Friday, December 20, 2013

A Religion of Compassion?

A Religion of Compassion: A Letter to Pope Francis
by Matthew Fox
July 28, 2013

Will Pope Francis set the Catholic Church against the powers of injustice in our world today?

I have taken note of the fact that you and Rabbi Abraham Skorka in Argentina have become good friends; he speaks highly of you to the press. I have enjoyed reading your dialogs with him and I commend you for learning and listening from him. This pleases me very much because as we both know anti-Semitism has haunted Christian history since its earliest days and it built up over the centuries, spurred on by the sixteenth century pope Paul IV who invented the ghetto for Jews in Rome. It became even more fierce and unchecked with the horrors of Hitler’s crusade and fascism in general has always dined on that sordid, anti-Semitic legacy. As we both know, Jesus and his earliest followers were Jewish, so surely church renewal has something essential to do with embracing and celebrating a Jewish consciousness and with undoing our ignorance of, and what is sometimes contempt for, Jesus’ lineage.

Recent scholarship on Pope Pius XI reveals how he asked a North American Jesuit, Father John LaFarge, who had written about racism in America, to draft an encyclical on the evil of fascism. LaFarge unfortunately sent his document first to his Superior General, Father Wlodimir Ledochowski, who it turns out held fascist sympathies and did not pass it on to the pope. Eventually he did release it but the whole process was slowed down and Pope Pius XI died the night before he was to deliver an anti-fascist speech and before he published his anti-fascist encyclical. (Cardinal Eugene Tisserant of France, who was the pope’s best friend, wrote in his diary that the pope had been murdered.) The next pope, Pius XII, as we know, never wrote an encyclical condemning fascism. How much history might have been changed—how possible is it that Pius XI’s encyclical might have prevented Hitler’s and Mussolini’s advances had it been promulgated—we will never know.

I too have been blessed by knowing and working with rabbis including Rabbis Zalman Schachter (founder of the Jewish Renewal movement), Arthur Waskow, Michael Lerner (editor of Tikkun), Rami Shapiro, and others. But I especially want to invoke in this subject of religious renewal the brilliant spirit and solid analysis of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who wrote so many books of depth and beauty including the classic work, The Prophets. He not only composed that scholarly volume, he also lived it. He literally walked his talk when he marched with Martin Luther King at Selma to protest racism and segregation and he was vilified by his own Jewish community for doing so because they felt his public presence on behalf of black people would arouse still more anti-Semitism. He marched anyway and when his ten year old daughter asked him what it was like marching amidst the dangers at Selma he replied: “I felt my feet were praying.”

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Please note: This article is an exclusive excerpt from Matthew Fox’s new book, Letters to Pope Francis: Rebuilding a Church with Justice and Compassion (South Orange, NJ: LevelFiveMedia, 2013). Reprinted with permission of LevelFiveMedia, all rights reserved. This selection comes from Chapter Two, “Why Religion is in Decline: Wisdom from Rabbi Heschel” (pp. 31-41).

Matthew Fox is a spiritual theologian and author of more than thirty books, including Christian Mystics and The Hidden Spirituality of Men. He is a visiting scholar with the Academy of the Love of Learning and his web page is

Credit: Creative Commons/Catholic Church England and Wales.
The photo was found at TIKKUN magazine