Sunday, May 31, 2015

Douthat in the Public Square: Pope Francis and the Breaking of the Church

The Op-Ed religion writer for the NYT, Ross Douthat, is the able successor to Fr. Neuhaus in writing on the Faith in the public square, with one exception: as he writes for the Times and not Catholic print
media, his analyses are noticeably devoid of his personal witness of the  Catholic faith-- understandably so. Thus I would like to comment upon his piece for the Atlantic, having to do with the papacy of Pope Francis.

With Francis'accession Douthat correctly notes " the attention-grabbing breaks with papal protocol, the interventions in global politics, the reopening of moral issues that his predecessors had deemed settled, (here he should reconsider whether or not these have been reopened) and the blend of public humility and skillful exploitation—including the cashiering of opponents—of the papal office and its powers." One reading Douthat can only appreciate his wonderful ability to express the realities currently facing the Body of Christ: "But (Francis')moves and choices (and the media coverage thereof) have generated a revolutionary atmosphere around Catholicism. For the moment, at least, there is a sense that a new springtime has arrived for the Church’s progressives. And among some conservative Catholics, there is a feeling of uncertainty absent since the often-chaotic aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, in the 1960s and ’70s."(Italics mine).

What I take issue with in this, as readers of my book will readily discern, is Douthat's failure to assist in doing away with misleading use of the italicized labels in the media.  As Pope St. John Paul II reminds us regarding Vatican II

With the Council, the Church first had an experience of faith, as she abandoned herself to God without reserve, as one who trusts and is certain of being loved. It is precisely this act of abandonment to God which stands out from an objective examination of the Acts. Anyone who wished to approach the Council without considering this interpretive key would be unable to penetrate its depths. Only from a faith perspective can we see the Council event as a gift whose still hidden wealth we must know how to mine. 

It is this abandonment, this interpretive faith perspective that is woefully lacking in “progressives and “conservatives” (or traditionalists, if you will) who claim to explain what happened at Vatican II. But I do not find JPII’s advice lacking in Pope Francis. Nevertheless, there emerged after Vatican II a minority of “traditionalist” Catholics who never believed reform necessary (in spite of the attention the Holy Spirit, working in the Church, wished be given to it),  and more vocal “radicals” who demonstrated little to no sense of commitment to the traditional Church as she has existed since her founding by Our Lord.  As Douthat is well aware, the latter have exercised a dominant influence on many in the American hierarchy, Catholic universities, diocesan offices and religious orders and thus on at least two generations of the Faithful since the close of Vatican II. It is my contention that it is this influence which has given rise to the present crisis of faith among Catholics which Douthat references in wonderment at whether or not Francis will break the Body of Christ.

In the article’s summary of three of Francis’ biographers, Douthat prefers the findings of Austen Ivereigh in The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope. As Douthat points out, Ivereigh stresses that Francis was never a real traditionalist. As a Jesuit provincial in Argentina then Cardinal Bergoglio was attempting to regard the warning of Vatican II peritus Yves Congar that “true reform” must be protected from “false” reform. In this Bergoglio was very much in the spirit of what Cardinals Wojtyla and Ratzinger were teaching, setting a course to distinguish which changes were necessary and fruitful, and to cast-off the errors of
progressive” and “traditionalist” extremes.

What, then, are we to make of the questions raised by the article’s title? Many perhaps lukewarm, cultural Catholics (but I am not one to judge) and “conservative” Catholics are worried about the the Pope’s priorities: his stress on economic issues, the Church’s social teachings, and the trials of the unemployed, the immigrant, and the destitute. Douthat is right:

“The content here may not be different from previous papal statements on these subjects, but Francis returns to these issues much more often. His sharp, prophetic tone—the recurring references to the “throwaway culture” of modern capitalism, the condemnation of “an economy [that] kills”—seems intended to grab attention, to spotlight these issues, and to shatter the press’s image of a Church exclusively interested in sexual morality.”

Here I must disagree: the Church under the pontificates of JPII and B XVI were hardly exclusively interested in sexual morality! (One calls to mind Redemptor Hominis, Laborem exercens, Spe salvi and the Regensberg address for starters).  Rather than a “moderate corrective to the previous two,” I agree that Francis, as Douthat says,

….seems to be trying to occupy a carefully balanced center between two equally dangerous poles. At one extreme are “the ‘do-gooders’ ” and “the so-called ‘progressives and liberals,’ ” as he put it in his closing remarks to last fall’s synod on the family. At the other extreme, to be equally condemned, are “the zealous” and “the scrupulous” and “the so-called—today—‘traditionalists.’ ”

Douthat also correctly cites devotion in the Holy Father’s piety, the supernatural and sometimes apocalyptic in his discourses (with frequent mentions of the devil), and his insistence on the importance of the sacraments and saints. As I have pointed out numerous times in my blog, the Pope is aware that he hasn’t the capacity to change Church teaching on same-sex marriage. Moderate to “liberal” Catholics may want the Church to de-emphasize the culture war, but the evidence is in:  this will never happen under Pope Francis (or his successors). “Progressives” may agree with Garry Wills (the text definition of an apostate) that, in Douthat’s words, “resistance on just about any doctrinal issue can eventually be overcome, and that Catholicism will always somehow remain Catholicism no matter how many once-essential-seeming things are altered or abandoned,” but they hope in vain for Francis to press for this mindset.

Heterodox Catholics opine that doctrinal changes that “conservatives” resisting are a quid pro quo for missionary work, post-sexual-revolution. If one thinks such, one has only to examine, in Douthat’s words, “how many of the Protestant churches that have already liberalized on sexual issues—again, often dividing in the process—are presently aging toward a comfortable extinction. (As is, of course, the Catholic Church in Germany, ground zero for Walter Kasper’s vision of reform.)”On this one can do no better than read Douhatts’ Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, as I learned after completing it, which prompted my crowning Mr. Douthat as Fr. Neuhaus’ successor as a Catholic writer in the public square. (And if you want to know what I make of “liberal” and “conservative” in Catholicism, it is in chapter three of The Smoke of Satan in the Temple of God).Write on, Ross.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

On the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

Rachel Lu has written an insightful article on liturgy for Crisis, which prompted me to recall a childhood memory which is central to her thesis:  

 My memory is one I shall always remember. It is one of observing from my pew prior to the 6:30 am Mass in 1958 the Sisters entering St. Eugene’s from the front-side entrance of the Church, special to them for access from their one-room convent in the adjoining school. It was winter, and the church was dimly-lit. They entered with awe-inspiring reverence, processing in their full habits, the beads of their waist-draped rosaries colliding gently, genuflecting and kneeling in silent preparation for the soon to occur reenactment in a non-bloody manner of Our Lord’s eternal sacrifice first offered on Calvary for our salvation, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The latent aroma of incense and the sight of fresh beeswax candles flickering on the altar, together with the sisters’ silent reverence and obvious practice of what they taught their first graders      the importance of reverence in the House of God      is an impression which not only convinced me that Jesus lived there (in the Tabernacle), but was also an actual grace which I believe, together with my baptismal grace and my Mom’s faith witness, was instrumental in eventually leading me back into the fullness of Catholic teaching. I do not know now what became of each Sister, but I am sure that whatever their relationship with Our Lord today, they had no idea their first-grader Tim was so inspired by the witness to the real Presence they gave that winter morn.... (from The Smoke of Satan in the Temple of God)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Snakes Return to the Emerald Isle

As a history teacher I am fond of pointing out to my classes examples of how the Evil One working with his compatriots have attempted to drive Catholicism from the public sphere and out of existence altogether. The Body of Christ is still here, but that doesn't mean that the historically ignorant will not continue trying.

Catholics have Our Lord’s promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail over the Church. But the hellish gates always want another crack at the Church.

Let’s start with the Roman Empire - not content with the crucifixion of Christ, they persecuted and killed his disciples for hundreds of years. Emperors came and went and all sorts of policies and goals changed but one thing they all had in common was that they all seemed to think killing and persecuting Catholics was a good thing. The more the Church was persecuted, the more people wanted to know what the Church was about. The blood of the martyrs was seed for the faith.

As the saying goes, if you cannot beat them, join them, Thus the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. The Roman Empire was not long for the world, but the Church survived.

Of course Mass attenders know the story of Saul Paulus of Tarsus, who approved of the killing of Stephen, martyr #1, and then went from house to house arresting partisans of Christ and sending them to prison. That is until a light from heaven flashed around him, he fell to the ground and heard a voice, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul next went blind, got healed, and then became Paul, the apostle.

In 1517 came Dr. Luther and the Protestant Reformation—the Lutherans soon divided, and the divisions divided, and now there are over 30,000 divisions or denominations, and the One, Holy, Catholic Apostolic Church still stands. Divide et impera???

Ah, Islam! For centuries some champions of Islam have also sought to destroy the Church, opting in the 16th century for an all-out confrontation. As a result, on October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, the Church celebrates the victory at Lepanto, the battle that saved the Christian West from defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.
During the godless French Revolution the attempted dechristianization of France had as its goal the erasure of the Church. The French attempt to destroy the Church included appropriation of Church lands, obliteration of statues and crosses, and making all priests and all those who hid them susceptible to death. In 1794 Maximillian Robespierre introduced the Cult of the Supreme Being as the replacement state religion, hoping its acknowledgement of some form of deity would foster moral behavior. Unfortunately Robespierre was guillotined in 1794. The Church stayed on.

China - The government of China has long persecuted the Catholic Church by destroying Churches, removing crosses, and arresting or simply "disappearing" Christians. After years of murderous persecution there are still millions of Catholics, and the number is increasing.

The New York Times once raised the question, "Is Anti-Catholicism Dead?" and printed a full-page ad against the Church in response to her refusal to take part in the sexual revolution. How is the paper that prints all fitting news performing? The Times laid off 21 workers just last year and offered early retirement to about 80 others, as the Church blossoms all around the globe.

Today in the Middle East we witness radical Islamic terrorists revisiting their kill-every-Christian-they-can-find tactics. The world has essentially remained silent, but the Church still stands as the lone voice in opposition, continuing to spread Our Lord’s message throughout the world. Recent events in the Emerald Isle seem ignorant of history’s lesson to those who wish to destroy the Catholic Church--Hit me with your best shot.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Out of Action

Due to a detached retina, I have been unable to blog for awhile-... should recover nicely, bit hard to see at present, so here is some food for thought!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Libido Redux: Prophetic New Book on 1960s Sexual Revolution

Here is a great Piece by Austin Ruse on the effects of the sexual revolution, first predicted by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. In it, Ruse cites Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse's new book, The Sexual Revolution and its Victims. Short on Time? Read Aleteia's interview with Dr. Morse here.