique nature and vocation to cultivate and care for the garden of creation. What I noticed, however, was a further level of meaning if we listen to his words in a “liturgical key.”
Pope Francis declared:
We are often driven by pride of domination, of possessions, manipulation, of exploitation; we do not ‘care’ for it [creation], we do not respect it, we do not consider it as a free gift that we must care for. We are losing the attitude of wonder, contemplation, listening to creation; thus we are no longer able to read what Benedict XVI calls ‘the rhythm of the love story of God and man.’ Why does this happen? Why do we think and live in a horizontal manner? We have moved away from God, we no longer read His signs.
NOW THINK OF WHAT HAPPENED in the liturgical reform in the mid- to late sixties. The reformers were men who appeared to think, in an anthropocentric fashion, that they were free to dominate, manipulate, and exploit the liturgy for particular modern aims. They acted at times as if they did not respect the immense gift of tradition we are given to care for. Instead of wonderment at the riches handed down, a contemplative disposition of receptivity and listening to tradition (which are preconditions for discerning the love story between God and man in the Mass and the Divine Office), they chose to think, and therefore to live, in a horizontal manner, which was equivalent to moving away from God through a wilful failure to read His signs—the sacred signs of ritual, text, and music that are His exquisite lyric poetry down through the ages. The crisis, in short, occurred when the Cartesian man who viewed Nature as raw material for economic exploitation via technology became the Consilium man who viewed Tradition as raw material for scholarly exploitation via executive fiat. And as in the former case, what has suffered is man’s right relationship with Creation, so in the latter case, what has grievously suffered is the believer’s right relationship with Divine Worship.
Pope Francis also said in the same audience:
We should all remember, however, that the food we throw away is as if stolen from the table of the poor, the hungry! A few days ago, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, we read the story of the miracle of the loaves: Jesus feeds the crowd with five loaves and two fishes. And the conclusion of the piece is important: ‘They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets’ (Lk 9:17). Jesus asks his disciples not to throw anything away: no waste!
In like manner, the solid nourishment that once fed the Christian people was often carelessly thrown away, as missals, vestments, bells, chant books, and other precious goods were pitched into the rubbish—and all this spiritual food was stolen from the table of the poor in spirit, the children of God who never demanded a Marxist revolution that promised a new springtime but delivered a long, hard winter of disorientation, irreverence, and abuse, in which many have died and many others have nearly starved, although they may not realize their plight, as they have nothing else to compare it against.
Jesus, in contrast, desires his disciples to eat their fill from the Church’s abundance and be satisfied; the gifts he has given to the Church, his immaculate bride, are possessed of a miraculous power to be feed the entire world until the end of time. The Lord commands us to throw nothing away, to waste nothing of what he has given us, to consider nothing trivial, redundant, or meaningless. There is no such thing as “useless repetition,” any more than extra fragments of bread are a useless repetition of food. If we were wise, we would not set a lean, sparse table and call it modern; we would put forth a rich banquet of many centuries and call it divine.