The Choice 2014 [Updated]

Catholics face an important choice in 2014 and in the years ahead.

Some of the comments and reactions to my post earlier this week on Pope Francis’s decision not to renew Cardinal Burke’s membership on the Congregation for Bishops revealed a disturbing trend to me, namely, the extent to which many Catholics have adopted an apprehensive attitude about the current pontiff.

pope-francis3Sure, I get it, it’s fun to be a cynic. It’s cool to be the one always predicting the next bad thing that’s going to happen, and being the one who is never surprised when it does.

Dissenting catholics have gotten really good at playing the role of the cynic for the past 30 years. Some priests, who shall remain nameless, have spent more time and energy complaining about the pope to the mainstream media than they have spent studying theology.

So I can understand why some orthodox catholics may be enjoying the novelty of being a papal skeptic. Certainly the media has done everything in its power to perpetuate the falsehood that Pope Francis is a liberal made in their own image. What I can’t understand is why Catholics, who say the media can’t be trusted and believe the media doesn’t “get” religion, continue to let the media form and influence their impression of who Pope Francis is!

We’re better than this. The Pope is not our president. We don’t have the right to say the current pope wasn’t our pick and we’re waiting around for the next guy. We must trust that when the cardinals chose Cardinal Brogoglio to be Pope, the Holy Spirit knew what He was doing. So let’s quit with the doom mongering. The church is a family. We don’t get to choose the members, and we scandalize the world when we air our dirty laundry in the site of others. Especially when the laundry isn’t dirty to begin with!

The more I read about Pope Francis, the more I am convinced that the soul of this papacy is up for grabs. Here’s what I mean:  the Vatican expert Sandro Magister paints a picture of a new pope not yet sure of what he wants to do. George Weigel and others have easily taken apart the media-driven meme that Pope Francis is a liberal, i.e. not orthodox. The Pope himself has preached against “adolescent progressivism”. The case of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, which so many liturgical traditionalists site as an example of Pope Francis’ supposed antagonism to the Latin Mass, is far from black-and-white when you examine the evidence.

Simply put, it’s just way too early to judge what the future holds when it comes to the new occupant of the Chair of Peter.

But here’s one thing I think I can safely say Pope Francis doesn’t tolerate: allowing liturgical rubrics and clericalism to keep us from the proclamation of the Gospel. I’m right with him on that one. Good liturgy and a healthy respect for clerics should lead us to a more passionate living out and witness to the Good News, not the opposite!  

And so while Pope Francis is no liberal, he also has no patience for traditional Catholics who let preferences and small-t traditions become a stumbling block to living out there faith fully.

If your love for the Extraordinary Form leads you to criticize your fellow Catholics who prefer the Novus Ordo instead of leading you to a more perfect life of charity, you’re doing it wrong.  If you’ve spent more time reading articles claiming that Pope Francis has condemned capitalism in his latest exhortation instead of actually reading what he wrote, you’re doing it wrong. And if you spend more time bemoaning the fact that so many people are misunderstanding the Pope when you could be doing something about it by leaving comments, posting Facebook messages and engaging people, you’re doing it wrong.

That’s why I say the soul of this papacy is up for grabs. If Pope Francis sees dissenting Catholics living more active lives of charity, showing more passion in their desire to fix the problems of the world, and being more vocal in the great debates of our time, what happens then? This is our opportunity to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak, to show our compassion for the poor with concrete acts, to live our faith more authentically, to be more active in the public square, to show how much we care that we are catholic and how much that reality forms who we are and inspires what we do.

So which is it going to be? Are we going to spend the next few years wringing our hands worried to death that all the accomplishments of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict are about to be undone, or are we going to take Pope Francis up on his challenge and live the Gospel more fully every day, in plain sight?

That’s the choice we face in 2014 and always.

So let’s fight, let’s fight for the church. It’s the only one we’ve got.

UPDATE: I’m excited to see that this post continues to generate interest and dicussion, nearly a week after it was published (that’s a long time in blog years). Over the weekend Michael Potemra wrote a good essay on The Corner reflecting on the challenge I offer above. I think he puts it more succinctly than I when he writes: “Maybe the pope is as bad as you fear he is, maybe he isn’t. So what? The important question remains on the table: How then shall we live?

That’s the challenge I’m offering to all of us.

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  • Malka

    “If your love for the Extraordinary Form leads you to criticize your fellow Catholics who prefer the Novus Ordo instead of leading you to a more perfect life of charity, you’re doing it wrong.”
    Interesting way of criticizing Catholics who criticize other Catholics.

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  • Peter K

    I appreciate the way you close out the post: “are we going to take Pope Francis up on his challenge and live the Gospel more fully every day, in plain sight?” An important question for followers of Jesus who said that we are salt and light….of what?….of the world.

    But I must quibble with your use of the term “Latin Mass.” I presume you are referring to the extraordinary form of the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Roman rite but if so, you should say as much. It is entirely permissible to celebrate the ordinary form of the Roman rite in Latin, and in fact I can recall having attended a mass said this way. If we think of the term “Latin Mass” as referring to masses celebrated in the Latin Church, then the term refers to the liturgy celebrated according to any number of rites: Roman, Ambrosian, Dominican, etc. The most prominent type of “Latin Mass” would then be the ordinary form of the Roman rite, celebrated in accordance with the Missal of Paul VI. Happily, any such confusion can be avoided. Instead of saying “Latin Mass” when referring to the mass celebrated according the Missal of Blessed John XXIII, it is better to say “extraordinary form” of the Eucharistic liturgy or, perhaps, “ancient usage” of the Roman rite.

    I also submit that the term “novus ordo” is unhelpful at this point in the history of the Church. The Missal of Paul VI is now over 40 years old…not quite ancient, to be sure, but not brand new either. It is simply the ordinary form of the Eucharistic Liturgy, as Pope Benedict affirmed in Summorum Pontificum.

  • Michelle

    Okay, challenging post. For me it boils down to this. The author of the call in our hearts to be witnesses to the light is the Holy Spirit, leading us to Life in the Spirit of Christ. Ultimately to salvation. We don’t need to fear what we see with our eyes (the media circus) if we approach our faith lives with Christ at the center. I challenge the “up for grabs” statement a little. Regardless of the decade, the pope, the times–with the Church, the call is always the same: serve God, love another another, act in charity and compassion.

    Maybe the real “call to action” of this blog might be: if you aren’t already responding to God’s knock on the door of your heart, OPEN THE DOOR. He will inspire you plenty to be the visible witness to the world. Sure, Pope Francis can inspire us to listen for the knock, but so can our local priest, our fellow parishioner in the pew, and even a Christian song on the radio. There’s a song right now that says, “He is with us, He is with us, always, always.” But I like it my way: Always. All ways. God bless!

  • Nick

    This post brought to mind the following from Malachi Martin’s book “Vatican” which starts as follows (page 245 of the 1986 hardcover edition):

    “We have good popes and bad popes. Like all of us, they do their best…It’s too easy to think everything depends on one pope…Christ works His will ultimately.”

    And ends with:
    “But if he fails, I don’t want it to be in any part because I stood by wringing my hands.”

    Thomas’ post is spot on.



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