Motu proprio and Selective Reading

Motu proprio and Selective Reading July 6, 2007

I have a few scattered thoughts on the Liturgy that I’d like to convey in two posts this evening, mostly engendered out of my anticipation of Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Selective Reading?

I am frustrated. And what follows is my opinion, and my opinion alone.

This motu proprio has created quite a stir in the Catholic blogosphere, which I suppose is a good thing. No doubt, many will be eager to read this new document from Pope Benedict XVI due to its content and implications. But I cannot help but wonder if many of us who are papal loyalists are selective readers. I mean, many of us claim to think with Benedict XVI, yet few of us exhibit any indication that we actually read the works he produces. This is to say that it is not apparent to me that very many prominent Catholic bloggers have any real familiarity with the Pope’s socio-political perspectives beyond what they read in distilled Catholic news articles (reading books does take away precious time from blogging!).

I recall back in April 2005 when Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was elected to the papacy. There was palpable excitement stemming from self-described “conservative” circles in the Church. The liturgy and doctrine were anticipated to undergo major overhauls. This pope, we were told, will crack down on theological dissidents and liturgical knaves. Even many of those who do not consider themselves “conservative” theologically were initially concerned, but for other reasons. The Vatican’s court theologian and academician ascends to the papal throne to iron out theology and prune the abuses of the Liturgy.

But then something happened. Pope Benedict XVI got, well…political.

First, a few scattered books of essays appeared that were still on the presses either just before or during the time when Ratzinger became Benedict: Truth and Tolerance, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, Values in a Time of Upheaval. Social commentary, political analysis, moral evaluation of law–all under the unflinching eye of the Christian tradition. Pope Benedict XVI had already given a taste of what his papacy would most directly address. Regrettably, yet perhaps not surprisingly, I have seen very little attention given to any of these books in the blogosphere.

Second, the Pope’s first encyclical comes out. In our contemporary times, the inaugural encyclical typically sets up a sort of programmatic for the pontificate. Thus came Deus Caritas Est, which reaffirmed the primacy of the Christian conception of caritas before the construction of a unique and extraordinary social vision that explicitly engages the remainders of Marxism and the ubiquity of the capitalist ethic in the West today. The blogs where furiously preparing the reception of this great encyclical, and then…very little. But what did stick out from what little respectable coverage this encyclical received on Catholic blogs was how easily the radicality of the social message of Benedict XVI was downplayed, almost passed off as a sort of neo-liberalism much in the same fashion as Fr. Neuhaus shamelessly did with John Paul II’s great social encyclical, Centesimus Annus.

Third, the Pope publishes a project dear to his heart: an extended meditation on the person of Christ entitled Jesus of Nazareth. With the exception of very few bloggers, this book has not been discussed widely (Chris Blosser found a hand-full of bloggers who touched on the book, but only about three actually went into any detail). But the majority of Catholic bloggers who did address the work tended only to emphasize some stringent critique of biblical exegesis of the 20th century. This critique, of course, is not to be found in the work itself, which makes me question whether these bloggers actually read the small 14-page section where Benedict XVI takes a scant inventory of scholarly portrayals of the biblical Jesus (what about the other 350+ pages???) where he is both critical and appreciative of modern methods of biblical exegesis. Jesus of Nazareth is much in keeping with Deus Caritas Est where Benedict XVI does not content himself with rehashing those sentimental or narcissistic elements of the Catholic faith often made famous by TAN publications. Rather, Benedict XVI draws out many social and political ramifications of the Christ event. But, of course, these ramifications were largely ignored.

Fourth, an English translation of Benedict XVI’s 2004 work, Europe: Today and Tomorrow, came out in the Anglophone world alongside Jesus of Nazareth. This book completed a sort of “trilogy” of Benedict’s socio-political takes on Europe and the West, following Turning Point for Europe? and Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures. And the word from the blogosphere…[chirp, chirp]

And yet, this motu proprio, set to be published in less than 24 hours, will no doubt occupy Catholic blog-land for sometime to come, and rightly so. But why are Catholic bloggers in general, and the bigger blogs in particular, so silent on the truest concerns of Pope Benedict XVI? Selective reading is a disservice to the individual who wants to fully grasp the mind of a major thinker. With the modern day phenomenon of rapidly disseminated information on the internet, should we not expect some of the more popular and prominent blogs to be more intellectually honest? Is it wrong for me to hold them to this standard due to their popularity and influence? Perhaps some of them have fallen prey to a virulent strain of media-ism. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI on the effect of the media on many people: “One has the impression that one knows everything and can pass judgment on everything. But his could mean the loss of the ability to perceive the deeper dimensions of existence.” Does not this diagnosis characterize many sectors of the Catholic blogosphere that rely too heavily on news reports for their information on Catholicism today?

One of the reasons we started this blog was to fill this gaping void in the Catholic blogosphere. Whether we get 100 or 10,000 visitors a day, I hope we do not deviate from our task by commercializing ourselves in order to make money or spending our entire day searching for news articles to regurgitate while neglecting the riches of Catholic literature and especially the dazzling works of Benedict XVI.

No, I do not think this blog is in any way “better” than other Catholic blogs. But I do detect a willingness among its contributors and its readers to really think with ideas, to affect society positively, and to read the works of this Pope! There are some blogs that perhaps do a better job than this one. But one thing you will find here is intellectual honesty, even if we are actually wrong, and no short-changing our readers with mini blog-bites that amount to nothing more than insular gut-reaction.

Quite often, when we have relayed Pope John Paul II’s and Pope Benedict XVI’s social ideas, we’ve been collectively labelled as “liberal.” But given the dearth of responsible and informed commentary on the social ideas of the past two popes in the blogosphere, perhaps due to neglect of their most important books, is it any wonder why many other bloggers look at Vox Nova as “left-leaning”? It is a very said situation when otherwise well-intending Catholics fail to recognize the wisdom of their own leader. It would be too audacious for me to suggest that Vox Nova can fix this problem alone. Rather, along with many of the blogs we’ve linked to in the sidebar, we’ll continue to be one of the few blogs concerned with discussing the whole Benedict XVI…well, at least as much of him as shows up in print!

Thank you to those bloggers who have taken the time to read Pope Benedict XVI’s works and have shared their knowledge with all of us. I have learned a great deal from you, and I look forward to continuing to do so. And most of all, thanks for illuminating what it means to be a Catholic charged with transforming the secular world from within. After all, that seems to be the programmatic of this current pontificate: reshaping and perfecting society through caritas.

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