Friday, June 28, 2013

Speak the Truth--In "Love" -> Barf


The next time I hear a Christian tell me, "we need to speak the Truth--in Love," I may just barf up all over them. Puh-lease. I mean, Really?!? 

You see, it's not that the concept of speaking the truth is abhorrent, nor that loving others is. (Duh.) It's not even that sometimes, yes, you do have to tell someone something unpleasant for their own good.

The problem is that all too often this "love" is just a pretense. It is just a sham, a get out of jail free card. It is an excuse to make said Christian feel justified in taking others to task for their wrongdoing. Not only that, it is a habit that is easy to learn, and there are support groups for it that also pretend to be doing some great good (i.e., orgs that make it their mission to be perpetually outraged watchdogs). It is pervasive and pernicious.

Let's see.. what would Jesus say?
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.
If your idea of "evangelizing" is to point out what people in society are doing wrong, to denounce and decry loudly from the street corners that they are doomed, you're doing it wrong.

We should be very, very reluctant to take others to task for what they are doing wrong because it almost surely means we are not looking at what we are doing wrong. And what makes it worse is that in overlooking our own faults, we fall into the even greater fault of spiritual pride and, quite possibly, begin to despise them. Heck, I am probably screwing up by just writing this post; I almost deleted it. See? It's a dangerous business..

If we truly want to love others, we need to first and foremost encourage them and celebrate the good that they do and then to have sorrow and compassion with them in their failings and difficulties, reassuring them that we're all in the same boat, that all of us need the grace of God, and that this grace is a freely given gift.

Read that last bit again. It's the pie slicer for our humble pie. Internalize it. This prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas is pretty good way to do it--pray it daily (excerpt):

My most holy Lady,
          I also beseech you to obtain for me
               true obedience and true humility of heart

So that I may recognize myself truly
          as a sinner--wretched and weak--
     and powerless,
               without the grace and help of my Creator
               and without your holy prayers,
          to do any kind of good work
          or even to resist
               the unrelenting assaults of evil.

Obtain for me as well,
     O most sweet Lady,
          true charity with which
               from the depths of my heart
          I may love
               your most holy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
               and, after Him,
          love you above all other things,
          and love my neighbor
               in God and because of God.

Thereby may I 
          rejoice in his goodness,
          sorrow over his evils,
          despise no one,
          never judge rashly,
          and never in my heart exalt myself over anyone.

Pray. Try. Remember. When you fail, try again.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Benedict Lover Defends Francis

A Post Wherein You Will Find Much Boring Centrism and Multi-Pope-Loving

Yesterday I read this post entitled "The Pope of our Punishment strikes." There are many ways to take a title like that. One of them is positive, in that I have seen others commenting on how "challenging" the new pope is to our comfort zones. One of them is negative, which is as a lament of how the new pope really is in some way a punishment (from God?) for us. And a third is a kind of satire--skewering the people who tend to do the latter by exaggerating the kinds of things that they say/complain about.

For a good portion of the post, I honestly thought it was the last one. Because the criticisms seem so insignificant--it's like the author is trying to find something to criticize and be offended. Alas, as I shared with my Catholic peeps on Google+ (where I came across this piece--sorry if ya can't see it), it is not satire; it is the second way above--true complaining and lamentation, which is odd given that the author's first post using that term was more of the first; I have no beef with that--I agree.

Unsurprisingly, the author took me to task for my ├╝ber brief criticism on G+, and I fully intended to elaborate anyways. (At the time I was on my phone, which has a way of encouraging you to be brief.  Now I sit before my full keyboard, so prepare yourself for my trademark verbosity! :) )

Let's analyze the post a bit. But before we do, by way of caveat, let me say to my non-Catholic readers that this post is probably going to seem somewhat bizarre, but then specialized concerns often do seem that way to outsiders. 

Also, for my Catholic readers, this blog post outlines the reason for my general distate for the whole "Pope Francis is better than Benedict" theme that is still prevalent--I'm hardly one of those who fits into that crowd. Above in the pic you see (taken by my eight-year-old this morning) what is on two of our cabinets in our kitchen. The one is a thanksgiving note to Pope Benedict (BTW, I am the person behind; the other is of our new pope, celebrating his election--we celebrate and pray for them both as a family regularly. We also attend the nearby EF mass, and our oldest boy is a junior server there. And lastly, I am/have been a huge fan of Pope Benedict; I have read a lot of his stuff and followed most of what he said/did in office. In many ways, I felt like we were kin, intellectually and spiritually speaking. So this is where I am coming from--I'm not a flaming liberal. Ironically, for those who see Benedict and Francis as one being better than the other, here you'll find a long-time fanboi of Benedict defending Francis.

So without further ado, back to the concerns raised in the "punishment" post, which is couched in a criticism of Francis' purported "refusal to submit to the nature of the papal office," which the author seems to equate with, essentially, living large as pope.

Criticism #1) Pope Francis won't live in the papal apartments. The author speculates about how this must be costly/problematic for the exercise of the office. Maybe so, maybe not. It's just speculation. He goes on to impute falseness of character to the Pope--that Cardinal Bergoglio really must have been making plans for world domination as pope, even though he said multiple times that he didn't desire it or expect it. The irony here is that Francis has shown quite a tendency for off-the-cuff behavior (which the author also criticizes later), so why should it be hard to believe that he decided off the cuff to not live in the apartments? 

On the contrary, this choice of living is not in line not with some disingenuous false humility but rather right in line with his way of life previously on record in Argentina, as archbishop and cardinal. If he's feigning humility, he's been doing it for a long time, and if he's been planning to be a falsely humble pope, he sure has been preparing for a long time.  Talk about playing the long game!  

Or we could just take him at his word, which seems more likely given his prior behavior (not to mention, it is more charitable to do so). And it's not just about some political need to "feel freer of curial bureaucracy" but the stated closeness and connection with those who are visiting. 

2) I don't like how Pope Francis does mass. "But a papal Mass served by, say, gardeners in their gardening kit – is that humble or just inappropriate?" 

Maybe it's not about being "humble"? Maybe it's about being close to average Catholics? It's hard to take seriously the criticism of a faithful Catholic gardener at daily mass being dressed in his work clothes while serving. Crap. Now I'm feeling guilty for all the times I served at daily mass while dressed in my work clothes. ;) Oh wait, no, I'm not..

This whole objection is exactly what the same author mentioned in his prior article: "those who have over-valued the trappings and ephemera of liturgy rather than directing their zeal more completely to the proper celebration of what is the Church’s liturgy." (Emphasis the authors.. and mine..)  I have to admit a certain amount of sympathy here. I am personally a fan of smells and bells and high ceremony at mass, but I am not confused that my personal preferences should be the universal, unbreakable, only way to celebrate mass properly. 

Pope Benedict himself spoke of "mutual enrichment" of the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms. It's not a one way street, despite the way traditionalists want to paint it--both forms enrich each other, i.e., "mutual." Whereas Benedict emphasized the EF, apparently it's time that Francis emphasize the OF. Those of us who are humble will try to learn from both and see the good in both--they are after all both part of the Church's liturgy.

"same simple (fast becoming monotonous) style" - So now the Pope has to change his "style" regularly in order to entertain (i.e., eliminate monotony)? What is the OF criticized for if not for over-innovation to entertain? Irony, anyone?

"humility or willfulness? Certainly the Pope has a right to set the tone of his papacy, but it is emerging very much a papacy the theme song of which could be Sinatra’s I did it my way. Strong – yes; humble – not so certain? Perhaps if this hermeneutic of humility were to be laid aside I would find his style not quite so disturbing."

Now we see a return to the accusation that the Pope is feigning humility, that he is using it as a show. See above. Not only is this uncharitable, it is hardly supportable. Did it occur to anyone that maybe he is just being himself? If I take anything from Francis, it is that he is authentic. It's not like he dramatically changed from who he was as Bergoglio. This is just who he is. Sometimes it comes across as showy, but it is hard not to come across that way when you are the Pope. People watch everything you do, so being humble by its very nature is at odds with the office, and it will inevitably seem showy.

And on that point, much could be said about Benedict. I hear it in my head now--the traditionalists trumping how Pope Benedict was doing something to "teach by example" in regards to the liturgy. "See? He wore this or that? So all the priests should! See? He put candles up--so all the priests should." Now that the new Pope is teaching something different by example--something that makes them feel uncomfortable, there are accusations of falseness flying around. The irony again, and this time more so because his teaching by example is truly, for him, just a way of life--probably far less premeditated than Benedict's examples in liturgy.

3) He really needs to get a clue what it means to be Pope. "He is successor to St Peter, holds the highest teaching authority in the Church, and needs to remember that his words now have a significance they never had when he was a priest or a diocesan bishop."

Does that statement not reek of condescension? Do we really believe that Pope Francis is some simpleton that does not, despite having lived his whole life as a Catholic, a priest, a bishop, an archbishop, and a cardinal, understand the impact of the papal office? It's not as if he was elevated from some rural parish; he was an archbishop and cardinal. One would think he understands the impact of the office.

"It does not serve his role as supreme teacher that the Vatican is having constantly to catch up with his unscripted words and try to record them and make them available."

Here we are again, speculating about how difficult it must be for Vatican staff as a justification for criticism. It smells of reaching. It's their job--boo hoo if it's a little harder on them. Not to mention, we have no idea how they feel about it; maybe they love it--new, exciting, challenging. How about comparing the relative brevity of Francis to Benedict? So let's speculate that what effort Francis adds by not always using prepared remarks, he relieves by being brief. I'm just engaging the point, but I really think it's not very weighty in any case. 

4) His impromptu style causes PR gaffes. "Already we have seen more than one gaffe from his papal impromptus." 

This is where I really got suspicious that it was satire. Are we really going to pretend that having papal gaffes is conditioned by whether or not remarks are prepared?  Regensburg, anyone? Condoms? SSPX? Without wanting to encourage Benedict bashers, there is a whole litany of PR gaffes he made, and he was nothing if not prepared and very considered in what he said. 

And as the author just pointed out, the Pope's words have a lot of significance. People watch what he says. Most of these people lack a lot of context and background and will misunderstand him. It's not a question of if but when, and prepared or not, it's going to happen. 

As vicar of Christ, I suspect Peter didn't often speak from prepared remarks. Indeed, Christ told him, "do not worry about what you will say--the Holy Spirit will give you what to say when you need it." Obviously, this kind of thing only goes so far, and I wouldn't suggest everything the pope says is directly from the Spirit; however, if we're going to talk about appropriate styles, I think there is oodles of precedent for speaking from the heart rather than from whitewashed, PR-appropriate remarks.

"In fact it is so theologically muddy, and has been so misinterpreted by the media, that his words had to be clarified and explained."  

Because yeah, that has never happened before in the history of papal communications. Oh hang on.. touches earpiece I'm being told this has happened a lot...

"Part of the problem is the Pope’s emphasis on doing good works, even outside the context of faith (ie by atheists). His words lend themselves to the easy imputation of Pelagianism."

This is called the slippery slope fallacy. And as we see below, it's not even a sustainable objection.

5) The Pope was mean to some people who told him how many prayers they said for him. Plus, he doesn't even know what Pelagianism is. Now we move on to the question of the Pope's own anti-Pelagian remarks. Quoting His Holiness:

I share with you two concerns. One is the Pelagian current that there is in the Church at this moment. There are some restorationist groups. I know some, it fell upon me to receive them in Buenos Aires. And one feels as if one goes back 60 years! Before the Council… One feels in 1940… An anecdote, just to illustrate this, it is not to laugh at it, I took it with respect, but it concerns me; when I was elected, I received a letter from one of these groups, and they said: “Your Holiness, we offer you this spiritual treasure: 3,525 rosaries.” Why don’t they say, ‘we pray for you, we ask…’, but this thing of counting… And these groups return to practices and to disciplines that I lived through – not you, because you are not old – to disciplines, to things that in that moment took place, but not now, they do not exist today…
The author of the article continues, "There are so many problems with this passage. There is the tone, which appears patronising and condescending as he looks down on (and resists the temptation to laugh at) those who might offer a spiritual bouquet of rosaries for his ministry."

Really? Because if you read what he actually said, you don't get that: "it is not to laugh at it, I took it with respect." Hardly condescending, but again, if you are looking to be offended...

"now-ridiculed faithful" - The Pope did no such thing. He said explicitly he received their gift with respect, not something to be laughed at. The problem here is that defensiveness is causing a hermeneutic of ridicule that is not there.

"Any pope before him would have been delighted." There is no way we can know this. Would Peter have been delighted? Who can say? I speculate that Bl. John Paul II might have also shared the concern, though maybe he would not have said so. 

"Far worse is his equation of this spiritual bouquet with Pelagianism." He did no such thing. First of all,  he is specifically concerned about the counting aspect, not the prayers that were offered for him. Secondly, he says "Pelagian current"--there is no "equation" with the heresy but saying that it smacks of it. Equating "Pelagian current" with formal "Pelagianism" is the same as equating the actual intent and documents/teaching of Vatican II with the "spirit of Vatican II." 

What could he mean by Pelagian current, then? He hints at it--"this thing of counting." I know what he is talking about because I encountered that mentality when I attended an FSSP parish for over a year, and I have seen it to more or less degrees in the traditionalist circles I have ranged in both in person and online since then. 

There is this mentality--it is one that says, "do this many things" for some good end, or that this prayer or this object is a sure guard against this or that evil or is a promotion of this or that good. We're not talking about the sacraments here but, at best, sacramentals (which have no divine guarantees). It's the same mentality that tries to put numbers of years on indulgences. It engenders superstition; it is questionable theologically, and it puts the focus on the means instead of the end.

The mentality that wearing this or that amulet will protect you from harm causes one to put his trust in the thing rather than God. Similarly, saying "do this many things" has the effect of focusing the trust in the number of things done, rather than in God. This kind of superstition is problematic in the "mode" of the religious act. St. Thomas illumines this principle a bit in discussing the question of wearing "divine words" about the neck. He says, "if hope be placed in the manner of writing or fastening" then it is superstitious. Also, we hear in Scripture Christ himself warning us about the heathen who pray, "hoping that they will be heard for their many words."

In all these cases, when the hope attaches more to a thing done (be it the wearing of a special object, the repetition of special words, the number of prayers said, and so on), it is superstitious, or at least tending towards superstition. 

And we can easily see the connection with a Pelagian mentality here--one that puts one's trust in things we do or make rather than in God, one that detracts from or obscures the importance and value of God's grace. It is a mentality that stresses our doings rather than God's doings, our works rather than God's grace. It is not black and white. Again, the Pope doesn't equate the specific errors of Pelagianism with what is going on here; he says they share a current, i.e., a mode of thinking about spiritual things.

Francis spoke of "restorationist" (that's a polite way of putting it) groups that do really want to turn the clock back to pre-Vatican council days. They really do provide an environment for this kind of superstitious/Pelagian mentality to grow. The reform of this mentality was a positive outcome of Vatican II, and I believe this is what Pope Francis is talking about here.

Perhaps it was insensitive of him to choose the example he did, but the concern is real, and it is pastoral. It's great to pray for the Pope--his first act was to ask us to do so. But that doesn't preclude him from guiding people away from ways of praying that can be problematic. In any case, he was hardly ridiculing them.

"we might ask how else could they convey the scale of their corporate act? The number reveals that goodly number of people prayed a goodly number of roasries – for the Pope!"

I might ask, was it necessary to convey the precise number? Was it an opportunity of pride for them? As the Pope said, why not just say "we pray for you"? Or even, "many of us have been praying for you," or even "thousands of us have been praying for you"? The important thing was that they were praying for him, whether or not he actually knew about it, much less how many people, much less how many rosaries. 

I have participated in a significant "spiritual bouquet" before, and I can attest that there was a certain amount of pride in the group from just how many things we had done, maybe even a bit of back-patting. That doesn't make the prayers bad, but maybe not counting could have removed the occasion for both pride and engendering a mentality that our "many words" would make us more heard. 

Sure, it is nice to let people know you are praying for them. It is a good comfort for them. But maybe we can all do better by not trying to keep track of just how much.

"Moreover, how does one reconcile these remarks with his advocating atheists to do good works in the context of Christ’s blood having redeemed all humanity, even atheists?"

In short, his remarks about atheists have nothing to do with Pelagianism, and the connection attempted here just doesn't work other than as a way to, dare I say, cause confusion about what the Pope said. He wasn't suggesting that atheists are saved by their good works. He said that their good works are a way to a cultural meeting. IOW, it is a way to have something in common, a common ground, a path towards peace. 

More than that, though, is that "these acts of love are in fact evidence of God’s activity in the person." This part of the "clarification" gives some insight into how the words on good works fit within the context of speaking of universal redemption. This ties in well with the Scripture that prompted the homily.

I would elaborate on this and suggest that such acts of goodness can be preparatory towards actual individual salvation. God gives the grace to do good, and that practice of goodness can incline one towards the Good, i.e., God. In our understanding of sin and virtue, such a concept is commonplace. Sin, even venial sin, develops a habit of sin that leads us away from God; similarly, doing good creates a habit of virtue that leads us towards God. It is a "beautiful path" one might say. ;)

6) "It is all very confusing, and a pope should not be in the business of confusion. He should not need help in making his remarks susceptible of orthodox interpretation."

So he's not batting 1000 on clarity in simplicity? I think we should, rather, judge by the vast majority of what he's said. He has an amazing knack for making difficult theology accessible. He treads the line between being comprehensible by the world and hardline orthodoxy very well. He challenges us regularly in our complacency and, I would say, in our navel gazing.

About navel-gazing... 
On G+, another priest-friend challenged me in my being critical of this article. He said I was not being equally critical of another problematic piece I shared that was written by an evangelical Protestant. Even though, when I replied to him, I clarified I was not endorsing the article as a whole but the one quote I offered as a good observation, I would further say simply that I expect more of Catholics, especially of priests, especially of religious priests.  Maybe I shouldn't, but I do. 

More to the point, though, the other article was praising Francis' evangelical witness, something I strongly appreciate in Francis. This article I'm responding to here, though, is criticizing stuff that is anything but evangelical. It's all about us--the purported cost to the Vatican of the pope's humble and impromptu way of life, our being bored by the monotony of his liturgical choices and lack of ritual pizzazz, his not complete delight in and approbation of a spiritual bouquet he received from us, that we can argue with him on the appropriateness of likening that to a Pelagian current. It's all us, us, us. Navel, navel, navel.  An evangelical outlook is, on the other hand, just that, an "out" look. It is concerned with the salvation of souls.

This is a point that I see Pope Francis challenging us on directly. Catholics need to be more evangelical. The New Evangelization needs to be more than just another Church program. It needs to change the way we think about the Church (some of us more than others). We need to open our eyes to the world around us--yes, to the poor and needy but also to the middle class atheists. We need to meet them where they are, find common ground and good we can share together.

To further illustrate this, consider the comments on his article and the ensuing article that was, shockingly, a clarification. Wait! I thought those weren't allowed?? ;)

"He has few languages (very limiting for a modern pope) and not much more theological grounding."

Really? I mean. Really?!?  You can't be serious...  First of all, number of languages is nigh on irrelevant. He has access to translators. Secondly, the guy is a Jesuit. We may not like their liberal approach to theology, but to suggest the Pope lacks theological grounding is 1) uncharitable, 2) untrue, and 3) the epitome of pride--as if we are the judges of that. Personally, since we're all offering our assessments of his theology, I've seen an amazing amount of it--it takes a lot more understanding to say things succinctly like he does than to elaborate in tomes.

"Quite honestly anyone who fundamentally disagrees with your original post cannot truly call themselves orthodox or faithful Catholics (perhaps that is a point they may revel in, who can say)." 

And it goes on to even more shocking claims. Granted, this is not the author of the blog, but the author does respond:

"Thanks for your post, FC. You get where I am coming from. And quite frankly, what I wrote does not even make the scale when compared to some things the saints have written to and about particular popes."  

What utter pride and narrowmindedness, to blanket deny the orthodoxy and faithfulness of anyone who disagrees with the original post. Wow. Not only is it just a dumb, insupportable thing to say, it is again pride--as if they are the judges of quality theology, orthodoxy, and faithfulness. 

7) "You are a blind pope-lover."

Okay, not in so many words, but that's the stereotypical defense when you come to the defense of the Pope with Catholics. What he did say was, " There are some also who see popes are little short of God re-incarnate."

This line is the last line of defense for the sedevacantist. They, of course, are the orthodox faithful. We who support the Pope are the Arians. 

This reasoning is so pernicious. I have yet to find a way to break through it. It's the same reasoning used by Protestants and every other sect who considers themselves to be "the true believers." The reason you can't challenge it is that, naturally, their interpretation of reality is the only right one. Point out that the Church Magisterium exists to externalize judgment and provide us with the objective pillar and ground of truth, and they will claim that they are that pillar and ground.

Now, I will give Fr. Hugh some credit on this score. He reiterates his fidelity to the "office" of the Pope, and he is anything but a sedevacantist. I am not suggesting he is anything but a faithful Catholic priest. I only point out a path where the "but Arianism" line of thinking leads, especially for folks who think that they are the ultimate arbiters of orthodoxy. If you challenge such folks and defend the papacy, you de facto become part of their problem.

In this situation, I agree--we are talking about matters of prudence, and that is fair game. It is fair game to criticize and it is fair game for people to defend. In criticizing, Fr. Hugh is no more of a heretic than I am one for defending the Pope. I hope we can all agree on that.

What would St. Catherine do?
That said, as a Dominican, I'll bring up one of the pope-excoriating saints that Fr. Hugh probably had in mind--St. Catherine of Siena. A fellow lay Dominican, she railed against the pope at the time to return to Rome. Keep in mind, though, that in their defense, the Avignon popes had plenty of reasons to be in Avignon. They were none of them evangelical reasons, though. Plenty of worldly, practical considerations kept them there, not a care for the salvation of souls. St. Catherine called them out on that. Rightly so.

Can we even begin to suggest a similar case for Pope Francis? I hardly think so. Both St. Dominic and St. Francis were evangelical at heart, just as Christ and the Apostles were. These saints lived in a fully Christianized Europe--at the height of medieval Christendom. And yet they saw the need for a New Evangelization in their time and acted on it. Our Orders are evangelical at heart.

I think it is not for nothing that Pope Francis took on St. Francis namesake. He has said it on multiple occasions--his closeness to the poor and needy is not simply a humanitarian concern. Apostolic poverty is about the salvation of souls. It is evangelical. It's what animates Pope Francis. What he does needs to be interpreted in light of that. 

His is not a feigned, showy "hermeneutic of humility"; it is a lively care for the salvation of souls. And that includes souls within the Church who are in danger--at all levels, from the curia who are tempted to careerism and worldliness down to the average Jane who can be tempted to superstition and the snare of private judgment. I think it also includes those who have become so enamored of their idea of "the Church" and "the liturgy" and what they think is or is not appropriate for hierarchical "offices" that they lose sight of what we're all about, what the Church is for.

The Pope needs our prayers. He needs our support. He needs our defense even. What he doesn't need is public criticism that will almost certainly never reach his ears. That is more akin to gossip than fraternal correction. St. Catherine of Siena didn't hang out in a tavern and badmouth the pope. She made sure he could hear her. If we honestly feel the Pope needs fraternal correction, then we need to take it up with him, not spout off about it on our little corners of the internets.