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.


Garpu said...

Should come as no surprise, but I'm no fan of charismatics. I'm less of a fan of pentecostal and evangelical theology, though.

I think what attracts people to them is the absolute surety they have for their faith and questions about life, the universe, and everything. In one sense, I think Benedict was trying to get back to the days of the Baltimore Catechism, where everyone could answer "Who is God?"

But I don't think pat answers and older rituals are the answer, no matter how much I may prefer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. The Mass and the Extraordinary Form are pointing to mysteries that don't have easy answers, which I think people aren't too keen on in times like ours (that is, post 2008.) When was the heyday of the EF Mass? 1950, with its post-war boom.

Granted, I'm not a sociologist, so I could be completely talking out my ass.

Jeff said...

Not at all, Jen, I think that makes a lot of sense.

I can't ever imagine myself feeling comfortable worshiping this way, but if it works for the people in Brazil, I'm all in favor of it.

I give Fr. Marcelo credit for seeing what the problem is and for using what works. At least there is true reverence there, and the people are getting the sacraments. They are getting the Eucharist.

What Fr. Marcelo is doing reminds me of St. Paul.

To the Jews I became like a Jew to win over Jews; to those under the law I became like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win over those under the law. To those outside the law I became like one outside the law—though I am not outside God’s law but within the law of Christ—to win over those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.

Did you happen to catch Tom Ashbrook's On-Point program, Pope Francis in Brazil? There was a professor on there by the name of Andrew Chestnut, who has written about religion in Brazil, in books titled Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the Pathogens of Poverty and Competitive Spirits: Latin America's New Religious Economy">. He seems to think that the appeal of charismatic, spirit-filled faith in Brazil and in the Southern Hemisphere in general has to do with faith healing and other very practical matters.

It's an interesting thing for us to think about here up north, where we tend to put all of our healing faith in technology and in hospitals, but maybe we do lack a spirituality that emphasizes the Spirit. You don't hear a lot about the Holy Spirit in Catholicism, generally speaking, even though St. Paul's epistles are full of references to it.