Francis Returns to the Quote Heard Round the World: “Who Am I To Judge?”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but in an off-the-cuff interview on an airplane early in his pontificate Pope Francis said, when asked about homosexuality, “Who am I to judge?”

Except he didn’t. He was asked about the alleged “gay lobby” of homosexual Vatican employees, and replied, in part, “A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will — well, who am I to judge him?”

That didn’t stop millions of know-nothings from parroting a partial quote out of context to justify any absurd defense of the modern gay agenda, but people with an ax to grind rarely let messy facts get in the way.

Of course, any Christian would know that the key to his answer was not some approval of some currently popular behavior or obsession, but of a very particular word with a very particular meaning in our faith: judge

You know, as in that “judge not” thing we’re warned against. Repeatedly.

There is one judge: God.

In comments at mass this morning, Pope Francis elaborated on the theme in his homily on today’s reading from Matthew 7:1-5:

“The person who judges,” the Pope said, “is wrong, is mistaken and is defeated” because he assumes God’s place: He who is the one and only judge.” Jesus’ accusation of “hypocrite,” Pope Francis pointed out, is addressed to all of us who hastily judge others. “God,” on the other hand, said the Pope, “takes his time” when handing down judgment.

Alluding to Jesus’ words, the Pope said those who judge others mistakenly desire to remove the splinter from their brother’s eye without noticing their own eye is pierced by a wooden beam.

He who does this, the Pope observed, “is so obsessed with the person he wants to judge -that person – so, so obsessed! That the splinter will not let him sleep! ‘But I want to take away the splinter!’ … And he does not notice the log that he, himself has.” Such a person, said the Pope, confuses the splinter for a beam. He “confuses reality. He’s fantasizing. And he who judges becomes a loser, ends up badly, because the same measure will be used to judge him.” Those who are judgmental, the Pope concluded, assume the role of God and can bank on ultimate defeat.

Only God, and those of his choosing, have the right to judge, affirmed the Pope who pointed to Jesus as an example to follow.

“Jesus, before the Father, never accuses! It’s the opposite: he defends! He’s the first Paraclete. Then, he sends the second, who is the (Holy) Spirit. He is the defender: he comes before the Father to defend us against the charges.”

In the Bible, the Pope continued, the “accuser” is the devil, Satan. “Jesus will judge, yes, at the end of the world,” the Pope added, “but in the meantime, he intercedes, defends.”

Ultimately, he who judges, said Pope Francis, “is an imitator of the prince of this world who’s always behind people to accuse them before the Father.”

The Pope invited the faithful to “imitate Jesus: intercessor, advocate, lawyer” not just for ourselves, but for others too. And “do not imitate others, which in the end will destroy us”

If we want to follow the way of Jesus, the Pope concluded, “more than accusers, we have to be defenders of others before the Father. I see a bad thing in someone – do I go defend him? No! But keep quiet! Go pray and defend him before the Father as Jesus does. Pray for him, but do not judge! Because if you do, when you do something bad, you will be judged. Let us remember this well; it will do us good in everyday life when we get the urge to judge others, to speak ill of others, which is a form of judging. “

Related: Pope Francis’ Honeymoon is Over. 


The Canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II: The Opposition

Two diametrically opposed complaints about the upcoming canonizations of two beloved popes landed in my news feed within minutes of each other. That each comes from radically different camps–modernist and anti-modernist–shows that the fringes are almost always united in their wrongness, if divided in their reasoning.

First up is this blast of badly-argued nonsense from USA Today (with the extremely silly headline “Pope puts Catholic rebirth at risk”) by a writer, Brett M. Decker, who tips his hand right in the very first paragraph:

Few moves could so quickly undo his popular efforts to make the Roman Catholic Church more sensitive to the values of modern churchgoers.

One of the absolute least important things in the life of the church is sensitivity to the “values of modern churchgoers.” Modern churchgoers tend to have values which need to be treated with far less sensitivity.

He then falls back and punts with the standard complaint that we’ll be hearing from modernists from now till doomsday: the abuse scandals. He twists himself into contortions making the point that John XXIII and John Paul II were to blame for the scandals, that they did nothing to address them, and that this makes them unworthy of canonization whatever else they may have achieved.

That the scope and nature of the scandals was, in fact, unbelievable to everybody as it first came to be revealed (and most particularly to John Paul, who was accustomed to the use of false sexual abuse allegations against priests  by the communist authorities) seems not to matter.

Decker’s summary is weak:

The Catholic Church declares individuals to be saints to give the faithful role models of heroic virtue and show how one should live life to get to heaven. Because of their sins of omission in face of horrors at the hands of their clergy, neither John Paul II nor John XXIII should be canonized as exemplars of sanctity.

Clearly, the use of the phrase “sins of omission” is just a rhetorical fillip that the writer doesn’t actually understand. You would have to assume, of course, that these were actually “sins,” of omission or otherwise, and not errors of judgment or a failure to grasp to the exact scope and nature of the problem. You would have to imagine that someone said to these men, “Our priests are abusing children,” and they replied, “Eh, who cares. Cover it up.”

Was the abuse scandal horrible? Of course.

Were there things the church could have done differently? In retrospect, that’s obvious.

Does it mean that these two holy men are not now with God? Only a fool would argue so.

Speaking of fools, Bernard Fellay, leader of the SSPX, is certainly not one. In contrast to the sustained cluelessness of the USA Today article, Fellay lays out a meticulous case against the canonizations, full of citations and carefully constructed rhetoric.

That his conclusions are, of course, completely wrong doesn’t make his argument less impressive. People can master facts and arguments and come to the wrong conclusions.

After all, if Fellay wasn’t inherently wrong about these matters, he wouldn’t be the head of SSPX. He’s basically a high-church Protestant with a fluency in Latin.

Fellay’s case is based on two simple conclusions: John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council, and John Paul II embodied it. (That’s what Fellay’s “Pope of Assisi” dig is supposed to mean. It’s a reference to John Paul’s ecumenical gestures.) Since the Council is the root of all evil and error in the contemporary Church, goes the logic, these men are therefore not to be considered saintly.

As an argument against their sanctity it’s about as valid as that found in USA Today, but man, does Fellay try like heck to make the case with a sustained attack on all elements of the post-Conciliar Church. After the tired thoughtlessness of USA Today, it’s almost refreshing to get a real argument by someone who’s deeply read on the subject, even if he is a heretic. One gets the impression that he realizes people will pay attention to this one, and he wants to lay out the entire SSPX argument in one place.

He comes out fighting:

But there is also the deeper problem of what will appear to be an unprecedented recognition of catholicity: how is it possible to put the Church’s stamp of approval and sanctity on the teachings of such a Council, which inspired all of Karol Wojtyla’s action and whose rotten fruits are the indisputable indication of the Church’s self-destruction? This second problem offers the solution: the errors contained in the documents of Vatican Council II and in the reforms that followed, especially in the liturgical reform, could not possibly be the work of the Holy Ghost, who is at once the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Holiness.

And then he lists every perceived error in the Council documents.

Indeed, John and John Paul are almost completely forgotten as he runs through the kind of well-rehearsed arguments that animate traditionalist comboxes and publications. It’s little more than erudite rant, shot through with misunderstanding of the continuity of the faith and the nature and teaching of the Conciliar documents. It’s the kind of thing that rallies the troops, but fails to convince others because it was conceived and executed in a hothouse environment.

It also proves another obvious truth: at the far ends of many spectra, the fringes meet. The modernists and anti-modernists are in lockstep on this one. That’s usually a pretty good indication that both are wrong.

The rest of us will just greet our two new saints with joy.

Saint John XXIII, pray for us.

Saint John Paul II, pray for us.


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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Pope Francis: In the Mass We Enter the Mystery of God

In the pope’s comments on today’s readings, he spoke about mass as a theophany: an encounter with God. There have been many posts in the past weeks about teaching the faith (Joanne McPortland rounds them up), but teaching the faith is a relatively simple matter for those who practice the faith. Sure, they can use a deepening of their understanding to make people disciples rather than just practitioners, and that’s why we’re working on adult formation programs.

But when teaching children, the biggest problem is that people simply don’t practice their faith. The religious education programs are sacrament mills used by many non-mass-attending families to get their kids through Communion, Reconciliation, and Confirmation. (About 20-30% of the families in our programs attend mass each week, although my wife has had some success recently in getting that percentage up to 50% for her kids in sacrament prep.) It’s not possible to teach a faith that is not practiced.

Thus, we need to draw those families back. They need to understand mass as something more than an hour of drudgery a week done out of habit, but as a true encounter with the living God. We can worry all we want about the Church’s moral and social teachings, but unless people encounter God, none of that really matters. And the place to encounter God is in the mass. Practice is medicinal. It’s not everything, but it’s the beginning, and nothing else will take hold without it.

This is what Francis spoke about today: the mass as a place where we encounter a God who is “closer, without mediation, near. It is His presence.” It is “not a social act, a good social act; it is not a gathering of the faithful to pray together. It is something else. In the liturgy, God is present… The presence of the Lord is real, truly real.”

Francis continues:

When we celebrate the Mass, we don’t accomplish a representation of the Last Supper: no, it is not a representation. It is something else: it is the Last Supper itself. It is to really live once more the Passion and the redeeming Death of the Lord. It is a theophany: the Lord is made present on the altar to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world. We hear or we say, ‘But, I can’t now, I have to go to Mass, I have to go to hear Mass.’ The Mass is not ‘heard’, it is participated in, and it is a participation in this theophany, in this mystery of the presence of the Lord among us.

The Vatican Press Office has not made the whole transcript available yet, but offers this summary with additional quotes:

Nativity scenes, the Way of the Cross… these are representations. The Mass, on the other hand, “is a real commemoration, that is, it is a theophany: God approaches and is with us, and we participate in the mystery of the Redemption.” Unfortunately, too often we look at the clock during Mass, “counting the minute.” This, the Pope said, is not the attitude the liturgy requires of us: “the liturgy is God’s time, God’s space, and we must place ourselves there, in God’s time, in God’s space, and not look at the clock.

“The liturgy is to really enter into the mystery of God, to allow ourselves to be brought to the mystery and to be in the mystery. For example, I am sure that all of you have come here to enter into the mystery; however, someone might say: ‘Ah, I have to go to Mass at Santa Marta, because on the sight-seeing tour of Rome, each morning there is a chance to visit the Pope at Santa Marta: it’s a tourist stop, right?’ All of you here, we are gathered her to enter into the mystery: this is the liturgy. It is God’s time, it is God’s space, it is the cloud of God that surrounds all of us.”

The pope recalled that, as a child, during the preparation for First Communion, there was a song that spoke about how the altar was guarded by angels to give “a sense of the glory of God, of God’s space, of God’s time.” And when, during the practice, they brought the hosts, they told the children: “Look, these are not the ones you will receive: these count for nothing,” because they have to be consecrated. So, the Pope concluded, “to celebrate the liturgy is to have this availability to enter into the mystery of God,” to enter into His space, His time, to entrust ourselves to this mystery:

“We would do well today to ask the Lord to give to each of us this ‘sense of the sacred,’ this sense that makes us understand that it is one thing to pray at home, to pray in Church, to pray the Rosary, to pray so many beautiful prayers, to make the Way of the Cross, so many beautiful things, to read the Bible… The Eucharistic celebration is something else. In the celebration we enter into the mystery of God, into that street that we cannot control: only He is the unique One, the glory, the power… He is everything. Let us ask for this grace: that the Lord would teach us to enter into the mystery of God.

Pope Francis on the Internet as a “Gift from God”

Pope Francis Tweets, old skool.

In anticipation of the 45th World Communication’s Day tomorrow, Pope Francis offers some observations on the centrality of communication in the modern world and the ways in which it can help forge solidarity and bridge gaps, but only if used properly.

In a world like this, media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all. Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity. The walls which divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another. We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect. A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive. Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances. The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.

If good communication helps us to grow closer, then surely bad communication pushes us the further apart. The question is: to which end does the internet trend? Like all who spend a great time in this space–working, playing, learning, and evangelizing–I believe that there’s a downward gravitational pull in modern mass media that favors the lowest forms of communication. Dialog rarely retains a lofty or even civil character before beginning the invenitable slouch towards Godwin.

Francis is aware of this, because in the very next paragraph he makes the following observation:

This is not to say that certain problems do not exist. The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgement, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression. The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests. The world of communications can help us either to expand our knowledge or to lose our bearings.

These risks, for those of us here and for the Pope, do not meant we leave this space behind, but act with greater deliberation:

What is it, then, that helps us, in the digital environment, to grow in humanity and mutual understanding? We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen. We need also to be patient if we want to understand those who are different from us.

His suggestion of how to achieve this draws on the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the notion that the one who sees the neighbor as one like himself is able to act righteously:

Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbours. The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other. Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God. I like seeing this power of communication as “neighbourliness”.

The problem with this analogy is that of the people who passed by the man on the road, two-thirds of them didn’t get this point, and the percentage is at least that high in the digital space. In internet terms, that translates into millions of truly miserable people. Francis observes that the response of the Levite and priest were culturally conditioned, and that modern media works to condition us in a similar way. We see not a neighbor, but either an ally or an other. The point is not to keep the others out, but to draw them in. You can defeat an enemy by crushing him, or you can defeat an enemy by making him a friend.

And as Francis observes, the nature of the media themselves lends itself to abuse, but also to glory:

Whenever communication is primarily aimed at promoting consumption or manipulating others, we are dealing with a form of violent aggression like that suffered by the man in the parable, who was beaten by robbers and left abandoned on the road…. Media strategies do not ensure beauty, goodness and truth in communication. The world of media also has to be concerned with humanity, it too is called to show tenderness. The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people. The impartiality of media is merely an appearance; only those who go out of themselves in their communication can become a true point of reference for others. Personal engagement is the basis of the trustworthiness of a communicator. Christian witness, thanks to the internet, can thereby reach the peripheries of human existence.

He concludes by saying the risk is not just worthwhile, but essential if the gospel is to be proclaimed everywhere in the modern world:

… if a choice has to be made between a bruised Church which goes out to the streets and a Church suffering from self-absorption, I certainly prefer the first. Those “streets” are the world where people live and where they can be reached, both effectively and affectively. The digital highway is one of them, a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope. By means of the internet, the Christian message can reach “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8)…

Effective Christian witness is not about bombarding people with religious messages, but about our willingness to be available to others “by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence” (BENEDICT XVI, Message for the 47th World Communications Day, 2013). We need but recall the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. We have to be able to dialogue with the men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubts and hopes, and to bring them the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, God incarnate, who died and rose to free us from sin and death. We are challenged to be people of depth, attentive to what is happening around us and spiritually alert.

May the image of the Good Samaritan who tended to the wounds of the injured man by pouring oil and wine over them be our inspiration. Let our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts. May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects, but rather of our being loving and merciful “neighbours” to those wounded and left on the side of the road. Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world.

There has always been a lot of idealism in papal statements about the internet, and this address is cut from the same cloth. And that’s a good thing. If we keep our eyes fixed on the ideal while navigating a fallen world with the love of God in our hearts and the gospel ever on our lips, we’re being true to the call of Catholicism.

Francis, Benedict, and Pelagius

Yesterday’s tempest in a Z-cup focused on Pope Francis’s curious phrase “self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism,” used to describe certain factions within Catholic traditionalism.

I remain puzzled that Francis has, on multiple occasions, felt the need to single out traditionalists for criticism, given the nature of evil at large in world. Most traditionalists are good and holy people, and I am sympathetic to their goals, which are the goals of Benedict. The hard core fringe of trad nuttery–Novus Ordo Watch, Rorate Caeli, SSPX, and the like–are a twitching, irrelevant mass of hatreds and hangups. They’re easily ignored, which is why I don’t understand why Francis feels compelled to single them out for criticism. Attacking a minor subset of a fringe hardly suits the dignity of a pope.

But what of the criticism itself? The self-absorbed and promethean parts I understand and don’t dispute, if we’re talking about a certain kind of fringe radical traditionalist. (The kind that’s just a nudge away from an SSPX chapel.) Pelagianism, however, is a heresy, and it’s not a word a pope should toss around lightly.

It turns out that Cardinal Ratzinger had first drawn the Pelagians into the discussion back in 1986. Andrea Tornielli found the relevant quote, which I’d never before seen despite long study of Ratzinger/Benedict. It comes from the Spiritual Exercises of 1986, and is found in the book “Guardare Cristo: esempi di fede, speranza e carità” [Looking at Christ: Examples of faith, hope and charity]; published by Jaka Books.

The other face of the same vice is the Pelagianism of the pious. They do not want forgiveness and in general they do not want any real gift from God either. They just want to be in order. They don’t want hope they just want security. Their aim is to gain the right to salvation through a strict practice of religious exercises, through prayers and action. What they lack is humility which is essential in order to love; the humility to receive gifts not just because we deserve it or because of how we act…

I don’t see this kind of Pelagianism as a unique property of traditionalism, and in fact the same can be said of those who consider themselves “progressive” “social justice” Catholics, who believe their attitude towards, and work on behalf of, the poor are justification enough. They, too, lack “humility.”

But Ratzinger was focused on the “pious,” which does not necessarily mean the traditionalist. It could just as well be the surface piety of the regular Novus Ordo church-goer who believes correct participation in all the required aspects of the faith are sufficient for salvation, without going deeper into a conversion of the heart.

Ratzinger was driven by the desire to draw people closer to Jesus, to have them search for “His face” and be converted by His radiant love. Empty pieties would be an obstacle to that, because the Catholic would feel as though he or she had already done everything necessary.

I have trouble with this observation, because I know many good people who practice their faith with devotion and care, yet probably never dug deeper into the metaphysical, mystical underpinnings that come naturally to others. I think of the people of my parents’ generation who lived lives of good faith, albeit a largely unexamined faith. For some, piety is all they can muster. They sense the mystery, but lack the capacity to be drawn into its depths. Are we to say they are not justified?

Forms are important. They should not be the end but the beginning of a deep faith. But if they are the end for someone, and if they are practiced in good will and charity with an open heart, who are we say that the person practicing them does not know the action of grace? After all, would they be prompted to pray their rosary and attend mass without prevenient grace? If their emotional or intellectual or dispositional capacity is limited, perhaps pietism is the best manifestation of their relationship with Christ. Not all hearts are turned in the same way.

Pope Francis in Time Magazine: Does It Matter?

The short answer is, “Of course it matters.” Pope Francis is Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. That’s a good thing.

But it’s not as simple as that, so let’s break it down:

The Good

1. Time is a fading relic of a dying media, but they still retain something of their former image, and the Man of the Year remains one of the few things they do that still generates some attention.

2. All eyes are on the leader of the Catholic church. That’s a good thing. In fact, it’s so good it outweighs what the cynics and critics will be saying. (We’ll get to that a minute.) It’s good for a simple reason:

3. People are hearing the gospel preached. That’s the goal of all we are and all we do: to preach Christ. Francis being declared “Man of the Year” can’t help but draw the gaze of an indifferent and distracted world, if only for a day.

4. This is the whole reason I’m delighted with the pope’s approach despite my misgivings about his occasional lack of clarity and somewhat reckless turns of phrase. Cardinal Bergoglio was a blank slate. Ratzinger never stood a chance: he took his seat on the Chair as JP2’s rottweiler: the Panzerpope. The die was cast from day one, and the dimwitted mainstream media, with their shallow understanding of every person and issue more complex than Paris Hilton, ran that playbook into the ground.

Francis was someone new. They couldn’t dismiss him. And when he showed a different pastoral style, they were confused even further. For some odd reason, their minds couldn’t grasp a pope who could believe all that the church teaches, and yet present it in a very different style. He must be changing the faith! Or, in the words of Time’s nomination blurb, rejecting “dogma.”

5. I hear rumors that Miley Cyrus was in the running., and indeed was an odds-on favorite. It’s a tiny glimmer of hope–one that will quickly fade as the media returns to its empty celebrity obsessions–that the vulgar lost to the sublime.

The Meh

1. I hear rumors that Miley Cyrus was in the running, and indeed was an odds-on favorite. It’s a sorry sign of the times that the choice was between the heir of St. Peter and a talentless attention whore. It’s a win for seriousness, but it should not have been a near-run thing.

2. I’m not going to start jumping with joy because a magazine I consider offensive and irrelevant noticed the bloody obvious: that one man commanded more media attention than any other person this year: stopped clocks, and all that.

3. The decision was partly, or perhaps mostly, political. He seems like an effective club for bludgeoning the right. The media has no soul. All choices, decisions, filters, and lenses are informed by political calculus.

4. Let’s recall some of Time’s other recent covers:

5. So, really: screw Time Magazine. Pope Francis ennobles it. It doesn’t ennoble him. They’ve shown by this decision that some flicker of recognition of goodness and truth remains in them. Or maybe they just stumbled backwards into the choice because the alternatives were just too ridiculous even for them.

6. It’s probable that they chose the right man for the wrong reason. Like many of my friends on the right, my little conservative antenna begin to twitch when people who believe awful things start saying nice things about a Catholic pope. They think he’s a “different” pope who will get rid of all that bad ol’ dogma and usher in a new age of gay marriage, abortion, women priests, contraception, and socialism.

They will be disappointed. They like him because they don’t understand him. He’s preaching exactly what Benedict preached, but in a new voice. Right now, they are responding to that voice. When they get down to the preaching itself, the party will be over.

Final Word

I’m happy to see Pope Francis as the Time Man of the Year. It would be foolish not to be happy. After years of scandal and attack, there’s a brief moment in which the world stops hating us long enough to maybe, just maybe, listen.

See, we have something wonderful: the truth, and the whole truth. We’re the only ones who have that fullness of truth, and that’s a powerful attractant. In a modern media age, getting the fullness of truth before a narcotized, self-obsessed, consumerist society gets harder and harder.

Francis has done something important. He has figured out a way to make people pay attention. Those of us already aboard the barque may get a little nervous as we enter choppy waters looking for people being drowned by this awful modern world, but as the saying goes, although a ship may be safest in harbor, that’s not what ships are built for.

Francis on Proselytization

Back in the silly season of summer, when new Pope Francis interviews were giving Catholics the vapors on a weekly basis, one thing that got a lot of knees a-jerkin’ was his comment about proselytization being “solemn nonsense.” I understood what he meant at the time, but, as I observed, aggressive proselytization in the Catholic Church hardly seems to be a problem worthy of being called out. I don’t recall ever seeing an example of it.

Francis returns to the issue in the apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, published today. 

Lastly, we cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of these are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction”.[13]

The footnote cites Benedict, emphasis added:

Christ’s mission is accomplished in love. He has kindled in the world the fire of God’s love (cf. Lk 12:49). It is Love that gives life: and so the Church has been sent forth to spread Christ’s Love throughout the world, so that individuals and peoples “may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). … The Church considers herself the disciple and missionary of this Love: missionary only insofar as she is a disciple, capable of being attracted constantly and with renewed wonder by the God who has loved us and who loves us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10). The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by “attraction”: just as Christ “draws all to himself” by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross, so the Church fulfils her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord.

This is the core of affirmative orthodoxy: the “yes” of the Church. Our mission is preaching Christ in word and deed. Proselytization suggests an aggressive approach, using rhetoric and persuasion to try to induce someone to change their faith. This is not merely contrary to how we do things: it’s positively the worst way to go about evangelization. It’s off-putting, ineffective, and often fails to yield lasting fruit. Proselytization is the seed thrown on rocky ground, which springs up, but has no depth of soil.

Conversion must be of the heart, which can’t be accomplished by tricks or abuse, but only by offering a light so powerful that others long to warm themselves by its glow.

In short, it’s this..

… not this.

An Astonishing Picture

This gives me chills: the first pope and the current pope. Pope Francis holds a casket with the pitiful remains of St. Peter. Almost the entire scope of the Church’s history captured in a single image. Astonishing, moving, powerful. What must have Francis been thinking at that moment?

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Francis/Netanyahu Meeting Cancelled (Actually, It Was Never Even Planned)

Last week, a report began circulating in the Israeli press that President Benjamin Netanyahu would be meeting with Pope Francis when Netanyahu traveled to Rome this week. The report set off a firestorm in Israel because of rumors that a visit by the pope to Holy Land was contingent upon the return of certain holy sites to the Church:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be traveling to Rome next week to meet with the pope; they will discuss, among other things, the transfer of certain holy sites to the custody of the Catholic Church. “It turns out,” says HaModia, “that the new pope has set a public declaration of the transfer as a condition for his promised visit to the land.” One of the sites in question is David’s Tomb, “which the Catholics have claimed as their own for hundreds of years.”

HaMevaser reports that Rabbi Haim Miller has appealed to Knesset Members in an effort to stop the deal from going through. Miller claims that it is better for the pope not to visit Israel than that the tomb be handed over to the Catholic Church, even if this causes a rift between the Vatican and Israel.

This sounds like a lot of nonsense, but there was no chance the meeting was going to happen since it was reported in the press before it was even planned, and you don’t get on the pope’s schedule with one week’s notice:

In a diplomatic foul-up, the announcement made last week that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would meet with Pope Francis in Rome was retracted on Monday after it emerged that the Vatican had never scheduled it, Haaretz reported.

The pope’s staff said they only learned of the meeting through media reports. Efforts by Israeli officials to put such a meeting on the calendar at the last minute in order to avoid embarrassment after having announced it last Wednesday proved futile.

It was explained that protocol at the Vatican is such that a request for a meeting only a week in advance is unheard of and out of the question.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement: “As opposed to what was claimed, a meeting was planned this week between the prime minister and the Pope during his trip in Italy, but due to a scheduling conflict, it was postponed.”

Francis is still intending to visit Israel in March:

Pope Francis will make his first visit to Israel in March.

The pope told his close friend, Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, of his lifelong dream to visit the Holy Land, and of his intentions to visit Israel and Bethlehem, Channel 2 reported on Sunday.

According to Channel 2, the pope hopes his visit will bring a message of reconciliation.

He dreams of embracing Rabbi Skorka in front of the Western Wall, in order to send out a message against anti-Semitism.

Last week, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein visited the Vatican and invited the pope to visit the Holy Land and be his personal guest in the Knesset.

“I’ll come, I’ll come,” Pope Francis responded.