Tag Archives: Pope Francis

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: So Easy …

You know, it’s easier to destroy something than it is to build it. One can spend hours working on a sand castle at the beach, and one good wave, one careless jogger, or one tyrannical child, who just has to knock your turrets over, can set you back hours. Fortunately, it’s just a sand castle, so you can take it with a grain of salt. Or a grain of sand.

But what about things that are not just fun, kind of artsy but not deeply meaningful things. I mean it only took the 9/11 terrorists minutes to destroy the World Trade Center, something it took a long time to build. And it took them just seconds to rip families apart and put America in a defensive posture when it comes to national security. That one act of destruction took away a lot of freedoms—ease of going through airports, the feeling of relative safety in traveling, what you can carry on or can’t carry on a plane. To say that things really changed after 9/11 would be an understatement, without doubt.

So it is with anything good, I suppose. It takes so much work to build it and so much care goes into it; and, yet, it can be derailed, hindered and even destroyed in so short a time. But it is not easy to change things. Take the Our Father, for example. Many want to change it to “Our Parent,” others to our Mother. Some want to change “Amen” to “Awomyn” (sic). Yet Pope Francis, of late, has actually made a change. He has stated that the English phrase in the Our Father, rendered “Lead us not into temptation,” is now to be changed to “Do not let us fall into temptation.” His argument is that it is a mistranslation of the original. And he can say this convincingly for two reasons: 1. He is the Pope, and 2. Very few Christians, Protestant or Catholic, know ancient Greek, so they will take his word for it.

Let me say first that the Pope is not “diabolical.” He is not seeking to destroy, when he makes this change, he is, undoubtedly seeking to shift the blame for sin to the individual who falls into temptation so that person can’t shake a finger at God and say, “You allowed this to happen to me! You caused this to happen to me!” And good for the Pope; he’s right on that score; human beings need very little help to be tempted. But just because he is right about that doesn’t justify changing the translation.

Why? Well, for starters, the Greek simply doesn’t permit it. The Greek says what it says: μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς (me eisenengkes hemas). That does not mean “do not let us fall.” It means, rather, “do not lead us.” Hence the KJV (which is usually the most faithful English translation): “Lead us not.” It is the second person singular aorist active subjunctive form (here used in precatory mode) of the Greek verb εἰσφέρω (eisphero).

Why then, if the Pope knows ancient Greek (and one presumes he does), would he change this? It is for a theological reason bigger than the one that I outlined above. It has to do with one’s view of God, whether He is active in our lives or not. In the 1970s, it would seem, Pope Francis (then Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio) was opposed to the theology that says “God’s in his Heaven and all that is wrong in the world depends on us to fix”—this kind of theology has translated rather neatly into liberation theology. The fundamental point here is not Marxism vs. Capitalism, for both systems can thrive very well with the distant view of God.

Yet, by the end of the 1970s, something has changed for Father Bergoglio. He seems to have come to a different position on God intervening in human affairs, a view that is reflected today in his change of the verse to, “Don’t let us fall into temptation,” which assumes that God is distant, rooting us on but not intervening in our lives. It is a wonderful view of God, one could argue, because it exculpates God completely from the question of human suffering. God doesn’t allow human suffering. That’s something we cause, in the case of a war or terrorism, or nature causes (in the case of an earthquake), or maybe bad genetics has caused, in the case of an abnormality at birth. God is rooting us on, but He cannot (according to something by which even God Himself is bound, something like Star Trek’s “prime directive”) interfere. And that can explain, probably does explain, the Pope’s changing the English translation of the verse.

The only problem is—beyond the Greek, which I hopefully have already explained—that this Star Trek God is not the God of Scripture. Not even close. God has no directives, prime or otherwise. He makes the rules and He breaks them whenever it suits Him. Exempli gratia: Lazarus. God had decreed that the penalty for sin is death. It was and is an eternal decree upon human kind for sin. Yet Jesus, qua his status as the Son of God (status that is, if you read the New Testament, tantamount to God himself), resuscitates Lazarus from the dead. He does the same thing to the son of a widow whom he has presumably just met when, rather randomly from our human point of view, he enters the tiny hamlet of Nain. He heals the blind, helps an old woman who is a hunchback, heals the crippled, cares for the poor. He even cares for the rich, who at first might be unfeeling and disconnected from the suffering all around them. And he does miracles in the midst of all these people. And he does miracles today. When we see them, some of us acknowledge them, some of us attribute them to coincidence or luck. And some acknowledge them as miracles when they happen but, eventually, consign them to our memory’s bin of lucky breaks or coincidences.

Cobh St. Colman’s Cathedral, Ireland
Detail Raising of the Son of the Widow of Nain
Photo by Andreas F. Borchert (CC BY-SA 4.0)

And how we react to divine intervention in the human sphere is important for the wording of the Lord’s Prayer. For, if we, as apparently Pope Francis does, believe that God intends good for everyone but doesn’t actually do good beyond the natural “common grace” of amatory love, love of family, sunshine and rain, then he simply can’t lead us into temptation (or, really, deliver us from evil, by the way). He is the Star Trek God. He simply can’t intervene, ever. Thus, it depends on us to take matters into our own hands, to be responsible for our own actions, and, ultimately, even for our own deliverances in this world. That is the groundwork, by the way, of liberation theology, where “liberation” means “self-liberation”: we need to free ourselves from our oppressors. It depends on us.

Oddly enough, most people, wittingly or unwittingly, probably subscribe to this way of thinking. Why wouldn’t one, after all? Things certainly seem to be that way—that’s reality, isn’t it? Isn’t believing that there is a God who intervenes in our lives just pie in the sky?

Rather, it’s pie on earth. And it’s not pie. It’s the God of Wonders, the God who makes the rules—all the rules—and “breaks” them whenever He feels like it, intervening, changing, shaping, leading. Sometimes leading us into places that are dangerous to us, whether physically or spiritually, or both. Fiery furnaces. Lions’ dens. Islands with dangerous snakes. If you’re unsure about any of this, just read the book of Daniel, where God tampers with the animal world, or the book of Acts. Or First and Second Samuel, where you can learn to face the giants in your life the right way. Or any of the four gospels where you can learn something I don’t know how to describe in one word; maybe just life, for short. Finally, and perhaps most poignantly, read the book of Hosea, where a woman of questionable character becomes a signally redemptive metaphor for the Church.

It’s easy to destroy, and so hard to build. But the God of Wonders is subject to neither, as his compassion for the lost shows again and again. Whether we have fallen into temptation (entirely possible) or He has heard our prayer and not led us there, know this: God redeems where we have so easily destroyed, he rebuilds where we have accidentally (or not) knocked something over, and he forgives when we cry out to Him for forgiveness. For he does stuff; and for that I, for one, am deeply thankful.

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Traveling

Piergiacomo Petrioli


“May you be praised, my Lord, for our sister, Bodily Death, from whom no living human being can escape.”[1] Thus wrote St. Francis of Assisi some time just after 1200 AD. To St. Francis, my good friend Piergiacomo Petrioli assured me just yesterday, everything was good. “That’s the point,” he said as we sat in his living room in Bologna discussing how the Renaissance, which began almost precisely a century after St. Francis wrote this canticle, came about. “The point is that Francis cared about all of creation, saw everything as good because it came from God’s hand. And so,” he added, “even death could be seen as good, as a release from the troubles of this life.”

Giotto's St. Francis before the Sultan
Giotto’s St. Francis before the Sultan

And that, we agreed later in the course of the conversation, was the beginning of the period of Western history in which the focus on repeating over and over in the cold echoing chamber of the high-ceilinged central nave of a Gothic cathedral, “God is Pankrator (Ruler of All)” reverted to the idea that “God is a human being, too.” Piergiacomo added, “The point is that the emphasis of the Renaissance is not that ‘God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world’—he was quoting Browning, of course—“but that God, as a human being, suffers with us humans, participates in our humanity; that human suffering is thereby redeemed, dignified to the extent that even morte corporale can be nostra sora (i.e., sorella), our sister.” This he said, with my slight adaptation, of course, in a lovely Italian accent. St. Francis himself must have sounded like Piergiacomo, I thought to myself, gentle and warm.

But the title of this blog is not St. Francis’ views on death, but rather “Traveling,” and I come back to that now. For when I am traveling, one of the things I like to do best is to visit my friends on the continent and chat with them about things like the origin of the Renaissance, something I had never before connected with St. Francis. The reason for that is, perhaps, that somewhere in my mind the cautionary words of G.K. Chesterton were still rambling about, for he once wrote of St. Francis, “… it is not true to represent St. Francis as a mere romantic forerunner of the Renaissance and a revival of natural pleasures for their own sake. The whole point of him was that the secret of recovering the natural pleasures lay in regarding them in the light of a supernatural pleasure.”

What I think Chesterton is cautioning against is not the importance of the emphasis beginning with St. Francis on all created things being good that Piergiacomo and I were touting as foundational to the notion of humanity that the Renaissance would advance. In any case, such emphasis certainly owes itself much more to the rediscovery of ancient texts than to St. Francis’ memorable declarations about death or Brother Sun or Sister Moon. Rather, I think that Chesterton is railing against those who want to put St. Francis on a pedestal, or more precisely, those who would distort his views about the interaction of man and God. That same group might emphasize St. Francis’ love for animals as a part of creation to the exclusion of his view on redemption and humankind.

Elsewhere in his biography of that saint, Chesterton offers a vivid description of Francis that I think is likely to be precisely right:

“He was, to the last agonies of asceticism, a Troubadour. He was a lover. He was a lover of God and he was really and truly a lover of men; possibly a much rarer mystical vocation. A lover of men is very nearly the opposite of a philanthropist; indeed the pedantry of the Greek word carries something like a satire on itself. A philanthropist may be said to love anthropoids. But as St. Francis did not love humanity but men, so he did not love Christianity but Christ. Say, if you think so, that he was a lunatic loving an imaginary person; but an imaginary person, not an imaginary idea.”[2]

As usual, Chesterton gives us more to ponder than we may have wanted. His challenge to his reader is to consider St. Francis not in general, but in particular. And this is the challenge that Chesterton and later C.S. Lewis would lay at the feet of every churchgoer, every human being, to consider God in particular and each person in particular. It is much easier to love the idea of humanity than to love your neighbor.

Which brings be back to traveling, for how can I love my neighbor when I’m journeying such a long way from home? Well, if you’ve been reading any of my other blogs so far, I imagine you may know my opinion about the answer to that question. But in case you haven’t, I’ll tell one last story about traveling that might illustrate what I mean.

There once were two couples who went a traveling. One went to a large, impoverished city in Africa and bought bread and carried it with them everywhere they went in case they met any street children there. street children(As it turned out, they gave a great deal of bread away, and much more than food, as well. Indeed, I believe they would have surrendered their bodies to fire, were it necessary, to help those in need.) The other couple went to some other far more luxurious spot—Hawaii, I think it was—on vacation; that second couple gave money to world hunger relief organizations from time to time, especially when there was a crisis in the news. That same couple felt very good about their donations, and from time to time would tastefully mention their own generosity to their friends over dinner. But they could see no reason to encourage the other couple about their trip to Africa, or to help them in their admittedly limited-in-scope “humanitarian” effort. In fact, they gently rebuked them when they were having lunch together before they left. “You know, it’s a vain effort, you going there. It won’t cure all the ills in the world; you might even come back with one—a disease. Better to give money to some relief organization or something—that’s what we do,” they told the first couple in a well-intended, but condescending way.

The first couple was not taken aback. Rather they might even have expected as much, for they had long before come to love Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and even to understand that Bodily Death, too, is the sister of the moon and sun, and our sister, too. They were not going to Africa to rebuke that sister. They were going to find and help their brothers and their sisters. They did not love the idea of humanity, they loved human beings.

Now I myself did not and still do not understand one thing about the first pair, the couple who actually went to Africa, for I do not understand St. Francis’ idea that death could ever be our sister. I am rather angered by death, with Herculean emotions welling up from deep within. When a friend or family member dies, I feel that something fundamentally bad has happened, something gone wrong in the universe. But that is me, not Chesterton, not the first couple, nor probably the second. But I wax mystical.

Pope FrancisYet I was speaking about traveling. St. Francis’ travels are well known. Now another Francis, a new Pontifex Maximus, to use a Latin (and quite ancient Roman) term, is traveling, as well. He has just left Italy, to build a bridge to the needy, the poor in another hemisphere, one with which he is quite familiar. I will leave Bologna for a different America, the one with which I am familiar, only a few days after him. This Francis is not voyaging to Africa, but to Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay, countries where life is rife with challenge, where in every valley death casts a long shadow, where there are needy and weeping souls, real people, about whom it seems to have been forgotten by far too many who could care (but don’t) that they are human beings. In his travels the Pope will—indeed, I believe, already has—like St. Francis, bring warmth and love for human beings, not just for “humanity.”


In the meantime, until I leave, Piergiacomo and I will sit by and by, eating Parmesan and raising a glass to The Curious Autobiography, which he is now reading, and more especially and fittingly a cup running over to both the pope and the saint, whose love for humanity and human beings was and will be, I hope, remembered and, by the time this blog is posted, seen, as well. For our part, we shall consider the importance of the Renaissance again and again, admiring the work of artists, and reading a piece of literature or two—I hear Petrarch beckoning—and, before I leave, perhaps even visiting again Santa Maria della Vita here in Bologna. To the right of the altar of the central nave one can see the masterpiece of Niccolò dell’Arca, his Compianto, a sculpted work that portrays the humanity and pain of human beings in the face of the most horrific death in history, before history could be changed by a single naked act. But the nakedness of that act involves a trip I once took to Estonia, which will be the story of another blog about traveling, a blog I will write perhaps a long time from now.

For more on Renaissance Art, see Artsy’s website and follow your favorite artists. For example, see on Raphael.

[1] Laudato si mi Signore, per sora nostra Morte corporale, da la quale nullu homo uiuente pò skappare, from Michele Faloci Pulignani (ed.). Il Cantico del Sole di San Francesco di Assisi. Foligno: Tipografia di Pieter Sgariglia, 1888, pp. 10–11; http://www.prayerfoundation.org/canticle_of_brother_sun.htm. My translation.

[2] The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (Ignatius Press, 1986), 70, 29.