The Lurching Church

When there is a new pope things change. When things change some people get nervous. Its natural. Its okay.

One of the things that helps when there is transition stress is to remember that progress is pendular. Progress is like a pendulum–it swings back and forth. Two steps forward, one step back. This is the way life works. This is the way we make progress. Life lurches. The church lurches. We move forward, then we fall back to re-consider, re-plan and re-work the best way forward. The step back often feels bad, but this is the time when we re-evaluate, take stock and then move forward again.

The great smiling American success story convinces us that life is one great upward climb of progress with one success building on another. Onward and upward on our merry way! In fact, real progress is not like that. Instead it is a journey of confusion, wrong turnings, mistakes and learning by trial and error. The way forward is one of continued learning and therefore one of the greatest enemies of this real progress is thinking that we know it all and have no more learning to do. Another great enemy of real progress is believing that life really is about getting everything set just right in our comfort zone–setting the automatic pilot and then just flying along with no problems, no conflict, not difficulties.

But that is not life. That is not reality. Life is an adventure which is full of uncertainty, questions, mistakes and glorious failures. In other words, we lurch along–making a mistake here and over correcting there until we have made the other mistake and then have to correct again.

Think of it like this: we like to think that life is like sailing with the wind at our back. We’re headed in the right direction and the wind is with us and all is well with the world. However, more often we have to sail against the wind, and to do so we have to ‘bash’ or ‘break’ the wind. We have to tack one way, then the other–doing a zig zag course always keeping our eye on the destination, but sailing there in a back and forth, difficult zig and zag.

So, if a new pope lurches one way–emphasizing certain aspects of the faith which a previous pope did not, then rejoice for the church is lurching as she is supposed to do. If a pope does something we find disagreeable, then he is just the pope we need for he will challenge our preconceptions and make us think outside the box and get us to re-examine our priorities. This applies to all of us, whoever the pope was.

I’d give this advice to traditionalists who are worried about Pope Francis, but I would have given the same advice to the liberals who didn’t like Pope Benedict. Both popes have much to teach us.

If we will be taught.

  • Tiberjudy

    Excellent reminder that the Holy Spirit is leading the Church and not us. Thanks be to God. A blessed Easter to you, Father.

    • Paul Rodden

      Glad the comments opened with yours, Judy.

  • veritas

    I have tried really hard not to make premature judgements about the new Pope. However, I am becoming increasingly concerned about what he is doing.

    Firstly his not wearing the red papal shoes and some of the papal vestments usually worn at the appearance on the balcony struck me as rather pointless. It seemed to be saying “Look at me; I am different and so humble”. The shoes and vestments represent the office not the man.

    Then the personal paying of his hotel bill – again a pointless gesture. The Pope does not have his own money, it the Church’s money. Once again it seems to be saying, “Look how humble I am.”

    He then announced he would not live in the papal apartments. Does leaving them empty solve anything?

    He next announced he would not wash the feet of priests and bishops, but rather prisoners. But this misses the whole symbolism that the Pope represents both Peter and Our Lord washing his fellow apostles’ feet. No one gave this Pope the right to change this special symbolism.

    He has now washed the feet of two women at the Maundy Thursday ceremony – in direct contravention of his own Church’s liturgical rules.

    I can’t even begin to imagine what harm this will do. All those faithful Catholics who have been battling innovations by liberal and trendy priests, have now had the rug pulled right out from under them – it will be literally open go. Whenever a priest wants to do something in violation of the Church’s liturgical rules the faithful who try to quote Church rules to their priest will have the Pope’s own disobedience thrown back at them.

    I really think that when someone makes such a repeated point of being publically “humble” it becomes a display of their own pride. It is a though what he is doing is saying, “Look at me, I am different from the previous popes. I much more humble than they were.”

    It has been said that when you meet a truly humble man you will not be struck by his humility, it won’t jump out at you or be on show. Rather it will come up in lots of little ways as you get to know him and you gradually realise that he does not promote himself and that he puts others ahead of himself. I am seeing the opposite in the new Pope. He seems determined to prove how humble he is, by doing lots of things that people cannot help but notice.

    By rapidly dropping or changing what all the previous popes did he is also, in fact, making a public criticism of them.

    In the recent history of the Church two big dangers have manifest themselves. One is contempt for the Pope’s leadership and authority. This has been the hallmark of so many bishops, priests, monks and nuns in the last 40 years that enormous harm has come to the Church as a result. However, the opposite danger is also a problem. Many orthodox Catholics have been so horrified at the contempt shown by the liberals to the Pope’s leadership that they have gone to the opposite extreme. They have drifted into the mistake of extreme Ultramontanism. They are putting the office of the Pope beyond any criticism. For example people have said, with regards to the Pope washing the feet of females, words to the effect, that even though it is contrary to the Church’s liturgical laws, “He is the Pope so he can do it”.

    While it may be technically correct that the Pope can disregard some liturgical rules, the Pope is not above the laws of his own Church and it sends out a really bad example. Popes are not above criticism. Papal Infallibility is a very carefully prescribed doctrine. It does not mean that every word a Pope says, or everything a Pope does or even everything a Pope writes, is infallible.

    No doubt Pope Francis has some great qualities which will become apparent as time goes on, but so far I have much cause for concern.

    • Paul Rodden

      As for the new things which we can find in this message today, there is also the fact that attacks on the Pope and the Church come not only from without, but the sufferings of the Church come precisely from within the Church, from the sin existing within the Church. This too is something that we have always known, but today we are seeing it in a really terrifying way: that the greatest persecution of the Church comes not from her enemies without, but arises from sin within the Church, and that the Church thus has a deep need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn forgiveness on the one hand, but also the need for justice. Forgiveness does not replace justice. In a word, we need to relearn precisely this essential: conversion, prayer, penance and the theological virtues. This is our response, we are realists in expecting that evil always attacks, attacks from within and without, yet that the forces of good are also ever present and that, in the end, the Lord is more powerful than evil and Our Lady is for us the visible, motherly guarantee of God’s goodness, which is always the last word in history.



      Papal Flight
      Tuesday, 11 May 2010

    • Ryan Ellis

      Excellent, veritas. Fr. Longenecker, this is the best counter-point that I have read anywhere. Would you consider doing a Fr Z-style “red notes” analysis of it? It sums up absolutely everything I think, very well.

      • Paul Rodden

        What if Fr Z stomps off to the SSPX in a few months time (taking Michael Voris with him)? :)

        • Karen LH

          Paul, Fr. Z has been defending the Pope.

    • Paul Rodden

      Before the conclave I was asked by quite a few people who I thought might be next Pope.

      I said I didn’t know of any of the type I preferred, ‘but I hope it is someone like Alexander VI. You know, the Borgia one who had mistresses and stuff’. I then asked them whether they’d leave the Church if it was someone like him.

      Of course, it was tongue-in-cheek, but it had also had a deadly serious side to it. Just how do we see this office, and how do we use it to rationalise all sorts of personal sin and irresponsibility.

    • Paul Rodden

      I have battled with your piece, veritas, and I take your comments seriously, Ryan, too.
      What you say does, unquestionably, look very odd and ‘unhumble’.

      But, after sleeping on it, I think there is a distinction between what Newman called ‘Notional Assent’ and ‘Real Assent’. In his Grammar, Newman talks about ‘parroting’ in terms of Notional Assent, a form of mimicry that has all the outward appearance of assent.

      But, at the same time, we can’t force someone from Notional to Real Assent. That comes through the ‘Illative Sense’. Building on Newman, Lonergan talked about ‘insight’ and ‘heuristic structures’. But he also talked about ‘bias’ and ‘scotomas’ (blindspots) and all those manifest ways we deceive ourselves.

      I had a humourous exchange with someone called Bill in here recently where, to my comment, ‘Nominalism!’, he replied ‘Integrism!’ and I ROFL, because he had a point.

      So I’d not only say there’s a problem of notional assent which the Pope’s actions are simply drawing out like moths to a flame, but one of mistaking appearance with reality or form over substance.

      As so often is the case, it took a woman, TiberJudy, who opened the comments, to hit the nail on the head: ‘Excellent reminder that the Holy Spirit is leading the Church and not us.’.

    • mike cliffson

      Veritas: Just suppose that , in his old archdiocese, the devil has been denied entry to one, only one , wavering soul whose faith SHOULD NOT BE , but IS attackable by what the archbish changes into now he’s in Rome ?

  • vox borealis

    I get the sentiment, and I certainly need to take the message to heart, I know. But didn’t Pope Benedict teach us, or try to teach us, the exact opposite lesson: that the Church does *not* lurch about, or at least it should not. Or have I totally misunderstood the whole business about hermeneutic of continuity and organic change, and his admonitions that the upheavals within the Church in the 1960s and 1970s were too disorienting, and so forth?

    • Paul Rodden

      I’m going out on a limb, here, but I’d say that the only people who say the Church doesn’t lurch about are the Sedevacantists. There’s a huge difference between ossification and ‘organicism’, between what we were likely to end up with and what Vatican II proposed.

      For me, the problem is the direction which things were assumed to flow through Pope John’s ‘windows’. I think the Popes since Pope Pius XII have firmly pointed outwards. A flow from the Church to the world. Except, as things stood at the beginning of the council, what flowed out would have sounded like gobbledygook.

      Therefore, I think the 1960s/70s ‘upheavals’ were man-made, and I cannot see how they – in any way – exemplified the hermeneutic of continuity, but as Pope Benedict said, they exemplified a ‘hermeneutic of rupture’. In a sense, they weren’t within the Church, but outside it too, because to dissent in the way those who led the upheavals did, was actually to step off the barque of Peter, out of the ark.

      Neo-Thomism had a stranglehold on the Church, and it could even be argued that it was suffocating. But the solution, as far as I understand it, wasn’t to demolish neo-Thomism because it was so fine and true, but to sublate it, to build on the giants shoulders. To implement Newman’s great insight which allowed for development without breach with the past, a problem Neo-Thomism could not resolve unless it could have lifted itself by its own bootstraps…

  • Rick

    Thank you for your mature faith and wise counsel. That is something the church needs these days and seems to have in short supply. It is also a challenge for me to be likewise.

  • Paul Rodden

    Matt 8:23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” [RSVCE]

  • Paul Rodden

    I could be heaping down coals on myself with this comment, but I think the problem, at root, is one of lay driven clericalism and a subsequent immaturity, resulting in a living of one’s faith by proxy through the hierarchy and/or the liturgy, as if ‘they’ alone constitute the Church.

    ‘For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some one to teach you again the first principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food…’ Heb. 5.12

    Germain Grisez’ work on the Lay Apostolate has been largely ignored, but if the idea was really understood and taken to heart by the laity, I’m pretty sure many women wouldn’t feel a ‘need’ to be a priest any longer, and the laity would be effectively engaging the world knowing it had a vocation and direction itself as part of the body, and would provide healthy feedback to the hierarchy which would challenge them and help them feel understood and appreciated in their vocation as priests.

    “Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops, like bishops, and your religious act like religious.”
    Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, before the Knights of Columbus, June 1972

    But I’m absolutely sure the good Archbishop’s comment did not mean all the finger-wagging that’s going on at the moment.

  • u3

    “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”~Matthew 6:27

    No worries, mate.

  • Tim Wallace

    I agree that if we will be taught, and I try not to harden my heart, the last three Popes have perhaps more to teach than we have time to learn. I always have trouble with the labels used to describe Catholics in the social media:

  • WJ

    Indeed, and the obsession about minute liturgical details while hundreds of thousands suffer from material and spiritual poverty, leading to the endangerment of souls, is rather like fiddling while Rome burns. Again, do these traditionalists understand that their “tradition” is largely a creation of the 19th century? Do they have any idea how uncouth, awkward, and plain irreverent many medieval liturgies were? I mean, not every Mass was the aesthetic and reverent achievement that they portray it to be. Lots of premodern and even post-tridentine liturgies would seem weird to the refined liturgical ultramontanism of the post french Revolution church. It is This tradition that has bizarrely come to stand for Tradition, and it is frankly ridiculous.

  • servus parvulorm

    As a priest who has now spent many years working amongst the poor in Latin America, I wish I found your argument more persuasive, Father. I very much want to be reassured, but I’m afraid that I find the points made by Veritas more convincing. However, please remove this post if you consider what follows to be in any way disloyal or otherwise inappropriate.

    Every time I say it, I am repelled by the new Holy Father’s choice of name. It sounds like a way of saying, “I have nothing to learn from any of my predecessors, and I have no intention of attempting to emulate any of them.” This, together with the other actions Veritas mentioned, seems to me to have little to do with genuine humility.

    Doctrinal orthodoxy and staunch resistance to secular aggression and marxism are the very least we should expect from a Pope. They should go without saying, and not be a cause for comment, relief or congratulation. I do not live in Argentina, but what I have seen and heard of the state of the Church there does not indicate that the former Primate’s methods of governance, of liturgical practice or of evangelisation were particularly effective there.

    Some Jesuit novices are currently attached to my parish, and although they are full of enthusiasm and good intentions, it is evident that their formation so far has taught them to know or care very little about the liturgy. In general – but obviously with honorable exceptions – the Jesuits in Latin America seem to be as slapdash liturgically as so many of the diocesan clergy down here are, so I shall not be surprised if Pope Francis attributes a lower importance to the promotion of liturgical fidelity and excellence than did his predecessor.

    However, in my experience, depriving the poor of their liturgical inheritance, and condemning them to ugly buildings and tawdry music, simply deepens their poverty without promoting new evangelisation. On the other hand, when the splendour of the liturgy is allowed to shrine through, the people tend to come back for more. If Pope Francis fails to maintain the pace of the ‘reform of the reform’ in Latin America and elsewhere, he will be failing the poor in parishes like mine.

    in 1219, St Francis went to Egypt to try to convert the Sultan; and it would certainly be an excellent thing if the new Holy Father were to energise the Church to make a more determined effort to evangelise the Muslims. However, perhaps because of Argentina’s relative isolation, he does not yet seem to have grasped the threat posed by militant Islam, and the impossibility of the Church’s reaching any accommodation with it. The Christian victims of Islamic persecution around the world need a voice from the Vatican that will speak out clearly on their behalf, and confused symbolism and feeble eirenic gestures will not help them.

    As for your nautical analogy, Father, anyone with any experience of boats knows the importance of maintaining a straight wake, and of avoiding yawing when there is a change of helmsman. Abrupt zig zags are likely to make the crew sea-sick, and risk running the vessel aground. We must trust that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis will learn to keep the Barque of Peter firmly on course.

  • Paul Rodden

    To be honest, I smell the ghost of Martin Luther – except in his defence it could be argued he had got to the point where there really was so much corruption he’d had enough – yet we seem to be at breaking point over red shoes!

    Do you remember the hoo-ha over condoms under Pope Benedict’s watch with some really big guns weighing in? But then the CDF ‘sided’ with Fr Martin Rhonheimer who’d, by that stage, become the lightning conductor for Dr Janet Smith and her entourage? (I think the work of both Fr Rhonhemer and Dr Smith is outstanding.)

    Are these not straw men? Are they not storms in teacups? Is this a very dangerous downside of the New Media?

    Anyway, who are ‘Fr Z’ and Michael Voris? Deputies of the CDF? Why are they treated as if they’re ‘By Special Papal Appointment’ (like Adriano Stefanelli’s damn shoes)? Although people treat them as if they are. But is it because they happen to agree with us?

    I don’t exactly find ‘fisking’ people’s comments – that favourite hobby of ‘Fr Z’ – an act of humility, either.

    If Pope Francis has some problems, Halleluia! We’ve got slack having Popes that have happened to be both infallible and impeccable (to whom?)! :)

    As the old couplet goes:
    When I submit (so long as I agree),
    The one to whom I submit is me.

  • Keith

    Since dissent is OK and we can do what we wish regardless of the rules, let’s all say Mass ad orientam and all the unchanging parts of the Mass in Latin and only administer the Eucharist to kneeling parishioners and stop all the insipid music replacing it with chant and do away with altar girls, etc., etc. Should we worry about the Vatican? No.

  • Zmama

    “the obsession about minute liturgical details while hundreds of thousands suffer from material and spiritual poverty, leading to the endangerment of souls, is rather like fiddling while Rome burns.”

    Thank you for this WJ! I have spent the past few days (and will again today) watching the old mini series Jesus of Nazareth with my 11 year old daughter. Although Zefferelli took some liberties with certain Gospel accounts I was struck yet again by Jesus’ conversation with the leaders of the Jewish faith at the time. When they question his healing of the sick on the Sabbath and He responds the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath he is trying to get the pharisees to see beyond the legalistic aspects of the law-not to reject the law but to make them realize the law is not to override charity and compassion for one’s fellow man-or dare I say-fellow woman. I consider myself to be very conservative, come from an activist pro-life family-going back to the late ’70s when the pro-life movement was in it’s early days. In my vocation as a wife and a mother I have followed church teachings in our marital cross of infertility and pregnancy loss. As a result I have been blessed beyond measure to be a mother to a daughter born not of me but of an unknown woman in China. I believe with all my heart in the sanctity both of human life and of marriage only between one man and one woman. From what I have read about Pope Francis he has come out very strong as cardinal in favor of life in all it’s stages, as well as traditional marriage. Yes he also washed the feet of two young women, one of whom was a Muslim. Perhaps according to many of you, according to Canon law, he violated his own church teachings in this case. I ask you to think back to the accounts of Jesus going to eat at the home of Matthew, a known sinner. Yet in doing so, Jesus converted Matthew’s heart and he became not just one of His apostles but later died a martyr’s death for his Lord and Savior. As I watched and read the account of Pope Francis going to say Mass with those young people in prison I couldn’t help but wonder what effect his visit and their experience of the Mass will have on their hearts. I pray it will be fruitful. I think of St Therese’s prayers for the convict on death row to repent. I think of what Jesus said to the “good” thief next to Him on Calvary. I also think of the story of the prodigal son-again-beautifully told in Jesus of Nazareth in the home of Matthew the tax collector with Simon (not yet Peter) standing outside refusing to step inside a “sinner’s” house until he realizes he acting like the elder son. You may flame me for this but what WJ states re. the obsession with minute liturgical details, or with red shoes or red capes, smacks to me of the hypocrisy seen in the pharisees of Jesus’ time. Dare I say those of us who have strived all our lives to be faithful followers of the Roman Catholic church too often end up like the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son. I know I myself have been guilty of such behavior toward a family member. We so easily forget that Jesus Himself ate with known prostitutes and sinners. Yet we are all sinners, whether we attend the Tridentine Mass every Sunday or the Novus Ordo or whether we attend Mass at all. I personally have been praying for all of those young people in that juvenile prison. I would not be at all surprised if there were some conversions among those that are not Catholic and perhaps some vocations down the road among those that are. What a blessing they would be to the church if that were the case.

  • FW Ken

    Doctrinal orthodoxy … [is] the very least we should expect from a Pope

    Sorry, it’s all we can expect. Papal Infallibility doesn’t cover his choice of shoes, whether he pays his own hotel bill (veritas! really?!!), or whether music at Mass suits my taste. Faith and Morals, that’s it. The rest is gravy.

    Yes, I agree that the pope should have changed the rule about foot-washing rather than ignore it. For one thing, the magnificent beauty of the act seems invisible in this obsession with female feet. Pope Francis bore witness to the love that God in Christ has for all people – youth, criminals, Muslims.

  • Robert Sheehan

    As someone who witnessed close friends move away from their faith because they couldn’t cope with how the media presented Pope Benedict (not trying to see how his wisdom and clarity were so needed by the Church and the world), now it appears that an opposite faction are moving away from what they claim was their faith because of a Pope who challenges them. I thank God for both Popes and I wish all Catholics would see, listen and act with charity. These are great, humble and holy men.

  • Joannie

    One thing I find strange about this whole thing surrounding the new Pope at least since Holy Thursday is the if you dare to even speak critically of the new Pope you are a “Francis Basher” When the last Pope resigned PLENTY of people were critical of him. Then you start having Catholics start to unfairly compare Benedict to Francis. I have not seen or heard from Malcomn Ranjith or Raymond Burke comment personally on the foot washing issue. I have no problem personally with Francis but what I don’t like is the “personality cult” that is being built around him like we saw with John XXIII and John Paul II. Both of these Popes are humble and simple is what we all need to remember. In many ways to me Francis is like another John Paul I who broke many precedents in the one month he was Pope and ended up making the Curia greatly resent and turn against him.