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The Pope: The New Orthodoxy of St Francis in Catholicism,

Posted on 26 January 2016, 19:35

Pope Francis quoted a Washington Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio in his encyclical, Laudato Si’. “We’re reaching a fork in the road; two paths are diverging on planet earth, and the one we choose will make all the difference for the life of the planet. Shall we continue our medieval religious practices in a medieval paradigm and mechanistic culture and undergo extinction? Or shall we wake up to this dynamic, evolutionary universe and the rise of consciousness toward an integral wholeness?” He went on to write, “This is the paradigm shift that is being asked of our generation.”

Although the Pope is a Jesuit, he has taken the name Francis in honour of St Francis of Assisi.  Originally from a wealthy family, St Francis went through several life threatening and life changing experiences bringing him into deep relation with Spirit. In 1209, Francis heard a sermon that changed his life forever. The sermon was about Matthew 10:9, in which Christ tells his followers they should go forth and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was upon them, that they should take no money with them, nor even a walking stick or shoes for the road. Francis was inspired to devote himself to a life of poverty.

Clad in a rough garment, barefoot, and, after the Gospel precept, without staff or scrip, he began to preach repentance.” We can compare him to Jesus himself, who said of himself that he had no home to lay his head, and seemed to address himself seemingly primarily to the outcasts of society and to foreigners and the sick and poor. “Love God and neighbour, that’s the important bit of all those laws in your Bible” was how Jesus expressed it. He was against the rich religious and legalistic establishment of his time, and was for simplicity of thinking, dealing with the here and now. The apparently rich powerful and legalistic Catholic Church has nursed the Franciscan tradition within itself all these centuries. And in the person of the present Pope this tradition can come to the fore. Pope Francis in his public actions is proclaiming a new order.

“Demonstrating this all- inclusiveness, Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention center in a Holy Thursday ritual that he celebrated for years as archbishop and is continuing now that he is pope. Two of the 12 were young women, a remarkable choice given that the rite re-enacts Jesus’ washing of the feet of his male disciples.

The Mass was held in the Casal del Marmo facility in Rome, where 46 young men and women currently are detained. Many of them are Gypsies or North African migrants, and the 12 selected for the foot-washing rite included Orthodox and Muslim detainees as well, news reports said.”

A friend introduced me to the work of another Franciscan, Father Richard Rohr founder and leader of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1989. I have been following Rohr’s daily teaching meditations for two months, and cannot speak too highly of them. Rooted as they are in actual spiritual experience, and open-minded science, it represents a complete about turn on many centuries of Catholicism’s rigid dogmas, and presents a view of reality potentially acceptable to all human beings, (and probably so to readers of White Crow books.).

I have found a number of Catholic websites denouncing Rohr for leading good Catholics astray, and I am not at all surpised. Officially the Catholic church has never talked like this before. Pope Francis is widely liked in the USA, and it is said that Catholic congregations have increased there considerably. But Catholicism has been criticised in the past for its legalistic judgmentalism, and those deeply imbued with this culture will feel truly threatened by the new Pope, and leaders such as Ilio Delio and Richard Rohr. (I read in one Catholic website: “In the case of Fr. Rohr, he seems to spend all of his time and energies sucking faithful Catholics well outside of the heart of the Church in down a path of spiritual destruction. Without exception, his writings should be completely avoided.”

But the genie which is Pope Francis cannot be put back in the bottle, and the once supposedly monolithic institution, is breathing in the fresh air of deeper experiencees of Spirit, and the ever widening perspectives presented by open-minded science. Perhaps it may be agreed that the new spirituality that is being proclaimed will work for non-church non-christian people as well. It truly Catholic, truly universal. People of all faiths or lack of faith, are usually slow to change, but at least there looks like hope for the future.

I subscribed to Rohr’s Daily Meditations and this is what I read, when I received the first one by email:

“We ‘re living in a truly amazing time. The ever broader shape of the cosmos is becoming an ever broader shape for theology itself. Our sun is nothing more than a minor star in one small part of a single galaxy. We used to believe our universe was static, but it is still expanding outward. When I was growing up, the common perception was that science and religion were definitely at odds. Now that we are coming to understand the magnificent nature of the cosmos, we’re finding that many of the intuitions of the mystics of all religions are being paralleled by scientific theories and explanations. If truth is one (which it has to somehow be, if it is truth), then all disciplines are just approaching that truth from different angles and levels and questions.”

On a later occasion Rohr has this to say about interpreting the Bible: “

“I do not want you to think that these daily meditations are just my personal ideas and opinions. My ongoing education and my preaching have largely been based in the Judeo-Christian scriptures and Franciscan theology. I have often struggled with how much damage the Bible and the Church have done in human history, and I have often been amazed at how much good they’ve done too. There has to be a way to maximize these inherent possibilities for the good, the true, the beautiful—and the future. As I continue to say, God cannot expect each generation’s search for wisdom to start at zero.

“Without an honest and declared hermeneutic,[ the theory and methodology of text interpretation] we have no consistency or authority in our interpretation of the Bible. My methodology is very simple and maybe even seems naive—I attempt to interpret scripture as I see that Jesus did. Jesus did teach us in practice how to use the word of God, what to emphasize and what not to emphasize. It is rather clear in Jesus’usage that not all scriptures are created equal. He consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and triumphalist texts in his own Jewish scriptures in favor of passages that emphasized inclusion, mercy, and honesty. Check it out for yourself: Jesus knew what passages were creating a highway for God and which passages were merely cultural, self-serving, paranoid, tribal, and legalistic additions. Jesus read his own inspired scriptures in a spiritual and highly selective way, which is why he was accused of “teaching with authority and not like our scribes” (Matthew 7:29). He even told the fervent and pious “teachers of the law” that they had entirely missed the point: “You understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God”(Mark 12:24).

“The New Testament was written in Greek—a language which Jesus did not understand—and was composed thirty to seventy years after Jesus’ death. We can conclude that the exact words of Jesus were apparently not that important for the Holy Spirit or for us. We have only a few snippets of Jesus’ actual words in his native Aramaic. This should keep us all humble and searching for our own experience of the Risen Christ instead of arguing over Greek verbs and tenses. Literalism is invariably the lowest and least level of meaning. For deep readers, sacred texts open up the endless possibilities for life and love. For people who merely want to be right or to seek power, sacred texts are normally a disaster. Our Jewish ancestors called the deeper approach midrash, extrapolating from the story to find the truest message(s). The immature approach is obvious when scriptures are used to justify slavery, apartheid, Western capitalism, nationalism, consumerism, and almost any other “-ism"that serves our egocentricity.

“What makes Jesus such a special Jew was that he said this divine election [God choosing people] was first of all free, and therefore universal, and not bound by any ethnicity or era of time. Grace is inherent to our dignity as human beings. But he learned that and dared to believe it both from his enlightened reading of the Jewish scriptures (which put him at odds with the priestly class) and from his own God experience. He claimed them both. “The Law says [but] I say” he repeats seven times in a row (Matthew 5:17-48).

You have been loved and chosen so that you can pass on the experience, not hoard the experience. In fact, if you feel a need to guard it, as if it were limited or scarce, that is the certain evidence that you have not accessed the Infinite Source yourself. It has to start with some kind of “I get it"experience which should lead to “And everybody else does too!“As Ken Wilber so brilliantly says, “Religion starts elitist, but ends egalitarian. Always!”

Michael Cocks edits the journal, The Ground of Faith.
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.
His latest book, Into the Wider Dream: Synchronicity in the Witness Box is published by White Crow Books.




I have found this article insightful and refreshing at a time of so much questioning. Perhaps a way through this present era of theological confusion and social individualism to a new understanding of God in community.

Philip Robinson, Fri 12 Feb, 20:39

Rohr’s comments very relevant to our times

stan raymond, Thu 28 Jan, 05:28

How delightful that you have connected with Albuquerque again in this way!  I am not directly familiar with Fr. Rohr’s work, but I know people here who are very involved with it and think extremely highly of it. 

When the hierarchical, bureaucratic forces of the Church condemn something or someone, I tend to think there must be something worthwhile going on there.  I will check out the Center for Action and Contemplation further.

Elene Gusch, Wed 27 Jan, 06:54

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“Children and the Light” by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick – ALF Rose had this experience many years ago when he was ill with pneumonia as a young child of four or five. Suddenly I was out of my body and floating near the top of the window in my bedroom. I could see myself in bed and my mother kneeling at the side of the bed. She was crying and looked very distressed. I gazed at this scene for a little while and remember that I didn't feel any emotion at all and was completely indifferent to what I saw. Without any warning at all I was travelling very swiftly through a dense forest. Read here
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