Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Pleasing Attitude

Kirsten Anderson has an interesting article on Aleteia about the attitude towards Pope Francis of those who converted during Benedict's pontificate. Consider the dreadfully disgraceful Buzzfeed video, "I'm Christian but I'm not..."

Put these things together and you might begin to see why I am not enjoying Pope Francis' papacy.

First, be clear on what I am saying and what I am not saying. I did not say, I do not like / admire Pope Francis. I know he is a good, orthodox and saintly man. But one might yet believe that (as I do) and yet still consider his papacy unfortunate (as I do). And, I say here unfortunate, not un-providential (a subtler point which I will address at the end).

If there is one take-away from my previous post (whether I actually post it or not, I am unsure at this moment), it is that it is incumbent upon Christians to positively court negative feelings towards oneself as a sure and necessary block to pride / vanity. To court good opinion re. oneself is the material for sin, whether one's ultimate goal is praiseworthy or not. This is a real problem for professional lay evangelists - and another reason why they should be bankrolled by the Church and not have to rely on private enterprise. The Church should pay evangelists so they can convey the unpopular message, otherwise, they are asked to do the impossible: find donors for their unpopular message (ever wonder why John the Baptist had to eat locust and wild honey?)

In this day and age where we equate virtue with the production of welcome feelings, being a buzz-kill has never been more urgent for sanctity. Benedict was a buzz-kill because he never courted people's affections. Have you ever heard him speak? His tone is boring as heck. His subjects are solid, intellectual masterpieces, but far from exciting or 'sexy.'

People might respond to me, "Yeah, but you have to get people's attention if you ever have a hope of converting them."

Why, then, the converts written about by Kristen? Some got what Benedict was up to.

In life in general we can say that there are trends and there are authentic actions. Trends have a very short shelf-life. Authentic acts last a life time. It occurs to me that the type of people for whom trends appeal - highly emotionally charged, exciting events, often superficial ideas - cannot be relied on to carry the weight of the cross.

It is probably true that the closer the Gospel is made to appear to agree with the zeitgeist, the less it can elicit authentic conversion, authentic engagement. To actually deal with the Gospel we have to see how it conflicts with the presuppositions about morality with which we were raised. Remember, we were necessarily raised with a worldly mindset at least in part; not that of the Gospel. Jesus says, "go sell... have one shirt... take up your cross... the world will hate you..." - these are not bourgeois values. We have to bear in mind that houses and middle class existence are fine but it is not the way of perfection. Such things are for beginners, for the weak, for children.

Although Pope Francis does much to question this middle class type of life he seems to go out of his way to keep people happy about everything else. Be poor, but don't change your mind about anything you already believe. "Dogs, atheists, communists can - theoretically - all got to heaven," he tells us, "but make sure you live poorly."

"Feel compassion and live poorly, but don't do anything to cultivate your mind in the Gospel."

That would surely be an exaggeration, but I would say that that is how Pope Francis is received in the popular imagination.

If you would be perfect, go sell your air conditioner and give the money to the poor and then go back to your worldly life. Do not read the Gospel, the lives of the saints; read Marx, UpWorthy, HuffPo, and every other inimical source."

What has become the caricature of this 'pleasing mindset' is the German bishop. It's easy to see how others are influenced by worldliness (much less ourselves). It's easy to see how Liberal Protestantism, secularism, socialism, etc., have made these bishops into jokes with their insistence to please their apathetic people with their calls for communion for the divorced. But the fact is, when you offer them nothing that is sacred, that is hard, that is far-off, that is holy, in the original sense of the word, they will never care about what you want them to care about. The hard Gospel that was the only thing Polish bishops had to offer under communism was cherished. The easy Gospel of the post-communist era is ignored.

The Gospel is easy, commonplace, familiar, ignored.

I have always said that the way that I won Anne-Marie was through playing hard-to-get. Lots of guys fawned all over her. She didn't like any of them. Lately she told me that wearing your heart on your sleeve (my words not hers) makes a guy look insecure and needy, and what woman wants an insecure man? Women look to men who are strong, confident and able. Who can blame them?

A soul looks to a Church that is strong, confident and able. In never stooping to win anybody's affection, that is how Pope Benedict made Catholicism something to be respected. A Church that is constantly humiliating itself, fawning all over people, praising worldly things, that is the Church we seem to have today.

Pope Francis has never said anything unorthodox, it seems to me (lots of imprudent things, things easily misinterpreted), but he has acted - appeared to act - like the insecure guy who is led by his heart. He is Goethe's Werther. There is a reason why even a rabid atheist like Nietzsche respected the Christian saint. The Christian saint is always a man of iron.

Once the Gospel has been humiliated enough it will be ignored. Once it has been shown to be completely amenable to the modern life it will be rendered silent and irrelevant.

Tell us what we want to hear so we can stop listening.

To the contrary, Pope Benedict fulfilled the old story of the Desert Fathers: the older hermit sent the younger one out to berate the people buried in the graveyard. They said nothing in response. Then he sent him to praise them. They said nothing in response. Be thou likewise. Pope Benedict neither courted favor nor sought to be despised. It was not him, but Christ in him.

I feel that Pope Francis has allowed himself to be perceived as though he seeks the favour of worldly people. In doing so we are all disgraced. He has allowed the zeitgeist to be the standard against which the Gospel is weighed.

What would be wrong with him saying, no, I am not having mass in the vicinity of an image of Che Guevara. And, no I am not meeting the president of the US if you invite all those dissenters like the nuns on the bus etc.? What would be lost?

In Jesus' day no one doubted that the woman caught in adultery was a sinner. In ours we deny that there is such a thing as sin. That is the difference that Pope Francis needs to think about.


Now, the last point re. unfortunate but not improvident.

Everything bad can do God in God's hands. It is, however, wrong to suggest, then, that everything that happens in Rome is good.


  1. Thanks for posting – a good read and learning experience. Here are a few thoughts (perhaps unsolicited):

    - Apart from a lack of apparent continuity of reverence for liturgical tradition since Pope Benedict’s papacy, for me, one of the more unfortunate parts of the current papacy are some of the off the cuff statements. Not because they in themselves were unorthodox or contradictory to doctrine, but because they were often made malleable to misinterpretation – types of misinterpretation that appeared to empower some people in the illusion of not doing any thing wrong. What perhaps did concern me some times were the portrays by certain media that specifically did suggest, if not outright say, that Pope Francis is unorthodox and not keeping in line with Catholic doctrine. Furthermore, if responses to certain articles are any measure of readership, then at what point should it be a consideration for writers and editors that their certain portrays of the pope (which in many cases may be fair) may largely reinforce certain unjust, untruthful, and uncharitable characterizations of Francis? To say the least, it was often disheartening to read those certain responses, like the Pope ‘not being selected by the Holy Spirit’, ‘him rigging the upcoming Synod’, ‘being dishonest’, ‘not being the true pope’, or even ‘being an anti-pope’, without any rebuttal from the writers or editors, whereas rebuttals for more subtle, but perhaps not like-minded responses were often provided.

    - Regarding your point about the Gospel probably being less likely to elicit authentic conversion if it is made to appear closer to the times: I certainly agree with that and actually think that there is a trend of more authentic conversions that resulted from engagement with “harder” and “more sacred” discipline (although I can only judge authenticity of conversion without knowing one’s heart). A lay argument for this may be: the more difficult the task, the greater the reward, the greater the motivation that ensues. However, a thought that did also occur to me is this: for the majority of the secular world that is largely ignorant or misinformed about Catholicism, can a relatively emotional appeal serve as an initial starting point for authentic conversion? Can it at least elicit a very superficial engagement with the Gospel at the beginning, which would make deeper and authentic conversion more likely later on? Can it serve as a foot-in-the-door approach where a person agrees to a more difficult request by first agreeing to a modest one?

    Respectfully, but not intended to please or court favour :)

    1. The numbers game is part of the problem, I guess. Popularity is something we like to measure, but good things are hardly ever popular. We need to remind ourselves that if it's unpopular it's likely good.

  2. "The Church should pay evangelists so they can convey the unpopular message, otherwise, they are asked to do the impossible: find donors for their unpopular message (ever wonder why John the Baptist had to eat locust and wild honey?)"
    So why doesn't the Church do this? Lack of zeal or gumption in pastors, I presume. But if they (who are paid by the Church) don't have it themselves, why expect them to encourage it in others? Pastors are sometimes afraid to preach the whole gospel precisely because the Church pays them - i.e., they are financially dependent on the people in the pews. Maybe priests should be encouraged to be like St Paul and make some tents or whatever while they're at it. -DM

    1. My problem with addressing this point is that it always seem so self-serving. I have great zeal to preach and teach, but need to get a sense of how to find the commission for this.

  3. I saw Francis speaking on TV, at one of those Wednesday audiences: not the least bit sexy, I assure you. And Benedict's writing is far sexier than Francis's.

    1. Spanish or English? I don't know if it matters... Benedict is an amazing writer, of course, but who among the media reads Jesus of Nazareth, Introduction to Christianity, etc.?
      But, as for Francis, it's all the 'sexy' trappings that amuse superficial people - who he kissed, etc.