Pope Francis Against the Self-Referential Church, Part 2

Last month I blogged about Pope Francis’s remarks against the idea of a “self-referential” Church.  The Church, the Pope believes, must reach beyond itself, must seek to bring the Gospel to those on the outside.  This way of thinking, I observed, is consistent with the Second Vatican Council and with the concerns of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

This warning against self-referentiality, it seems to me, is fruitful not only for the Church as a whole, but also for its members: persons and families.  Self-referentiality is unacceptable for the Church because its mission is love, and love seeks to reach beyond itself in generosity.  But this is also the mission of each member of the Church, so the warning against self-referentiality applies equally here.

Pope Francis

A young man and woman fall in love.  They must guard against the self-referentiality of that love.  That is, they must ensure that the love is not just a form of self-gratification, but is actually concerned with the well-being of the other person.  A relationship in which one is concerned only with the joy one receives from the other person does not even deserve to be called love.

Say the young man and woman decide to marry.  Now they are bound together in a formally recognized love, one that is ratified and elevated by a sacrament.  Although this love is good in itself, they misuse it if they treat it merely as an end it itself.  Married love must not be merely self-referential.  It should look beyond itself, should reach generously beyond itself to the generation and nurturing of new life.  Marital love avoids self-referentiality, or it ascends to the level of real love, when it is open to children.

So now, if all goes well, this man and woman are the parents of children, perhaps of many children.  Any parent can tell you that this work is joyful but arduous.  Nurturing children, seeing to their daily needs as well as providing for their long-term development, is taxing.  It can be mentally and physically exhausting.  Parents are often observed to be pretty tired at the end of the day.

Given these demands, it would be easy for the family’s love to become self-referential.  But this is precisely the thing against which Pope Francis has warned us.  The Church, he says, is not to be self-referential.  But it is common for Catholics to view the family as the domestic Church.  So the domestic Church, too, must eschew self-referentiality.  The love of the family must overflow the family.  Parents must train their children not just to be good brothers and sisters, but also to be good friends, good citizens, good members of the parish, friends of the poor.  The family will be expressing its love most perfectly when that love is not just turned in on the family itself but turned outward to the service of others.

And by doing this the love of the family will achieve proper referentiality, will orient itself to  God himself, who is the end to which the love of the Church and the family is supposed to refer.

Self-referentiality, Francis warns us, is barren.  But his warning against self-referentiality is fruitful insofar as it helps us to think about the proper aims of the Church and of our own ordinary activities.

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Categories:Pope Francis

5 thoughts on “Pope Francis Against the Self-Referential Church, Part 2

  1. Anthony says:

    “Evangelism is NOT a “protestant” word.

    1. Peter K says:

      There already exists a term for those who reject the 21st ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church and have broken communion with the Bishop of Rome…they are called schismatics.

  2. Christopher Browne says:

    The Church’s mission is SALVATION, and NOTHING ELSE. NOTHING else matters! Moreover, when the Church (or Our Lord, for that matter) speaks of love, it refers to the charity that is the love of God FIRST, above ALL else, and the love of our neighbor, not for our neighbor’s sake, but for the love of God. Vatican II and it’s new theology really distort what is meant by ‘love’. “Self-referentiality” is a fancy term to describe those who do no themselves subscribe to the Counciliar Church. In case you
    you’ve not noticed it, but this man has made it a point to attack traditionalists since his ‘election’ as ‘Pope’ (or merely the office of ‘Bishop of Rome’.

    1. Peter K says:

      There already exists a term for those who reject the 21st ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church and have broken communion with the Bishop of Rome…they are called schismatics.

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