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.
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"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.