Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Parish Pope Disappoints the Intellectuals.

One criticism of Pope Francis by Catholic intellectuals who were shaped by the  papacies of the great  theologian Pope Benedict and the great philosopher Pope John Paul II is that Pope Francis doesn't   quite share the intellectual sophistication of those past popes and these present critics. They describe the pope as  "provincial" accusing him of being limited  by Argentina's peculiar theological political experience.


This condescending insult is uttered from the perch of Conservative Catholic Western intellectuals who have been recently overrun in the culture wars by gay marriage from the Left and in civic life by the nationalist-populist Presidency of Donald Trump. Except for Marxist college professors it is hard to think of a more discredited isolated group of thinkers than the Catholic Republican party intellectuals who once presented John McCain and Sara Palin to lead the political fight against the sexual revolution. They now accuse the provincial Pope of caving in to the zeitgeist. The Pope's English-speaking critics are media-amplified in a way his Spanish speaking defenders are not. When your voice is multiplied daily by thousands of readers/listeners it makes it especially hard to examine one's own cultural myopia. Like NBC, ABC, and CBS reporting on Donald Trump, it is hard to see bias when every day you interpret a new report that verifies your storyline.    
The parish Mass is the axis mundi of the world. There is noone more oriented to the central reality of sacred space, time and person than a parish priest celebrating Mass. He is so parochial.  There is no-one so locally grounded in a city and the world than a good Catholic bishop tending his diocese while praying with the Church. Nor is there any man  who knows the international interplay of nations better than he who first loves a patria of his own. One way to see the world is travel it. Another way is to stay in a single place and stay attentive as the world and present age pass through.
 Pope Francis is fluent in Spanish and Italian. He is  comfortable in French, German, Portuguese and Ukrainian. He is conversant in Latin. His English is quite poor. It is not clear which language would be best for a dialogue between him and his American critics. The Pope has intensely studied  Romano Guardini and his notion of the unity of polar opposites. This desire to transcend what seem to be unresolvable conflicts of conservatives and liberals or right and left by going to a higher plane for some synthetic unity is why Mary, Unraveler of Knots, is his favorite image of Our Lady. The Pope's daily prayer life is hopelessly parochial: Mass, the office, a rosary and a holy hour. He has been known to fall asleep in his holy hour but he excuses it and even rationalizes further with a statue of the sleeping St Joseph at his bedside. From the beginning he said he wanted to redraw the lines of stasis (the point of contention in a rhetorical argument) between the Church and humanity.
Unfortunately a lot of the intellectual work of this holy man has not been published in English for his monolingual critics to learn from. Thus they mistake his homespun conversational style for a lack of intellectual sophistication.  Let us here consider some of his own words and the writings of others who know him better to assess the charge that we have a man not quite up to the intellectual challenges of the office he has been bequeathed. If his critics would looked honestly they might experience a "John Allen moment" in evaluating this pope. Crux editor John Allen (formerly of the  National Catholic Reporter) had written a very derogatory book about Pope Benedict when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger. A liberal book reviewer chastised Allen for his attitude of unrelenting opposition replacing honest reporting. To his great credit, Allen confessed his sin and looked anew at his subject. John Allen is still a hopelessly old style Catholic liberal but he is an honest journalist. Maybe some of the men at Catholic Thing, First Things, Catholic Culture, National Catholic Register and Catholic World Report might follow his good example and give the Holy Father a second look.

 An interview with Massimo Borghesi, an intellectual who understands the Pope's thinking far more profoundly than his critics. Edward Pentin is to be thanked for allowing a defender of the Pope in his column space. It would be a great gift if some English speaking Catholic journalists would do for Francis what Ignatius Press did for Pope Benedict - translate his writings and favorite thinkers for  English speaking Catholics.



THE INTELLECTUAL'S TRAP  "A dangerous confusion can arise. We can think that because we know something, or are able to explain it in certain terms, we are already saints, perfect and better than the “ignorant masses.” Saint John Paul II warned of the temptation on the part of those in the Church who are more highly educated “to feel somehow superior to other members of the faithful.” In point of fact, what we think we know should always motivate us to respond more fully to God’s love. Indeed, “you learn so as to live: theology and holiness are inseparable.”

 DELIVER US FROM THE EVIL ONE. "We will not admit the existence of the devil if we insist on regarding life by empirical standards alone, without a supernatural understanding. It is precisely the conviction that this malign power is present in our midst that enables us to understand how evil can at times have so much destructive force. in leaving us the Our Father, Jesus wanted us to conclude by asking the Father to “deliver us from evil”. That final word does not refer to evil in the abstract; a more exact translation would be “the evil one”. It indicates a personal being who assails us. Jesus taught us to ask daily for deliverance from him, lest his power prevail over us." "...Hence, we should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea."

BE HOLY WHERE YOU ARE. "Let the grace of your baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness. Let everything be open to God; turn to him in every situation. Do not be dismayed, for the power of the Holy Spirit enables you to do this, and holiness, in the end, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by labouring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain'"

A set of four governing Christian principles provide practical guidance to true reform :
Unity comes before conflict;                 The Whole comes before the part;

Reality comes before the idea;             Time comes before space.
It was a great disappointment to the keepers of orthodoxy that Pope Francis did not settle the German bishops conference 2018 dispute about communion for Protestant spouses with an authoritative papal  judgment. He told the German bishops to pray, talk, argue and come up with a UNANIMOUS decision. Unanimity means to be of one spirit-one soul. It is what American jurisprudence expects of juries in deciding innocence or guilt in criminal courts. It is the nature of the ancient masculine covenants when every man was circumcised and "Israel fought as one man".
A major drive in the Francis papacy has been to renew the synodal form of face to face collegiality as a way of governance and debate among bishops.  The incredible corruption that has infected the Catholic priesthood and episcopacy requires searing discussions in bishop conferences and dioceses. Sometimes there will be one bishop who calls out a dozen corrupt priests or fellow bishops. Sometimes a synod of shepherds will start moving against the criminal hirelings. The debates needed in the northern and Spanish speaking churches  are not really about rules for communicants. The central divisions are about the character of the celebrants. The great divisions in the Church are among the bishops and about the bishops. A string of orthodox popes and their eloquent pronouncements have not solved the crisis.  The divisions among the bishops are about the existence of the Devil, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the difference between a sacral brotherhood and the kiss of Sodom. The way to achieve unanimity on these central questions is to bring them into the light and then punish and expel the bishops whose fondness for sodomy is paired with their disbelief in Satan.  Once the local argument is properly framed then appeals to the pontiff will be very appropriate and the "dictator pope" can help with acts of authority and discipline.
  The confusion in the priesthood about the nature of authoritative male brotherhood and patriarchy  has created a particular kind of deficit in the global south.  The general confusion in the global church about masculine authority has rendered Africa's bishops without a proper grammar to encourage armed  civic authority against armed drug cartels and religious jihadists. The bishops in these countries need to speak of the duties of male citizens and governments to go beyond ethnic loyalties in protecting all by  establishing the armed order of shared national citizenship. This necessary speech is utterly squelched by the pacifist bishops of northern rich countries. This includes all of our recent popes.  Suddenly every German and half the Americans are Anabaptists. The protective deficit of pacifist ideology seems a frequent fruit of the soft personalities of corrupted  masculine order.
The Church is very good at providing public services of  education and hospitals in African countries. We must also be clear in sanctioning political authorities in their legitimate use of physical force to maintain the tranquility of order. Universal proclamations against war and capital punishment are a perverse new colonizing ideology against people who above all need the governance of strong men and competent protective states.  This problem affects Latin America as much as Africa but in a very different form. In Latin America the nations are in place but the Catholic culture has not created military-political personalities who can establish order and justice. The left created its leaders but that is an exhausted project. The feminists put forth a string of modern feminist careerists. Enough said.   A Catholic Bolivar has not emerged. In Africa, the nation itself  and the masculine bond of territorial citizenship is weak. The great Catholic leader and how he will define his principal political community has not emerged either.  When he does, one wonders how the Catholic talking class will measure him.
    The civic and episcopal  problems of the breakdown of legitimate authority and Christian masculine order are deeply related. Their solutions will come from a renewal of the patriarchal fraternities in church and civic life charged with the duties of governance. Pope Francis does not formulate the problem quite like this but he does foster local ecclesial fraternity as the path to Church and civic order. He  can see German sexual disorder and African social chaos. He advocates serious bishop synods in the different regions without knowing what they will engender. He has no pronouncement to make. He is neither confused nor unsure. He abides in time and trusts the Holy Spirit.

Pope Francis is making major diplomatic initiatives with Russia and China. Here is an excellent dissection of the intellectual and pastoral basis of his approach to China. The Pope is definitely a nation man but he is the Pope first. When nations meet migrant overrun, the Pope will defend the alien. Pope Francis does not think of Juan Peron as Karl Marx. He does not confuse Simon Boliver with Robespierre. He is not a global capitalist.  Francis has reemphasized the role of Vatican diplomacy amidst the nations. Like President Trump and Pope John XXIII, he takes the corporate existence of nations as a central political reality which demands direct interpersonal relations among representative leaders. He represents the Body of Christ and the desire for reconciliation among all the sons of Adam who since the time of Noah live as the different nations. Like his predecessors he sees reconciliation with the Orthodox as central. Unlike them he regards the Pentecostal movement in Christianity and the emergence of China among the nations as keys to the next millennium.  Pope Francis is a different man than Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. One should hesitate to say he is less sophisticated.         



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