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BY Edward Pentin
A new book revealing Pope Francis’ thoughts as a cardinal on a variety of "hot button" issues appears in English language bookstores on Friday.
Published by Image Books, the book is called “On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family and the Church in the 21st Century” and contains the text of a conversation between the Pope – then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio – and Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka.
Originally published in Spanish in 2010, this English translation is divided into 29 chapters according to topic, and includes frank discussions on same-sex marriage, globalization, euthanasia, fundamentalism, and many other topical subjects.
Image Books have released these two extracts ahead of tomorrow's publication: the first "On God", and the second "On Abortion."
Skorka: It has been many years since we first met and a brotherly bond has been forged between us. While studying the books of the Talmud, I found one that says that friendship means sharing meals and spending time together, but in the end it points out that the sign of a real friendship is the ability to reveal what is in one's heart to the other person. That is what happened over time with the two of us. I believe that undoubtedly the most important thing that brought us together was, and still is, God, who caused our paths to cross and allowed us to open our hearts to each other. Although we broached many topics during our regular conversations, we never spoke explicitly about God. Of course, it was always understood that He was present. It would be good to start this exchange, which we plan to leave as a testimony of our dialogue, by discussing Him who is so important in our lives.
Bergoglio: What a great word: "path!" In my personal experience with God I cannot do without the path. I would say that one encounters God walking, moving, seeking Him and allowing oneself to be sought by Him. They are two paths that meet. On one hand, there is our path that seeks Him, driven by that instinct that flows from the heart; and after, when we have encountered each other, we realize that He was the one who had been searching for us from the start. The initial religious experience is that of walking: walk to the land that I am going to give you [Genesis 12:1]. It is a promise that God makes to Abraham. In that promise, in this, in this walking, an alliance is established that consolidates over time. Because of this I say that my experience with God takes place along the path, both in the search and in allowing myself to be sought, even if it may be by diverse paths-of pain, of joy, of light, or of darkness.
Skorka: What you have said reminds me of a few biblical verses. For example, when God tells Abraham: "Walk in my presence and be blameless" [Genesis 17:1]. Or when the prophet Micah needed to explain to the Israelites what God wanted from them, and he tells them to "do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God" [Micah 6:8]. Without a doubt, experiencing God is dynamic, to use a word that we learn in our mutual study of basic science. [Abraham Skorka is a doctor of chemistry, and Jorge Bergoglio is a chemical technician.] However, what do you think we can say to people nowadays when we find the idea of God to be so mangled, profaned and diminished in importance?
Bergoglio: What every person must be told is to look inside himself. Distraction is an interior fracture. It will never lead the person to encounter himself for it impedes him from looking into the mirror of his heart. Collecting oneself is the beginning. That is where the dialogue begins. At times, one believes he has the only answer, but that's not the case. I would tell the people of today to seek the experience of entering into the intimacy of their hearts, to know the experience, the face of God. That is why I love what Job says after his difficult experience and the dialogues that did not help him in any way: "By hearsay I had heard of you, but now my eye has seen you" [Job 42:5]. What I tell people is not to know God only by hearing. The Living God is He that you may see with your eyes within your heart
Skorka: The Book of Job teaches us a great lesson because - in short - it says that we can never know how God reveals Himself in specific circumstances. Job, a just, upright man, wanted to know why he had lost everything, even his health. His friends told him that God had punished him for his sins. He responds by saying that even if he had sinned, he had not been that bad. Job is comforted only when God appears to him. His questions are not answered, but the touch of God's presence stays with him. We can find several things in this story that shape my personal perception of God. First, Job's friends show themselves to be arrogant and nonsensical by espousing the theory that "You have sinned, therefore God has punished you," transforming God into some sort of computer that calculates reward or punishment. At the end of the story, God tells Job - who had railed so much against the injustices of his Creator - that he should intercede and pray for his friends, because they had spoken falsely about Him [see Job 42:7-8]. Those who had cried out in suffering, demanding heavenly justice, were pleasing in God's eyes. Those who insisted on a simplistic view of God's nature were detested by Him. As I understand it, God reveals Himself to us subtly. Our current suffering might be an answer for others in the future. Or, perhaps we ourselves are the response to something from the past. In Judaism, God is honored by our compliance with the precepts that he revealed. As you mentioned, each person and each generation must find the path on which they can search for and feel His presence.
Bergoglio: Exactly. We receive creation in our hands as a gift. God gives it to us, but at the same time He gives us a task: that we subdue the Earth. This is the first form of non-culture: what man receives, the raw material that ought to be subdued to make culturelike the log that is transformed into a table. But there is a moment in which man goes too far in this task; he gets overly zealous and loses respect for nature. Then ecological problems arise, like global warming, which are new forms of non-culture. The work of man before God and before himself must maintain a constant balance between the gift and the task. When man keeps the gift alone and does not do the work, he does not complete his mission and remains primitive; when man becomes overly zealous with his work, he forgets about the gift, creating a constructivist ethic: he thinks that everything is the fruit of his labor and that there is no gift. It is what I call the Babel syndrome.
Bergoglio: The moral problem with abortion is of a pre- religious nature because the genetic code of the person is present at the moment of conception. There is already a human being. I separate the issue of abortion from any religious concept. It is a scientific problem. To not allow further progress in the development of a being that already has the entire genetic code of a human being is not ethical. The right to life is the first human right. Abortion is killing someone that cannot defend himself.
Skorka: The problem with our society is that we have lost a great deal of our respect for the sanctity of life. Problem number one is that we talk about abortion as if it were no big deal and the most normal thing in the world. It is not. Even if it is only a cell, we are still talking about a human being. Therefore, the issue merits a very special forum for discussion. What we often find is that everyone has an opinion, even though they are misinformed, or have no knowledge of the subject. In general, Judaism condemns it, but there are situations where it is permitted; when the mother’s life is in danger, for example. Abortion is allowed in various circumstances. What is interesting is that in analyzing the Law of Nations, what would become jus gentium in the Talmud, the ancient Jewish sages ruled that it should be absolutely prohibited in other societies. My interpretation is that since they knew what was being done in Rome, they wanted to avoid a discussion of abortion where Jews were living in a society with such little respect for life. In the Talmud one can find an exhaustive analysis on the topic of the death penalty. Even though the punishment appears in the Torah, there are sages who opined that its use should be so restricted that it would never actually be carried out. There are also those who argued for a less restrictive policy. Depending on the particular situation they are faced with at the time, the sages of each new generation will decide the criteria for which the penalty is applied. The history regarding abortion is similar. Of course Judaism rejects and condemns it, with the exception of when the mother is clearly in danger of dying as explained in the Mishnah. In those cases, her life comes first. Other cases based on rape, serious birth defects, etc., are topics that have been debated by the rabbis of every generation. There are positions that are more restrictive and others that are less restrictive. The factor of holiness—understood as a supreme respect and consideration for human life in all its forms—is fundamental and should be the foundation and starting point from which we analyze and discuss this issue.