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.

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