[Initially I only posted the video above, but then decided the thoughts I was having fit very well with the video, so, even if you already ‘read’ this video post, what follows has not been posted until now. And even if you don’t want to read what I’ve written, take the time to watch this episode of The Twilight Zone, it’s a superb episode!]
As I keep charting a course here, I need to clarify something fundamental. It’s kind of jumbled, so I’ll just do my best to lay it out point by point.
First, I have used some pretty grave words lately, particularly, “crisis of faith,” “despair,” “apostasy,” and maybe a couple other oldies but goodies.
None of this is bluster. Perhaps only one other time in my life have I felt like this: my faith is not “crumbling” or something kinetic and cinematic like that. It’s more like my faith feels… “hollow,” or… “water-logged.” I know that’s obscure, so let me propose an allegory.
The state I’m in is akin to that of a man, call him Ed, who works at a beloved old family-run business, say an old-world furniture company. Now, Ed is one of the few employees who knows that the whole firm is poised to be bought out and liquidated. This news is greatly troubling to Ed, but he keeps clocking in and out, pulling his shifts, acting cordial and friendly with coworkers, and trying to put on a good face for customers. “Come back soon!” he says, masking a hidden grimace, though not only a grimace. For Ed is also secretly beset at times by unspoken gloom, torpor, and occasional bouts of seething rage. (Disanalogy: I’m not keeping much in secret!) Rage at whom? At the great-grandson of the family, who is now head of the company. (Call him Frank, how ’bout?)
Frank went to the big city for college and got an elite MBA before returning home to run the company. He grew up working part-time in the original shop, truly loves the company’s superior tradition and loyalty to its employees, and he’s even enacted some policies and new product lines that have garnered the company an unprecedented profit boost in the last quarter.
Despite all bonhommie and many bright spots on the horizon, Frank has shown Ed compelling evidence that not only is the old business model unsustainable in today’s globalized market, but also that it would actually benefit the employees and community more if they sold their shares in the buyout. (As even further proof of his goodwill, Frank reveals that the big profits in the previous quarter all went to surprise bonuses in employees retirement and severance packages.)
Ed is outraged not at Frank’s innovative goodwill, but rather at the very idea that the best thing for the company, and for the market, is for the company to cease being what it has always been, namely, a pillar in the community, and a sign to the world that family, excellence and permanence still matter. Frank’s retort is that it would be better for the workers to be freed from their old duties to pursue novel, bridge-building careers in emerging new fields.
Not too long after this revelation, the rest of the employees learn of the impending liquidation, and, to Ed’s utter horror, they almost unanimously praise Frank for his courageous and charismatic leadership. Whenever Ed tries to express why he thinks Frank’s strategy, no matter how well meaning it is, is fundamentally a trivialization and betrayal of everything the company has always stood for. In a matter of days, his coworkers have learned to avoid him, regarding his unhinged sentimentalism with bemused condescension.
And so, as the buyout looms, Ed submits his resignation, knowing that he’d rather leave the company when it still embodies what it was meant to embody than be rewarded by the more commercially sensible dissolution of the company.
+ + +
Like any allegory, there is not a perfect one-to-one match between the scenario and the reality. The point is that I think the above allegory conveys the feelings I’m having, if not necessarily the decisions I’m facing.
Just as my disquietude of late is not bluster, it is not extortion, either. I am not throwing a tantrum just so people comfort and agree with me. (But, hey, knowing Honey Badger Pope, maybe I’ll get the next surprise phone call!)
What else isn’t my funk? It is most certainly not a (hypothetical!) rejection of the Catholic Church because of anything Pope Francis has said or done, and I would never leave the Body of Christ for such a trivial reason. To put it a different way, I’m not going to let some bubbly old Jesuit push me out of my own Church! Avast!
No, the problem is deeper and stranger than that.
I do not think for a second that, even had Francis shouted the rankest heresies in his interviews and other recent pronouncements, it would indicate the falsity of the Church, as sedevacantists would have it. On the contrary, the reason I seem so unhinged lately (and that word would hold for some comments I’ve made at Facebook) is not so much about Pope Francis or the Church’s authority, as it is about me. I, along with others, have reacted very sharply to certain statements made the Pope (or, as I have come to call these alleged statements, malapapalisms), and yet we, the Elder Brothers in the Church, have been shouted down by the overwhelming majority of our fellow Catholics that, in not so many words, it’s all in our heads, the sin of scandal is in the one being scandalized, the Pope’s remarks are entirely and unambiguously in accord with the Scriptures and the magisterial Tradition, and so on.
It’s worse than being told over and over again that no one else hears the persistent keening I hear coming from the next room: I’m being told there’s not even a next room, so stop complaining.
Which makes me feel like the Jack Torrance of Catholicism:
“I’m sorry to differ with you, sir. But this is the Catholic faith. This has always been the Catholic faith. I should know, sir––I’ve always been here.”
(Oddly enough, the earliest portrayal of my situation that I imagined comes from another movie by Kubrick.)
Precisely this is the root of my quasi-crisis of faith: if all these other Catholics are so assured that the things against which I’m reacting just are and always have been what the Church teaches, then have I ever understood the authentic teaching of the Church?
And if I have never ‘really’ understood the Faith, how could I have ever really embraced it? Did I really understand the faith to which I was converting, and, if not, was I not converting to a Church of my own devising? The truly stultifying possibility is that, in fact, no, I have never understood the Catholic faith and therefore could never have joined subscribed to it in good faith.
+ + +
“The raucous shouting of those who through disagreement rise up against one another, the incomprehensible chatter, the confused din of uninterrupted clamouring, has now filled almost the whole of the Church, falsifying through excess or failure the right doctrine of the faith…”
— St. Basil, De Spiritu Sancto, XXX, 77; PG 32, 213 A; SCh 17 ff., p. 524.
Let me repeat that I am not ascribing formal heresy to Pope Francis. (Even so, as Steve Skojec argues, you can do a lot of damage without technically being heretical, especially in a world that is as religiously illiterate as ours is to begin with [please do read Skojec’s piece].) If I accused Pope Francis of heresy, I could raise specific charges and have them refuted by showing how his words harmonize perfectly with his papal predecessors and the Second Vatican Council.
That’s small game, though.
My quandary arises from something much subtler and deeper than being unable to “go all Denzinger on” particular heretical words.
Here, then, is the second key ingredient in my quasi-crisis of faith: not only has the conveyed sense of the malapapalisms (about proselytism, conscience, and belief in God) precipitated scandal among Catholics and complacency among non-believers, but also––and this is the crucial point––the widespread reflexive defense, nay, frantic-what-are-you-a-friggin-RadTrad endorsement of those statements as unquestionably in accord with official Catholic teaching makes me wonder if I even belong among the majority of Catholics in our day. By becoming as unhinged as I have about some of these things, I’m just showing myself as the odd man out… and wondering if that simply means that I’m showing myself the way out.
Even if we accept the idea that Scalfari misrepresented the Pope’s claims in La Repubblica, the abiding scandal for me is that before they found a way to get the Pope off the hook, as it were, there were still numerous Catholics going out of their way to show why the malapapalisms were uncontronversially the kind of ideas we should expect and embrace as coming from the Vicar of Christ.
The absurdity of that defense as YE OLDE DEFAVLT TRVE CATHOLICK response has me stumbling through my days in a morbid trance.
The complexity of the pro-malapapalist confusion is enormous, so pardon me if the next sentence is a little bewildering:
It is precisely the unblinking valorization of the malapapalisms as they stood––ameliorated, of course, for comic effect by the defenders’ new-found disdain for them––that has me asking myself, “Do I really belong among these people? Do I really belong to these people?”
We can (and do) bicker all day about the veracity or nuance of this or that particular word, but the point I am making is that it strikes me as simply undeniable that the Vicar of Christ should not say the kinds of things captured in these gaseous malapapalisms, and yet– and yet I am told–even mocked from on high–that such remarks are, like, ya know, totally cool for the Pope to make. The irreconcilability of these two ‘obvious’ antitheses weighs on me immensely.
At the same time, though, there is no small amount of comic relief in beholding the sheer intransigence I have encountered from countless otherwise level-headed Catholics. While they’ll toss the bone out that “maybe the Pope said too much,” or that “he could have said things better,” they will not, and apparently cannot, bring themselves to state in specific terms a single thing that the Pope has said that can legitimately be said to be a source of scandal with respect to the duties of his office.
And so, on my end of the crazy stick, I’m left saying that there are some things a Pope simply. does. not. say. to the world. If you can’t see that, I am almost at a loss for words (lucky you, right?) as to how to articulate the point. It’s a matter of tacit knowledge. It doesn’t matter what the Pope intended, it matters what impact he, as the Vicar of Christ, has had, and is having, on the nations of the world.
“They have treated lightly the injury to my people: ‘Peace, peace!’ they say, though there is no peace.” — Jeremiah 6:14
On the other end of the crazy stick, I have seen the knee-jerk defenses of, literally, everything the Pope’s has been criticized by conservatives spontaneously alchemized into a relieved, smug wiping of the hands.
“Good thing the Pope said those things to that Italian atheist. This one ex-Catholic I know at work is actually thinking about visiting a parish again when he finds some time. I just knew Pope Francis would say such profound things. He’s so smart! Plus, did you see how he’s a mystic? RAAAD! … Wait, what? You mean some lidless rigorists are having hissy fits again? And the Pope has misspoken about key parts of his mystical experience? … All right, fine, I’m willing to concede that maybe the Pope said too much, and could have said some things better, plus, he was, ya know, just joking about not wanting Scalfari to convert, so– Wait, you mean the interview was reconstructed from memory? Hooray! I just knew Pope Francis wouldn’t say such dumb things. He’s so smart! And he’s still obviously a mystic. … What? The Vatican spokesman validated the interview and the Vatican is still endorsing the interview by posting it on its website? #derp”
Imagine Pope Leo the Great, Pope Benedict XV, Pope Pius XII, or even Abp. Fulton Sheen nonchalatntly broadcasting the howlers we’ve been debating of late.
You just can’t do it. It’d be like watching an amateur puppet show with the voices all warbly and out of sync. I point these incongruities out and told it’s better for everybody if I just sit down, shut up, and clap along. After all, the world is watching.
“Hey, what’s wrong with that one’s voice? He sounds k–ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL.”
The tenor and the impact of the malapapalisms in question are such that a well-formed Catholic should simply recognize them as being verboten. More to the point, though, even if we imagined that those howlers had been falsely, yea, even libelously, attributed (by some geriatric atheist, perhaps) to Popes Leo, Benedict XV, Pius XII or Abp. Sheen, we should still not expect the majority of Catholics simply to shrug at the impropriety of what the words convey, and by no means should we expect them to defend the questionable statements on a matter of principle! #softUltramontanism #ftw
A mouthful, I know, so let me unpack it: As I have said many times now, I think the Pope needs to admit that his carelessness in speaking about certain things pertaining to faith and moral has caused damage to the cause of the Faith and to ill-formed consciences, and, as a consequence, he or the Vatican simply must address those erroneous conceptions and their percolating ill effects. That concern is, however, only the first, and actually less significant point. As I argued earlier, we need to apply the Papal Categorical Imperative to prudential matters like these:
In light of his duty always to form consciences according to the truth, every word the Pope utters, regardless of the anterior context, and regardless of the interlocutor–but especially when it’s uttered from a global platform–is to be judged based on whether the Church itself could and should consistently speak in the same manner.
It’s one thing to get a chuckle from imagining Abp. Sheen burping out the malapapalisms that are spreading like weeds, but it’s something else to imagine yourself parroting those claims in your own interactions with non-believers. If you consistently deployed truisms about “one’s personal vision of good and evil,” and “solemn nonsense” and having “no intent to convert” the other person, and blithely denying that you believe in the Catholic God. (Try witnessing as a Christian to a non-believer by saying that you don’t believe in the Christian God. Better yet, try witnessing as a Christian by saying that you “don’t believe in a Christian Savior, there is no Christian Savior.” Tell me how that goes.) As I said, there are some things a Christian simply does not do, and all the more in the case of the Pope.
But because I am apparently tilting at windmills and ‘obsessing’ over every jot and tittle, I, like the fellow in The Twilight Zone episode above, have been condemned to a kind of invisibility-by-ostracization.
“No TRVE CATHOLICK would have any problems with the Pope’s witness. You must be cold and faithless, the Older Brother, a Pharisee, a RadTrad, a small-minded restorationist. Your punishment for such crimes against soft ultramontanism? We shall pretend that you are just a bitter minority in the larger work that God is doing through the Pope. Begone!”
Even so, I have a voice.
Indeed, it was in the very act of writing the immediately preceding lines that I was startled to recall that my favorite book for several years has been Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Citing the immortal prologue is worthwhile (my emphasis):
“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination — indeed, everything and anything except me.”
I may be invisible but I have a voice, and I have eyes, as well, eyes that enable me to see a plain truth: The malapapalisms are beneath Pope Francis. They are a stain on his witness and on his integrity. They are an embarassment to the Holy See. Yet, unchallenged, they have flown to the four corners of the earth and are gestating in the hearts and minds of mankind (and just in case anyone needs to catch up, they’re conveniently posted among the Pope’s official speeches, and are now available in Portuguese, too, which wasn’t the case a day or two ago).
Admitting that the malapapalisms (particularly concerning proselytism and conscience) are weak, truncated, vague and generally useless quasi-Christian truisms is not the hard part, which is why, once again, the clean-up crew in St. Blog’s is so relieved to be able to write them off as hostile myths.
The hard part, for me, anyway, is reconciling the fact that so many otherwise sensible Catholics did not hesitate to fall all over themselves in defense of what’s now being spun as atheistic tripe, with the fact that I’m supposed to fit right in among such “fellow Catholics.” Have we all gone mad? The crucial problem for me is that the almost universally voiced complacence I see from Catholics in the face of the impact and implications of the malapapalisms leads me to think, “If this be Catholicism, then it turns out I’m not a Catholic.”
Habbakuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4
How long, O LORD? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not intervene.
Why do you let me see ruin;
why must I look at misery?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and clamorous discord.
Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets,
so that one can read it readily.
For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.