Pope Francis is Pope. He continues to lead the church. The faithful need to continue to hear his message, the message for the time which we live in. We need to hear the grace and comfort he offers as well as the warnings he issues concerning the state of the world. What we do not need is people to ignore him and treat him as some sort of lame duck Pope, looking ahead and trying to campaign for a Pope that goes with their own ideologies. This was, after all, what St. John Paul reiterated:
Confirming the prescriptions of my Predecessors, I likewise forbid anyone, even if he is a Cardinal, during the Pope’s lifetime and without having consulted him, to make plans concerning the election of his successor, or to promise votes, or to make decisions in this regard in private gatherings.
This is why it is outrageous for Cardinal Dolan to be sending out George Weigel’s book, The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission, to other Cardinals. It is clearly a violation of the spirit, if not also the letter, of Universi Dominici gregis. It is an underhanded attack on the present Pope, trying to regulate him to the past while he is still alive, while he is still proclaiming the faith according to the needs of contemporary society. Pope Francis clearly challenges many ideologues, and this is why, from the very beginning, he has been under constant attack, with outrageous claims being made by people like Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and his supporters being given material support by many American prelates.
Cardinal Dolan seems to have no problem putting himself next to Donald Trump and encourage Trump instead of fulfilling his role as prophet (a role equated with the bishopric) and speaking up against Trump’s violations of human rights. Nonetheless, he has no problem giving material support to the critics of Pope Francis, and in doing so, undermine the teaching which Pope Francis gives to the church.
This highlights the problem American Catholics face today: their prelates are unwilling to speak out and promote, like Pope Francis, the truths which American woefully need to hear today. Many Catholics look to the promotion and support of Trump and use it to bring into the church his most immoral ideologies into the church. They do so without receiving much if any official resistance. Racism, xenophobia, sexism, disregard for the poor, and abuse of the environment, are routinely ignored by prelates; and if some prelate actually responds to such ideologies, they find themselves attacked by so-called Catholic media and various well-moneyed Catholic organizations and their brother bishops seem to do nothing about it.
It is clear, there is a problem in American Catholicism and the fruit of several decades of ignoring these ideologies within Catholic media has led to the growth of a spiritual cancer which now threatens the livelihood of American Catholicism as a whole. Catholics are leaving, not because they are not hearing things about sexuality and family values, but because that seems to be all they hear about, while the fullness of Catholic moral teaching is undermined. Social justice is not only ignored, but often rejected. Catholics are confused, not because of the teachings of Pope Francis, but because of the lack of authentic teaching by many, if not most, American clergy; it is rare for them to hear the Gospel being preached. Instead, culture war ideologies are promoted in homily after homily. The discord between authentic Gospel values, between the life in the Spirit with the legalistic ideologies of American Catholicism is strangling the American church, and it should be no wonder that when Catholics cannot breathe in the Spirit of truth, they will want to run away from the church for the sake of their spiritual lives. This is not to say they should leave. It is only that it is understandable why they want to leave. What the church needs is the faithful, those who truly heed the Gospel, to stay, not to let the Americanist anti-Christian message strip them of their rightful place in the church; they need to resist, just as much as Americans resist those ideologies when they find themselves promoted and supported by those with authority or power in the United States. Thankfully, the grace of the sacraments remains, even in the hands of bad prelates, so that the church can and will continue, and the faithful can receive the graces they need while engaging social justice and promoting the changes needed, both within the church but also within the United States as well.
Dorothy Day feared that if she were made a saint, what she said and did would be easily circumvented by hagiography. That is, she feared that the many issues she raised in her life, issues related to social justice, would be neutered by the official legacy used to justify her canonization. She did not want to be whitewashed and have the objectives she fought for undermined. She knew and understood how this could and would happen. She shows us that we are called to be saints, to follow the promotion of justice established in the Gospels, and not be concerned with the way people consider us because of it: she didn’t want to be merely considered a saint, she wanted to do what saints do, whether or not she was considered such.
We need more Dorothy Days in the church today. We need more true saints, saints who are not concerned about themselves and their legacy, about how people will consider them in the future; we need saints who will speak up and do what is right. This is how the church in America can be corrected. By the people, by the faithful who heed the message of the Gospel, the message which is being proclaimed by Pope Francis, fighting against those who will promote ideologies which stand in contrast to that message. It is not a culture war. It is not about the promotion of a romanticized past (ignoring all the evil in that past). It is about the simple message of Christ, who said that he came to proclaim the good news to the poor (cf. Lk. 4:18). It is about the message of the incarnation, the reality that grace truly comes into the world, that the world itself is to be elevated in Christ and not to be Gnostically rejected or ignored. It is about the message of the salvation, where the hope of salvation is revealed in the healing of soul and body alike, where those who have been wounded, those who have been unjustly attack and hurt, can and should find solace and healing.
Sadly, we find many Catholics, far from following the message of the Gospel, far from trying to bring healing to the world, continue to dismantle it and promote their own terrible, anti-Christian ideologies. The dignity of the human person is lost. Social justice is ignored. Priests who attack social justice receive great support, while those who do the hard, and often, dirty work with the people where they are at, are undermined and ridiculed.
American Catholics, what will our future be? Right now, the church seems to be falling apart; the consequences of supporting the so-called culture war over the Gospel is before us. Now is the time to repent. If we will not do so, we might experience decades of exile, of truly being a poor church among the poor, as we have lost every material support we once had, and then maybe then, we will be able to return from our exile, with the humility which we need in order to properly proclaim Christ.
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