Friday, September 20, 2013

The Idea of Francis

I'm convinced that it's not Pope Francis who is so beloved by the world, but The Idea of Francis. TIOF is a blank screen upon which everyone is projecting their hopes and fears. We obsessively hit the refresh button on our browsers, awaiting the latest jot or tittle to emerge from Rome with baited breath. Ah ha! Success! Finally! Pope Francis says that his favorite lunch is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a bag of chips and a glass of lemonade! It's obviously a devastating rebuke to his accursed predecessor, the right-wing tyrant Pope Benedict XVI of painful memory, who was well known for his lavishly expensive meals with only the priciest wines!

Pope Francis gave a lengthy interview with America Magazine. There's been much commentary on it but that commentary only makes sense if you keep in mind that it's not Pope Francis they're analyzing but TIOF. This, for example:
“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.
TIOF only spoke the first sentence. People who adore TIOF immediately began shouting from the rooftops that the pope wasn't going to bother them anymore about their lifestyle choices. A few fevered souls entertained hopes that maybe, just maybe, this would be the pope to change the Church's teachings on those subjects. Cooler heads thought that while the pope might not change them, at least they can publicly express their dissent now. What Pope Francis actually said was that 1) he's a a faithful son of the Church, which means he accepts and believes those teachings the world finds most offensive, but 2) there's more to Catholicism than a checklist of moral commands. This will undoubtedly shock my heathen friends, but he's right.
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. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
The "Good News" of the Gospel is the redeeming death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To leap directly into the more esoteric dogmatic or moral subjects before preaching that essential truth is to put the cart before the horse. The sequence approximately goes like this: Do you believe in the redeeming death and resurrection of Christ? Yes. Do you believe Christ gave authority to the Catholic Church to teach and preach in his name? Yes. Do you therefore accept certain moral and spiritual commandments of the Church as coming from Christ? Yes. If you skip the first or second question, then the answer to the third will invariably be no.

Some of my Facebook friends were ribbing me about this paragraph:
If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists­—they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies.
Again, in the minds of progressives, TIOF only spoke the first sentence. Finally, they thought, after thirty plus years of JPII and BXVI not only do we have an ally but one who is calling out those awful, awful Trads by name! I hate to be the bearer of bad news progressives, but Pope Francis is not about to usher in your imagined golden age of married lesbian priests blessing the abortions of transgendered single mothers. Likewise, I'd ask Traditionalists to relax. Pope Francis has the authority to turn back the clock to the days of Ecclesia Dei, when bishops only allowed one Traditional Latin Mass per month on a Thursday afternoon in the basement of the downtown mental ward. But I wouldn't bet money on it:
Yes, there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity, but one thing is clear: the dynamic of reading the Gospel, actualizing its message for today—which was typical of Vatican II—is absolutely irreversible. Then there are particular issues, like the liturgy according to the Vetus Ordo. I think the decision of Pope Benedict [his decision of July 7, 2007, to allow a wider use of the Tridentine Mass] was prudent and motivated by the desire to help people who have this sensitivity. What is worrying, though, is the risk of the ideologization of the Vetus Ordo, its exploitation.”

I readily acknowledge that Pope Francis differs in style from his predecessor. That the pope has different priorities than mine and emphasizes other areas of Church teaching than I do is not worthy of any foot stomping outrage. TIOF however, is definitely on my side. TIOF is surely about to put my ideological opponents to the wind. And I will carefully parse every word of TIOF to proof text my arguments that he's on my side. Seriously, I have noticed that people who adore TIOF have generally not read his first encyclical letter. It's probably too long and boring for them. When will TIOF get back to providing them ammunition for online debates?

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