“I love this man!”

“14 Wherefore, dearly beloved, … be diligent that you may be found before him unspotted and blameless in peace … as also our most dear brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, hath written to you: 16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, brethren, knowing these things before, take heed, lest being led aside by the error of the unwise, you fall from your own steadfastness.” — II Peter 3

“‘Pope Benedict’s statements [about Muhammad] don’t reflect my own opinions’, the then [2005] Archbishop [Bergoglio] of Buenos Aires declared. ‘These statements will serve to destroy in 20 seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam that Pope John Paul II built over the last twenty years’. … Reacting to the threats from Rome, Cardinal Bergoglio cancelled his plans to fly to Rome, choosing to boycott the second synod that Pope Benedict had called during his tenure as pontiff.”

— “Pope Francis’ run-in with Benedict XVI over the Prophet Mohammed

Does obedience equal obsequiousness? Is faith opposed to reason? What does it mean to love Christ and His Church even when it’s not all to your liking?

i-love-this-guy-drunk-baby-memeHere’s a little dialogue that I’ve been having in my head lately.

A: How do you like the new C.O.?

B: I don’t.

A: What? Why not?

B: I don’t like his style. I think his conduct is unbecoming his rank. I think he’s a blowhard sometimes, and I wonder about his training.

A: What do you mean?

B: He’s inconsistent about how he treats us. He’s boosted morale for most of the reserves, but he’s humiliated a lot of most decorated troops. He’s also very confusing when he gives orders.

A: So what are you going to do?

B: What else can I do? I’ll obey what I understand, seek clarification on what I don’t, and try to keep up morale in the barracks.

A: What you mean, “keep up morale”?

B: You haven’t noticed? Lots of us–even some of the other officers–are getting demoralized. How do you maintain unity in the ranks when everyone’s hearing confusing messages and constant criticism just for doing what we were trained to do? Plus, some of his battle simulations are insane: I’ve never seen so many soldiers injured in the normal line of duty! The base should be a safe place, but the number of “walking wounded” has gone up month after month. So, I’m just trying to reassure them not to doubt their training, not to go AWOL, and not to shirk their basic duties and protocols. If the C.O. wants to change the ways we serve and fight, he needs to tell us officially and precisely.

A: Crap, man! You’re secretly defying the C.O.! Are you going to go AWOL?

B: Not at all. I look up to him in terms of how far he’s come in the line of duty, and sometimes I think he’s an awesome shot in the arm. But…

A: But?

B: Well, my personal opinion is irrelevant. I am bound by the oaths I took when I was sworn in. When he gives us new orders, I’ll obey. Otherwise, I’ll keep trying to sort out the confusion among the ranks, and keep doing what the military has always done. Let’s just say I’ve known better C.O.’s, but I wish this one the best.

+ + +

Any Catholic worth his salt knows that papal infallibility does not ensure papal impeccability. We trust that God will preserve the pope from error when solemnly defining a binding truth about faith and morals, but we have no assurance that He will give us a perfect role model in all things, much less a “sweet old man” whom we find personally appealing. If anything, I’ve found my loyalty to the Church purified and deepened these past few months, since it is a cheap loyalty which assents to an authority that pleases us on personal grounds.

Strange to say, but I pity Catholics who “always like” what the pope does, and “always agree” with what he says–did someone say confirmation bias?–since their loyalty to the papacy may rest as much on personal psychological affinity as it does on faith. The pope is not intended to be a celebrity, and he’s certainly not required to be an entertainer. He’s a teacher and a witness. Who cares if my temperament and background don’t “mesh” with those of the pope at any given time? I did not find Benedict XVI personally interesting, and I am not alone in thinking that much of the swooning adulation he received was well-meaning compensation on the part of loyal Catholics considering how poorly he filled the “celebrity” shoes of John Paul II. Paradoxically, it’s refreshing not to like the person occupying the Holy See, since it’s now that much easier to (try to) focus strictly on his authentic teaching voice.

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About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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9 Responses to “I love this man!”

  1. Tony Jokin says:

    Hmmm, I must say that I did not know about the bit about pre-Pope Francis vs. Pope BXVI. It does explain a bit about how he thinks. I personally felt that Pope BXVI pretty much told the truth as it was (and should not have apologized but hey, this day and age…… that could be an unnecessary Fatwa on your head).

    Very true on the ending points. This is certainly a test by fire. Your words reminded me of a passage that was included as an alternate reading for last Tuesday

    “My child, when you come to serve the Lord,
    prepare yourself for testing.
    Set your heart right and be steadfast,
    and do not be impetuous in time of calamity.
    Cling to him and do not depart,
    so that your last days may be prosperous.
    Accept whatever befalls you,
    and in times of humiliation be patient.
    For gold is tested in the fire,
    and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation.*
    Trust in him, and he will help you;
    make your ways straight, and hope in him.

    You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy;
    do not stray, or else you may fall.
    You who fear the Lord, trust in him,
    and your reward will not be lost.
    You who fear the Lord, hope for good things,
    for lasting joy and mercy.
    Consider the generations of old and see:
    has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed?
    Or has anyone persevered in the fear of the Lord and been forsaken?
    Or has anyone called upon him and been neglected?
    For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;
    he forgives sins and saves in time of distress.”

    –(Sirach 2:1-11)

  2. ErnstThalmann says:

    My memory has Benedict as quoting someone, not offering a personal opinion. The venue was academic also if I remember. But this comment and the action taken by Frank, just the kind of showboating one might expect from a seasoned politician trying to draw attention to himself in an election year. This guy is really full of himself, a real lightweight.

  3. Claudio says:

    Great dialogue. Very instructive. I would add that although we don’t have to like the Pope, we do have to love him which is an act of the will, even if our feelings are screaming at us that he is a disaster for the Church.

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  5. Branch says:

    “The real source of trouble, hard to diagnose and almost impossible to eradicate, was a bland piety, a self-satisfied and prosperous reasonableness, the honest conviction that churches must, after all, move with the times. This–the concessions to modernity, to criticism, science and philosophy, and to good tone–this was the treason of the clerks.”

    -Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation

  6. Love it. So much of contemporary Catholic preaching is hyper-vigorous water-color improv, as typefied by the current pope. Give me strong, old oil portraits of the whole landscape of truth, even if it’s done with a paint-by-numbers rigor.

  7. ErnstThalmann says:

    I’ve been a Catholic since 1987, admitted to the sacraments in Holy Week that year. Since then, I have learned nothing about the faith from homilies at the parish level at all, absolutely nothing! We had one theologian that taught at a local Catholic college that was at least interesting to listen to, had an interest in Rahner and one could hear the influence of his bottom-up Christology in what was being said occasionally. Beyond that, nothing that I hadn’t known beforehand. The rest, all lowest common denominator stuff and, yes, Frank is just the epitome of lowest common denominator homiletics. And this after Ratzinger at Vatican II had placed such stress on the Word and preaching in Catholic life. What pedestrian, discount store Catholicism we’re getting from our leadership and it isn’t just Frank.

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