by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
The second section of Pope Francis’s book Let Us Dream is titled “Choose”. Even though the Pope’s reflections follow the traditional See, Judge, Act formula, he substitutes “Choose” for “Judge”.
Choice is a more dynamic process than Judgement. It implies a thoughtful discernment leading to “A Time to Act” (the third part of Let Us Dream). Choice is a prayerful, unhurried look at the “signs of the times” and what they call us to do. Francis uses the term “discernment” to indicate how choices are arrived at: “thinking through our decisions and actions, not just by rational calculations but by listening to the Spirit, recognizing in prayer God’s motives, invitations and will.” In other words, for the Pope choosing is a peaceful, contemplative process.
It is also open-ended. It seeks the truth knowing that it is subject to revision and reconsideration. In Let Us Dream Pope Francis offers three life-changing personal experiences that describe the dynamism of truth. So I feel encouraged to write about one in my own life.
A wonderful young man with a similar background to mine entered the Franciscan Order the same day I did. We became good friends throughout our several years of theological studies, we were ordained priests together and continued our friendship for many years. I knew him to be an exemplary friar-priest. Eventually he decided to leave the Order and marry. For years I could not reconcile his new life with our long Franciscan relationship. Gradually, however, a further truth began to dawn on me. The man was a good husband and in time the father of two wonderful sons. In addition, he took up work – ministry – in the judicial system counseling couples who were seeking civil divorces.
This evolution in my thinking, an openness to a new understanding of the truth, culminated at my friend’s funeral many years later. His sons spoke at the Mass about his reputation as a good priest and what a wonderful father he had been to them.
This gift of the Holy Spirit, acknowledging the development of truth, is what Pope Francis insistently calls for at this historical moment. He speaks of a “new normal”, the opportunity to reshape the world, save it, make it habitable once again for all of God’s creatures. However, he does not give formulas or hard and fast rules about how this is to come about. Like the rest of us he is discerning the truth about it.
He does, however, speak eloquently of the attitudes that favor the creation of a “new normal” as well as some that will destroy it. Discernment has already been mentioned as key to how Francis is seeking truth here and his great flexibility about finding it. On the negative side he decries fundamentalism as “a single, closed way of thinking and a substitute for the kind of thinking that opens to truth.”
This last observation by the Holy Father applies to so much of what we are experiencing in this emerging post-coronavirus moment. For many, getting back to the way things were is the goal. The Pope asks that we reject that objective and “dream” of a possible “new normal” through the optic of hungry, dismissed, “useless” people in our world and from the point of view of a gasping planet. One example of opening to new truth: The Peruvian theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez originally described his reflections on God’s word as a “Theology of Development”. Very soon, however, he rejected this description as one that implies a First World, rigid view of humanity’s goals. He came to an expanded understanding that God’s dream for His creation was “liberation” from whatever might impede its realization. This “new truth” – Liberation Theology – has given thousands the inspiration for what the Roman Synod of 1971 called “participation in the transformation of the world”.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.