Friday, December 5, 2014

Today's Highlight: Me!

A little while ago I blogged about how pop songs employ the basic demagogic tactic of lauding the 'me!' in little girls. Let's not just pick on poor old feminist fodder.

I am just finishing up the last marriage book I promised to review for the upcoming 'Marriage and Pop Francis' issue of the Catholic Review of Books. It's The Gospel of the Family: Going Beyond Cardinal Kasper's Proposal by Perez-Soba and Kampowski (Ignatius Press, 2014). And it got me to thinking.

I am sure you have met many people suffering from divorce. I have. They were common growing up. Some were Catholics (I wasn't raised Catholic) and it sometimes came up how they were processing that part of things. After I became Catholic I admired how one woman who was close to our family, though divorced and remarried outside of the Church, had the sense not to receive communion. Others were a little, or more than a little, resentful of the Church. Now, as you guessed from the title of the book, it is a response to that large personality, Cardinal Kasper. No surprise, I don't care for him. One thing I really don't care for is how personality intrudes into theology. Do you know how much, for instance, we know about Duns Scotus, one of the greatest theologians who ever lived? Neither his birthday, birth year, place of birth (not even country of birth! - in those days Scotus could mean of Scotland, but also of Ireland, believe it or not.) But then you get that big German mug of Kasper's pushing itself in front of everything. If there is one thing that you can really say about Pope Benedict, it is that he was a very unassuming person (not to mention, diminutive), and, other than for his massive intellect, completely nondescript. This is why the press looked passed him.

"He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." (Is 53:2)

I hate to draw a parallel here to our own Prime Minister, but let's be honest. He his capable. Comparing him to Trudeau is like comparing Einstein and turpentine. Sorry that rhymed, so I had to use it. But Harper has no charm, no charisma, and, though, not ugly, certainly not handsome. Would I want him working for my business? I certainly wouldn't want Trudeau working for it, well, perhaps if my business was a Starbucks. He'd be a good draw for the young idiot crowd. Style vs. substance.

Back to my point more directly. Here's the danger when the clergy get involved in cults of personality. It becomes about the priest, the bishop, the pope, rather than the Law of God. The Church has done a very bad job with this recently. For as much as the Church is trying to 'use' Pope Francis' unusual approach and personality for sake of evangelization (hopefully, for that sake), it is a strategy doomed to fail. Why? As I said, it puts man before message, and the man becomes a scale for weighing the message, not the message itself. It becomes a man's message rather than God's. It becomes a product of a certain style, approach, trend, pattern of a man or of an epoch and not of God. For instance, I can easily dismiss everything he says about the liturgy with the phrase, "I am a Pope Benedict Catholic." And this has been Pope Francis fault, to at least some degree, as he keeps taking a renovator's approach, eschewing tradition.

When it comes to the issue of marriage, divorce and cohabitation, the large personalities of Kasper and others have set themselves up as objects, rather than simply as servants. This is our modern world, everyone needs to have something distinctive about them. The ever-funny site, Eye of the Tiber, had a joke about the dissident Legionary priest who parted his hair in the middle. Yes, the Legionaries brought conformity to a whole new level, but the basic point is sound: it's not about you, it's about God! Now, for the Legion, the means became the end. But look at it this way. In the Middle Ages the first thing that happened when you became a religious: tonsure! Everyone got the same haircut; it was about humility.

But now, everyone needs to have their own distinctive angle. I hate to say it but this current College of Cardinals is the biggest group of distinctive personalities you'd ever find. This is not a complement. You guys dress the same, so why not act like you represent something larger than yourself? But neither should I tar the whole with the one brush - there are saints among them too, I have no doubt. But it is a bad indictment.

Totally. Authentic. 100% gimmick free.
How can we get (back?) to the point where new bishops coming into a diocese are not considered regime changes, that something new and different is going to happen now? The messenger is being put in the way of the message. We all lose when this is the case.

"Shall I apply for an annulment?"

"This bishop is really old school, you should wait till next year. He'll be seventy-five and then chances are a more 'open-minded' bishop will come in."

Then no attempt to understand why the Gospel and the Church teach as they do. It's just about Father so-and-so, the problem is not with me.


  1. I distinctly remember one description of BXVI's features in the press after his election: they wrote that he had supra-orbital eyes, which meant that he had bags under his eyes. The bags were attributed to his real struggle with insomnia. I took great comfort in that little fact.

  2. I take comfort in the fact that I too am a short, holy and really smart guy who never gets any credit for anything...

  3. Media teaches young people that they are the most important, have the greatest potential, are destined for the greatest future. Although I believe in setting goals and shooting for the best outcome no modesty is taught to young people. When they eventually realize that they will never become a multimillion dollar pop star then go into depression and will inevitably reach for the Prozac. Adults must take greater responsibility for their children's aspirations. Modesty can be cool. I think Jesus would approve.

  4. I hate the tradition that says things like "Jesus was the only man in history who was exactly six feet tall" - that would have made Him a giant in First Century Israel, BTW. And, of course, Mary was so beautiful that people could barely look at her without passing out. (Infancy Narrative of James, my edit)

    Yep, that is what the Gospel message is.

    Isaiah has the best description of Jesus and the cardinal or pope who comes closest is the winner:

    Who has believed what we have heard?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
    For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
    he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
    He was despised and rejected by others;
    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
    and as one from whom others hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him of no account. (Is 53:1-3)

    Showmanship is highly overrated and every Christian who goes for it takes some of the responsibility for all the Prozac we are taking.

    I believe people have great potential: for honestly, kindness, generosity, and humility.

  5. Re. message vs. man/personality: what if the medium/the man is the message? (And the media distorts the message.) In the case of Jesus, no doubt about it. And John the Baptist too: what did people go out into the desert to see? It wasn't just to hear a message, was it? There has to be deeper explanation to explain the buzz these people generated. People wanted to see the person, to have a leader, a saviour, a true prophet, not just a prophecy. I think of Francis of Assisi too. Or JPII - also definitely a bit of a showman. -DM

  6. David, I waver back and forth on this fellow. Yes, it is true, even the saintly JPII was a large personality. Would that have rubbed me the wrong way were I twenty years older? Maybe, but he was solidly committed to the doctrine of the Faith and was staunchly contra the zeitgeist, and I would found that reassuring. Then there is the media factor - do we even know this pope?