[After reading this, please refer to the follow-up post here.]
“The underlying principle [of Americanism] is that, in order to more easily attract those who differ from her, the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions. Many think … it would be opportune, in order to gain those who differ from us, to omit certain points of her teaching which are of lesser importance, and to tone down the meaning which the Church has always attached to them. It does not need many words … to prove the falsity of these ideas if the nature and origin of the doctrine which the Church proposes are recalled to mind. …
“We cannot consider as altogether blameless the silence which purposely leads to the omission or neglect of some of the principles of Christian doctrine, for all the principles come from the same Author and Master…. They are adapted to all times and all nations, as is clearly seen from the words of our Lord to His apostles: “Going, therefore, teach all nations; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you all days, even to the end of the world.”-Matt. xxviii, 19. …
“Let it be far from anyone’s mind to suppress for any reason any doctrine that has been handed down. Such a policy would tend rather to separate Catholics from the Church than to bring in those who differ. There is nothing closer to our heart than to have those who are separated from the fold of Christ return to it, but in no other way than the way pointed out by Christ.”
— Pope Leo XIII, Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae (1899)
Mundabor recently drew attention to a tweet by Pope Francis which reads: “No one saves oneself. The community is essential.” It’s 91 characters out of a possible 140, and has been retweeted/favorited over 6,000 times. This tweet typifies the ongoing problem with much of Francis’s teaching witness. While it’s not false per se, it is truncated in a seriously misleading way. Even on a very mild reading, it’s inane. My immediate internal response was, “Yes, and?” (You might say I was left waiting for the other [black] shoe to drop.) Why not just retweet “It takes a village” and be done with it?
My patron saint is Francis de Sales, so I am cognizant of what is probably his most famous counsel: “Always be as gentle as you can and remember that one catches more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar.” Therefore, in a positive spirit, let me propose the tweet I think the world community (or at least the 3.62 million followers of the @Pontifex community) needs to see: “No one saves oneself. The community is essential. Yet no community saves on its own. The Church is essential for salvation in Jesus.” That’s only 132 characters, so failing to express the whole truth on the matter cannot be blamed on the technical limitations of Twitter. Sending that truncated bromide was a choice.
It may, of course, be the case that Pope Francis does not compose all of his own tweets, but that just raises as many questions as it might aim to answer. If taking time to craft his tweets is not important to him, why should they be important to the world? If, as I have been told by two Catholic correspondents in Rome, much of what he says is just a friendly reconstruction of various passing remarks (e.g. in this case), how does a loyal son of the Church attend to the actual words of the Holy Father?
The grim reality is that this papacy is very much guided by the prevalent “Mistakes Were Made” ethos. If “the pope” causes scandal, it is written off to bad translations, unsympathetic media, convoluted contextual allusions, theologically deficient Catholics, pastoral accommodationism, and so on. In a word, there’s nothing wrong with this papacy–it’s just that mistakes were made. After all, “This isn’t Denzinger.” If you prefer not to label the tendency feckless, the programmatic superficiality of this papacy so far is probably most charitably labeled “loyal but benighted.” Sadly, “At least he means well” can be taken in two very divergent senses. The medium is the message, as McLuhan taught us, so the triviality of the tweet that motivated this post is a feature, not a bug, of a pastoral strategy that exceeds “meeting people where they are” and errs on the side of normalizing the post-verbal, sound-byte culture which is largely driven by anti-Christian ideology.
Nor is there any shortage of ecclesial pseudo-events to match the pseudo-catechesis that falls like water from the misty witness of Marx, Maradiaga (again and again), O’Malley, Dolan (and again), Kasper, and Woelke, to name only a handful of those given to vapid sound bytes. Blessing the papist parrot of a part-time porn star is a perfect, presumably unwitting, parable for the problem of pastoral adventurism. Acting without reflecting; endorsing without discerning; rejoicing without repentance; images without meaning.
Life has taught me a few things, and one of them is this: Over time, incompetence becomes indistinguishable from malfeasance, and vice versa. To paraphrase @Pontifex, “No tweet writes itself; the complete truth is essential.” Sloganeering is no prosthesis for catechesis; at best it is an overused crutch in pursuit of that precious yet ultimately suicidal commodity known as “relevance.” As Pope Leo XIII reminded us in the opening quotation, may God save us from the comfort of relevance, in other words, from compromised conformity.