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Halt! Who goes there?
Who are these people?
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It seems that some persons’ struggles in faith are more important, or at least more tolerable, than those of others, a point well noted by this commenter. Those who excoriate their brethren for struggling to maintain the bonds of unity during what is, for many, a tumultuous and disorienting time in the Church, would do well to heed the pastoral words of Pope Francis. I suspect that our pastoral pope would be very accepting of outright struggles to keep the Faith.
44. [According to the Catechism,] “Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors”. Consequently, without detracting from the evangelical ideal, [pastors] need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur. …169. The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). …
172. One who accompanies others has to realize that each person’s situation before God and their life in grace are mysteries which no one can fully know from without. The Gospel tells us to correct others and to help them to grow on the basis of a recognition of the objective evil of their actions (cf. Mt 18:15), but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). Someone good at such accompaniment does not give in to frustrations or fears. He or she invites others to let themselves be healed, to take up their mat, embrace the cross, leave all behind and go forth ever anew to proclaim the Gospel. Our personal experience of being accompanied and assisted, and of openness to those who accompany us, will teach us to be patient and compassionate with others, and to find the right way to gain their trust, their openness and their readiness to grow.
Likewise, let us recall and adapt some famous remarks the pope made in his interview with Fr. Spadaro.
“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner, … preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. … I used to receive letters from [traditionalist] persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always [marginalized] them. But the church does not want to do this. … [I]f a [traditionalist] person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of [traditionalism]. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a [staunchly Catholic] person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.” …
Keep on truckin’, dudes, the pope’s got our backs.
Let me now close with two quotations which have helped me a great deal in the past few months. The first is from Blessed John Henry Newman:
“Is not this a time of strange providences? … Has not all our misery, as a Church, arisen from people being afraid to look difficulties in the face? They have palliated acts, when they should have denounced them. … And what is the consequence? that our Church has … ever been sinking lower and lower, till good part of its pretensions and professions is a mere sham, though it be a duty to make the best of what we have received. Yet, though bound to make the best of other men’s shams, let us not incur any of our own. The truest friends of our Church are they, who say boldly when her rulers are going wrong, and the consequences; and (to speak catachrestically) they are most likely to die in the Church, who are, under these black circumstances, most prepared to leave it. … I am very sanguine … that our prayers and our alms will come up as a memorial before God, and that all this miserable confusion tends to good.”
(John Henry Newman, letter written at Christmas 1841)
The last quotation comes from St. Augustine:
“Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Let no one separate; let no one cut himself off. You are the wheat; bear with the chaff until it is winnowed away. Do you want to be driven from the threshing floor[?] Although you are wheat, once outside, the birds of the air shall find you and gobble you up. What is more, that you should leave and fly away is proof that you were but chaff: and because you were without weight, when the wind blew, you were carried off from under the feet of the oxen. But they who are wheat, bear with the treading out. They are happy because they are grain; they grieve amidst the chaff, they wait for Him Whose fan is in His hand, Whom they know is their Redeemer [Qui autem triticum sunt, ferunt trituram; gaudent, quia grana sunt, gemunt inter paleam, exspectant ventilatorem, quem cognoscunt redemptorem].”
Take courage! Surrender is not an option!
In a year filled with students speaking out on a wide range of issues, Pope Francis and Lorde took unexpected stands on issues that mattered to them, challenging the beliefs of many in their respective communities and bringing new schools of thought into established paradigms. As we look back and celebrate their contributions to society and culture over the past year, we look ahead with excitement and anticipation to see how their work will continue to ripple a wave of positive change in the years to come.
Pope Francis: mtvU Man of the Year
Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio to Italian parents in Buenos Aires, assumed the leadership role of the Catholic Church in March 2013, while focusing on breaking down bureaucracy and making the church more inclusive and community focused. Months into his papacy, he surprised many by declaring that he would not judge a person for their sexual orientation, taking a bold stance on homosexuality that diverged from that of his predecessor. Continuing in his quest to unite rather than divide the Church, Pope Francis gave a high profile interview that appeared in Jesuit publications around the world in September, preaching love, acceptance and humility over dogma.
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” said Pope Francis in the interview. “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
Instead, Pope Francis, who took his name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi to demonstrate his concern for the well-being of the poor, has used his power to focus the Catholic Church on fighting poverty, luxury and vanity. His own humility and outspokenness in the name of acceptance has brought a new, unexpected voice to the Vatican in 2013.
If only the rest of us wee laymen were as bold and non-dogmatic as our pope. The pressure’s on: look attractive. We’ve got to keep up: the world is watching and learning.
The above “article” may be the quintessential snapshot of the soft-ultramontanist dilemma. On the one hand, when “the secular media” glom onto the Francis Effect, his fans rejoice at how “the world is finally listening to the Church [again?].” On the other hand, when the same “secular media” run with the pope’s quasi-Catholic headscratchers, his trusty troupe of Papal Auto-Tuners wring their hands for a few moments, and then brush it off as “the usual secular spin.”
The reality is much starker: either the world is “getting” the Church’s authentic teaching, or it is not. The world is either hearing the Church–and thus Christ–through Francis, or it is hearing Francis despite the hoary old shadow of the Church. The farther Evangelii Gaudium recedes into the online Catholic ghetto, and the more loudly “the pastoral pope’s” Christianese mantras are broadcast to the world, the clearer the enduring nature of the Francis
Effect Affect becomes.
* According to The Washington Post (11 Dec. 2013), Pope Francis’s selection “makes him the third pope to appear as Time’s Person of the Year. Pope John Paul II made the cover in 1994, and Pope John XXIII was chosen in 1962.” For some reason, that lineage says it all–but I’m hesitant to ponder too deeply what it says.
When the Internet gets a hold of something….
I was sent the following under this heading:
“As a Catholic and a fan of ’30 Rock,’ I couldn’t be prouder.”
[A few hours after posting this, I made a few minor revisions. I also recommend this comment by Dale.]
“6 Give strong drink to anyone who is perishing, and wine to the embittered; 7 When they drink, they will forget their misery, and think no more of their troubles. 8 Open your mouth in behalf of the mute, and for the rights of the destitute; 9 Open your mouth, judge justly, defend the needy and the poor!”
I began this post as a reply to a comment on a recent post, but it quickly expanded into a post in its own right. In speaking to this truly pitiable reader, I am speaking to all fellow Catholics who, despite all the pressure to conform and every reminder to “relax”, genuinely feel “lost at sea” these days. Since I am speaking on behalf of others as well as on my own behalf, please bear in mind that I may not hold or suffer every sentiment and idea expressed below, though I have experience all of them at one time or another since Benedict XVI abdicated.
Dear Lost Sheep,
I really appreciate your candor. I won’t try to sugarcoat your case with a rehearsed pep talk, much less an elaborate theological retort. You know how hard things have been in your faith-life, so I can only comment from the outside; to do otherwise, would be as presumptuous as it is obnoxious (think of Job’s friends). Whatever exactly Pope Francis stands for, and whatever he ultimately portends for the Church, he seems to be the apotheosis of the majority’s hopes, and the embodiment of the minority’s fears. To most of his supporters, he’s the epitome of what a pope, and contemporary Catholic witness, should be. To those of us unsettled by his leadership, he’s the distilled, animated version of much of what has gone off track in the last half-century. Make no mistake, those of us who can’t wholeheartedly embrace the pope’s leadership approach are a minority (of only about 7%), but we are still coheirs in Christ. To recall a maxim I’ve cited before:
“Peter has no need of our lies or flattery. Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the Supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See—they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations.”
Orthodox Catholics know that papal infallibility does not entail papal impeccability, but I am not alone in worrying at the emergence of a reflex among most Catholics these days to ascribe to Pope Francis a kind of personality impeccability. He’s just such a swell guy–he’s not just God’s man, he’s the man of the year! He’s the world’s man, too! (“What makes this pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church,” Time said in its cover story.) Even non-Catholics see how awesome this guy is! Is he perfect? Well, no, but–what? What are some specific examples of his personal imperfections? Oh, I don’t know, haters gonna hate. He’s so pastoral and charismatic!
The constant fawning over “The People’s Pope” is at times literally nauseating [NB: dizzying was my first word choice, but it is what it is] to those of us who can’t help but wonder if he’s not as interested in being, well, the Man of the Year, as he is in being the Universal Pastor. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way” (Luke 6:26). Believe it or not but there are actually some of us who would like for the pope to be unpopular in the world’s eyes. To recall that magisterial passage from Abp. Fulton Sheen (found in the preface to Volume 1 of Radio Replies):
“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be. … As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do. …
“If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hates. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh. If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church that is hated by the world, as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church which is accused of being behind the times, as Our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from Nazareth. Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because he called Himself the Truth. Look for the Church which amid the confusion of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly, it is other-worldly. Since it is other-worldly, it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself.”
Having said all that, I will be blunt: you have no coherent basis for leaving the Church, and to do so would be apostasy, plain and simple. Certainly there are pastoral factors in your case which ameliorate the act, but we realists should not whitewash reality. To leave the Church because of a bad pope, much less because of the bad potential we portend in a pope, is simply to leave the Church. I am also a convert, and I assure you that I was sorely tempted to hit the exit when I got my first full picture of Pope Francis a couple of months ago. It’s the fairly open-faced indifferentism that gnaws at me, and I know that I’m not the only faithful Catholic beset by this. To hear most leading clerics tell it, the Church is not that essential for virtue and salvation. If that’s the case, though, why bother sticking around to endure mushy preaching, decadent liturgy, sloppy catechesis, and widespread doctrinal defection (on the lay and clerical levels)? Whereupon we panicky bedwetters are always given the reminder that, ontologically speaking, the Church is “necessary for salvation,” in the sense that without the Incarnation and its spatiotemporal extension qua Church, no one is saved.
Well and good, but when you inquire into the concrete mechanics of how salvation is wrought solely “in” the Church, the usual reflex is to say that “God is not bound by the sacraments, we are.” In that case, if immersing myself in the world and in other religious traditions would not only reflect the perpetual missionary openness which Pope Francis desires (cf. Evangelii Gaudium 25-28), but also not deprive me of God’s grace (for He can be found in all good things), then why must I immerse myself in the Church as some kind of absolute, legalistic condition for “salvation”? If God decrees that non-Catholics are best illuminated by God’s grace “where they are” (i.e., in their own traditions and spiritual milieux), then how do I know I am not to be similarly enriched by partaking of those non-Catholic graces, as well? All truth is God’s truth, so if conversion is bunk (“No, no, no!”) and if the “art of accompaniment” (viz., “remov[ing] our sandals before the sacred ground of the other”, EG 169) is the summit of Christian perfection, then I might as well rack up as much of that Universal Truthiness as I can. We all know that picky Cafeteria Catholicism is taboo, so, All-You-Can-Eat Catholicism, here I come!
Diagnosis? Day by day. As the affronted former aide to Benedict XVI, Abp. Gaenswein, put it recently, “I start each day afresh wondering what will be changed today.” It sounds cliche, Dear Ledger Dweller, but “I feel your pain”–I have been there. It’s a hard time for many of us to be Catholic, because, paradoxically it is such an “easy” time to be Catholic these days. Our Pope is the Man of the Year, we very likely will escape persecution under the ACA in the USA, the Muzak all around us is provided by Jeremiah the Bullfrog.
“________ was a good friend of mine; I never understood a single word he said, but I helped him drink his wine. … Joy to the world!”
Unfortunately, joy is not something you can cajole people into. Giving a discourse about joy, no matter how sincere, comes off as badly as “explaining the joke” when no one gets it. Being hectored interminably to burst with joy and decapitate ourselves with a Real Christian Smile™, is as smarmy as it is condescending. But, well, we have our orders. So, I am “happy” to say that the Catholic Church seems hip again, precisely because it seems to be “in tune with” the Zeitgeist. Alas, some of us continue to struggle with this newest New Springtime, since we are cognizant of the flip side of Sheen’s quotation. In his day, the problem may have been hatred based on erroneous perceptions, but in our day we face the opposite problem: “There are not one hundred people in the United States who love The Catholic Church, but there are millions who love what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”
I’m sorry, Pope Francis, but the Church’s teaching is not clear, and to presume otherwise is to imperil young souls and to trivialize the precisely magisterial authority of the papacy. We do not need a fresh wind; we do not need new wine. We need consistent clarity; we need time-tested, effective shepherding. Some of us quite literally desperately need a pope who gives us bread over stones, while we seem to have a pope more inclined to give interviews and make photo ops. It is because of such great need that we must embrace one more: we need to pray for our brethren, for each other, and for Pope Francis.
[Blogging later at night than early inclines me to publish without being totally satisfied with every jot and tittle in a post. ("Get it done, get to bed.") To wit, there was one sentence that gave me pause--"Yeah, I could say that better"--, so I've modified this post (in red) to rectify a poorly written clause.]
“The aid offered by the West to developing countries has been purely technical and materially based, and not only has left God out of the picture, but has driven men away from God. And this aid, proudly claiming to “know better,” is itself what first turned the “third world” into what mean today by that term. It has thrust aside indigenous religious, ethical, and social structures and filled the resulting vacuum with its technocratic mind-set. The idea was that we could turn stones into bread; instead, our “aid” has only given stones in place of bread. The issue is the primacy of God.”
– Pope Benedict XVI, 2007
“[The Church's] foremost goal is to care for the penultimate (hunger, housing, clothing, shoes, health, education…) to be then able to care for the ultimate, those problems that rob us of sleep after work (our finiteness, our solitude before death, the meaning of life, pain, and evil…). The answer the Church gives to the “penultimate” will entitle her to speak about the “ultimate.” For that reason, the Church must show herself as a Samaritan on earth –so she can some day partake of the eternal goods.”
I’m glad that Pope Francis is promoting the cause of the hungry with such zeal.*
I smell a Nobel Peace Prize.
“The parable of the loaves and fish teaches us exactly this: that if there is the will, what we have never ends.” (* HT to Whispers)
The pope’s right-hand man, Cardinal Maradiaga, has also pitched in to the cause:
I have two children, so the Cardinal’s words about the sounds of a hungry child crying in the night touched me.
I also agree that there is enough food in the world to feed all persons. The problem is not production, still less the bogeyman of “overpopulation.” The problem is a defective and corrupt network of resource allocation, and artificial barriers to the market imposed on the poor. The poor are not a monolith, and they do not need mere charity; they need charity that generates solidarity so that they can contribute their vast but economically “invisible” resources (or non-liquid capital) to the web of production. This is the great lesson of Hernando de Soto’s The Mystery of Capital [PDF!]. Kiva.org is a stellar example of how to empower the poor in their relative poverty, rather impoverishing them as ongoing trophies of our charity.
Lest we lose sight of the deepest forms of poverty, and lest we assume the Church is a mere NGO, contrary to Pope Francis’s injunction, Michael Voris reminds us that mercy without grace is a utopian dead end.
On the way to work this morning, I happened to flip the radio to Nice Pretty Reporting, and shucks if I wasn’t greeted by the warbling voice of our dear ol’ POTUS. He’s in South Africa giving memorial honors to the late Nelson Mandela (whose last name, the POTUS modeled for me, is apparently pronounced “Mandeewa”, or something like that, or maybe it was just a local name for Mandela [this post by Brandon helped me learn that I was hearing "Madiba," the clan name for Mandela]). After dispensing his usual bloviated, Jeremiah-Wright-Lite fare for such occasions, Obama brought his droning to an end, and then the NPR newsie began his commentary. “That was a portion of Barack Obama’s eulogy for Nelson Mandela, wherein he linked Mandela’s struggle against apartheid with everything from gay rights to economic inequality and international conflict.”
I’m paraphrasing, but the newsie said something very much like that. What made me chuckle was hearing, with what sounded like the faintest hint of drollness, the newsie say, “with everything from…to….” I chuckled because it’s exactly the sentiment I had as our Droner-in-Chief eulogized the late political prisoner, Nelson “Rapunzel” Mandela. “Easy now, Obama, let’s not get carried away,” I said to the radio. “To liken every progressive struggle to the struggle against apartheid not only cheapens the good which Mandela achieved, but also obscures what is in fact at issue in other social causes.”
But then I reminded myself that Obama’s overreach was a feature, not a bug, of progressive politicking. It’s what I call The Schruggle (as in, the advocate of some cause is so passionate about his pet cause that he can’t even pronounce the word “struggle” without spitting it out in a frothy burst of stifled protest). The Schruggle is that amorphous, progressive sense that The World Is Not Right and that The Government Must Do Something NOW. It’s the impulse to treat one’s biggest social grievance as the apotheosis of all that is wrong with the world. You want to redefine marriage (so that anyone can have stars on their bellies after their ritzy wedding show)? Invoke THE SCHRUGGLE! You want to raise minimum wage (so that employers reduce their hiring opportunities, untrained workers have even less access to the workforce, and minimally trained workers have no incentive to advance)? Invoke THE SCHRUGGLE!
A key element of The Schruggle is that it feeds on every legitimate struggle for justice as a blurry but soothing metaphor for any-struggle-you-like. The Schruggle can only survive parasitically. Since it has no clear aims of its own, The Schruggle must latch onto every hint of a genuine injustice, even if it means ignoring the underbelly of that struggle, or, more to the point, ignoring the crucial dissimilarities between one’s Schruggle of the Week and a legitimate struggle, which needs informed, local activism, not the meta-vampirism of All Schrugglers Everywhere. The essence of this moral opportunism is to maintain a steady stream of high-sounding, moralistic rhetoric and buzzwords, even while rejecting an objective moral order. For the goal of The Schruggle is not any particular, morally coherent social victory, but rather simply to see that all existing structures succumb to the endless disintegration of progressive firebombing and ideological vandalism. “Things,” you see, are not “fair,” you see, and therefore, in the spirit of la revolución permanente, we “cannot leave things as they presently are.” Because the world does not conform to the progressive’s desire for egalitarian obsequiousness, therefore the world must not conform to any lasting moral principle or hallowed social organ. The Schruggle, thus, aims not simply to break a bad bone and reset it, but rather to break every traditional bone so that the world become a shapeless blob of internally fragmented immanent flesh. The victory of all body politics is the destruction of the human body as we know it.
Which brings us back the Droner-in-Chief. His handy-dandy Schruggler Filter let Mandela’s resistance to apartheid pass, but it weeded out any reference not only to the heinous tactics Mandela actually deployed, but also to the his equally heinous zeal for abortion rights. This perfectly captures the willfully incoherent nature of The Schruggle. By that logic, it is wrong oppress one kind of persons with “violent,” “unjust” “social structures,” but morally laudable (or at least uncontroversial) to terrorize a nation (boastfully, no less!) with something as atrocious as necklacing–anything for The Schruggle!*–, and to condemn a whole other class of persons to the chopping block of hyper-sexualized, liberal whimsy. For what else is the so-called “right to abortion” than a form of fetal apartheid? The Schruggle needs Mandela not because apartheid really pertains to “gay rights” or “abortion rights,” but simply because he is a charming face to paint on the underlying diabolical desire to undo all that sustains mankind in its integral development. There’s no need to be coy, either: Obama unmistakably turned up the Black Preacher module in his eulogy because he fancies himself a Mandela 2.0. What better way, after all, to describe the trainwreck that is his “universal healthcare victory” than as a case of The Schruggle?
Mandela was one of those “famous role models” whom, as a child, I was taught to adulate, but it’s only recently that I have come to see his clay feet. Is he a hero? I can agree that he is only in a narrow sense. Does he deserve to be praised by all, even by leading clerics? No. His great flaw is that he so gleefully committed evil in order to achieve good. As such, I think Bishop Tobin’s recent statement on Mandela is pitch perfect, hence I leave you with it:
“While we pray for the peaceful repose of President Mandela’s immortal soul and the forgiveness of his sins, we can only regret that his noble defense of human dignity did not include the youngest members of our human family, unborn children.”
A musical coda, care of Brother IANS:
After praying about it for a while, triggered by a surprising amount of cajoling from various readers that I should not abstain from commenting on this papacy, I have decided that I will add my two+ cents to some of the latest from Pope Francis. (Lest I sound boastful, I did not receive a ton of cajoling to keep up my “discernment” of Pope Francis, but it was more than the zero I had anticipated.) I no longer feel that looking into the abyss, as it were, is a spiritual risk for me, as it was a few weeks ago–but as soon as it does start to divert my attention from God and sap my joy, I shall focus on something else until the room stops spinning again.
Saturday afternoon whilst driving I was trying to think like a “soft ultramontanist” about Evangelii Gaudium. (I’ll have more to say about the Everything Exhortation in the near future.) I think a fan of Evangelii Gaudium would promote it like this:
“We live in a radically secularized and pluralistic world. Christendom is dead. All the old bywords are defunct, and to repeat them to a religiously illiterate world would be to alienate the world and only further marginalize the Church. We need to get back to the roots, the radical kerygma, the Good News simpliciter. This is Pope Francis’s masterstroke: he is breaking with the usual rhetoric and routines in order to get people to listen, and he’s feeding the world basic spiritual milk before expecting it to be able to digest the highest fare. This approach also works for Catholics in our day. The vast majority of Catholics are far more catechetically illiterate and spiritually shallow than most of us ever imagined, although Francis is painfully aware of the fact. As such, EG is a sustained effort to show Catholics across the spectrum the simple, underlying unity of joy that binds the whole Catholic life together. Even for Catholics, EG shows us, all the old terms and concepts must be bracketed in order to plant seeds of profound Christian commitment beneath the barren soil of ideological fatigue and cultural conditioning.”
How did I do?
My problem with this hypothetical defense is twofold. First, honestly, no one is going to read EG, at least not on the scale which my little apologia requires. (I am aware of at least one case where somebody’s lifelong agnostic aunt is “impressed” by Pope Francis and was “intrigued” by the hoopla surrounding EG, so she actually read the whole thing, but that might just be the exception that proves the rule.) Only eggheads in committed parish fellowships and Catholic reading groups will bother digesting the whole thing, but they’re precisely the people who least need a “joyful” kick in the pants. Meanwhile, conservative pundits are obliged to perform that ole-time Auto-Tune Pope magic on the weak parts, while liberals will make endless hay over those same parts in order to drown out the sustainably orthodox passages.
The second problem with the “transvaluation” defense of Pope Francis and his Magic 8-Ball exhortation–viz. that it succeeds by “dumbing down” the Faith to a more effective “common core” (!) of basic slogans–is that it’s simply not what the Church did to achieve its greatest evangelistic successes in the past. In the early middle ages the Church was trapped and immersed in a bog of religious illiteracy and disarray, but it was by pitching high, doctrinally, and proceeding like a phalanx tightly woven around the center–the monarchical and supreme Holy See–that half the world was converted and a barbarian morass became a powerhouse of worldwide evangelism for centuries. It certainly wasn’t by flitting about at the “periphery” and mumbling the lyrics to Burt Bacharach’s greatest hit. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: In a generation we’ve gone from Church Militant to Church Amoeboid and now to Church Sponge. Give me the axe of St. Boniface over the resurrexifix of Pope Francis any day–and tomorrow wouldn’t be too shabby a day to start.
As I’ll discuss in an upcoming post, one of the key motifs in EG is “newness” and “change”, presumably because the Church needs to get with the times and constantly be ready to meet the “needs” of “the people.” Specifically, the discrete word “new” appears 121 times in the exhortation, and “renew” appears 41 times, whereas the old word “repent” appears only twice, in one line, in a single scriptural quotation–in a 50,000-word document devoted to missions and evangelism (cf. comment #5 in this thread). Despite being released “on 24 November, the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, and the conclusion of the Year of Faith,” EG only mentions the word “king” twice (and, like “repent,” it’s only in a single scriptural quotation), while “kingdom” appears 21 times. In his first major address to “the Christian faithful” as a whole, the words “Church Militant,” “purgatory,” and “hell” show up a grand total of zero times. Then again, “sin/sinful/sinner” does appear twelve times in EG (and once even in the same sentence as “repent”!), so at least we’ve got something traditional to feed into the Catholic Auto-Tuner 6000.
“But, but,” some will object, “he was speaking about jooooyyy, not all that heavy, dark stuff!” Fair enough–or not, since “joy/joyful” shows up only about 75 times in EG–but, lest we get too carried away with visionary tinkering on a Church-wide scale, consider how quickly things can go wrong in dogs when a few desirable traits become a Procrustean bed for otherwise healthy, time-tested development. The Church is not a mere assemblage of negotiable themes and customs, not a bunch of spiritual Lego blocks to be constantly adjusted in order to meet consumer demand, and for anyone to presume that he can reshape the Church in a “programmatic” way is as grotesque as it is short-sighted. As a commenter named Dumb_ox noted at Louie Verrecchio’s blog, while Pope Francis makes hay about the evolutionary flexibility of the Church qua living organism, he neglects to mention how his putative source for that idea, St. Vincent Lerins, even more vehemently rejects novel tinkering and changes. It was precisely along those lines that Verrecchio had quoted Pius X in Pascendi Dominici Gregis (#55), thus:
“[The Church must] combat novelties of words remembering the admonitions of Leo XIII. (Instruct. S.C. NN. EE. EE., 27 Jan., 1902): ‘It is impossible to approve in Catholic publications of a style inspired by unsound novelty which seems to deride the piety of the faithful and dwells on the introduction of a new order of Christian life, on new directions of the Church, on new aspirations of the modern soul, on a new vocation of the clergy, on a new Christian civilisation.’”
No doubt it’s a joy to throw open the lid of the Church, dump out the gifts given to us by Father, and let our friends from outside play with them till kingdom comes, but it’s hell to pick up the mess once it’s been made.
I discovered an interesting entry at Wikipedia today (emphases are mine):
The Juche Idea … is a political thesis formed by Kim Il-sung that states that the masses of DPR Korea are the masters of the country’s development. …
Unlike orthodox Marxist–Leninists (or communists in general for that matter), which places material forces as the driving force of historical progress, North Korea considers human beings as the driving force in history. It is summarized as “popular masses are placed in the center of everything, and the leader is the center of the masses.” Juche, North Korea states, is a “man-centered ideology” in which the “man is the master of everything and decides everything.” Unlike man in orthodox communist thought, in which man’s decisions are inextricably linked to his/hers relations to the means of production (concept referred to as “relations of production”), in Juche thought man is independent and decides everything. Just like Marxist–Leninist thought, Juche believes history is law-governed”, but that … “the popular masses are the drivers of history”. However, for the masses to be successful, they need a “Great Leader”. In this sense it also breaks with traditional Marxism–Leninism, which argues that the popular masses (on the basis of its relations to production) will lead, in North Korea the popular masses can only bring change through a Great Leader. This theory helped Kim Il-sung establish a unitary, one-man rule over North Korea.
The theory turns the “Great Leader” into an absolutist, supreme leader. The working class is not to think for themselves, but instead to think through the “Great Leader”. The “Great Leader” is the “topbrain” of the working class, meaning that he is the only legitimate representative of the working class. Class struggle can only be realized through the “Great Leader”, and difficult tasks in general and revolutionary changes can only be introduced through, and by, the “Great Leader”. … The “Great Leader” is also a flawless human being, who never commits mistakes, who is always benevolent and always rules for the masses. The leader is incorruptible. For the “Great Leader” system to function, a unitary ideological system has to be in place. In North Korea that unitary ideological system is known as the “Ten Principles for a Monolithic Ideological System”. Unlike the Joseon Dynasty where there was a huge gap between the upper and lower classes, North Korea had adopted a unified social mass, also known as the gathered-together “people”.