Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Obamazation of Pope Francis IV

Francis’ next shot came when he wrote Eugenio Scalfari the editor of La Republica, an Italian newspaper:
  “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.
Francis substantially said, that yes, the Mercy of God extends even to those who do not believe in him.  Now un-nuanced, this is theologically problematic as faith has been seen as the sine qua non requirement for salvation every since Paul wrote the letter to the Romans.  Or Galatians.  I can never remember which Epistle comes first. Yet over the course of history this principle has been interpreted in a variety of ways from insisting that one had to be a member of the Catholic Church (Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam, stating that one must be “subject to the Roman Pontiff” in order to be saved) to some vague acknowledgement of a Supreme Being—a sort of Benjamin Franklin Freemasonry Deism.  Francis seems to take it one step further, however, and say even this minimalistic faith is more than is required. 
I will be the first to admit that Francis is not one to nuance his words—something his predecessors have long been very careful to do (though Benedict XVI, while theologically precise, had a gift for putting his Prada-clad foot in his mouth in geo-politics and John Paul II could soften the harshest language by his Reaganesque acting-school charm.)   But I don’t think it is any accident that Francis is given to a plain-speak that is shattering the glass box in which Catholic thought has long been put on embalmed display.   Francis’ remarks open up dialogue: something of which most Popes—saving John XXIII and Paul VI—of the last century have been terrified.   There is a payoff to this.  In talking with priest friends over the holidays, I am hearing of the numbers of people who came to confess before Christmas and gave credit to Pope Francis for “bringing” them back to the Church.  Perhaps the most touching was the story that one Boston priest told me of a seventy-eight year old Irish woman who had been away from the Church for three years because pastor told her she was in mortal sin for having attended the marriage of her son to  his partner of thirty years.  “He is my son—they are both my sons.  How could I turn my back on them?” she wondered.  “But Pope Francis has let me know that I still have a home in the Church.  I don’t have to choose between my home and boys.”  Of course, for the Pope’s critics he is endangering the salvation of souls by such loose talk, but this is more due to the Jansenism that pervades so many corners of the American Church and which stands ever vigilant against the Mercy of God.  A heart contrite and humbled apparently is not sufficient for these rigorists, but then only those whose hearts are contrite and have been humbled can understand what hope the encounter with Grace brings.  Perhaps this is part of the problem.  We may have a mystic in the chair of Peter. It has been awhile now, at least since Paul VI,  that we have had a Pope who sees the world through those compassionate eyes that view from the Cross.  Philosophers and theologians make their contributions but are generally not the stuff of which mystics are made.    
Francis’ openness to those who understand Truth differently from himself evoked a huge outcry from those who see themselves as the guardians of the patrimony of the faith.  Carol, the woman who blogs The Tenth Crusade (formerly known as Throw the Bums Out In 2013, (thus their url: http://throwthebumsoutin2010.blogspot.com/) wrote”
Pope Francis' letter and outreach to a poor misguided atheist as instructions to obey the diabolical influence of sin upon your intellect.   What a hoot.
This website was founded as an anti-Obama website,(as testified to by a button that reads Gone: 1-20-2013 and which ironically the owner has been unable to remove)  but has morphed into one of the more virulent critics of Pope Francis.  Her sentiments were echoed in The Eponymous Flower (http://eponymousflower.blogspot.com/) which complained that the Pope is too loose in what he says.
The statement may not be so wrong, and really left uncontested, fits. But what does not fit, is the unspoken, but the logical conclusion: There is no need to turn to Christ, it is sufficient that one follows his private conscience. And now you can even invoke a pope. Yes, the Pope says it himself.
The question of the usefulness of this word game of the Pope remains. The danger of a misunderstanding from the outset was on hand. Why, then, was this risk taken, which occurred promptly, as it was used, to the euphoria of La Repubblica, and in whose wake numerous other media? So who has availed themselves of etymological "correctitude"? Whose salvation should this benefit? How much additional confusion has been lent to it without necessity?
Just as criticism was deflected from Francis’ “who am I to judge” statement by the co-incidence of his reining in the Franciscans of the Immaculate and the firestorm that resulted from that, his comments on atheists and salvation was almost immediately overshadowed by his interview with the Jesuit La Civilta Cattolica and reprinted in America.  I have been dealing with the fallout from that interview in my blog postings marked “Why do They Hate Pope Francis,” but it is still noteworthy to remark on the angry response to Francis’ saying:
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.
This unleashed a firestorm from the Catholic Right.  Judie Brown of the American Life League and Michael Voris of Church Militant TV (formerly Real Catholic TV) were among the first to respond in angry, even rebellious, bewilderment.  Their toxic tocsin was soon take up by the internet locals.  Janet, at Restore DC Catholicism (http://restore-dc-catholicism.blogspot.com/)wrote
While I realize that there might have been some loss of meaning in the translation process, there couldn't have been that much. That said, the proceeds of this interview are most troubling. Many of His Holiness' replies seem to fly in the face of Sacred Tradition and Scripture. Of course Our Lord Himself guarantees that the Pope cannot teach error, presuming that he is speaking solemnly "ex cathedra". By no stretch of the imagination is this "ex cathedra". But there's no way to put a positive spin, a "happy face" if you will, on this.
Janet followed up a few days later with
the "off-the-cuff" interviews he has been giving lately cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called "teaching moments", let alone solemn declarations in which he speaks infallibly. It is quite legitimate for faithful Catholics to question spontaneous remarks and certainly acceptable to discuss the means of delivery of said messages.
Many of us have been questioning the wisdom of the pope's conduct of these interviews for they have often led individuals to believe that he is altering the Church's age-old teachings on faith and morals - particularly the latter in regards to the life issues.

Isn't it rather ironic that in his attempt to address the interviewer "where he's at" that the Holy Father loses sight of all the other millions of people and their situations? Does the phrase "can't see the forest for the sake of one tree" have relevance here?
The Batman to Janet’s Robin, Mary Ann Kreitzer at Les Femmes (lesfemmes-thetruth.blogspot.com/) wrote
Several days ago I commented that Pope Francis reminds me of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. It expressed my befuddlement over what the pope says. It was common for Cardinal Joseph to articulalate (sic) a teaching of the Church in one breath and imply that personal conscience could overrule the teaching in the next .
To which reader Al Hennenbery replied
 Confusion is a tool of the devil. Pray that the warnings of mystics aren't being fulfulled. The Book of Revelation is fearful enough without any false pope.
Les femmes continued it attack on Pope Francis in a later posting:
What is the pope thinking? Can this mish-mash really lead people to and through the narrow gate? (If you haven't read the interview see it here.) Do we want a church where "Each of us has a vision of good and of evil." where "We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good." What if what they "think is good" is really evil?
Jesus warned us there would come a time when people would call good evil and evil good. We're there and now the pope seems to have created a situation where liberals can quite comfortably bash those "obsessed" prolifers with their skewed vision of life and marriage. But we don't want to "proselytize" them because "Proselytism is solemn nonsense." Oy vey!
Fr Tom responded by writing:
I pray that Benedict may help him (Pope Francis) to realize how far his outreach has gone beyond the sanctifying paramenters (sic) of true orthodoxy.
So Pope Francis is beyond the parameters of orthodoxy.  He is impulsive.  He confuses evil for good and good for evil.  He’s troubling.  He lacks wisdom. He flies in the face of scripture and tradition.  And he is a false pope.  Funny—these same people would never have tolerated someone criticizing Pope John Paul or Pope Benedict in these same tones.  But this is the problem with these once loyal adherents to the papal teaching: they agree with the Church when the Church agrees with them.   In the final analysis they are no different than those “Cafeteria Catholics” they criticized so vociferously these past thirty years.  I am not saying that they are wrong.  I am not saying that they shouldn’t criticize Pope Francis.  I only hope they remove that beam from their eye before they fault me for questioning some of the statements of Francis’ recent predecessors.  The days of unilateral pronouncements are over.  Les Femmes and Eponymous Flower and Rorate Caeli and Michael Voris and Father Tom and Bishop Tobin have just discovered that while some of us have known it for quite some time now.  “Things change, Kundun.”   And speaking of change, while I have more to do on Pope Francis and the Franciscan kerfuffles, let’s go back to ol’ Henry VIII and the Church of England.    Jolly Hal was closing the monasteries when we left him and we need to get back to that for a few entries if we are ever going to finish that series. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Obamazation of Pope Francis III

The Founder of the Franciscans of Immaculate,
Father Stefano Manelli, with the Sisters of the
For many neo-trads, Pope Francis’ most damning stance was taken on that airplane back from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro when he was asked—in regard to the case of a priest, Monsignor Battista Ricca, accused of having had several same-sex affairs—what policy he would follow in regard to gay clergy.  Pope Francis first said that he had investigated the rumors about Monsignor Ricca and did not find them credible, but then went on to say: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"  This comment sent the world of Catholic neo-trads crazy.  It was a marked departure from the policies of Francis’ two predecessors, Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II, both of whom said that men with deep-rooted same-sex attraction should not be admitted to the priesthood.  Ironically, Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict, despite their tough talk on the issue, were notoriously lax in turning a blind eye to homosexual indiscretions among the ranks of their closest aides and advisors.  In fact, both popes moved rather effortlessly in the atmosphere of sexual ambiguity that has developed in the Roman Curia over the past thirty years.  Francis too seems not to be threatened by being surrounded by a significant number of gay clergy but, unlike his predecessors, he is both honest about it and determined to address the issue.  I am not expecting the reforms of the Roman Curia currently being directed by the commission of eight cardinals to purge every Vatican worker with same-sex attraction.  That would be neither desirable nor realistic.  I am expecting a Curia that has integrity—an administration in which the men and women (yes, there are women in Vatican posts—though not the most significant ones) who are charged with assisting the Pope in the governance of the Church will be people of their word; men and women who, regardless of their sexual attraction, conform their lives to the values the Church proclaims. And I certainly don’t limit such integrity to matters of celibacy as there are far more problems in the central administration of the Church than sexual misconduct.  We need to see a Curia that witnesses to the Gospel to humble service rather than give itself to careerism, graft, and the raw abuse of power.  However, in answering the now-famous question, Pope Francis dealt with the issue of gay clergy very appropriately—as a matter of sin and grace rather than ideology.  Human nature being what it is, even after the reform of the Curia, both sin and grace will still have an operative role in the administration of the Church—after all, that is what our Christian Gospel is about.  And we must keep the mystery of sin and grace front and center in our perspective.  But those who were upset with Francis and his response were unhappy precisely because they want to deal with it as a matter of judgment—not leaving it to the judgment of God but to their own petty pharisaic preoccupation with the speck in their neighbor’s eye. After all, if the Pope declines to judge, how can they claim to have any title to the task?   To bolster their arguments, they even dragged in Franklin Graham, son of the famous Evangelist, Billy Graham.  Unfortunately the younger Graham lacks the Wisdom of Christ’s Gospel that allowed his father to transcend sectarian and other biases and bring people to Christ rather than drive them away with pharisaical harshness.  For many neo-trads who were convinced that the “liberal” ideas of the Vatican II and post-Vatican II years had been turned back forever, this statement of Pope Francis came as quite a shock.  Most bloggers were too stunned to react and scrambled to put the Pope’s comments into a “context.”  There was some concern that he used the word “gay”—an English expression inserted into his Italian remarks—because it “validated” the gay perspective by using a word by which those who identify with the LGBT movement(s) identify themselves.  Among the quick to react was one “Thinking Housewife:” (http://www.thinkinghousewife.com/wp/)   who wrote

ONE of the most disturbing things about Pope Francis’s recent comments on the plane from Rome to Rio was his implication that the Church may legitimately view homosexuality as a permanent inclination and a form of identity. But there is no such thing as a Christian homosexual. There are obviously Christians who have homosexual desires, but not homosexual Christians.

One of her respondents wrote

Those who define themselves by some sin have no place in the Church, and in rejecting the sin, the Church must reject those who identify themselves as willingly, unrepentingly, participating in that sin. 

Talk about make-it-up-as-you-go-along theology.   Well, actually not: I should call it a borrowed theology.  If we were Calvinists this would be true, but in our Catholic world, the wheat and tares grow together in the same field only to be separated out at the final judgment by the One who is to Judge.   This is a key part of the problem with the Francis-bashers.  The Jansenism in which they have been steeped is simply a variation on Calvin’s twisting of Saint Augustine.  The Catholic position is that the Church has a mission to sinners—not after they repent or when they repent—but precisely at that point in their lives when they find themselves in conflict with God’s plan.  I seem to recall something about “Healthy people do not need the physician, the sick do.  The Son of Man has come not for the righteous but for sinners.”  But then perhaps I take Jesus too much at his word.
The Thinking House Wife’s reaction was mild compared to Mundabor’s Blog (http://mundabor.wordpress.com/) whose author’s frustration poured forth in this invective: There is no week now without this disgraceful man reaching for a new deep from the gutter in which he has already put himself.  And this about the Vicar of Christ, the Successor to Saint Peter.   The Liberals were never so vile in their anger with John Paul or Benedict—but hey, not everybody is happy about the changed menu in the Catholic cafeteria. 
In fact, most people took Pope Francis’ comments on gays quite positively and so, considering the dramatic impact of this new approach, the neo-trad critics got surprisingly little traction on this issue.  Moreover the reaction was undoubtedly dulled by another controversy brewing at exactly the same time, and one that stole the gay-thunder by causing a flap about the “Extra-ordinary Form” of the Liturgy and the right of priests to celebrate that form guaranteed by Pope Benedict XVI in Summorum Pontificum.   
Before flying home from World youth Day Pope Francis had appointed Capuchin Franciscan Friar Fidenzo Volpi as Apostolic Commissioner to settle difficulties among the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate.  It is still unclear—and the smoke of this still raging fire is making it ever more unclear—what the root issue is that has divided the community. (I have a number of blog entries on the Franciscans of the Immaculate: August 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 14  2013.)   The problems seem to have originated with a decision of the Founder/General Superior of the Congregation, Father Stefano Manelli, that in their friaries only the pre-conciliar rites would be used.  While the Congregation is quite traditional, not all friars were quite that conservative and wanted to maintain the option to use the Novus Ordo.  They appealed to the Holy See to protect their rights to use the “Ordinary Form” of the approved Liturgy of the Church.  When Father Volpi began to unravel the complexities of the complaints, he found that it was about far more than which liturgy to use.  The conservative nature of the Congregation had attracted any number of candidates and friars who not only preferred the Baroque Rite, but who rejected the Rite of Paul VI (the Novus Ordo).  Moreover, it was not simply the rites they rejected but the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on issues such as ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue, and freedom of conscience.  At this point the issue becomes are these friars Catholic?  The requirement to accept the teachings of the Council and validity of the post-Conciliar Rites is the very sticking point that is preventing the healing of the Lefebvrist schism.  Father Volpi took severe action.  He insisted that the current Rite must be the normative form of the Liturgy and that permission was needed to celebrate the pre-conciliar Rite.  He also undertook a thorough examination of the course of studies for the friars and decreed that until he was satisfied that the friars were being educated according to current Catholic doctrine, no man would be advanced to ordination.  When he met with resistance from Father Manelli and his chief supporters, Volpi assigned them to remote friaries where they could cause less disruption.  Those friars who wanted to impose the traditional forms on the entire Congregation did not take Volpi’s decisions lying down and the neo-trads—especially those such as the blog Rorate Caeli (http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/) which are primarily interested in restoring the traditional rites, picked up the hue and cry. Neo-trads complained that the rights to celebrate the old liturgy (or to avoid the new) “guaranteed” by Pope Benedict had been abrogated.  The shrieks spread to sites like The Eponymous Flower (http://eponymousflower.blogspot.com/) that have a more popular readership among the neo-traditionalist crowd.  Injudicious remarks about Pope Francis abound among those who defend the rebellious friars.  This too has led to a growing estrangement between Pope Francis and what has become a Tea Party within the Church.  I find it interesting that when in 1981 Pope John Paul stepped in and appointed Father Paolo Dezza as Pontifical Delegate for the Society of Jesus after the liberal generalate of Father Pedro Arrupe in order to bring the Society back to the center, the conservative cheered.  Now once again, as so often with Francis, the shoe is on the other foot and some people are not so happy.  Francis is being portrayed as a bully who is persecuting these friars and the religious women attached to the Congregation.  More and more for those on the farther right reaches of the Church, Francis can do no good.  The same polarization that is undermining us as a nation by clogging our political processes with polemic is now driving a wedge in the Church.    

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Reading Francis' Christmas Tea Leaves --Pretty Much Down the Middle

Pope Francis’ Christmas Mass gave some interesting insights as to the tone he is setting for the Church.  The first thing I noticed was how few cardinals and bishops were there in their “choir dress”—white rochet with scarlet or violet (depending on respective rank) cassock, mozetta, and biretta. Then I noticed the exceptionally large number of concelebrants and recognized a number of familiar faces—including Cardinal Burke—among them.  The prelates, for the greater part, concelebrated rather than sit in state as members of the capella papale.  Concelebrating more or less levels the playing field among the prelates as once you put them in their liturgical vestments the marks of their individual station disappear. It also eliminates the dramatic entrances with gentlemen ushers leading the prelates to their gilt chairs while Swiss Guards snap to salute and fawning clergy push to kiss rings and pay court.  But the number of concelebrants was much greater than the normal number of prelates attached to the papal household and I realized at communion time that the Holy Father had invited the priests who were there to administer Holy Communion to concelebrate as well.  Their vestments were simpler than those of the prelates but it was still a great honor for these priests to be more than just functionaries but to be invited to concelebrate with the Holy Father.  More to the point, however, is that it shows a distinct theology both of Church and of the Sacrament of Orders, a theology founded in the Conciliar documents but not previously put into practice.  There were no cardinals and archbishops and monsignors and “just plain priests.”  There were bishops and there were presbyters, each functioning according not to their position in the hierarchy but according to their sacramental Order.  The positions of honor were laid aside in favor of the Sacrament of Orders and this is a favorable step to simplifying the liturgy and moving away from the pomp that characterized the old rites.  I am not a big fan of clericalism—don’t get me wrong—but bishops are bishops and presbyters, presbyters, and deacons, deacons, and the faithful, the faithful, and catechumens, catechumens. Each “order” has its function and while no one should lord it over another—the orders don’t need to be seen as ranked—it is appropriate that each serve its proper role(s) in the liturgy.   Readers and cantors and acolytes are among the ministries drawn from the faithful. Deacons proclaim the Gospel and administer the Cup in Holy Communion.  Presbyters assist the bishop(s); in their absence they preside over the Liturgy.  Bishops preside over the liturgy.  Each in the ministry proper to his or her order, the Church sacramentally displays its nature as the Body of Christ with the complementariness and variety of members working in harmony and unity.  Francis’ Christmas liturgy modeled that admirably with lay readers and choristers and altar servers alongside deacons, presbyters, and bishops.  Personally I think it is far more noble than those “Pontifical” Masses I see on certain websites with all the fuss and bother and pomp that mimics a royal court rather than re-presents the unity and harmony of the Body of the One who came to serve and not to be served.  Francis, in his plain white vestments, at the center of Christmas Eve Mass was a simple reminder of the mission that belongs to each of us and to all of us—to be Christ the Servant to the World.  The genius of the classic Roman Rite in antiquity was its simplicity—in contrast to the Eastern and Gallican Rites—and I am happy to see Francis keep things simple.
The Holy Father, as is his custom, only distributed Holy Communion to the deacons assisting at the Mass.  He did not distribute it to the faithful.  This is disappointing but it is said that he refrains at public Masses in the Basilica from distributing Holy Communion so as not to get caught in the conflict between those who think he should follow the protocol of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, and insist that communicants kneel and receive on the tongue and those who follow the almost universal practice today of communion standing and giving the communicant the option of receiving in the hand or on the tongue.  Before his election as Pope, Francis had no issue with standing for Communion or placing the Blessed Sacrament in the hands of the recipient.   There is no discouraging of the faithful from receicing the Eucharist in their hands under Francis.  Those priests who were appointed to administer Holy Communion to the congregation, administered communion to the faithful standing and according to their choice of on the tongue or in the hand.  But I have to say—have often been at papal Masses both in the Basilica and in the Square—that no matter how they distribute the Eucharist it is nothing short of sacrilegious.  Probably the most important reform of the papal liturgy would be to find a respectful way to give communion to these huge crowds.      
The Holy Father does not sing the various parts of the Mass, but then the word is that he does not have the voice to sing them.  It is just as well then that he prays them.  It is also noteworthy that he carried the very modern ferula (pastoral staff) of Paul VI, not the more traditional one Benedict XVI designed and favored.  The Pope uses each staff in turn, but the choice of the simpler (and more modern one) for Christmas Mass is worth noting.    The Mass certainly was a move away from the more elaborate liturgical style of Pope Benedict XVI and a return to the more simple tastes of Paul VI. 
Overall, whether one’s taste runs to the traditional or the contemporary.  Francis is no liturgical fireball.  He is, after all, a Jesuit and Jesuits have not been known for good liturgy. I wish the papal liturgies were a bit more innovative, but my primary concern is not about the liturgy—it is about the Church’s Mission of announcing Good News to the Poor.  That Francis does well.  However, I do believe in the old axiom, lex orandi, lex credendi which reminds us that ultimately the Liturgy shapes not only what we believe but even how we live our faith.  I think that Pope Francis has a sufficiently prayerful approach to liturgy and that works for me. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Let's Not Begrudge Each Other Happiness

The evening of Christmas day I went up to the local hospital to visit a friend who had been taken ill that morning and after visiting with him, as I headed to the elevator, ran into a doctor friend of mine.  We were discussing our Christmases and our experiences at Church Christmas eve as well as our dinner and celebrations Christmas day. As we got into the elevator a man was there with his two young boys.  All three wore yarmulkes and one could see the fringes of their tallit under their jackets.   My doctor friend continued the conversation with me saying in particular how much he enjoyed the music of the Christmas season and how lovely it had been at midnight Mass with violins and trumpets and the pipe organ.  As he left the elevator, he wished me a Merry Christmas.  After the doors closed, the older of the two boys turned to his father and asked “why do these goy rub our noses in their holydays.”  I think from his tone—as well as his timing—the question was meant to be insulting to me, but I admit that as I drove home and saw how many houses are illuminated for the holidays and I realized how for those who do not celebrate Christmas, they simply cannot escape from it.  One turns on the television and there is the Charlie Brown Christmas Special or Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  All sorts of wonderful foods are available only at this time of year: the bakeries are filled with special cookies and fruitcakes abound; we have eggnog in the stores along with pizzelle and plum puddings.  On the radio are songs about Grandma getting run over by reindeer and Jack Frost nipping at our nose.  Even the houses that aren’t hung with lights have a wreath on the door and a tree glistening beyond the windows.  There is no escape from Christmas.   I noticed in the paper this morning (the day after Christmas) an article about how a local Jewish Community Center provided a morning of games and entertainment for the children of those who do not celebrate Christmas because so many of the places one might go and take one’s children are, in fact, closed for Christmas Day. 
And yet, the holiday in which the noses of non-celebrators are so egregiously rubbed, is not, for the most part, Christmas but a totally other holiday that like a parasitic mistletoe has attached itself to Christmas and feeds off it, even killing the host holiday.  In one of our neighboring towns there was a petition to ban a “Christmas Tree” from the village commons because it was a “Christian symbol.”  In some towns the tree is “balanced” by a menorah.  I am by no means opposed to a menorah on the town square, but the Christmas Tree is not a Christian symbol.  The equivalent symbol to the menorah is the crèche. 
Most of what we associate with Christmas is the celebration that surrounds the winter solstice.  The lights, the trees, the Yule log, the holly and the mistletoe—this is all about the turning of the solar corner as our days slowly start to lengthen again and spring—still a long way off and the other side of winter storms—shines like a distant star with promise of warmth and new life. This is not a Christian-specific holiday.  Far from it: it is found in practically every culture.  In fact, the celebration of Christ’s nativity was attached to it since we do not know the historical date on which Jesus was born.  In the fourth century Christians began commemorating the birth of Jesus, according to some sources, in conjunction with the Roman feast of the dies natalis solis invicti—the birthday of the unconquered sun which was celebrated December 25th.    (Some historians dispute this and give other reasons for the December 25th celebration although Saint John Chysostom (+407), patriarch of Constantinople, explicitly explains this connection. Some other sources tie the Christian feast of Christmas to another pre-Christian Roman holiday in December, the Saturnalia, a feast which called for the exchange of gifts.)  In any case, the decorations, the lights, the tree, the gifts, many of the songs, movies like White Christmas and so many other “Christmas Traditions” belong to the non-Christian celebration.  The candles in the windows, the carols, church-services, belong to the Christian feast.  They all go together quite well as long as we Christians can keep them straight and give a priority to the elements that celebrate the birth of the Savior.  This tends to be something we do in Church and among our families.  No non-believer need fear of having this pushed down their throat or have their noses rubbed in it.  On the other hand, I wish my Jewish friends “a happy Hanukah” or a “joyous Pesach,” even—for my observant friends, “a good Shabbat,”—what is wrong with expecting to be wished “A Merry Christmas.”  Do we begrudge each other happiness?  

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Obamazation of Pope Francis II

I remember being at a dinner party the week before the 2008 presidential election.  I was a reluctant guest—I was brought to the party under false pretenses by a friend who knew that I didn’t care for the host and found his opinions boorish, but who wanted to “liven up” what he feared would be an otherwise dull evening.  “Jack” is a retired army officer from Brooklyn with a strong ethnic identity and a propensity towards stereotypes whether they be matters of race, politics, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.  He also is a devout Catholic—devout in terms of Mass attendance but not necessarily in terms of the Church’s teachings on social issues.  The other guests at dinner ranged from moderate Republicans to the tea-party positions of our host.  I was definitely in the wrong company and still wonder what our mutual friend was possibly thinking of in dragging me along.  I did my best to stay out of the conversation, but after a half hour of hearing how Barack Obama is a Muslim and a Marxist and a “mongrel”—an obvious reference to his mixed race background, I had had enough and told my host that his opinions brought to mind my favorite line from a movie is from the Emperor’s Club when Professor Hundert says: “Aristophanes once wrote, roughly translated; "Youth ages, immaturity is outgrown, ignorance can be educated, and drunkenness sobered, but STUPID lasts forever."  It cast a pall on the conversation and has caused a slight drop in the number of invitations I receive to dine, but my point is that in certain circles Obama was doomed from the beginning and for no reason other than his color.  I am not saying that there are not reasons to be disillusioned with the President—he has made enough blunders to disillusion his most ardent supporters—but rather that he didn’t stand a chance with the crazies from moment one.  Pope Francis didn’t have it any better.  While most of us were bewildered at the entire process—it had been centuries since a Pope had resigned and since a papal election was held with a still-living Pope (or in this case, Pope emeritus) on the scene—there were those who immediately sounded the tocsin that the Church was doomed.   Every action the man has taken since has only confirmed their irrational fears.
The election of Cardinal Bergoglio took us all by surprise.  I remember greeting a friend of mine at the airport that afternoon.  Father Kevin had just flown in from Rome to give a lecture I was organizing and asked me if a Pope had been elected while he was airborne and out of news-contact.  I said “Yes, an Argentine Jesuit who has taken the name “Francis.”  Kevin laughed and said “No, seriously….”  He did not believe me until he heard it for himself on the news.  I don’t blame him—the whole thing was improbable.  For some, it was more than improbable.  Here is what Steve Skojec reports from readers on his blog (http://blog.steveskojec.com/2013/11/13/intuition-infighting-and-our-divided-house/)
 “I read the link, “New Pope Chosen” on my computer earlier this year. I immediately jumped up to watch the event unfold on my TV upstairs. En route to the TV, I stopped at the sink in my kitchen, where the Sacred Heart of Jesus was enthroned. I immediately heard the message broadcast to my soul, “This is a bad decision.” When I saw him, I felt just like you.”
Another wrote
“I too had a similar feeling when Francis stepped out on the balcony for the first time. It is disturbing but I like many continue to look for Satan’s influence on my thinking in regards to Francis.”
And yet another
“When Pope Francis came out on the loggia, my stomach did somersaults, I wanted to vomit — for hours. I had a sense of foreboding.”
 The problem of course was not the color of the Holy Father’s skin.  The problem is that he was not Benedict and his style immediately signaled a change away from that of his immediate predecessors.  And his being a Jesuit didn’t help. 
The “old goat” wrote in a response to a Free Republic (http://www.freerepublic.com
/focus/f-religion/3103487/posts) posting:   
I’m of the mind that this is a very dangerous papacy. The Jesuits have been a very poor example of Catholic orthodoxy for a very long time.
So his lack of a scarlet mozetta and the SJ after his name, was enough to raise the fears that the doctrinaire tone of the two preceding papacies would vanish and with it would disappear fidelity to the faith itself.  Here is a man, according to his critics, who undermines the very office with which he has been entrusted.  Going back to Steve Skojec for a moment: Skoject is no fan of the Holy Father.  He too sees Francis as betraying the Petrine Office of guarding the deposit of faith, if not by outright heresy by an ambiguity
That obligation of “guarding with the greatest vigilance the deposit of faith” is one I don’t see Pope Francis taking very seriously at all, at least in terms of the never-ending stream of misinterpretations of Catholic teaching or the direction of the Church that seem to follow in his wake.
Skojec is not alone.  Many neo-trads are convinced that the Pope has betrayed the faith.  In that same New Republic article cited above, another commentator writes:
The Creed Pope Francis recites at Mass is far from the creed he speaks outside the Mass, in his interviews. And a reader of LifeSite News posted this remark attacking the fidelity of Pope Francis to our Catholic faith:
As far as I can see, the new approach is to meld both Catholics and Protestants into Christians, without worrying about doctrine or dogma, at the risk of being labeled a sect. That seems to be the roadmap for the future, and it worries me.
This is serious stuff.  Another respondent to the same LifeSite News article writes:
If that happens, then those of us in the Romanist Church will have to go Lefèbvrist - which may yet prove to be a good thing!!  Bishop Fellay, who really seemed to be working well with Benedict XVI, seems to be a genuinely good man (just like Joseph Ratzinger aka Benedict XVI). However, I'm really getting suspicious of Francis...
What has Francis done to bring such suspicions on him that people are thinking of going into schism over his papacy?  No doctrines have changed.  The permission for those who prefer the unreformed rites to resort to their arcane ceremonies has not been abrogated.  But Francis is labeled a Marxist, a heretic, and whatever else the crazies want to call him.  A priest friend of mine says that in his 37 years of priesthood, the subject that gets him in the most difficulty with the heresy-hunters is the Mercy of God.  I guess Pope Francis is finding the same thing.  But then Jesus was never very popular with the Scribes and the Pharisees either.