Well, in the space of a week, we have Pope Francis saying no, again, to proselytism:
The woman of Sychar asks Jesus about the place where God is truly worshiped. Jesus does not side with the mountain or the temple, but goes deeper. He goes to the heart of the matter, breaking down every wall of division. He speaks instead of the meaning of true worship: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24). So many past controversies between Christians can be overcome when we put aside all polemical or apologetic approaches, and seek instead to grasp more fully what unites us, namely, our call to share in the mystery of the Father’s love revealed to us by the Son through the Holy Spirit. Christian unity – we are convinced – will not be the fruit of subtle theoretical discussions in which each party tries to convince the other of the soundness of their opinions. When the Son of Man comes, he will find us still discussing! We need to realize that, to plumb the depths of the mystery of God, we need one another, we need to encounter one another and to challenge one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who harmonizes diversities, overcomes conflicts, reconciles differences.
Gradually the Samaritan woman comes to realize that the one who has asked her for a drink is able to slake her own thirst. Jesus in effect tells her that he is the source of living water which can satisfy her thirst for ever (cf. Jn 4:13-14). Our human existence is marked by boundless aspirations: we seek truth, we thirst for love, justice and freedom. These desires can only be partially satisfied, for from the depths of our being we are prompted to seek “something more”, something capable of fully quenching our thirst. The response to these aspirations is given by God in Jesus Christ, in his paschal mystery. From the pierced side of Jesus there flowed blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34). He is the brimming fount of the water of the Holy Spirit, “the love of God poured into our hearts (Rom 5:5) on the day of our baptism. By the working of the Holy Spirit, we have become one in Christ, sons in the Son, true worshipers of the Father. This mystery of love is the deepest ground of the unity which binds all Christians and is much greater than their historical divisions. To the extent that we humbly advance towards the Lord, then, we also draw nearer to one another.
Her encounter with Jesus made the Samaritan women a missionary. Having received a greater and more important gift than mere water from a well, she leaves her jar behind (cf. Jn 4:28) and runs back to tell her townspeople that she has met the Christ (cf. Jn 4:29). Her encounter with Jesus restored meaning and joy to her life, and she felt the desire to share this with others. Today there are so many men and women around us who are weary and thirsting, and who ask us Christians to give them something to drink. It is a request which we cannot evade. In the call to be evangelizers, all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities discover a privileged setting for closer cooperation. For this to be effective, we need to stop being self-enclosed, exclusive, and bent on imposing a uniformity based on merely human calculations (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 131). Our shared commitment to proclaiming the Gospel enables us to overcome proselytism and competition in all their forms. All of us are at the service of the one Gospel!
Then we have this:
“They scorn the others, they stay away from the community as a whole, they stay away from the people of God, they have privatized salvation: salvation is for me and my small group, but not for all the people of God. And this is a very serious mistake. It’s what we see and call: ‘the ecclesial elites.’ When these small groups are created within the community of God’s people, these people believe they are being good Christians and also are acting in good faith maybe, but they are small groups who have privatized salvation.”
Is there a contradiction here? Not really I think. Pope Francis is no fan of traditional Catholicism and of some traditional Catholic devotions. Thus he condemns those who believe, as the Catholic Church has always taught, that in the Church is our path to salvation. He certainly does not want proselytism by these Catholics. On the other hand, some sort of fairly amorphous Christianity Pope Francis obviously finds attractive. The encounter by the Samaritan woman with Christ at the well seems to be a symbol for this type of Christianity: long on an emotional encounter with Christ and short on doctrines and rules. That is the way I make sense out of the Pope simultaneously condemning proselytism and also condemning Catholic “elites” who claim, and I confess that I have never met traditional Catholics that have stated this, that salvation is alone for their group and them. (The traditional Catholics I have known are more in the “Let’s convert the World!” mode.) I have long known that God does not see as we see. Now, apparently, we have a Pope who does not see as almost all believing Catholics have seen.