Catholics face an important choice in 2014 and in the years ahead.
Some of the comments and reactions to my post earlier this week on Pope Francis’s decision not to renew Cardinal Burke’s membership on the Congregation for Bishops revealed a disturbing trend to me, namely, the extent to which many Catholics have adopted an apprehensive attitude about the current pontiff.
Sure, I get it, it’s fun to be a cynic. It’s cool to be the one always predicting the next bad thing that’s going to happen, and being the one who is never surprised when it does.
Dissenting catholics have gotten really good at playing the role of the cynic for the past 30 years. Some priests, who shall remain nameless, have spent more time and energy complaining about the pope to the mainstream media than they have spent studying theology.
So I can understand why some orthodox catholics may be enjoying the novelty of being a papal skeptic. Certainly the media has done everything in its power to perpetuate the falsehood that Pope Francis is a liberal made in their own image. What I can’t understand is why Catholics, who say the media can’t be trusted and believe the media doesn’t “get” religion, continue to let the media form and influence their impression of who Pope Francis is!
We’re better than this. The Pope is not our president. We don’t have the right to say the current pope wasn’t our pick and we’re waiting around for the next guy. We must trust that when the cardinals chose Cardinal Brogoglio to be Pope, the Holy Spirit knew what He was doing. So let’s quit with the doom mongering. The church is a family. We don’t get to choose the members, and we scandalize the world when we air our dirty laundry in the site of others. Especially when the laundry isn’t dirty to begin with!
The more I read about Pope Francis, the more I am convinced that the soul of this papacy is up for grabs. Here’s what I mean: the Vatican expert Sandro Magister paints a picture of a new pope not yet sure of what he wants to do. George Weigel and others have easily taken apart the media-driven meme that Pope Francis is a liberal, i.e. not orthodox. The Pope himself has preached against “adolescent progressivism”. The case of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, which so many liturgical traditionalists site as an example of Pope Francis’ supposed antagonism to the Latin Mass, is far from black-and-white when you examine the evidence.
Simply put, it’s just way too early to judge what the future holds when it comes to the new occupant of the Chair of Peter.
But here’s one thing I think I can safely say Pope Francis doesn’t tolerate: allowing liturgical rubrics and clericalism to keep us from the proclamation of the Gospel. I’m right with him on that one. Good liturgy and a healthy respect for clerics should lead us to a more passionate living out and witness to the Good News, not the opposite!
And so while Pope Francis is no liberal, he also has no patience for traditional Catholics who let preferences and small-t traditions become a stumbling block to living out there faith fully.
If your love for the Extraordinary Form leads you to criticize your fellow Catholics who prefer the Novus Ordo instead of leading you to a more perfect life of charity, you’re doing it wrong. If you’ve spent more time reading articles claiming that Pope Francis has condemned capitalism in his latest exhortation instead of actually reading what he wrote, you’re doing it wrong. And if you spend more time bemoaning the fact that so many people are misunderstanding the Pope when you could be doing something about it by leaving comments, posting Facebook messages and engaging people, you’re doing it wrong.
That’s why I say the soul of this papacy is up for grabs. If Pope Francis sees dissenting Catholics living more active lives of charity, showing more passion in their desire to fix the problems of the world, and being more vocal in the great debates of our time, what happens then? This is our opportunity to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak, to show our compassion for the poor with concrete acts, to live our faith more authentically, to be more active in the public square, to show how much we care that we are catholic and how much that reality forms who we are and inspires what we do.
So which is it going to be? Are we going to spend the next few years wringing our hands worried to death that all the accomplishments of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict are about to be undone, or are we going to take Pope Francis up on his challenge and live the Gospel more fully every day, in plain sight?
That’s the choice we face in 2014 and always.
So let’s fight, let’s fight for the church. It’s the only one we’ve got.
UPDATE: I’m excited to see that this post continues to generate interest and dicussion, nearly a week after it was published (that’s a long time in blog years). Over the weekend Michael Potemra wrote a good essay on The Corner reflecting on the challenge I offer above. I think he puts it more succinctly than I when he writes: “Maybe the pope is as bad as you fear he is, maybe he isn’t. So what? The important question remains on the table: How then shall we live?”
That’s the challenge I’m offering to all of us.