Catholics Coming Unglued: It’s Time to Calm Down

Christ the King (Ghent Altarpiece)

A segment of the faithful Catholic population has been growing more and more distressed since the election of Pope Francis, and it’s really time they get a grip.

Traditionalist site Rorate Caeli kicked off the madness by declaring the Holy Father “The Horror” and posting a string of increasingly demented attacks. That seemed to set the tone, as though declaring Open Season on Francis.

Critics post on Facebook mocking the pope and and deriding anyone who doesn’t think we’re heading towards the Great Apostasy. (They like to call it the “October Schism” in reference to the upcoming Synod.) They write thin-skinned blog posts banging on about irrelevant issues having to do with access to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. They subject the pope’s every word to overheated analysis as though it’s some magisterial statement. They unfurl 10,000-word long articles about The End Times, complete with illustrations showing Rome in flames. They pour over obscure prophesies from various apparitions like the gullible pour over Nostradamus. They repeatedly reveal their pure contempt for Vatican II and the Novus Ordo.

All of these people are intelligent, faithful Catholics. And all of them are experiencing some deep emotional turmoil about the fate of the church.

I understand some of the emotions churning deep in their guts. A lot of this is playing out against the general unease of the times, from pointless wars to economic ruin to government perfidy. I haven’t felt like I belong in this country since the election of Obama. It’s become an alien place, with things happening that just don’t make sense. I feel less like an American with each passing year. I’m retreating to the margins and tuning out of the civil life of the nation.

But the one thing I didn’t retreat from is the Church. It’s not that I don’t see the same things they see: it’s just that I’m not letting the poisonous atmosphere in this country cloud my judgment about the Church, the pope, and my fellow Catholics.

And I’m refusing to subject myself to micro-reactions about every single fart and hiccup in the life of the Church, which are now broadcast instantly everywhere, picked apart, refuted, clarified, amplified, corrected, derided, and dumped into the social media churn.

I know at least some of the most vocal critics of Francis would call themselves admirers of John Paul II, but if the words and deeds of the John Paul II pontificate had been passed through the current media filter, those same people would have soiled themselves on a daily basis. Imagine the photos posted to Facebook (“OMG John Paul kissed a Koran! Islam is taking over the Church!”) or the news items turned into grist for a blog post (“Apostate pope apologizes for crusades!”).

The Church isn’t meant to be analyzed at this kind granular level, at this kind of speed.

And by the way, John Paul did both those things, and we’re still here.

Hell, we had a pope dig up the rotting corpse of another pope, subject him to trial, find him guilty, strip him of his vestments, cut off the fingers he used for blessings, and cast the remains into the Tiber … and we’re still here.

And we always will be.

Although I usually refuse any label other than just plain “Catholic,” I am a political conservative and a dedicated Ratzingerian. The transition to Francis was jarring. His language can be imprecise and his pontificate feels like a bit of a high-wire act at times. I like my liturgy formal, my theology clear, and my popes in mozzettas.

That said, I can’t help but admire his approach. His analogy of the Church as a “field hospital” for souls is precisely right. He’s an appealing face for the Church. There are times to collect ourselves and focus on fundamentals, theology, and liturgical forms, and times to get down in the mud with sinners.

I’m not at all comfortable in the mud with sinners, taking risks, but that is my problem and my failing, not his.

Many of these Catholics are reacting exactly like the liberal Catholics they like to deride, trusting in the Magisterium of Me rather than in the Magisterium of the Church. They are doing to Francis what they never would have tolerated anyone to do to Benedict.

I’m not exactly sure what they think will happen because Francis reaches out to sinners or eschews some of the trappings of the office. The worst that can happen, has already happened.

In a history that begins with the murder of the Son of God and includes the execution of all of our founding leaders, Arianism and dozens of lesser heresies, schisms, the sacking of Rome, the shattering of Christendom in the Reformation, dueling popes, the Cadaver Synod, Alexander VI, the loss of the papal states, the abuse crisis, and any number of other terrible moments, the idea that we’re sailing into some new nightmare of the Church because Francis mutters “Who am I to judge?” about priests who have same-sex attraction is laughable.


Meanwhile, Fr. Z and Michael Voris–two traditional Catholics you might expect to join the chorus of critics–have kept their heads while all about them are losing theirs. I’m sure both these men have concerns about the direction of the Francis papacy. I may well share those concerns to some degree.

I’m just willing to wait, and listen, and pray, and not lean on the panic klaxon day after wearying day. And I certainly will not disrespect the Holy Father, ever.

The bigger problem I see in these critics is a crisis of faith. Which part of “shall not prevail against it” do they not understand?

Do they think we’re living in uniquely horrible times? If so, are they frigging kidding me?

Do they think Francis is some kind of anti-Christ who seized the throne of Peter and is busy leading the entire church into perdition with his wicked … outreach to the disaffected and lost? Do they really think the Church will be undone because She considers minor revisions to the pastoral care of divorced and remarried couples, or the pope washes the feet of women on Holy Thursday, or a Latin mass is not available somewhere?

And do they realize that this relentless criticism helps no one at all, and risks damaging the faith of many, including themselves? Do they understand that they are leading others into sin? What are they trying to prove?

And finally, if we are sailing into the End Times, So what? Isn’t that what we’ve been longing for these past 2000 years? What we’ve been training for?

We shouldn’t be wringing our hands and writing interminable panicky posts about the pending apocalypse. We should be shouting Bring it on! We should be sharpening our swords and joining St. Michael at the front lines. We’re not in this church to preserve the dogma and liturgy for its own purpose. It’s merely there while we help shepherd souls for a little while until Jesus returns.

If we are indeed seeing the beginning of the dark times that herald the coming of the anti-Christ, followed by the return of Jesus, good. Perhaps Francis is mustering as many troops as possible–sinner and pious alike–for the final battle.

Let’s stop whining and get fighting, not each other, not the Church, not the pope, not people who are fine with a plain ole Novus Ordo mass, but the enemy we’ve been trained to fight: the devil and his minions.

The fight is out there, not in here.

Those who have faith don’t fear the future. We already know the end: we win.


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