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Francis the Augustinian

Sandro Magister has an interesting post that comments on the homilies of Pope Francis. He quotes the Italian journalist, Stefania Falasca, who had interviewed the then Cardinal Bergoglio. Magister writes:

In an April 23 editorial in the newspaper of the Italian episcopal conference, "Avvenire," Falasca compared the oratory of Pope Francis to the "sermo humilis" theorized by St. Augustine.Pope Bergoglio is also introducing this style into his official homilies and discourses. For example, in the homily for the Chrism Mass of Holy Thursday, in St. Peter's Basilica, he made a very striking exhortation to the pastors of the Church, bishops and priests, to take on the odor of the sheep.Another typical feature of his preaching is interacting with the crowd, getting it to respond in chorus. He did so for the first time and repeatedly at the Regina Coeli" of Sunday, April 21, for example when he said: Thank you very much for the greeting, but you should also greet Jesus. Yell 'Jesus' loud!" And the cry of "Jesus" in fact went up from St. Peter's Square.

Magister wonders whether Francis' popular style leads some to neglect the content of some of his remarks:

The popularity of Pope Francis is due to a large extent to this style of preaching and to the easy, widespread success of the concepts on which he insists the most - mercy, forgiveness, the poor, the peripheries - seen reflected in his actions and in his own person.It is a popularity that acts as a screen for the other more inconvenient things that he does not neglect to say - for example, his frequent references to the devil - and that if said by others would unleash criticism, while for him they are forgiven.In effect, the media have so far covered up with indulgent silence not only the references of the current pope to the devil, but also a whole series of other pronouncements on points of doctrine as controversial as they are essential.

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Oh the wicked media - yet again! A MEDIA COVER-UP!!!This time, horrors, they FORGIVE THE POPE. Oh, it's so very, very unfair. We can't let them get away with it. Let's point out at once that there should be more outrage. STOP THEM from paying attention to Pope Francis's love for the poor. All this talk about MERCY is throwing dust in people's faces. It's a SMOKE SCREEN, for the story that ought to be told. About this pope's references to the devil.???Now, who is kidding whom, here? The media have found the right story. The true story that really interests people. To cry foul is to beat the usual dead horse -- blame the media. I don't buy it.

Isn't pope Francis showing that even those controversial points start making sense once they are placed within a framework of love and trust? Isn't he showing - not showing by greater logic, but showing by his greater love and closer intimacy with people - how to interpret them so that they are acceptable? Could he be pointing towards some hard truths while keeping truth and love so closely together that one still wants to follow him there? Could his "spell" be the spell of holiness?We've been using the hermeneutics of suspicion for much too long. Pope Benedict struggled to get his ideas across, because of our unwillingness to hear. We struggled with it ourselves. I never would have thought that that attitude could be could be done away with so easily. I thought everyone was jaded and cynical, but almost overnight, the new pope dissolved the old ways. Given the limited extent of his actual governance decisions so far, objectively it doesn't make sense. It's confusing.

Claire --Having been disappointed before, we'd be fools to automatically identify Pope Francis's charm with real wisdom and character. There are world-class charmers who, beneath the charm, are sometimes despicable. (See how JP II treated Maciel.) At this point I doubt that Pope Francis is one of them, but until he has to make some hard decisions we won't really know what sort of person he is beneath the charm. Given that the same old bureaucrats are still in charge at the Vatican, so far he hasn't made any hard decisions. The Group of 8, as they're being called, looks good, but will they really help? We don't know yet.

Ann O. is right .. Maybe we can wait till next year to see if the 'start' has legs.

The German bishops conference has come out publicly in favor of ordaining women deacons, and it is calling for the consideration of giving Communion to divorcees and for allowing them to sit on parish councils. The Pope's response should give a pretty good indication of whether or not he is willing to at least consider the possibility of change. http://www.thelocal.de/society/20130429-49427.html#.UX6_6eDFW25Yay, German bishops!

"At this point I doubt that Pope Francis is one of them, but until he has to make some hard decisions we wont really know what sort of person he is beneath the charm."Or, as St. Ronald Reagan ( ... hasn't he been sanctified by now?) said: "Trust, but verify."And this .... 'Trust in God, but tie your camel." (Persian proverb)

Regardless of the inside-baseball talk and speculation, Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ and we should all listen to and respect him.

Ken --Not only do I respect him (so far), I look forward to reading his daily sermons at the St. Martha House. If it turns out that he is a hypocrite I'll be greatly disappointed, but his sermons will still be great little sermons. Life has taught me that one doesn't really know someone until one has seen the person in a crisis in which the person has something really big to lose. The decisions made in such circumstances are the real measures of character. Sadly, we have seen too many American bishops who have acted badly in crises. I think we are morally bound not to make the same sort of mistake again if we can help it.

Ann, what mistake did we make that we are morally bound not to repeat?

"Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ..."Yes, for the people in the Rome (arch)diocese.Your local bishop, Ken, is the vicar of Christ in your local church.Francis is the *vicar of Peter* for the worldwide Catholic Communion.

I'm waiting to see what he actually does about issues like sex abuse, women's ordination, the church's stance on LGBT people. Those are the issues that are driving people away from the church.

Claire --I think we're morally bound to admit the faults of bishops, especially when they do harm.It seems to me that the teaching of the Church about not thinking or speaking ill of other people needs to be revised. Sometimes we are obliged to speak ill of others, and churchmen should not be exceptions.

Joseph J. ==Someone recently pointed out that Francis is acting not only as the vicar of Christ as Pope, but also as the Bishop of Rome, and yet again as the pastor of a parish, Vatican City, when he says daily Mass and preaches at the Domus Santa Maria.

Ann, that's Domus Sanctae Marthae. (Martha, not Mary) You knew that... sorry to keep correcting you in details -- your main points are always very fine! :) Claire, your comment at 1:07 is very important. What I see happening is not what I would call "charm" but substance of an order rarely seen in the higher clergy. Charm is what Cardinal Dolan exudes; it hasn't fooled anybody. Pope Francis is different case altogether. He is not an angel. He is not perfect. But he is real, and has not proposed any cheap answers, only the directions he has already lived in his own life (selling his palace, going out to the poor, etc.). I await great things for the Church, not least of which is the lifting of the hermeneutics of suspicion, which has indeed blocked us. At the same time, Jimmy, I like that proverb about the camel! ;)Ann, thanks for the heads up on the German conference.

St Augustine refers to the Devil less frequently than Francis.

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About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is an associate professor of theology at Boston College.