Renewal of the Church
Pope Francis has been, and continues to be, adamant about renewal in the Catholic Church. Like his namesake, St Francis of Assisi, the Holy Father is leading a movement for restoration of holiness, of Gospel simplicity, an outpouring of love, mercy, compassion and simplicity. Realizing that the world is afloat in a sea of materialsim, ensconced under a veil of darkness, imprisoned behind a nearly impregnable wall of cunning artifice, realizing that generations have been psychologically and culturally conditioned against logic (Logos) toward aversion for the good, true and beautiful, realizing these things, the Vicar of Christ, moved by the Holy Spirit, is fully aware that this generation cannot be reached by sophisticated and lengthy appeals to reason – the “old evangelization.”
Consequently, there is another Francis that Pope Francis could just as well emphasize, the Counter Reformation Bishop, and Dr. of the Church, St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622). The walls of Geneva, the capitol of Reform Protestantism, the Protestantism that spread to the United Kingdom and to America, these walls were thought to be impregnable, but the saint persisted – not with reasoned arguments, denuciations and calls for divine justice, but with love..
“Francis became bishop of Geneva, where his patience and mildness became proverbial. He often dared to walk the streets of the city where Calvin had his headquarters 50 years earlier. In fact he dialogued with the reformed leader and scholar Theodore Beza. Though …plagued by doubts, his philosophy was “Love will shake the walls of Geneva; by love we must invade it.”
In his own words,
“It is our fault if the name of the Lord is blasphemed among the nations, and of this, God through his prophets bitterly complains. Such are the waters of contradiction, which in my opinion, renews the ardor of heretics. … I beg of you, fellow combatants, to check the flow of this water; let each one of us watch his own source and prevent it reaching the enemy; let the flow of our sinful actions surge back to their origin, and there evaporate in the heat of our Eternal Sun to deprive our enemy, as well as our people, of the spectacle of our scandals. … Breach the walls of Geneva with our ardent prayers and storm the city with mutual charity. Our front lines must wield the weapons of Love” (Oeuvres VII:100,107- 110).
Elsewhere in a similar vein he uttered the simple but profound proverbial wisdom:
Saint Francis One venture Francis de Sales joined Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, to found the Visitation Sisters of Holy Mary.
The Visitation Sisters sole aim was:
“…the life of charity exemplified in the Virgin Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth. This new order was uniquely conceived. It was established not on the traditional vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, but always and everywhere on charity: “We have no bond but the bond of love,” Francis wrote in the first Book of Profession. And, rather than focusing on stringent practices of mortification behind the walls of the monastery, as was common in religious orders of the time, these sisters would actually go out into the city, to visit and care for the sick.”
Like Francis de Sales, St. Jane de Chantal and St. Paul, Pope Francis keenly realizes that to be successful ambassadors of Christ modern evangelists must often take one, two, three even many steps backward with the view of winning souls to Christ, they must encounter the world with the “weapon of love” becoming all things to all men and women to win them to Christ.
“For whereas I was free as to all, I made myself the servant of all, that I might gain the more. And I became to the Jews, a Jew, that I might gain the Jews: To them that are under the law, as if I were under the law, (whereas myself was not under the law,) that I might gain them that were under the law. To them that were without the law, as if I were without the law, (whereas I was not without the law of God, but was in the law of Christ,) that I might gain them that were without the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I became all things to all men, that I might save all. And I do all things for the gospel’s sake: that I may be made partaker thereof” (1 Corinthians 9: 19-22).
In today’s context Paul might have stated to the gay oriented I became as if gay oriented, to the liberal, as if liberal, to the oppressed as if oppressed. I became all things to all men, that I might save all. And I do all things for the gospel’s sake: that I may be made partaker thereof”
This is not condescension but love, not an attitude of judgement, but one of mercy and compassion, the type of thing needed for successful evangelization in a very difficult situation,a situation unlike any ever seen before, a situation where the intellect has been progressively dimmed until banished and replaced by systematic conditioning via an intrusive and unprecedented communications media in conjunction with psychological manipulation hinted at by Vladimir Lenin when he told Ivan Pavlov, the Father of Classical Conditioning, that he had “saved the revolution.” What Pavlov discovered about the conditioning of animals could be applied to human beings and to entire societies in the name of the “Revolution” – this is one of the primary reasons Lenin was so interested in the “Rural Electrification Campaign” – to bring mass media into the homes of Christian peasants.
Thus, according to Lenin:
“Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country….Electrification which will provide a link between town and country, will put an end to the division between town and country, will make it possible to raise the level of culture in the countryside and to overcome, even in the most remote corners of land, backwardness, ignorance, poverty, disease, and barbarism” (Lenin “Collected Works”, vol. 30, page 335).
If the human intellect could be reduced to mere memory and imagination, sentient not rational powers of the human soul, and if freedom and toleration could open the doors to what was once forbidden until it became common place, if knowledge of alpha and beta brain tempos, of sleep states, dream patterns and hypnotic rhythms induced with light and sound waves, if images and ideas could be subtly conveyed with motion pictures paired with the proper light and sound patterns, associations could placed in the recesses of the human mind, it could by turned away from truth and toward error until light is seen as darkness and darkness as light. If all this could be done, the mind and emotions could be manipulated, reason dimmed and intellectual appeals made virtually meaningless in a culture turned against man, something John Paul II identified as the fundamental problem of the modern world:
“The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person…. To this disintegration planned at times by atheistic ideologies we must oppose, rather than sterile polemics, a kind of “recapitulation” of the inviolable mystery of the person.”
The attack on the inviolable mystery on he human person is an attack on the Trinitarian mystery of man made in the image of God. Man has a mind capable of acquiring wisdom by rational acts on the intellect followed by a unique ability to love – to know and to love. Wisdom and love the mystery of the Trintarian dimensions of human existence rooted in the rational soul is being decimated, “pulverized” not only by false ideologies but a systematic attack on the human mind. There has been nothing like this in the annals of recorded history, not even Rome in all its decadence was home to anything like this.
Understanding the unique cultural mileau in which the Church must do its work of evangelization in the modern world helps make sense of the pastoral approach conveyed by Vatican Council II. It helps to recall how the Church handled evangelization in the dark days of the Roman Empire. In those days, it was quiet witness, the living of good lives characterized by moral and theological virtue, mercy, long-suffering, obedience to lawful authority and patience with sin which was enculturated and widely accepted as normal. For evidence, of the Church’s modis operandi in this environment it is a simple matter of turning to the Epistles and the Books of Acts.
In Acts we find the the Apostles gathered in Jerusalem discussing how best to deal with evangelization in the context of pagan culture vis a vis the more advanced Judaic culture in which the Apostles had been raised. Though raised in strictly religious environment, they had the percipience to recognize what the were dealing with, and the prudence to relax their rigor in order to win souls to Christ:
“So that the rest of humanity may seek out the Lord, even all the Gentiles on whom my name is invoked.Thus says the Lord who accomplishes these things, known from of old.’ It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God, but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood (Acts 15: 17-20).
Of all the 613 Mitzvah of the Traditional Jewish Law only four were applied. Only four were applied because of the effete nature of Roman culture at this time. Saint John Bosco understood the concept well:
“The perfect is often times enemy of the good.”
To much too soon, too heavy of a load on weak shoulders can easily break them down and then they will loose heart, rebel and perhaps walk away. As Pope Francis states, in such a situation small steps, what he refers to as “gradualism” must be taken. In a society infected with tolerance and excessive false ideas about freedom it takes time to desensitize, time to earn trust and to build a relationship on which truths of the faith can be built one by one slowly. The idea is so far diffused that it is found even in proverbial folk wisdom:
“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
What some traditionalists are crying for, the rigor they want to impose upon themselves to attain spiritual perfection is one thing, a very good thing, but to impose it on others who are no where ready is another thing, a very foolish and dangerous thing. That is why Church discipline has become “minimalist” in the modern context. It is not minimalist for everyone, anyone can walk the road of perfection and embrace the evangelical councils of poverty, chastity and obedience. These are NOT COMMANDS or MITZVAHS, necessary for everyone, like the precepts or MITZVAHS imposed upon the pagan converts to Christianity, poverty, chastity and obedience are COUNCILS, which means they are voluntary. We are not living in a Christian culture; we are living in a pagan culture acerbated by advanced technology that is being used, willy nilly, to condition people – it is a very difficult state, one that requires patience and mercy. Too much rigor will break the camel’s back; we must learn to be satisfied with the good before we can expect the perfect – gradualism!
Again, this idea surfaces in the Rule of Saint Augustine, it surfaces among men who had decided to seek perfection – even there the idea is still valid: some are not ready to embrace the rigors of the human ascent to Golgatha. In Augustine’s memoirs we find an account of some monks complaining that others were eating and sleeping too much, lax at work, etc. The august saint handled this challenge by counseling these brothers to thank God for their strength and ability to embrace a more prayerful and rigorous lifestyle; he counseled them to be merciful toward the others who were still weak,to pray for them and encourage them along the way rather than condemn and scorn them – a very timely lesson indeed! This is a lesson brought to Fatima by the Mother of God who conveyed Her desire for reparation prayer and sacrifice, that is prayer and sacrifice made out of love for others who are too weak or lost to do it for themselves. Denying oneself out of love for others is antithetical to condemnation and justice.
No, reparation is born out of love and mercy, which is the very message Pope Francis is trying to get through our hardened hearts and obdurate cerebra.
Pope Francis knows very well what a sin is. In a flight press conference from Azerbaijan to Rome he stated response to questions about Amoris Laetitia he stated:
“Sin is sin.”
“Tendencies or hormonal imbalances create many problems and we have to take care not to say: “It doesn’t make any difference, let’s live it up” No, not at all.”
“But for every case welcome it, accompany it, look into it, discern and integrate it. This is what Jesus would do today.”g
In other words, sin must be encountered with discernment, of how best to handle the situation each unique context.
The Pope Continues:
“Please, do NOT say: “The Pope blesses transsexuals!” Please! Because I can already see the newspaper headlines… No, no. Are there any doubts about what I said? I WANT TO BE CLEAR. IT IS A MORAL PROBLEM. It is a problem.”
What Pope Francis wants is not the excusing of sin but encounter with sinners, openness, dialogue, in short a merciful relationship that opens a person to receive “prevenient grace” that step by step leads to healing and eventually, if possible, to the sacraments. A too quick judgment, a simple yes or no is not relational and will not do much for healing. Pastors have to go out of their way to encounter their sheep, esp the wayward ones:
“If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them should go astray: doth he not leave the ninety-nine in the mountains, and go to seek that which is gone astray? And if it so be that he find it: Amen I say to you, he rejoiceth more for that, than for the ninety-nine that went not astray” (Matt 18:12).
Pope Francis, like Francis de Sales, John Bosco and St. Paul understood the context in which they were preaching the good news, understood the people they were shepherding because they took time to know them rather than simply condemning them. In a cultural context in which a propaganda campaign has become institutionalized, it is clear, people acculturated to this reality cannot be encountered by mere intellect alone – more is needed. Much more is needed in the 21st century than the 16th. In the 21st the propaganda campaign is in the very air that has become a global pestilence daily disseminated by the global media, the near-monopoly of public schools and universities where the infection has become so great as to constitute an unprecedented cultural, moral and spiritual epidemic. Professors who preach tolerance, acceptance, and anti-bigotry are excused by unthinking students who are unable to see past the hypocrisy coming forth from the mouth and manifest in the actions of a new generation of sociology and liberal arts professors who teach tolerance but do not practice it. They are like the Pharisees excoriated by Jesus
“All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not; for they say, and do not….Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you go round about the sea and the land to make one proselyte; and when he is made, you make him the child of hell twofold more than yourselves….Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are like to whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones, and of all filthiness. So you also outwardly indeed appear to men just; but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matt 23:3-28).
“I am a Professor: “Fuck YOU” “Fuck that shit” “You should kick the ass of Neonazis.”
End of Part Two – Go to Part Three (available 2/8/2017)