Pope Francis Has Set a Confrontation in Place; Not the One We Think

St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church, Santa Sabina Basilica, Rome/Elizabeth Scalia
St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church, Santa Sabina Basilica, Rome/Elizabeth Scalia

So, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat published a piece on October 17, where referred to Pope Francis as the “chief plotter” in an effort to change Catholic doctrine, and thus the Church, itself.

The response to Douthat’s column played out in various articles and twitter-fights, during which Douthat flung the words “Own your heresy” toward theologian Massimo Faggioli (albeit, in Twittersubtext, meaning without a direct hashtag). That brought about what might be called (IMHO) an “ill-phrased and ill-advised” letter to the editors of the New York Times, signed by a number of theologians.

There is something to be said for sleeping on a thing before hitting publish, as I myself have recently discovered.

The public letter continued the uproar, as might be expected, not least because it seemed to suggest, dangerously, that only certified theologians might do theology in public, which would come as a surprise to Doctors of the Church like Catharine of Siena, Therese of Liseiux, Teresa of Avila and a whole bunch of others…

The story goes on, people are still publishing their thoughts. To my way of thinking the best, most balanced response to the whole sad affair comes from Notre Dame’s Tim O’Malley who writes:

To love thy enemy is not to accept a benign and beige tolerance where serious disagreement is passed over. But it is to remember that the one with whom I disagree will one day participate with me, God-willing, in the discourse of praise within the city of God. In the meantime, it may be my vocation as theologian and columnist, as blogger and bishop, as ordained and baptized Catholic living out Christian existence in the world, to argue for or against certain proposals. But, at least according to the rules of order of God’s reign, I am obliged to see this interlocutor as neighbor, as fellow-pilgrim seeking to see God face-to-face.

To be honest, this is a hard teaching. It is far more satisfying to imagine a world of potential enemies, all of whom are conspiring against me. There is a disordered delight in despising or dismissing my interlocutor. Jesus himself became a victim of this human desire to see the other as enemy, as one whose voice must be eliminated. But in continuing to create enemies out of our fellow Christians, we renew the cycle of violence that Jesus came to defeat in his cross and resurrection. We ignore the law of the kingdom that he gave to us on the night before he died: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all…will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:34-35). It’s hard to love human beings in a similar way that Jesus did; yet, when did Jesus tell anyone that citizenship in the reign of God would be a breeze?

You’ll want to read the whole thing.

Correction is fair and sometimes necessary
, but how we do it is what can corrupt our souls. Jesus, whom some argue corrected “harshly” at times, acted with an authority of God and a purity of self and purpose that none of us possess, so we have a duty to ask ourselves if how we engage in correction puts our souls, or the souls of others, at risk.

Now that we’re all up-to-date, what do I think about all of this? Glad you asked! I think Pope Francis has set a confrontation in motion, and it’s not the one we’re all looking at.

We cannot see it because we are utterly enthralled to a strange creation of our time that is part-theology, part-ideology and thrives on our age’s eagerness to take offense at every possible thing, every single day.

The confrontation that Francis has called forth is not meant to be between “left” and “right” or “progressive” and “conservative”, though. I think it’s meant to be between things visible and invisible, Love and Hate, Light and Dark.

In pronouncing the upcoming Year of Mercy, Francis has directly called the whole Church into a year of prayerful discernment on the very thing Satan most hates, the one lie that most effectively destroys us: that we are nothing but the sum of our sins; that there is no mercy for us, and therefore nothing in which to hope.

Satan hates mercy because it is the means by which we are reconciled to God, and now, we’re going to have a whole year of focus on mercy, talks on mercy, works of mercy, pleas to seek God’s mercy.

Of course Old Scratch won’t like it, of course he is going to set us against each other, and he’s going to do it in the diabolically disorienting way he always does, by putting our perspective into a funhouse mirror of exaggeration, so we become convinced that our outsized hatreds are really “love” that our “love” is really for God and Church and not for our own sense of rightness, our positions, and that pride and ego have nothing at all to do with our fervently staked out and intractable positions.

It’s all a cunning illusion, and everyone is buying into it.

What’s the best way to keep Mercy from finding a home in our hearts, minds and souls? Get all of us separated, and distrustful and so convinced that we possess All-Rightness that we end up saying, “here I stand; I can do no other…”

Like a famous heretic who said it first.

Of course, an “absence of clarity” can be part of the devil’s playground as well. I think both Francis’ strength and his weakness are connected to his being a Jesuit, because Jesuits have this habit of rippling the pond waters, which disturbs clarity. Francis too often, perhaps, leaves people wondering, and some people really hate wondering. The absence of clarity can be annoying, even perturbing, indeed, but it also gives the Holy Spirit some room to work.

I have corresponded with Douthat and I like him; often I think he is the perfect voice with the mot juste. Still, “heresy” is a serious charge to make, especially to a theologian because it speaks to his life work and his livelihood.

I also have corresponded with, and like, some of the people who wrote that ill-advised letter to the NY Times about Douthat, which also speaks to his life work and livelihood, while also ignoring a million stupid things another Times columnist, Maureen Dowd has gotten wrong or sneered inelegantly about Catholics and Catholicism.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

None of these ppl are evil. All of them love the church, and this is an unholy mess from which everyone needs to extricate themselves, because the devil is having way too much fun at this moment in time, with everyone’s perfect righteousness.

Pope Francis has a habit of asking people to pray for him; I confess it is increasingly my habit, too. What I say, actually is, “let us pray for each other…” Because if we are really, heartfully, praying for each other’s good, the Devil cannot work so effectively amid our disagreements.

Let’s give Bishop Robert Barron the last word.

"Brilliant. Despite lots of coffee, I just don't come up with such clarity of thought ..."

Pope Francis Has Set a Confrontation ..."
"While I haven't followed any of the brouhaha, I would like to say that what ..."

Pope Francis Sets a Confrontation in ..."
"I love Fr. Barron's take- miseria et miscordia, misery in mercy. Because mercy *requires* both ..."

Pope Francis Sets a Confrontation in ..."
"There is something positively medieval about the theologians letter. Sadly, not in the good sense ..."

Pope Francis Sets a Confrontation in ..."

Browse Our Archives