Friday, June 13, 2014

The Church and charisms according to St. Paul

This lecture by the late Belgian-Brazilian theologian José Comblin was originally given (and published) in Sao Paulo at a conference at the close of the Pauline Year in 2009. It was re-published 6/10/2014 on Redes Cristianas and, at this time when church reform is on so many people's minds, we are pleased to bring it to you in English (translation by Rebel Girl).

Paul's letters reveal what the Church was in the communities founded by him more or less 20 years after Jesus' death. The Christian community was beginning and had all the privileges of infancy.

We should consider the epistles that really are by St. Paul: Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, 1st Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon. The rest were written after his death and some were written 30 or 40 years after his death by his disciples. But those disciples changed the ecclesiology, certainly because the communities themselves had changed. The main change was the presence of permanent ministers in charge of leading the community, priests and deacons who weren't established by St. Paul. Likewise, the Acts of the Apostles presents a very different Paul from the Paul of the letters. It's the Paul to whom all the changes were attributed that took place between his death and the drafting of Acts. The author of Acts didn't know Paul or his letters. He accepts popular tradition and adds speeches and episodes that represent his theology and not Paul's theology.

1. The People of God

We must stress that the basic concept of Paul's ecclesiology is the concept of the people of God. The concept of "people" is not sociological. I consulted Sociology treatises and could see that it's not about people in Sociology because "people" is not a sociological category; it's not something that can be observed. "People" is a theological category because it's an ideal planned as a promise made to Abraham.

For Paul, Jesus' disciples are a continuation of the people of Israel. The leaders of Israel betrayed the promises made to Abraham and abandoned the true Israel. The real and definitive Israel is in the communities of Jesus' disciples, Jews and Gentiles. Because Abraham's promises weren't addressed to a small portion of humanity, separate from the rest. Abraham's offspring were supposed to include the whole world, being innumerable. The Jews raised barriers and blocked the entrance of all ethnic communities apart from the Jews. All this is in chapters 9 to 11 of Romans, a basic exposition of Paul's ecclesiology.

Paul doesn't intend to convert individuals; he wants to extend the people of God to the ends of the world because that's God's plan revealed to Abraham. Jesus came to carry out Abraham's plan. That's why he died. But after him, the disciples broke the barriers and went out to the whole world and the people of God included Jews and non-Jews. Jesus didn't come to save souls but to reestablish the offspring of Abraham, breaking barriers and assuming the leadership of this people himself.

A people involves all human life. Jesus didn't come to teach a religion or wisdom, but to change all life. Everything is part of the people -- economy, politics, culture, bodily life, from food to the use of natural resources. All this forms the people. The disciples' mission is to inaugurate this people which will be the people of God, integrating all the other people into the unity of Abraham's plan. There's room for all because there are no longer any barriers. Jesus eliminated all barriers that came from a culture, from a portion of humankind, a way of life, from some leaders of the Jews who had shut themselves in and separated from the other peoples. The leaders of Israel made the entry of the pagans almost impossible because they raised almost insurmountable obstacles. Now the people is open and Paul thinks that it will shortly involve the whole of humanity.

The Pauline communities and the other disciples called by other apostles are the beginning of this now free and open people. They are numerically insignificant but this is Paul's faith -- seeing in them the beginning of a new humanity gathered into one single coexistence in which all diversity is united in love and solidarity.

2. Ekklesia (Church)

At the beginning, Jesus' disciples didn't think it was necessary to give a name to their meetings. They were Jews, members of the chosen people of Israel. Within Israel, they were followers of Jesus' way. They were awaiting the kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus. The kingdom didn't come. It seemed farther off than predicted. The concept of the kingdom of God was transferred to the day when the end of this world and the advent of the new one would really come about, hoped for as a great miracle of God. An intermediate time appeared. The disciples couldn't simply wait for this rather distant day. They lived on earth and earthly life went on. It was necessary to give themselves a name, especially when the pagan converts came in and the disciples distanced themselves from orthodox Judaism.

Paul gave his communities a name that was common to all and expressed the unity among all. Paul adopted the name "ekklesia." It was ingenious because that word was very significant.

The word "ekklesia" had only one meaning. It was the assembly of the people  -- of the "demos" -- gathered to govern the city. It didn't have any other meaning. Paul knew exactly what he was doing in taking that word. He didn't choose any religious name. There were various types of religious associations in the Greek cities at that time. But Paul knew he wasn't coming to establish a religion, a cult in the city. Religions and cults didn't interest him. For Paul, the cult of the disciples of Jesus was their life. Paul had come to call everyone to form a people. The communities of a city represented a people, the people of God in that city. They were the true people, forming the real "demos" even though they were still an insignificant minority. But Paul was farsighted with an invincible faith. There was the people, in that assembly of disciples which was the assembly of the people.

The communities were a people that formed an "ekklesia" -- that is, they ruled themselves without leaders, without individuals in command. It was the true embodiment of the Greek ideal of a city. The disciples formed an authentic "democracy" among themselves, embodying the ideal the Greeks never achieved because they allowed slavery and class division.

The real translation of "ekklesia" should be "democracy". In each city, Jesus' disciples formed a democracy. However, there weren't translations. In Latin, they took the Greek word that lost its meaning -- "ecclesia", which in Spanish became "iglesia". The word "iglesia" ("church") means nothing. It says nothing. It became the name of an institution.

Anyone in the Catholic Church can see how far we've come from our Christian roots. Today, anyone who thinks the Church is or should be a democracy, is condemned as a heretic. We are exactly the extreme opposite of the early Christian communities.

In the Christian "democracy," all were equal, all could speak, all could intervene in the decisions taken by the assembly. It was really the advent of freedom, the nucleus of a new people, a new humanity. The communities didn't meet to worship, to practice a religion, but to live with others in a brotherhood of equals. Living together was the reason for these gatherings. There was naturally a meal in common because living together is eating together.

What was most like the original "ekklesia" was the so-called basic ecclesial communities, an embodiment of which there hasn't been much news since the Middle Ages, although it was embodied in some Reformed churches, especially in the United States.

3. The gifts of the Spirit in the communities

The Church, that "democracy" formed one entity, one single body because it is the body of Christ. Each one is an organ of Christ. Christ himself gathers all its members together. He unites all those members through the gifts of the Spirit which are diverse. Each one receives a gift of the Spirit. The gift is an ability to serve. All serve all, all are at the service of all. That's unity. Unity is made by the Spirit.

Paul leaves three lists of gifts or services that he calls charisms. The lists are not the same. There was not an official catalog. The communities were not to be copies of a uniform model.

1 Corinthians 12:8-10: "To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit;to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues."

1 Corinthians 12:28: "Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then, gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues."

Romans 12:6-8: "Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness."

We don't need to investigate here what the specific content of each of these gifts was. What matters is that all members had a role in the community. If someone presides, it's not to give orders but to bring people together. In the Pauline communities, no one gave orders and no one imposed themselves. What happened was what Dom Helder said when he came to Recife: two words are forbidden here -- commanding and demanding.

Of course, these communities were small and didn't need much organization. Problems, conflicts and rivalries came up but those problems weren't resolved by the imposition of a leader.

Paul always claimed his rank of "apostle" because of having been called by Christ himself, as were the Twelve -- although under different circumstances -- and he has the authority to proclaim the Gospel. During his itinerant mission, he was the founder of many communities. He claims the authority of father of the community, which confers unique authority on him.

However, it's important to see how Paul exercises that authority. He doesn't give orders and he doesn't impose. We have very important testimony in 2nd Corinthians. As is well known, 2nd Corinthians isn't one single letter but a collection of letters integrated in a set. It's easy to recognize the various letters. 2nd Corinthians contains 5 letters that all refer to an incident that occurred in Corinth.

When Paul was in Ephesus, a crisis erupted in Corinth. Someone contested Paul's authority and led an opposition group (2 Corinthians 2:5-6). Paul ran to Corinth. His visit was brief and without result. On the contrary, the leader of the opposition insulted Paul himself and defied him openly. Paul preferred to withdraw and wait for better conditions to initiate a different strategy with an eye to reconciliation.

From Ephesus, Paul wrote a letter exhorting the disciples at Corinth to reconcile with him. That letter is in 2 Corinthians 2:14 - 7:4. It was a letter of apology. It wasn't the first, because in 2 Corinthians 2:3,4,9 Paul mentions a letter written in tears. Some have thought it might be 2 Corinthians 10-13, but that doesn't seem to be written with such strong emotions. If it isn't that, the letter in tears has been lost. Certainly the letter in tears was the culminating moment of the crisis.

So Paul sent Titus to Corinth to see if he would be able to solve the problem, that being that the Corinthians would recognize Paul's apostolic authority. Titus' mission was a total success. He traveled to announce that news to Paul. The latter was now so impatient that he left Ephesus to meet Titus. They met in Macedonia, probably at Philippi. Paul was so happy that he wrote and sent the Corinthians the reconciliation letter -- 2 Corinthians 1:1 - 2:13, 7:5-16.

Once reconciliation had been achieved, Paul wanted to take up again the matter of a collection for the poor in Jerusalem, which had been an initiative of the Corinthians but which had been abandoned when the conflict broke out. He wanted to exhort the Corinthians to excite them. They are chapters 8 and 9 of 2nd Corinthians.

This episode is very interesting. Paul could have invoked his stature as an apostle to impose himself. He could have handed down a sentence of condemnation on the rebels, or even one of expulsion from the community. He preferred the path of dialogue with a goal of achieving reconciliation.

Nowadays the fact that there weren't any ordinations draws a lot of attention. Everyone received their charism directly from the Spirit. The charism was accepted because the disciple showed his ability. No one was designated for a particular job. Spontaneity was enough to solve the problems of community life. Gifts of the Spirit weren't lacking. The communities were small. There was no formal organization.

The fact that there was no ministry or any liturgical or cultic kind of charism also draws attention. Today ordinations and liturgical and cultic ministries come first in the Catholic Church to the point of obscuring the gifts of the community. In Corinth, nobody was ordained in order to baptize people. No one was ordained or designated to preside at the celebration of the Eucharist, linked to the community meals. The person who presided at the meal, presided at the Eucharist, that is, they distributed the bread. It was the person who said grace at the meals.

This reflects the fact that there was no liturgical worship in the Christian communities. All the Old Testament worship disappeared and was replaced by worship made of reality, not symbols. Henceforth the temple was the disciples themselves in body. In them, God dwelt (1 Corinthians 3:9-17).

There were no more cultic sacrifices. The sacrifices were the bodily lives of the disciples, their actions inspired by the Spirit (Romans 12:1, Philippians 3:3). The priests were all the disciples who offered their lives daily, lived out in their bodies.

There was nothing liturgical. Liturgy was real life...Later, the influence of the Old Testament and pagan religions made the Christians give themselves liturgical worship made of symbols too. So ordained ministers emerged for that worship. After Constantine there was a radical development of liturgical worship and its ministers. The Church became clericalized and the charisms disappeared, at least from the minds of Christians and the official structures of the Church...In Paul's time, no one imagined ordained priests for worship. Ministries were real services for the community or for the poor.

4. The poor Church

The subject of poverty is fundamental in Paul's ecclesiology. Let's say next that Paul's poor Church theme has nothing to do with the contemporary theme of the preferential option for the poor. Anyone making an option for the poor can only be rich. The Church that makes that option is a rich Church. That is, in fact, the condition of the Catholic Church nowadays. When the bishops at Medellin made an option for the poor, they knew they were rich and represented a rich Church. They wanted to respond to the challenge of their status as rich bishops who call themselves successors of the apostles who were poor.

Paul makes a long exposition on this poverty theme in 1st Corinthians 1:17-2:16 and 3:18-23. The subject of poverty is linked to the theme of the Cross. Paul proclaims the crucified Jesus and his ecclesiology derives from this basic theme. The greatest poverty is the Cross. The Cross is the situation of the worst human degradation; it is total powerlessness. So it is an object of shame. Being crucified is the greatest shame. It is contempt, rejection, an object of derision. The Cross reduces human beings to garbage.

Now, God chose the Cross -- garbage, scandal, shame -- to create the new humanity. That Cross is present in the poor. God chose what is most despised among humankind. That's why He chose the poor. The poor are the ones chosen to initiate the journey of humankind's liberation. The poor are chosen because they are rejected, mistreated, reduced to impotence. God chose what is weakest to show that His strength acts through that which is "weakest." The community at Corinth is an example of this manifestation of His creative power...In Corinth there were few rich people and the community was essentially made up of the poor (1 Corinthians 1:26).

The Church according to St. Paul is the Church of the poor that was John XXIII's dream.

There is a special emphasis on cultural poverty. God rejected the wisdom of the wise and chose the folly of the Cross. Folly means intellectual weakness, cultural poverty. We don't need the help of Greek philosophy. Real wisdom is the wisdom of the Cross. It's the wisdom of the poor.

But poverty is material too, of course. We have a description of that material poverty in Paul's description of his life. Since he himself on his mission was proof of the wisdom of the Cross. "I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God." (1 Corinthians 2:3-5) Now here's the material poverty: "We are fools on Christ's account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world's rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment." (1 Corinthians 4:10-13; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:16–12:10)

If we consider the Church's 2000 years of history, how can we not be frightened by the enormous distance that separates us from our origins? In spite of everything, there has always been a remnant, a small minority that has been faithful to the origins and poor communities that have heard the message of the folly of the Cross. Beside them was so much wealth, so much power that hid the gospel!

In the conquest of America, there were some missionaries who reproduced Paul's model -- the Dominicans of Hispaniola, the Franciscans in central Mexico, the Jesuits in the Guarani missions. Beside this, all the power and all the wealth of a Church linked to the conquistadors. Until today, so much temptation to power!

They talk about a great mission in Latin America. But this Church we are today, what can it proclaim to the poor masses of Latin America? What authority does this Church that seeks power so much, have? The great mission could only be a great conversion of the Church. This conversion would be the work of the poor of Latin America. The Church has nothing to teach and everything to learn. The real Church is in the midst of the poor as a crucified Church, without human wisdom, without prestige, without buildings, without theology, without university degrees, really the dung of the world, ignored and despised. There is the Cross of Christ that we don't teach.

That's the great lesson that comes to us from St. Paul. It's folly, but we can all try to be fools!

Trusting in God

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
June 15, 2014

John 3:16-18

The effort made by theologians over the centuries to explain the mystery of the Trinity with human concepts hardly helps Christians today reawaken their trust in God the Father, reaffirm their allegiance to Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, and accept with living faith the presence of the Spirit of God within us. So it might be good for us to make an effort to approach the mystery of God with simple words and humble hearts by closely following the message, actions, and whole life of Jesus -- mystery of the Son of God incarnate.

The mystery of the Father is tender love and constant forgiveness. No one is excluded from His love; no one is denied His forgiveness. The Father loves us and seeks every one of us, His sons and daughters, through paths He alone knows. He looks on every human being with infinite tenderness and deep compassion. That's why Jesus always invoked him with one word: "Father."

Our first attitude before this Father must be trust. The ultimate mystery of reality, which we believers call "God", must not cause us any fear or anxiety -- God can only love us. He understands our small and wavering faith. We are not to feel sad for our lives which are almost always so mediocre, nor be discouraged when we discover that we have lived for years separated from this Father. We can simply abandon ourselves to Him. Our little faith is enough.

Jesus also invites us to trust. These are his words: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me." Jesus is the living portrait of the Father. In his words, we are hearing what the Father is saying to us. In his gestures and his way of acting -- totally committed to making life more humane -- he shows us how God wants us to be.

So through Jesus we can meet a concrete, warm and friendly God in any situation. He puts peace in our lives. He makes us go from fear to trust, from suspicion to simple faith in the ultimate mystery of life that is only Love.

Receiving the Spirit that animates the Father and His Son Jesus is welcoming within ourselves the invisible, quiet but real presence of the mystery of God. When we become aware of this constant presence, a new trust in God begins to awaken in us.

Our lives are fragile, filled with contradictions and uncertainty. Believers or non-believers, we are surrounded by mystery. But the presence, also mysterious, of the Spirit within us, although weak, is enough to sustain our confidence in the ultimate mystery of life that is only Love.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sister Teresa Forcades sums up her anti-capitalist ideas in new book

ABC.es/EFE (English translation by Rebel Girl)
June 6, 2014

"És a les nostres mans" ("It's in our hands") is the title of the new book by Benedictine nun and medical doctor Teresa Forcades, which the woman religious launched this afternoon in Barcelona and in which she summarizes her anti-capitalist social, political and economic thought.

In this book, published by DAU in its 'Retrats" series, Forcades (Barcelona, 1966) lays out her arguments "to understand the crisis that's shaking up our society."

The first part is an ethical critique of capitalism "in its most predatory version," in which Teresa Forcades reanalyzes concepts such as "the free market, maximum profit, and the value of entrepreneurship."

After offering proposals in favor of social democracy, the nun, a promoter with economist Arcadi Oliveres of the political platform 'Procés Constituent', reflects about nationalism at the present, among other things.

In her work, Forcades, with the collaboration of Jordi Barra, also includes a section on the challenges of Christianity from her perspective as a nun at the monastery of Sant Benet de Montserrat, where she has lived since 1997.

"Can we talk about a free market when in reality capitalism, historically, has always gone hand in hand with political power?," wonders the nun who criticizes the "collusion between economic and political power" which she says "isn't transparent, isn't known or voted on by citizens."

"We've converted people's ability to work into a commodity subject to unrestricted speculation. No one is unworthy because they can't work, but it is unworthy to deprive someone of the free exercise of their ability to work," criticizes the nun in another section of her new book.

According to Forcades, "capitalism makes us rivals because the more I have, the less you'll have. We aren't rivals, but companions on the road and in the struggle."

The Benedictine also opines on Catalan nationalism: "I think nationalism can be based on a common language and history, but mainly on a future plan based on the internal recognition of the importance of diversity."

"I don't conceive of an independent Catalonia as a Catalonia lacking in solidarity. Nor do I imagine it as uniform. Internal diversity is the first challenge. My intuition is that from this freedom, a greater unity will emerge. I don't want disunity, or the violence of being united by force either," she says.

Forcades asserts that "what I've never wanted is a monolithic way of thinking. To be truly a communion of universal people, the best contribution we can make to the world is our culture. I don't want to belittle it; I want to honor and strengthen it. A language is a precious thing, a treasure."

The nun is very critical of the current system: "We are faced with a poorly functioning democracy because of the clear collusion between the political and economic classes," she says.

"Laws are approved that favor the interests of a minority, as opposed to the needs of the citizens, the majority," the nun emphasizes.

"One of the most shocking facts that demonstrates this is the so-called "revolving door", where public officials legislate in favor of certain sectors and then, when their term ends, go to work for the companies that profited while they were in power," concludes the nun and doctor, who proposes beginning a discussion period to open "an alternative to capitalism."

Monday, June 9, 2014

Pagola: "This book has made me more a believer"

By José Luis Celada (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Vida Nueva
No. 2897, 6/6/2014

Seven years after its publication, and after overcoming quite a few difficulties, Jesus: An Historical Approximation (PPC 207 in Spanish, Convivium Press 2009 in English) continues to reap victories, most recently the 2014 Excellence in Publishing Award from the Association of Catholic Publishers (ACP) in the United States.

However, if anything moves José Antonio Pagola (Guipúzcoa, 1937) it's "the hundreds and hundreds of emails" from people telling him how, thanks to his book, the encounter with Jesus has changed their lives.

QUESTION: Is that saying that "no one is a prophet in their own land" coming true here too? What does this recognition that your Jesus just received from the U.S. Association of Catholic Publishers mean?

ANSWER: I think not. First, because I'm not a prophet, and second, because my book has been well received among us [in Spain], especially by the common people.

This latest honor fills me with joy because it will help the Good News of Jesus to be spread in places like Australia, Canada, India...At least, that's what they tell me. I'm also happy for Convivium Press which, being a modest publisher, has managed in little more than three years to put out the fifth edition of my book in a market as complex as the United States one.

Q: How do you assimilate the success of a work that has been translated into a dozen languages and with more than 120,000 copies sold worldwide?

A: Look, I'm my mother's son. I know who I am. What you're calling "success" gives me much happiness and stimulates me to go on working, but it doesn't go beyond that. What moves me are the hundreds and hundreds of emails which I'm still receiving from everywhere, especially Latin America, from people who tell me how they've met Jesus and how Jesus has changed their lives after many years of indifference, agnosticism, and even militant atheism.

For example, I got testimony from someone who had tried to take their life and is now proclaiming the Gospel, from prostitutes who, at the end of their day, wash and tell Jesus that they only do their work to feed their children, from terminally ill people who died hugging the book and thank me through their widows...

The day before yesterday I got an email from an atheist telling me that, certainly, he won't give up his atheism but that he cries every time he reads the chapter on the crucifixion and wonders about the mystery that lies in Jesus. He tells me that Jesus is making him more humane and compassionate.

Q: Beyond the publishing phenomenon it has become, to what do you attribute this great reception and the impact it has produced among readers?

A: To Jesus. His drawing power is incredible. Sometimes, we Christians don't have a clue about his humanizing and liberating power when it's presented simply with a little freshness and authenticity. Jesus frees us from mediocre and not very humane images of God. He draws us to live as he did, making life more humane. He fills our life with unmistakable joy and peace.

It's fascinating to follow him closely. The crisis in the Christian denominations will not drag down Jesus. Freed from less Christian associations, the figure of Jesus will grow. Only Jesus will save the Christian faith. That's what I feel inside.

Q: Does all [the book's] appeal lie in the figure of Jesus of Nazareth that it reveals? How much responsibility does the author's approach have as well?

A: The most important thing is that the author doesn't ruin his figure much. While writing the book, I spent many hours in silence "conversing" with Jesus. Sometimes, as a historian, I asked him, "Who are you who left behind so many questions and conflicts? What mystery lies in you that provokes so much love and rejection?"

Other times, as a believer, I said to him simply, "And now, Jesus, what can I tell the people of today about you? What is most important? Teach me to find good, clear, simple words to touch the hearts of today's men and women, so in need of encouragement and hope."

Q: Seven years have passed since the book first saw the light. To what extent does this "good news" now compensate for the bad times of suspicion and condemnation you experienced a while back?

A: Even though almost nobody believes it, I now hardly remember any of that curious and surprising past. Surely it's the best thing that could have happened to me. I don't have any wounds inside. It's good to suffer a little for Jesus sometimes. You will always identify with Him.

Q: What has this "child" given (or taken away from) you that the others haven't?

A: This book has made me more a believer. I'm no longer the same man who began to write this book twelve years ago. Jesus has totally centered my life. I only want to devote myself to spreading his Good News. I'm convinced that only Jesus will save his Church.

Q: So your future projects will continue going through the figure of Jesus...

A: I want to contribute all my efforts for us to experience a process of conversion to Jesus and his Gospel in the Church. The gospel renewal of the Church to which Francis is calling us will depend in large part on the development of small groups and communities that commit themselves to bringing up to date today the early experience of that first group of disciples with Jesus who heard his call and followed him. For this, I'm now promoting the so-called "Jesus groups."

Q: And what are these groups?

A: Their main purpose is to experience together a process of individual and group conversion to Jesus the Christ, delving simply into the essence of the Gospel. This is first and critical. Making a journey together that leads us to know Jesus better, to rekindle our whole allegiance to him and follow him, working with him on his humanizing plan for the Kingdom of God.

Q: Have you ever imagined for an instant that, as has happened with other titles and authors, Pope Francis might publicly suggest some day reading your Jesus?

A: The Pope is doing something much more important. Every day, through his deeds, his words, and his whole life, he is drawing us towards Jesus and his Gospel. I know his words by heart. In October last year, he said: "The Church must lead to Jesus. He is the center of the Church. If the Church ever didn't lead to Jesus, it would be a dead Church."

The Pope isn't talking about aggiornamento or adapting the Church to the times. Nor is it just recovering the spirit and guiding principles of Vatican II. He's telling us we have to go back to Jesus Christ who "can break through the dull categories with which we would enclose him." He also says that "we must go back to the source and recover the original freshness of the Gospel."

Q: They say the Pope has read your book...

A: I got the word from Argentina that Jorge Bergoglio was one of the first to buy my book from the Claret bookstore in Buenos Aires and I know he gave one to a bishop friend of his while we were distracted by the controversy here. If that's true, I'm deeply glad.