Franciscan Conspiracy

Aside

The latest conspiracy theory concerning the resignation of Pope Benedict goes like this: a group cardinals lobbying for Cardinal Bergoglio went to Pope Benedict and convinced him to retire because they had someone, very conservative (they said), waiting in the wings to take over.  It was all set, they told him.  He could go in peace.  But then as soon as the resignation was official they sprung Bergoglio as the real candidate.  And the rest . . .

As much as this satisfies the urge to have an explanation for something one does not understand, and while those who are likely to swallow this do so in reverence to Pope Emeritus Benedict, it paints him as a real chump—basically—as an idiot.  Not to mention that in collaborating in this plan he would have executed a deed that would have resulted in automatic excommunication of all involved.

Needless to say, the point is to demonize Pope Francis.

This is not “news,” my friends, it is something quite different.  Let it go.

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William Doino on the Pope’s True Agenda

First Things just posted an excellent post by William Doino, “The Pope’s True Agenda.”   It is necessary reading, because it it is a well documented piece showing that Pope Francis doesn’t fit into any of the boxes partisans wish to put him in.  He is not a liberal, nor a conservative, but a Catholic.  Thank God for Bill Doino’s courage.

It strikes me as a bit ironic, especially among those concerned about orthodoxy, that even as people eschew labels and generalizations, they attempt to pigeonhole Francis.  I recently read a post by a well-known theologian, who while admitting he ordinarily argues against the use of labels, decided to use the tags “liberal” and “conservative” just one time in defense of Francis.  Continue reading

Christianity, Islam and the Future

The atrocities perpetrated by ISIS (or IS, ISIL) on Christians and other religious minorities of Iraq is both an unspeakable tragedy and an opportunity to do some soul searching. Outrage and apprehension are the order of the day. We are really good at the ineffectual intellectualization of the problem, and on the other hand, we also excel at expressing the crusading spirit from the comfort of our padded chairs and the safety of Internet. But we have been short on effective action.

The big question being asked right now is why is it that ostensibly peaceful Muslims are so silent about the persecution of their Arab brothers and sisters. But an equally large question is why is it that the West is so impotent in the face of all the genocide, which it alone is capable of stopping. What else has to happen? How many more babies need to be cut in half, journalists beheaded, or women sold into slavery (etc.)? Continue reading

Accounting for Differences in Papal Unity

I direct your attention to two rather provocative essays.  The first is by Sam Rocha: “Francis’s Radical Realism: Performance v. Ideology,” which attempts to interpret Pope Francis’ statement in Evangelii Gaudium “realities are more important than ideas.”  It is a challenging read and a controversial one, but no less than the statement of Pope Francis.

As a Franciscan and a Scotist any attempt within Catholic orthodoxy to give adequate accounting for the concrete and personal is of interest to me.  I also find it interesting that in the essay the concrete is set against ideology, not philosophy or theology per se, but the subordination of realities and especially persons to ideas.  I do believe that this is exactly what is happening today, especially on the fringes, where progressivist dogmas and appeals to supossed doctrinal purity seem to narrow the gospel to obsessions over only part of the message.  This sectarian reduction of the gospel ends by instrumentalizing persons. Continue reading

What the Fisher More Situation Teaches Us

The current situation with Fisher More College is the new handle on the radical traditionalist axe.  As though an indisputable fact, it is being compared with the restrictions placed on the use of the Extraordinary Form of the Liturgy within the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate.  The story goes that whatever the problems might have been in these institutions there simply can be no legitimate reasons, or motivations of pastoral charity, that would justify a moratorium on the use of the old Missal.  But I believe a more apt comparison is to be drawn between the way in which the two situations have been used for propaganda purposes by these traditionalists.

In both cases there has been a leaking of documentation to Internet blogger/journalists, whose credentials show them to be, not just advocates for the full implementation of Summorum Pontificum, but also mouthpieces for the extreme side of traditionalism (end of the reform of the reform, the horror of Pope Francis, the impossibility of a hermeneutic of continuity, etc.).  Likewise, in both cases there has been a great deal of prejudicial conjecture, placing the worst possible interpretation on the decisions made by the Church.  In the case of the FI, the problem has been fire-bombed with conspiracy theory and the wholesale destruction of reputations.  It needs to be clear that is has been the traditionalist sources that have made a public spectacle of these ecclesiastical problems.  If any reputations have been damaged on either side, it has been due to the fact that they chose to fight this problem out in the public square. Continue reading

In the Eye of the Vortex

More evidence of the wedge being driven between the Benedictine and Franciscan pontificates can be seen in the recent disclaimer/clarification of Michael Voris in which he refuses to publically criticize Pope Francis.  In itself this is only a small example of the difficulty, but it is also another instance of a mounting problem manifesting itself at various levels: doctrinal, liturgical, pastoral.  Voris knows he is on the cutting edge of the problem.

You might legitimately ask why I think his refusal to publically criticize Pope Francis is a problem.  I don’t.  But Voris does find himself to be part of the wedge between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, and in my estimation he has not really got himself out of it.  Let me explain. Continue reading

Evangelii Gaudium and the Culture War

“Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

—Benedict XVI, quoted by Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, 7

The Year of faith has just ended with the proclamation “Christ is the center of the history of humanity and also the center of the history of every individual.”  And today Pope Francis has released his first Apostolic Exhortation in which he encourages us to create the conditions in which all men may find Christ in an “event,” a personal encounter capable of bringing a “new horizon and a decisive direction.”  Both Benedict and Francis have invested much in this event of the encounter with Christ, and have proposed it as the way that supersedes all ethical choices and lofty ideas.  This is the new evangelization.

With this post I would like to examine a specific problem regarding the reception of Pope Francis’ teaching.  Unfortunately, some have already pigeonholed Pope Francis as a liberal and are poised to parse his every word in that light.  I would suggest his teaching ought to be approached not simply through an assessment of “lofty ideas,” but as an encounter—a personal opportunity in the here and now to accept a transformative grace.   It is too soon for me to write anything in depth about the Apostolic Exhortation, but not too soon to suggest a manner of reception that will prove to be fruitful.  And for that we need to avoid a serious pitfall. Continue reading

St. Francis through the Eyes of . . . Updated

Several weeks ago I gave a conference to our Third Order in New Bedford on St. Francis and his charism entitled “St. Francis through the Eyes of St. Bonaventure, through the Eyes of Pope Benedict, through the Eyes of Pope Francis.”  It is largely based on three general audiences that Pope Benedict delivered in March of 2010 (3, 10, 17), about St. Bonaventure, his life, his influence on the Franciscan Order and his theology.

Pope Benedict is somewhat of an authority on St. Bonventure, having written a thesis on the Seraphic Doctor’s theology of history.  Some have said that it is Pope Benedict’s understanding of this teaching of St. Bonaventure’s that is a key to his papacy.  At least, I would contend that it is a key to what Pope Benedict called the “hermeneutic of continuity.”

I believe this is all helpful to understanding where the Church is headed under Pope Francis and may help to explain the style and content of his comments, particularly in his interviews.  In the following audio recording of my conference one will hear me make reference to the  interview with Eugenio Scalfari, in which, according to Scalfari, the Holy Father stated that that the most the “most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old.”  I suggested, with Zygmunt Bauman, writing in L’Osservatore Romano,  that Pope Francis may be saying something more than is suggested in the all the commentary.  Since I gave the conference the Scalfari interview has been removed from the Vatican website, presumably because Scalfari’s recollection of the Pope’s words leaves something to be desired.  This is all worth keeping in mind.

In any case, even if the Holy Father said nothing like the quote above, I believe it remains true that his emphasis on the relational aspects of the new evangelization will continue to be key to his pontificate and its advisability will continue to be debated.

Of that debate, I will have more to say in the next few days.  Here is the conference:

Update: Scalfari Confesses to having published his own invention under the title “interview.”

The Theology of the Body and Courage: Fighting the Real Fight

In the light of John Paul II’s landmark teaching on human love in the divine plan, called Theology of the Body, there has been a recent effort in the United States to repackage the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality in “more positive” terms.  It is said that the Holy Father was reacting against “prudish Victorian morality,” especially prevalent in the United States, much in the same way that the sexual revolution was a reaction against “sexual repression.”  The difference, we are told, is that John Paul II’s teaching consists of a beautiful vision for marriage, not the world’s pernicious justification of lust.

Now while this modern sex-saturated age benefits from the beauty of the truth of God’s original plan for conjugal love, we run the risk of going off the rails if we make prudery the bogeyman for our pornographic age.  Modern man is not preoccupied with fear of the body and of sexuality.  Modern man is largely afraid of suffering and of dying.  This is also true within the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI critiqued modernity’s obsession with erotic love in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est without denying a real problem with prudery:

Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed. Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will (5).

The answer to this problem is not a new “holy” focus on all things erotic, but a subordination of eros to agape.  In the Benedict XVI’s language eros is “possessive love,” not bad in itself, but in need of being put in the service of agape or “oblative” (sacrificial) love (7).  God wants us all to be happy, but the way to happiness is through sacrifice.

The place we learn this more than anywhere else is at the foot of the cross, where the Hearts of Jesus and Mary are united in the wedding banquet of the Lamb and through which we are united to God by our participation in these mysteries in the reception of Holy Communion.  But first of all, the cross is the mystery of oblative love.  The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are opened for all mankind through the suffering and sorrow of their sacrifice.  Theirs is a battle against our ancient enemy.  While mankind has generally been the loser in this struggle, this new Man and Woman conquer by means of their fortitude, that is, by means of their willingness to face death.  This is more agape than eros.

But the fruit of agape is eros, because victory leads to joy and life.  Christ the King with His blessed Mother the Queen reign forever in the bliss of heaven because in this place of exile they overcame the enemy.  This must be the standard of our own effort to subordinate eros to agape.

Most Catholics are not afraid of their bodies.  They are afraid of death.  By definition, the virtue of fortitude is endurance in the face of suffering and death.  In reference to the cross and our participation in its mystery St. Bonaventure says:  “Whoever loves this death can see God because it is true beyond doubt that man will not see me and live” (Itinerarium Mentis in Deum 7.6, quoting Ex. 33:20).  Modern man needs to continue in the struggle against lust while striving also to see the beauty of God’s plan for love.  The focus of our lives needs to be on the cross where we find the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

It seems to me that John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and Benedict’s XVI’s analysis of eros and agape fit hand in glove.  We should avoid using the profound insights of either pope to conduct a local crusade.  In the real battle we cannot afford to lose our focus.

Cross-posted here from Dawn Patrol.