Sunday, September 29, 2013

Regarding Pope Francis... Will Everyone Please Chill?

The Catholic Circular Firing Squad goes on, like an endless loop of Reservoir Dogs

I suppose it was only a matter of time before our segmented, siloed, sorted, and completely polarized American political culture infected us as a Church. How could it not? It has been percolating since Holy Thursday, but look at the recent fallout over "The Interview." We treat popes now the same way we do presidents and other politicans.

So much for us being united as the Mystical Body of Christ. Maybe the late Fr. Raymond Brown was right when he said in his book The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, "Within Roman Catholicism, if we have another decade of the dominance of the People of God imagery, the Body of Christ mo­tif will need to re-emerge."

Poor Pope Francis... One has to feel badly for him, because of all the pastoral damage that had already been done before him. He has a mighty hill to climb.

Despite mostly favorable MSM coverage so far, take for a moment the challenges he faces with people on the Left...

Even when he says all the right things, many liberals, at least here in the USA, are still going to dislike and discount him. For example, simply take a look at the comments about him on posts referencing him on liberal sites like the Huffington Post. Even if he talks primarily about inequality and concern for the poor, he gets comments like "How about if the Vatican sells off all of their riches first," as if they are sitting on mountains of cash instead of museum pieces and a chronically chaotic and mismanaged bank.

Those are the kinder comments. As we all know, the pedophilia scandal is the "gift" to anti-Catholics that keeps on giving, and it is the well dipped back into over and over again for combox screeds. That may take centuries to erase, if ever.

Among the specifically Catholic Left, I suppose some are disappointed in the way he speaks of "spinsters" and "female machismo" in a fashion that convinces them that he has an anthropologically retrograde, Latin American way of thinking about women, and they would actually like to see some concrete changes in doctrine, which is very unlikely. If not that, they'd at least like him to back off of the LCWR. I think that may still happen, but unless doctrine actually changes on women's ordination and same-sex relationships, I don't think these folks are ever going to be truly happy, no matter what kind of tone he sets. As I said, that's highly unlikely.

The real matter for concern, however, is the absolute conniption that's being thrown on the Right.

Laypeople on the Left have a long history of criticizing popes openly, but except for the sedevacantists on the fringe, this was unthinkable for conservatives prior to now.
While recognizing that their "enemies" aren't exactly crawling back in repentance like the prodigal son, these Catholics would do well to remember the father's words to the older son.
My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours ~ Luke 15:31
Why all the anger and sense of betrayal? To an extent, I suppose I can understand the frustration. My wife and I have six kids and have always been vocal and active in regard to our Pro-Life views.  It hasn't always been easy, in a pornified cultural sink, where people can be hostile, condescending, or simply uncomprehending in regard to our beliefs, but we can also see what hasn't been working. Like Pope Francis, we can see that there are battlefield casualties that need healing.

Francis didn’t say we were wrong to have opposed abortion, or to have wasted our time talking about it. He didn’t say we shouldn’t continue to oppose it or continue to talk about it. He just told us to put it in the proper context and not to obsess over it. At the end of the day, the Faith is about Jesus Christ and his salvific mission, and we always have to be careful about cultivating and nursing our own pet idolatries instead. What I mean by that is, for all the good work we do in the Pro-Life sphere, for some of us, opposition to abortion has not become just a marker of the Faith and primary moral concern, but the be-all and end-all of the Faith. In a sense, for some of us, it has become the Faith itself. This isn’t meant as a condemnation on my part of the doctrinally conservative, so please don’t read it that way. The progressives can equally make an idol out of social justice, or the poor, or any other issue. All of us need to be cognizant of our own obsessions and tendencies, because idolatry is pernicious in the way it creeps up on us.

So, while I recognize to a degree that this is a sort of trial for those who feel like they've suffered through sacrifices and the slings and arrows of the culture wars, only to be stabbed in the back, I think there is something else larger going on here. After all, in regard to the moral issues and "tone," Rod Dreher has done a good job of pointing out that Benedict has at times said very much the same thing as Francis.

I think a lot of it comes down to this... Not only more liberal, but ordinary, lax, half-catechized, cultural Catholics love Francis in a way that they never extended to Benedict, and are showing signs of responding more favorably to the Faith again.

Before Joseph Ratzinger became the pope, he was well-known as a lightning rod, but he had a sizable and devoted following. He had a "fan club." John Paul II, by contrast, nor any other pope before him, for that matter, ever had this. After Joseph Ratzinger became the pope, Ignatius Press published just about everything he ever wrote. You couldn't go into your local Barnes & Nobles and look at the Catholic section of books without seeing a veritable wall of his writings. This was a pivotal moment. For his devoted followers, this was when things were finally going to be set to rights. Every thought of the pope was published and analyzed,and it was incumbent upon every serious Catholic to get to know the mind of this "teaching pope." The papacy had become more important than ever before.  In their enthusiasm, I think they may have missed how much the sartorial splendor and constant scolding coming from Rome was grating to other people, but they may not have cared even if they did.

The resignation was a shock, right when the pendulum swing to the right looked like it was picking up it's full head of steam and building towards a critical mass.

Pope Francis came in. Then the comparisons began, along with the unadorned affection of the great unwashed for Francis.

This is what they seem to hate most of all. They had gotten used to being coddled and pampered and catered to during the pontificates of JPII and Benedict, especially the latter, who believed in having no enemies to the right. They were the darling children, the creative minority, the faithful remnant, and they were looking forward to the day when everyone else would be kicked out, or, even more charitably, to die off, useless, aging hippies that they were.

The Right could not be comfortable loving Francis if they loved him too. Either they loved him for the wrong reasons, or something must be terribly wrong. The folks at the Vatican who still read all these blogs that they used to be so hopeful about must be very alarmed at these reactions right now.

Even though Francis is clearly his own man, Father Zuhlsdorf, for instance, who's become a sort of Baghdad Bob these days, insists that we can and must "Read Francis through Benedict." For the SSPX-sympathizing types at places like Rorate Caeli, they are not fooled. 

I mentioned the former Catholic Rod Dreher earlier, and he summarizes the reaction on the Right in a post called Conservative Catholics Confront Francis’s Message. Some interesting stuff in there. He quotes favorably and powerfully from Larry Chapp at Ethika Politika, but I think he missed the key quote from Chapp's column, which was this...
Along these lines, I have to say that I have been harboring the guilty hope that this liberal honeymoon with Francis will soon be over and things will get back to normal as soon as they see he is “not one of them.” That will make me feel “vindicated” again and “right.” But why should any of us hope that they stop liking the Pope? Why should we not hope instead that this first acceptance of theirs of his message will bear fruit as their own hearts open to truths that they too will see they should be more willing to accept? So what if they like him for what we think are “the wrong reasons”? How are the Right-wing bloggers so certain that they don’t dislike him for all the wrong reasons? Why should we not hope that a new conversation can be started where, even if we still disagree, our common love for Christ and his Church will forge a new amity? Why should I hope they return to alienated distrust? This Pope is calling all of us out of our selfish and pinched pettiness. And God knows we all need to heed that call. I know I do. I am starting to think this Pope might actually be, indeed, a truly wise and holy man.

Amen. Go ahead. Love Pope Francis. We love him too. Why can't we both?  Enough of Catholic infighting.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

More on Syria and Other Matters...

Some interesting things on the web I noticed over the weekend...

1) A beautiful prayer from a Syrian Jesuit who is now studying at Creighton University.

A Prayer for Syria 

2) A Syrian-American woman gives an earful to John McCain at a town meeting.

As for Obama, shame on the Democrats for not speaking up more strongly on this.  It if was George W. Bush doing this, they'd be all over him.   Shame as well on Catholic politicians of both parties who are supporting this proposed attack.

3) A certain Father Zuhlsdorf commented yesterday on How the Catholic Left will support Pres. Obama’s attack on Syria, and a couple of days earlier on The Jesuit General’s selective indignation.  With regard to the "Catholic Left" at the National Catholic Reporter, which he calls "The Fishwrap" (which might have been funny the first 100 times he did so), he quotes Matt Bowman from CatholicVote saying:
On the NCReporter’s main page, it has forgotten how to plainly condemn bombing. It lists some articles in favor of the bishops’ view, yet at the same time it hosts what can only be called a “diversity” of views on the topic.
Hmm. Here's what NCR's page looks like this morning.

Seems like a pretty unambiguous focus to me....  Granted, it seems as if the main thrust of Mat Bowman's attack, and by extension, Zuhlsdorf's, is the supposed reticence of Michael Sean Winters to get with the program over at NCR, but as Fr. Zuhlsdorf laments the selective indignation on the part of NCR and the Jesuits, supposedly for taking this Syrian matter more seriously than topics like abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage, where have his posts been, unambiguously condemning bombing in Syria or elsewhere? 

4) Finally, I noticed Sandro Magister had pointed out that the current head of the CDF, Gerhard Muller,  co-wrote a book with Gustavo Gutierrez about liberation theology. but of course, Magister says that Francis is dead-set against LT, saying Bergoglio Isn't Falling For It.

It isn't quite that simple... Despite the fact that Magister takes into account in his article the public rift between Leonardo Boff and his brother Clovodis, who plainly stated that even with his change of heart his "intention [was] not to disqualify liberation theology," he seems to miss the nuances and breadth of views within LT itself.  Magister seems to cling to the perception that in order to do LT, you need to have a beard and a beret like Che Guevara, quote Marx, and carry a Kalashnikov.

Despite what Magister says, even Father Zuhlsdorf cites the article and is accepting the fact that he will have to come to terms now with some form of liberation theology during this pontificate.

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Syrian Question

We don’t understand this region at all. It is ruled by the Law of Unintended Consequences

I’m old enough to remember the various escalations, de-escalations, truces, cease-fires, harbor minings, troop buildups, troop withdrawals, and intensified bombing campaigns that took place during the war in Viet Nam, all geared towards the purpose of “sending a message.” Ultimately, it was all fruitless effort expended in a part of the world that we had barged into without fully understanding.

It was a mistake that we shouldn’t repeat, and if events of the past decade can also serve as lessons to us, embarking on a war of choice is a mistake as well. Wars are a lot harder to get out of than they are to get into. At least Congress is going to do their job and take a vote on it. I was worried for a while there that they wouldn’t.

I fully understand the importance of maintaining an international consensus that puts the use of chemical weapons beyond the pale. It’s pure barbarism, beyond the acceptability of any civilized norms. Unfortunately, the international community has shown little interest in supporting the idea of collective security envisioned in the charters of the United Nations, and even less inclination to do anything about the use of biological and chemical weapons. It’s unfortunate as well that our claims to moral superiority in this regard ring hollow to the rest of the world, due to the fact that we knew Iraq was using chemical weapons in their war against Iran during the 1980s, but provided covert strategic assistance to the Iraqis anyway. The strategic imperative was to stop an Iranian victory at any cost, and we did not protest or intervene. Our unlimited use of drone strikes around the world doesn’t help us to make a persuasive case either.
As much as I might be sympathetic towards Obama’s goals on this issue, it is actually the limited nature of what he is proposing that most makes me inclined to oppose it. Getting rid of Assad might be one thing, but what he is proposing would have little practical effect other than to bolster Assad and to get more people killed. Inevitably, more innocent people will be killed.

Fundamentally, it is morally wrong to kill people for the purpose of “sending a message.” 
Even if we were to intervene in a way that would tip the balance against the Assad regime, is that what we really want to do? I’m no expert, but from what I’m gathering, most of the secular-minded and ordinary citizens who took up arms in the Free Syrian Army against the regime a couple of years ago have either been killed, fled the country, or gone home in disillusionment. The anti-Asad movement now seems to be dominated by foreign jihadis and the al-Qaeda affliated Jabhat al-Nusra.

A few months ago I saw this interesting speech given by Sheik Nasrallah in Lebanon around the beginning of the year, about Hezbollah's looming showdown with al Qaeda in Syria. What he warned about has since come to fruition, and Hezbollah is now providing overt military support to the Assad regime, destroying its own credibility on the Arab Street in the process…. The Middle East never lacks for irony as Hezbollah, of all people, whine about the "meanness" of people who set off car bombs.... This has become a sectarian Shia-Sunni conflict through and through, and we should not allow ourselves to be pulled into it. There is blowback for everything we try to do in the Middle East. I feel badly - terribly - for the children of Syria, but unfortunately the place is ruled by the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Putting up a video like the one below is somewhat out of character for me, but there are much more explicit and barbarous ones out there. It shows the actions of the “Takfiri” that Nasrallah speaks of… The treatment of Christians in Syria is well-documented, if still not widely known, but look at how these sectarian thugs treat a small, unarmed group of muslim truck drivers who fail their Sunni quiz. These were guys just trying to make a living. Their trucks weren’t even hauling trailers. I was deeply moved by the courage of these ordinary men, as they stoically came to realize that they could lose their lives at the hands of these crackpot zealots, for just trying to do their jobs. (WARNING… Very disturbing).

Senselessness. Somewhere the cycle of tit-for-tat violence needs to stop. When will these wars end? Let’s heed Pope Francis’s advice on the Day of Prayer and Fasting. To suggest a fast is something new, positive, inspiring and welcome. It puts faith and sentiment into notable and noticeable action.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Charismatic Moment?

Fr. Marcelo Rossi is quite something, but I’m still feeling a little wary of celebrity priests. 

Way back in 2006, I put up a post called Do We Need a Fulton Sheen for Today? I was lamenting the fact that the American Church seemed to lack spokesmen with charisma and communication skills like Father Sheen's.

Man, did we ever get them after that.

Man, were we ever sorry.

There was the infamous John Corapi meltdown and scandals involving Fathers Thomas Williams and Thomas Euteneuer. There were minor financial scandals involving Fathers Peter Stravinskas and Frank Pavone. It appeared instead as if celebrity priests were the last thing we needed.

The USA may be one thing, and Brazil another.

The conservatives and the Latin Mass trads blame progressives and liberation theologians for losing Latin America to Pentecostalism. Maybe there's some truth in that, maybe not, but these people in Brazil don't look to me like they are missing the Latin Mass very much.

That’s not to say that these folks aren’t conservative, but there’s one thing and one thing only that Pope Emeritus Benedict and the liberation theologian Leonardo Boff have in common. They both have little use for Fr. Marcelo Rossi and the Charismatics.

It's strange stuff to me too, this show business, but Rossi and priests like him seem to be the only guys keeping people in the Catholic Church in Brazil. They’re the only ones keeping the mass exodus in check.

When B16 was in Brazil in 2007, they didn't let Rossi anywhere near him, but Francis let him take part in WYD this year. To be fair, it should be noted that by 2010, Benedict may have had a change in heart, when he bestowed the Van Thuan Solidarity and Development Award on Fr. Rossi.

As for Boff, nothing doing. No change of heart. Here are some excerpts of choice remarks he’s made about Rossi here and there.

Leonardo Boff, a former Franciscan priest and the most well-known liberation theologian in Brazil, was acerbic, describing Father Rossi as the Brazilian equivalent of a “dumb blonde,” and as a “byproduct of the market economy, which provides the sort of druglike joy that people want [in order] to forget the commitment to the poor. He is not committed to the poor.” 

Theologian Leonardo Boff has been especially critical of Rossi, calling his style ‘commercial religion’. ‘Father Marcelo is happy believing God is in heaven, without realizing that people don’t have bread,’ says Boff, author of 40 books on theology and the Church...

When I want to get really angry, I tune into the religious programs on television. They are in bad taste and poor. They are not up to the Christian message. They are closer to Xuxa than to the Gospel. There is a lack experience in dealing with the media and the Church is not preparing them for that. What they do is manipulate emotions. I have never seen Father Marcelo Rossi say that there are 1.1 million unemployed in Sao Paulo or ask God to guide the government in the path of justice and ethics. But I did see him do aerobic dancing.

Rossi’s either too charitable or too shrewd to respond in kind, but he did have this to say about liberation theology and Leo Boff...

Father Rossi responded that a large number of the people who feel renewed by his Masses and songs “are very poor people, those who suffer most.” 

When I rediscovered the faith,Father Marcelo said in an interview, it was a period in which the Church was immersed in political questions, because of the influence of liberation theology. A form of theology that certainly had a positive role during the dictatorship, but that has left a void. I had lost one of my cousins, and I was looking for the word of God, but when I went to church they were talking about politics. From that moment, I understood what I had to do.” Which meant returning to the essential, proclaiming the Gospel using the means of communication, in particular music, the greatest and most widely shared conduit of emotions and words in the daily life of the people. Using it to meet the thirst for God and reawaken love for the Church, for Mary, for the Eucharist, worn away by the proselytism of Pentecostal groups and factions. 

Father Marcelo is also a priest who recalls the importance of faithfully following the magisterium, of knowing and defending Catholic doctrine. And who, as he has stated recently, feels more at ease with the spiritual children of Escrivà de Balaguer than with those still attached to the utopias of the Boff brothers. 

To that last one, the Boff boys Leo and Clovodis might say “ouch,” but let me say this to Fr. Rossi.

Well done. Keep up the good work, but keep your wits about you. You’ve placed too heavy a burden upon your own shoulders to ever throw it all away with a scandal. You would destroy the faith of millions. Watch yourself with the ladies and elsewhere. Looks like you have a lot of adoring fans.

Always remember that it’s all about Christ and not about you. I don’t want to be reading about you what I’ve read about these other guys.