It is common for Christian conservatives to tout the Ten Commandments as their ideal roadmap for living a Godly life. But as Kurt Vonnegut once noted, you never hear them mention a more recent, if paradoxical, guide:
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. “Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
Give me a break, indeed. To conservative Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, in their current devotion to President Trump, the Beatitudes would be as a crucifix is to a vampire.
But why are they paradoxical? Because while prohibitions against murder and seducing your neighbor’s spouse are pretty straightforward, the Beatitudes directly contradict straightforward, worldly wisdom. Let’s list them before we move on:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
And the ninth:
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Everything you know is wrong
The Beatitudes, preached by Jesus at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, tell us, “Everything you know is wrong.” To a world that tells you, “Laugh and the world laughs with you,” Jesus says, no. Instead, “Blessed are they who mourn.” To a world that says, “Hit him back! An eye for an eye,” Jesus says, no, “Blessed are the merciful…. Blessed are the peacemakers.”
The Beatitudes do not contradict the Ten Commandments. Rather, they lift us out of our navel-gazing narcissism and remind us that this world is not our final home, and that both our sufferings here, and our love toward our neighbor, are blessed and have eternal meaning.
Which brings me to Fr. Frank Pavone.
The Satanic Beatitudes
Fr. Pavone is the founder and head of Priests for Life. Ostensibly a pro-life group, its activities appear to be a cover for raising money and support for the Republican Party. Judging by Fr. Pavone’s Twitter feed, he apparently has no interest in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It was this tweet Friday morning that caught my attention. I call the declarations the Satanic Beatitudes. Fr. Pavone uses quotation marks and he was at Mr. Trump’s Las Vegas rally, so maybe he’s quoting Mr. Trump. But by tweeting them, Fr. Pavone makes them his own. Let’s go through them one by one, contrasting with the actual Beatitudes.
“We will make America wealthy again!”
Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“We will make America strong again!”
Jesus says: “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy,” and, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
“We will make America proud again!”
Jesus says: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land,” and, “Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.”
“We will make America safe again!”
Jesus says: “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.”
“And we will make America great again!”
Jesus says: “Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.”
“Thank you, @realDonaldTrump #KeepAmericaGreat”
Jesus says: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Fr. Frank Pavone
It is not lightly that I call Fr. Pavone’s declarations the Satanic Beatitudes. But I can think of no other way to illustrate the contrast between what he tweeted, and the actual Beatitudes.
This is nothing new for Fr. Pavone. His Twitter feed is a cesspool of cultish Trump devotion, with the hashtags “#MAGA” and “#makeamericagreat” accompanying almost every tweet. I actually was looking for this racist tweet when I stumbled across the Satanic Beatitudes tweet.
Fr. Pavone himself is notorious for appalling stunts such as that time he put the naked corpse of an aborted baby on an altar, using it as a prop in a last-minute pitch for Mr. Trump just before the 2016 election. Get Religion thankfully blurs out the corpse in its excerpt of the full video. Fr. Pavone did not blur it in the original on his Facebook page (which he deleted after a few days). One of my former Patheos colleagues called it a sacrilege, and it was.
Fr. Pavone’s status as a priest in good standing continues to be an issue. He once was incardinated in the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas. But if you look closely at the celebret card (the credentials a Catholic priest carries when he travels) he used to display on the Priests for Life website, it expired in 2016.
The webpage now simply says:
Fr. Frank is a Catholic priest in good standing and exercises his ministry in full communion with the Catholic Church. By a decree of the Vatican dated November 11, 2019 (Congregation for the Clergy, Prot. N. 2019 4532), he was transferred out of the Diocese of Amarillo and granted the opportunity to continue to carry out his pro-life work under a new and supportive bishop.
Who is this “new and supportive bishop”? I guess I don’t blame him for wanting to remain anonymous, given how much a headache Fr. Pavone is for the head of any diocese in which he happens to reside or has any authority over him.
Priests for Life used to be headquartered in Staten Island. But Cardinal Timothy Dolan cut ties with the organization in 2014, and in 2017 officially booted them from the NYC archdiocese. Priests for Life moved to Titusville, Florida, where the local bishop had already declared that no “permission and/or faculties will be granted to the priests and lay persons involved with this organization.”
Then, again, I do blame the bishop, both for the anonymity and for having anything to do with Fr. Pavone at all. For the protection of the faithful, as well as for the reputation of the Catholic Church, there should be no secrets concerning a priest’s canonical status. But especially given that his brother bishops treat Fr. Pavone like a pariah, what is he even thinking?
It is with no joy that I write about a Catholic priest like this. Less than two weeks ago, I did the same thing with my own bishop (and, please God, let not Bishop Paprocki be Fr. Pavone’s mystery “supportive bishop”). But I cannot in good conscience remain silent.
When I was in the Marines, a sign on the bulkhead of our battalion headquarters read, “If you were ever accused of being a Marine, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
So I ask you, Fr. Pavone, if you were ever accused of being a Catholic priest, would there be enough evidence to convict you? I think not.