“26 And if any man think himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” — James 1
The following is another of what you might call my “data reflection” posts. I will simply present quotations and images, without much commentary, and invite you to reflect on what they all mean. A little practice in reading “the signs of the time” and trying to make sense of what is going on around us.
Off we go.
“We likewise define that the holy Apostolic See, and the Roman Pontiff, hold the primacy throughout the entire world; and that the Roman Pontiff himself is the successor of blessed Peter, the chief of the Apostles, and the true vicar of Christ, and that he is the head of the entire Church, and the father and teacher of all Christians; and that full power was given to him in blessed Peter by our Lord Jesus Christ, to feed, rule, and govern the universal Church; just as is contained in the acts of the ecumenical Councils and in the sacred canons.”
COUNCIL OF FLORENCE 1438-1445, from the Bull Laetentur coeli, July 6, 1439 (Denzinger 694)
“Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock. Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra … [such] that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, [and] the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will [as] known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.“
Lumen Gentium §§22, 25 — November 21, 1964
Keep in mind that this assumes that the magisterial level of the document(s) must be established, the repetition of some unsettled doctrine must be consistent over time, and the manner of speaking must be clear in its own terms (i.e. without lobbies interpreting it for the Holy Father), otherwise how would the faithful know that to which they must submit? Let’s take Pope Francis’s teaching on “triumphalism” as a case in point.
Pope Francis: triumphalism is a temptation of Christians — April 12, 2013
Pope Francis: Triumphalism in the Church Halts the Church — May 30, 2013
Sounds authoritative, consistent, and clear.
But then again….
“One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses’. Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12:9). Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness [?] against the assaults of evil. The evil spirit of defeatism is brother to the temptation to separate, before its time, the wheat from the weeds; it is the fruit of an anxious and self-centred lack of trust.”
Evangelii Gaudium §85 — November 24, 2013
“Faith is victory but the Church is full of defeated Christians” — January 10, 2014
I am not trying to put too fine a point on this, so let me state my problem simply: my Catholic instinct is to cherish and defend the pope as the Vicar of Christ. Unfortunately, my problem for months has been that, leaving aside the problematic statements that I’ve struggled with, I can barely get a bead on Pope Francis’s “manifest mind and will” is on pretty much any issue. At times, his papacy strikes me as a garrulous haze, and that’s extremely awkward for me, since I truly desire to have my mind formed by the Church.
It really isn’t a minor, or merely stylistic, issue that Pope Francis cannot seem to speak the same message over time, let alone one that sounds like the majority of his predecessors, and that, as a direct result, the faithful are reduced over and over again to sorting out the confusion on the ground amongst themselves. I submit to Pope Francis as the one by whom Christ wills to feed His Church (cf. Denzinger 694), but I can’t deny that most of the bread so far has tasted an awful lot like stones (cf. Luke 11:11). Interestingly enough, Pope Francis himself recognizes the problem of obscure, confusing, shallow, rhetorically “cutesy” priests, so I hope he keeps “growing into the office” by setting a higher and higher homiletic standard.
Consider a very recent fervorino from Pope Francis:
Pope Francis: the true priest and his relation to Christ — January 11, 2014 (Italian text)
“We are anointed [unti] by the Spirit, and when a priest is far from Jesus Christ he can lose this unction [unto]. In his life, no: essentially he has it… but he loses it. And instead of being anointed he ends up being smarmy [untuoso]. And how damaging to the Church are smarmy priests [preti untuosi]! Those who put their strength in artificial things, in vanity, in an attitude [un atteggiamento]… in a cutesy language [un linguaggio lezioso]…. But how often do we hear it said with sorrow: ‘This is a butterfly-priest,’ [“è un prete” che somiglia a una “farfalla”] because they are always vain… [This kind of priest] does not have a relationship with Jesus Christ! He has lost the unction: he is smarmy.” …
“We priests have so many limits. We are sinners, all. But if we go to Jesus Christ, if we seek the Lord in prayer – prayer of intercession, prayer of adoration – we are good priests, even though we are sinners. But if we are far from Jesus Christ, we necessarily compensate for this with other, worldly attitudes [con altri atteggiamenti mondani]. And so [we see] all these figures… priest-wheeler dealers, priest-tycoons [il prete affarista, il prete imprenditore]….
“But it is good to find priests who have given their lives as priests, truly, of whom the people say: “Yes, he’s difficult, he’s this or that… But he is a priest! And people know! On the other hand, when people see priest idolaters, so to speak, priests who instead of having Jesus have little idols… worshippers of the god Narcissus…. When people see [priests like this] they say ‘poor guy!’ The relationship with Jesus Christ saves us from worldliness and idolatry that makes us smarmy, preserves us in the anointing [we have received]. … Even if you lose everything in life, don’t lose this relationship with Jesus Christ! This is your victory. Go forward with this!”
As I say, it’s no small matter that “the father and teacher of all Christians” (cf. Denzinger 694) begets confusion on an unprecedented scale. (NB: Even while I was writing this post, the indefatigable Jimmy Akin was summoned once again to sort out the crashing noises coming off of the latest malapapalism. Surely Akin deserves better. Arguably so does the average layman.) Robert Royal made a crucial point back in September:
Anyone who speaks or writes in public knows that there’s a difference between saying something and communicating it. … That’s why, as Richard Weaver brilliantly argued, there’s an ethics of rhetoric. You have to be careful not only about what you say, but how you say it. The how is part of the what. A carefully worded, but insipid, moral plea falls flat. The careless presentation of a complex argument leaves people even more uncertain and anxious.
In October Royal was quoted along similar lines:
Francis is “a remarkable man, no one would deny that,” Royal said. “But I’m not sure if he cares about being accurate. He gets into an [evangelizing] dynamic with people and that seems to be the most important thing. . . . In some ways it makes people very anxious. If you do this, what’s the next thing?” …
Royal rejects conservatives who “make excuses” for Francis. Over history, he contends, “there are better and worse popes and God allows them. . . . I’m learning to live with it. We had one of the greatest living intellectuals [in Benedict] and now we’ve got a guy who doesn’t seem to think clear expression is important.”
I wish I were confabulating my problems, but I’m not. “It is what it is,” as the kiddies say. Why should we be bashful, much less obstreperous, about admitting that the particular man occupying the See of Peter is a generally poor and zealously vulgar communicator–if not one given to dubious demagoguery–since we remain triumphant in faith that the Lord will strengthen him in the crucial moments when he so wills to speak with his full apostolic authority on some disputed matter. How did Pope Francis describe this tension?
Aye! That’s the spirit of the Church Militant, and that’s what FCA is all about these days! Getting in my share of the spiritual works of mercy by helping the lost sheep that too few are willing to acknowledge.
In order to buttress the claim that “I’m not just making this shit up,” let me add to the broth some typically pungent and sober words from Mario Palmaro, whom the pope himself has thanked for voicing his “traditionalist” concerns. Palmaro’s focus is on the “gay schmarriage” battle, but it’s indicative of the larger point I’m making about the problem of “papal impaction” of late. I would claim the following very much as my own words, so I will not emphasize any phrases, but do ask you to read them carefully:
[M]y problem is not Matteo Renzi [i.e. any liberal, dissident Catholic in the public sphere].
My problem is the Catholic Church. The problem is that on the subject of the worldwide outbreak of the homosexual lobby, the Church has fallen silent. We have silence from the Pope to the humblest priest in the peripheries. And if the Pope speaks, the day after Padre Lombardi has to rectify, specify, clarify and differentiate. Please abstain from dusting off letters and declarations made by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio ten years ago. If I find out today that my son takes drugs, what should I say to him: “go and re-read the joint declaration made by me and your mother six years ago when we told you not to take drugs”? Or would I face him and try to shake him immediately as best I can? …
The Matteo Renzi who promotes civil unions is a physiological byproduct of a Pope who, in his travels is interviewed by journalists on the plane and declares: “Who am I to judge” etc, etc. Obviously, I know too that these two are not of the same nature, that the Pope is against these things and certainly suffers regarding them, and that he is motivated by good intentions. However, facts are facts. Confronted with that little sentence – epochal from the mouth of a Pope “Who am I to judge”–, loads of corrective and reparatory articles can be written, which tireless troops of “normalists” have been doing now for months, in order to say, don’t worry all is well – everything is just fine.
But we both know well, and anyone else who knows the mechanisms of communications does as well, that, that “Who am I to judge” is a tombstone on any political and legal battle regarding the recognition of homosexual rights. If we were in rugby, I would tell you that that little sentence gained in a few seconds more meters in favour of the homosexual lobby, than decades of work by the world’s homosexual movement. I’ll tell you too, that bishops like Mogavero, in the shade of that little sentence “who am I to judge” can build castles of dissolution without impunity, and the only thing left for us to do is to keep our mouths shut.
Let’s be clear: to impute that the Pope or the Church are to blame because all the countries in the world are normalizing homosexuality would be foolish: this rising tide is unrestrainable, it cannot be stopped. The reason is simple: London, and Paris, New York and Rome, Brussels and Berlin have become a gigantic Sodom and Gomorrah. The point is however, whether we want to admit this, dispute and denounce it, or whether we want to play smart and hide behind the “Who am I to judge”. The point is also, whether this worldwide Sodom and Gomorrah, merit the language of mercy and comprehension.
Well, then, I wonder, why don’t we also reserve the same mercy for the traffickers of chemical weapons, the slave-traders and financial embezzlers? Aren’t they also poor sinners? Right? Or do I have to ask Schönborn to meet them for lunch and evaluate their purity? …
[A]ny Catholic politician, intellectual or journalist even if he wants to fight on the homosexualist front, will find himself spiked in the back by the mysticism of mercy and forgiveness. We are all completely de-legitimized, and any bishop, priest, theologian, director of a diocesan weekly or politician of the Catholic-democratic-type can shut us up with that “Who am I to judge”. We would be riddled with shots like a farm pheasant in a hunting chase by types like Mogavero. …
Finally–yes, finally!–I will close with a Scriptural reflection from James 3:
Be ye not many masters [i.e. teachers], my brethren, knowing that you receive the greater judgment. 2 … If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man. He is able also with a bridle to lead about the whole body. 3 For if we put bits into the mouths of horses, that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body. 4 Behold also ships … are … turned about with a small helm, whithersoever the force of the governor willeth. 5 Even so the tongue is indeed a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold how small a fire kindleth a great wood. 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is placed among our members, which defileth the whole body, and inflameth the wheel of our nativity, being set on fire by hell. … 8 But the tongue no man can tame, an unquiet evil, full of deadly poison. 9 By it we bless God and the Father: and by it we curse men, who are made after the likeness of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth, out of the same hole, sweet and bitter water? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear grapes; or the vine, figs? So neither can the salt water yield sweet.
Pray for me, pray for each other, pray for the Church, and pray for Pope Francis.