New Pope, New Vision – New Hope?

Matthew Fox’s Letters to Pope Francis Offer Audacious – and Necessary – Guideposts to Rebirth the Church

As an Earth-based escapee from the Catholic Church for lo, these 30-odd years, I’ve puzzled some friends with my enthusiasm over theologian/activist/author and ex-Dominican Matthew Fox. After I’d shaken the Catholic – and Christian – dust off my shoes so very thoroughly, they ask, what’s the deal? Why follow the work of this theologian- still more, why promote him?

Simple: Fox has spent more than 40 years teaching creation-based spirituality – a mystic Christian tradition in tune with leading-edge science, focusing on original blessing rather than original sin, teaching pan-entheism (God in all things, and all things in God, a transcendent and embodied Divine) and speaking out for social, environmental, and gender justice.

He’s spent almost as long calling the Vatican to account for its repressive policies shutting down the voices of justice, dissent, and theological progress, and for promoting the blindly sycophantic and the criminally greedy, corrupt, and pedophilic.

Even a spiritual-but-not-religious Earth-based edgewalker can appreciate a  theologian like that…one who teaches “the Christ Path” rather than Christianity, who honors women, feminism, and the Divine Feminine, who’s transformed worship into a high-energy, dancing communal meditative journey and who attends sweat lodge and Sun Dance and pays heed to the wisdom of Indigenous teachers.  And who carries the scars of Vatican anger for doing all of the above.

So when “Speakeasy Mike” offered me the opportunity to review Letters to Pope Francis, of course I leaped at the chance. ..with the caveat that I’m not an unbiased source, just one speaking from the other side of the religious fence.

Fox has told the story of his struggles in writing The Pope’s War, his comprehensive expose of the corruption in the Vatican. Recently released in paperback, the book is a damning portrait of the corrupt and repressive papacies of Benedict XVI and John Paul II. It is an exhaustively researched and documented – and emotionally exhausting – read, as well as an act of profound moral courage.

Reading Letters to Pope Francis: Rebuilding a Church with Justice and Compassion after experiencing The Pope’s War is like moving from darkness to dawn. Fox is writing from the heart, pouring out hope and prayer and support to a spiritual brother. He addresses Francis as a pope who has demonstrated an understanding and commitment to the teachings of the historical Jesus: justice, compassion, and the reform of corruption. And he challenges the new pope to act boldly and lavishly on those principles, calling on him to fulfill the promise of the papal name he chose and return to the forgotten values of Vatican II.

Nothing escapes examination in this small but intense volume: the need for healing the Church from the wounds inflicted by the Vatican at all levels, from criminal cardinals to molested children…the need for a new awareness and commitment to the poor in the face of global corporatocracy…the need to expunge the influence of fundamentalist christofascism from the Church…the need to recognize the martyrs of the New World and reinvent the failing priesthood…

All of these are themes that the new pope has already sounded. But Fox dreams bigger, audaciously envisioning a Church not only reformed but also re-birthed at the deepest levels to become a voice for healing and transformation in the world, as the Pope’s namesake saint and indeed Jesus, the object of the Church’s worship, taught

He urges Francis to adopt the principles and paths of Creation Spirituality – an ancient mystical tradition within Christianity which Fox learned from his mentor, Marie-Dominique Chenu, o.p., of the Institut Catholique de Paris, and which includes such luminary spokesmen as the late Teillhard de Chardin and Thomas Berry, and which Father Bede Griffiths called the “spirituality of the future.”

Fox urges the pope to recognize the need for the Divine Feminine in the spirituality of this century….to advocate for the rights of women, and to step away from the myopic anti-sex/anti-birth-control/anti-abortion/anti-gay sexual policies of past papacies and embrace the teachings of Jesus on sexuality between consenting adults – i.e., silence. He urges him to hear the words of indigenous peoples on the sacredness of the earth, and to de-centralize the Church, giving greater leadership to the laity, and particularly to women. He speaks to the need for deep and genuine ecumenism, sharing wisdom among faiths – not the Church’s historic facsimile tolerating other denominations as “separated brethren” and ignoring or invalidating other traditions.

In short, Fox passionately envisions a rebirth of the Church to one that is truly catholic – i.e., universal – in its joyous worship, compassion, mysticism, creativity, community empowerment, prophetic voice, and activism. His love for the Church is plain to see – as well as his desire to help midwife the rebirthing.

Reading his words, as an escaped Catholic who bailed out over many of the issues he describes, my heart warmed to the vision of a Church that was genuinely a force for healing and positive change: one that played nicely with other spiritual traditions, that favored the poor over the powerful and the Earth over corporate greed. That recognized the Earth, as the newly canonized Saint Hildegard of Bingen did, as Mother, and all the cosmos radiant with divinity.

I see this book as a message not only to Pope Francis but also, especially, to ex-Catholics and spiritual-but-not-religious “nones” dreaming of what a welcoming and supportive church might be. This is a vision worth manifesting…and now, if ever, is the time.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.