Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What Did The Pope REALLY Say?

I've been Catholic for eight years. Bl. John Paul II went on to his eternal reward a week or two after I was received into the Church. I didn't pay as close attention to Church goings on pre-conversion. Occasionally the mainstream media would publish a piece about a Vatican "crack down" on this or that error or individual theologian (does the Vatican ever do anything besides crack down in the MSM's imagination?) These days, under the reign of Pope Francis, the MSM coverage of his pontificate has been mostly positive. It's Catholics who are tearing themselves to pieces over Francis. Every other day the National Catholic Register publishes an article entitled "Did Pope Francis Really Say/Do X? Y Things to Know."

A wise old professor of mine once told my class, "If I lecture on something and you're the only one who doesn't get it, the problem is with you. If I lecture on something and nobody understands it, the problem is with me." Granted, I haven't been Catholic long but it's hard to imagine other popes of the last three hundred years needing so many clarifications, qualifications, and back pedaling from his lay defenders. It's possible that Pope Francis is an eminent theological genius of such magnitude that ignorant fools like me have trouble understanding every jot and tittle of his public pronouncements. It's also possible that he has a bad case of logorrhea.

For example, in his letter Evangelii Gaudium he writes:
"The other [form of spiritual worldliness] is the self-absorbed promethean neo-pelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby, instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying."
This is universally understood to be a knock against Traditionalist Catholics. I'm honestly confused by the notion that Trads are in any way pelagian. Pelagius was an ancient heretic who thought that human beings could be saved through their own natural efforts alone, and that Original Sin wasn't passed down to us from our original parents Adam and Eve. If there's one thing all Trads have in common, it's a healthy reverence for the sacraments and our need for supernatural grace. If Trads feel superior to non-Trads, that's definitely a problem. The reason why we observe certain rules and remain faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past is because of something Christ said: "By their fruits ye shall know them." The Church Militant, composed of we sinful human beings on earth, has never been perfect. But some eras have been more faithful than others. Traditions are traditions for a reason. What have been the fruits of the Church's abandoning so many of the old practices, disciplines, and devotions? Widespread apostasy, heresy, immorality, and lukewarmness. By every quantifiable measure the Church has been in extreme decline for fifty years.

I'm flattered that Pope Francis thinks we Traditionalists are so influential that we need to be singled out in one of his Apostolic Exhortations, but I think he and the mainstream Catholic commentariat greatly overestimate our power. It made me smile when many of the regulars on the New Advent blogging network so confidently asserted, "The pope is only talking to those people. I am squarely in the middle. I thank you, O Lord, that I am not like other men."

I'm not saying to ignore the pope, but consider this: the Church survived and thrived for nearly two thousand years before the internet made it possible for us to follow every hiccup from Rome. For a long time it was possible to only ever know who the pope even was through the mentioning of his name in the Roman Canon. It's not healthy to always be sitting by the computer waiting for the latest pronouncement by the pope on what his favorite kind of lunch is. When he addresses the entire Church in an encyclical or other letter, read it, pray on it, and learn something from it. But it's not necessary to one's spiritual life to follow his every word and action.

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