by Fr. Keith Branson, C.PP.S.
Jesus was fond of finding the Third Way in his teaching. This Third Way, as articulated by biblical scholars such as Raymond Bailey, was neither an embrace of violence nor a submission to injustice, but rather changing the context that made new possibilities emerge out of seemingly black and white situations.
Perhaps the best example is the classic teaching to “turn the other cheek.” One man striking the other on the right cheek is a backhand blow: a blow of a master to a slave, a blow from a social superior to an inferior. The options are: strike back, in which case you would be accused of resisting established order and perhaps be killed, or take it, which means could happen again. Turning the other cheek, demanding a blow on the left cheek, is demanding a strike between social equals. The context is changed by an action that’s neither blunt resistance nor giving in: it demands the striker to see his target as an equal. It changes the relationship, which means both question and answer are now different, and both aren’t bound by the previous black and white situation.
Pope Francis has been doing the same kind of thing since last March when he was elected to the papacy. He was quick to discard many of the trappings of the papacy, but he hasn’t been a liberal who’s overturned Catholic doctrine—although he’s gone away from the primacy of doctrine evident in the past 20 years of the Church. In a society determined to force us to the left or the right, Francis has followed a Third Way, stayed in the center, and invited criticism from both sides.
With his document, Evangelii Gaudium, Francis has called the entire Church back to its missionary character in a profound way. In the fourth chapter, under a subsection entitled, “Unity Prevails over Conflict”, he writes, “When conflict arises, some people simply look at it and go their way as if nothing happened; they wash their hands of it and get on with their lives. Others embrace it in such a way that they become its prisoners; they lose their bearings, project onto institutions their own confusion and dissatisfaction and thus make unity impossible. But there is also a third way, and it is the best way to deal with conflict. It is the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers!’” (Mt 5:9).
Francis calls evangelization basic to Christianity, and says that it’s a task for all of us, all the time, to everyone. He speaks a great deal about the role of dialogue and listening. In order to explore Joy of the Gospel, it is probably more faithful to his spirit to begin a series of conversations around this groundbreaking document. There is going to be such a series beginning Wednesday, January 22 at Precious Blood Center, and continuing the next 4 weeks. I think it’s a dialogue our community is called to have in the spirit of Gaspar, our founder. Come, be part of it!