A “generative pastoral” is to replace a “pastoral of conservation”

Par l'abbé Jean-Marie Perrot

Français, italiano

Mgr Celestino Migliore, apostolic nuncio to France, gave a conference on January 28, 2021, before the clergy of the archdiocese of Rennes, France. The first part of his intervention was published in the Nouvelle Revue Théologique[1], which shows how much attention he received. The piece, titled by the review “Evangelization and human promotion: The pastoral conversion of pope Francis,” is striking in clarity and accents of praise towards the figure and the providential work of the pope.

It is not reasonable to believe as we did before

Mgr Migliore is like a Grand inquisitor, the one from the Karamazov Brothers, in Dostoïevski’s, and the one from Silence, in Shusaku Endo’s (and from the Scorcese movie, based on the novel, in 2017). The one who declares to faithful Catholics – and to God – that it is not reasonable, it is counter productive, for all, to continue living and believing as before. “Why have you come to bother us?,” argues the first one to the face of Jesus, while this one had had the impertinence to show himself again and the crowd was turning to him with fervor. The second one put in the mind of the Spanish Jesuit Father sent to Japan that the act of apostasy required of him – to walk over an image of Christ – was to save men, imprisoned Christians who otherwise would be condemned to death, and that he was the way of a concrete and efficacious love: Didn’t Jesus sacrificed Himself?

Mgr Migliore is less direct, but he is more modern: as in a TV series, of which the intrigue becomes dull after a number of episodes, he says: “some dedicated ways are coming up which allows us to inaugurate a new season.” Because, he says, Church and society have reached a point of rupture, which pope Francis realizes very clearly. Then, “what kind of future does Pope Francis imagine for Christianity in this context?” Like a screenwriter, or like the great Hegelian man whose thought and will reveal the Spirit.[2]

Synodality! Synodality! Synodality!

What about it? “Faith will be saved”, says Mgr Migliore, only if the Word of Jesus Christ in his original force of Kerygma (the essential content of faith) is able to make its way through and beyond the present forms of incarnation of the biblical word, of the doctrine, of the tradition, of the government, having become obsolete. It must make its way through and beyond a biblical word infantilized or mythologized – because biblical -, a divine word suspect of despotism and intolerance – because divine -. To be done, this Word has to meet the word of men in search of truth which, for a thousand years, has deserted the Church but has not deserted God: “a prodigious reflection on man and his constitutive dimensions (…) developed itself outside the churches, but not outside the Truth, because no one has the exclusivity of God.” May Christians learn to walk together with other men: such is the program of the synodality dear to the pope – “walking together”, according to the etymology.” What is it about? well, according to the nuncio, it is about “inserting us in the contemporary culture, in rehabilitating the creativity, the capacity of interpretation of the life of man and the operating force of the Word of God.” An abstruse formula, probably taken from the motion of a  diocesan synod…

What follows immediately doesn’t provide much more understanding, between imaginary enemy (“intimidation of the one who would think giving a good testimony to the Gospel by using truth as a sword”) and ready-made formulas (“to remain in exit”, “to position ourselves with courage on the world stage”). The only thing missing is the call to dialogue and encounter in order “to do something together.” But what exactly? And furthermore we ask: what is left of the strength of the word of salvation, of the assurance that doctrine and tradition remain unchanged in substance? “It is precisely about understanding that, facing the crisis of our societies intensified disproportionately by the pandemic, faith is proposed as a “spiritual resource” which can make a difference, as much on an individual level as on a collective one.” The indigence of the vocabulary equals the placidity of the declaration: the Gospel is no more than a spiritual resource which can make a difference! But, is it only necessary?

Unsafe Eucharist

The reference to the sanitary situation[3] continues with astonishing considerations on the sacrament of the Eucharist. Along the line of the Kerygma, of which we are told it takes the first place, though the figure is not well outlined, which vigor of appeal in any case is not felt, its urgent call to conversion to Jesus Christ[4], the pandemic acts as Kairos, that is to say the favorable time, the crisis which allows a renewal of the action of God (either by a direct intervention, or by the conversion of the faithful) in the history and in the Church. Such is the case, ensures Mgr Migliore: the fact churches went empty, that we were forced to communicate online, and that this did not carry many fruits, is the sign of an isolation of the Christian communities turned inward, on themselves, on “an already established faith rather than more [towards] a faith still in gestation.” One of the reasons being the mass has taken too much importance, being the only form both of gathering between Catholics and of a presence in society. “So much that when the urgency of the pandemic made impossible the celebration in in its public form, the whole edifice fell and it looked like nothing was left standing.”

What is to be said, continues Mgr Migliore, of the solution that was found, with online masses? Did we go backward in relation to the liturgical movement of the Vatican II Council, in a valorization of the ritual solitary action of the celebrant, a sort of suspicious habit? Happily, are we told, the pope did not fail to remind insistently that what is fundamentally important is not the rite but the life which flows from the celebration. “The just worship owned to God,” to take on the expression of Paul (Rom 12, 1), is the one which assumes the concrete form of the body given in the gestures of care, tenderness, solidarity, mercy, reconciliation.”

What follows tells the reader, right out of his astonishment, that the pandemic has revealed that a pastoral of the conservation still reigns.” It is no longer sufficient, it never was, if we follow the nuncio in his developments, because the constant reform of the Church – Ecclesia semper reformanda – means a “generative pastoral, an expression from a Church conscious of not being already entirely constituted but which still remains in the constitution process.”

Being constituted: the words definitely mean something… Since the reader is afraid to understand, he continues reading, gets back, looks for key-words, reassuring or, to the contrary, worrisome. But, they are definitely of the second kind: Christians have to consider themselves in a “situation of diaspora,” the Church must recognize itself as “decentralized in history”, “immersed in a continuous change.” And if we grasp the implicit theological thought, these characteristics are not those of present circumstances, but they constitute the Church whose particular, in definitive, is to “remain in exit”, in a “hollowness of the self.”[5]

* * *

The reader will forgive me but, for the author of this article, this is more than I can endure. For, indeed, what despicable views![6] Referring us to the beginning of the conference and to the implacable assessment that religious sociology, evolution of culture, morals and legislations allows us to make on the problematic situation of the Church in the modern world will not suffice to make us change our opinion: our outcry remains: no perspective! no supernatural way of looking at the situation! Unless there is one and then it is even worst than we thought, though it would not be so surprising: in fact we are back to the old themes of rejecting the Constantinian and Tridentine Church. But, at least, the intention, here, is clear. The only example given, which is “in no way academic or marginal” – with which we find ourselves in agreement -, the example of the mass, sets the mind in a lucid light.

Considering this narrative, we stand firm and, with us, catechized children who, this year, have very well understood, supported by their own experience, what it was to no longer have regular access to the sacrament, to be able to go to mass or to enter a church through a side door… What weakening, in a way that defies all common sense, what diversion, principally, of the sense of faith can lead to believe that what the pandemic has revealed is the compassion of the first-line health care workers – as admirable as it may be – and not the mass and the unbearable privation of the sacraments, felt all the more that it was done without the protest of the clergy. On this issue, we are passed the threshold of decency, the sanitary crisis is instrumentalized to go even further in the disappearance of the Church.

Fr. Jean-Marie Perrot

[1] N °143/2, April-June 2021, free access to the article on the review’s website.

[2] “The Spirit in becoming a new form is the internal soul of all individuals; he is the unconscious inner-self that great men will carry to consciousness.” (Friedrich Hegel, Reason in history).

[3] The distinction is never made between this situation and the restrictions of all compulsory orders by the governments. In this way, the legitimacy of these restrictions in regards to the liberty of worship of the Church is not put into question at all.

[4] In some regards, one “would be content”, in comparison to what is being promoted, with a form of vigorous Catholic evangelism.

[5] “La riforma, per Francesco, si radica in uno svuotamento di sé” (Antonio Spadaro, “La riforma della Chiesa secondo Francesco. Le radici ignaziane” in: Antonio Spadaro, Carlos Maria Galli (ed.), La riforma et le riforme nella Chiesa, Queriniana, Brescia, 2016, p. 22).

[6] The reader will not be uplifted by the rest of the conference, unless one believes that changing Canon Law to include the laity’s right to vote in the synodal process in which lay people participate, is a major subject for the Church. In any event, it is surely a sign that the demands of the German synod are receiving some attention…