Think about the Sermon on the Mount, and you’ll get an idea of Pope Francis’ agenda for his church. In yesterday’s public homily, Francis used it to reiterate the lesson he privately gave to those Latin and Caribbean leaders of religious oreders last week.
The Gospel text of the day was Matthew 5:17: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” Fulfilling the law means moving forward, said Francis, and pointed out the temptation not to do so.
This is the temptation to go backwards, because we are “safer” going back: but total security is in the Holy Spirit that brings you forward, which gives us this trust – as Paul says – which is more demanding because Jesus tells us: “Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law.” It is more demanding! But it does not give us that human security. We cannot control the Holy Spirit: that is the problem! This is a temptation.
Indeed, lest anyone think that Christ’s current vicar is suggesting an abrogation of church doctrine, Francis went on to emphasize that, like overeager adolescents, those moving forward could slip off the road by yielding to the opposite temptation of embracing the standards of the culture at large. As Michael Sean Winters noted yesterday, he did not tell the religious leaders to ignore what chastisement they might receive from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, just not to be too bothered by it — to straighten things out and move on with business. Or, in Jesus’ words, “your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.”
In a word, Francis once again positioned himself between the traditionalists eager to return to the security of pre-Vatican II Catholicism, and the progressives ready to leave church teaching behind.
I suppose it’s worth reminding ourselves that, while Jesus tells the disciples that the law will remain entirely intact, they in fact go on to establish a religion that abrogates some pretty significant features of it — circumcision and the laws of kashrut, for example. Whether Francis imagines such a future for his vision of the Law Fulfilled is impossible to say. It’s pretty clear, though, who, in his image of the contemporary church, occupies the role of the scribes and Pharisees.