Here’s the deal.
God made man in His own image (CCC 356 ff.), but mankind has fallen away from God in its very origin (CCC 385 ff.), and yet God has intervened to remake the same human nature in His own likeness, after the image of Christ (CCC 410 ff.). It is this Christ who calls each of us by a new name, with a new dignity, under the shield of His cruciform victory.
Now, grace is the medium by which the voice of the Lord is transmitted (CCC 1996 ff.), and conscience is the ear of the soul by which we hear ourselves called into new life (CCC 1776 ff.). There is a constant synergistic drama between our receptivity and the animating waves of God’s grace. The sacraments are, roughly speaking, ear horns given by God to mankind in the Church (CCC 1113 ff.), in order that divine grace–that is, God-Himself-as-Revealed-Gift–may truly and perfectly enter the life of humanity and thus divinize men and women into Christlikeness (cf. CCC 456 ff., as well as 654, 1996, and 2009). Grace perfects nature but just as human freedom may flout nature, so believers may resist grace.
Here’s the takeaway.
“Christianity is very demanding,” as one priest recently told me, and “Christianity” is literally a theandric drama acted out in, and memorialized on, the canvas of each unique life. God writes straight with crooked lines, as the saying goes, so, to expect a simple, upward curve, even in someone as endowed with special graces as the pope, is to spurn the drama that is precisely cruciform victory in Christ. Given this inevitable drama, why can’t we just accept the fact that the pope can blunder, that he is subject to misjudgment and weakness like the rest of us, but also rejoice at each sign of grace as it confirms him in his vocation? Loyalty is not flattery, especially since flattery is a sin (cf. CCC 2480); we are not to be tossed about by confused teaching, but are called to speak the truth in love (cf. Eph. 4:14-16). One such truth is that, even as Jesus called Simon to be “Rock,” He did not negate the unique personal frailties and foibles of the man who would need the most grace precisely as one who would deny His Lord. Grace perfects, not supplants, nature; glorifies, not smothers, personality.
Over the past couple months, by prayer, dialogue, writing and reflection, I have achieved a much more peaceful perspective about Pope Francis. For the first six months of his papacy, I had not a qualm in the world (except for what I thought was an excessive swipe or two at capitalism), but by now I’m officially a persona non grata in most of the Catholic blogosphere for voicing how much I was scandalized by the reckless shift I detected in the pope’s pastoral approach once those interviews hit the press. If I were Protestant, and Frank Bergoglio were the new pastor, I would have long since left to find a more appealing place to worship. But I am Catholic and I am not going anywhere, come hell or high water–much less a Peronist, neo-Jesuit, Honey Badger Pope.
As “messy” as the process has been for me, and for others, I am increasingly hopeful that the grace of being called “Peter” is overtaking and perfecting what has often felt like an endless spectacle of “all Francis, all the time.” I am convinced that Pope Francis is trying to follow the Spirit’s guidance, and that he is thankful for faithful criticism. Of late there have been numerous signs that Pope Francis is measuring his words much more carefully (no less than with the help of a new speechwriter!), if for no other reason than that he sees how maliciously “the world” enjoys the ambiguities upon which I think a good portion of his popularity rests. Chief among such hopeful signs, is the removal of the Scalfari interview from the Vatican website–though even this subtle shift is not without its share of troubling murkiness, as Louie Verrecchio ably explains. Additionally, though, Pope Francis seems to have made a specific effort to voice his support of the Ratzingerian “hermeneutic of reform in continuity” with the Tradition.
Another small example is his recent distinctly papist call for us to take “the medicine” of the Rosary each day, so, as long as the kids don’t start counting their pills, he should be copacetic 😉 (HT to Mundabor). It may be less newsworthy to promote old-fashioned Catholic rituals, but it is more befitting of the papal office. Another more substantive example is the Holy Father’s recent homily against “adolescent progressivism” and “the uniformity of worldliness”. I will keep my comments very brief, since Fr. Z and Mundabor have said much of what needs to be said on this score. The one passage that sounds tinny to my ear, coming from this ever-protean pope, is this:
[Apostates in the time of the Maccabees] abandoned their own traditions [!] in favor of those of the Gentiles in order to enthusiastically “negotiate” [!] their beliefs which the Pope called “a spirit of adolescent progressivism.” [!] “They believe that to go forward in any type of choice was better than to remain in the [traditional?] habits of fidelity,” he said…. The Holy Father stressed … that this apostasy is a fruit of the devil, who wants the move the people of God towards this spirit of worldliness. This spirit, in turn, progresses. The people begin to pick up the habits of the pagans, and ultimately, the King orders everyone to abandon their [traditional?] customs under pain of death. … These people have negotiated the faithfulness to their Lord; these people, moved by the spirit of the world, have negotiated their own [unique?] identity [!], they have negotiated their belonging to a people, a people that God loves so much, that God wants as His people.”
As I said, while it makes better press to take potshots at faithful Catholics, and to speak “Peace, peace” when there is no peace, I think this might be the best hint so far that Pope Francis is reversing his initially very abrasive attitude towards a zealously and distinctly Catholic faith. Are such measures enough to undo the very foggy witness, about some aspects of the Faith, that Pope Francis has inculcated in many minds? Will they reverse the burdens that have beset faithful pastors due to the pope’s incautious “off-the-cuff” ramblings (and again)? Do such acts by Pope Francis dispel the troubling clouds that hover about his papacy as a larger phenomenon?
The drama of grace is still unfolding, and God’s grace is always sufficient.
Oremus pro pontifice nostro!