“And in God’s eyes we are the greatest, the most beautiful, the best things about Creation…’But father, the Angels?’ No, the Angels are beneath us! We are more than the Angels! We heard it in the Book of the Psalms! God really loves us! We have to thank him for this!” – Pope Francis, today’s General Audience
“What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him? Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour: And hast set him over the works of thy hands.” – Psalm 8:5-7
“So, therefore, God’s mercy is great in the comparison of man to God; but this follows from man in the comparison to the angels, who man comes into proximity to. Thou hast made him a little less. The image of God is found in the angels by the simple intuition of truth, without any inquiry; but in humans discursively: and therefore in man only in a certain small degree.” – St. Thomas Aquinas, commentary on Psalm 8
As the Church marches toward the October Synod, let’s not forget that the Synod was called by Pope Francis with an explicit goal of revising the Church’s discipline on communion for the civilly divorced and remarried. This was announced to the world during the infamous airplane interview following World Youth Day, in which the pope called for a more “merciful” approach to those living objectively in a state of adultery. He has already stacked the event and its preliminaries with leading prelates who favor relaxing the discipline. The international survey of parishes, which the Synod has been ordered to consider, was also a clever move towards that end, as Pope Francis knows full well that our barely catechized laity and often malformed clergy are frequently at odds with Catholic teaching (at least in the West; there is reason to believe he may have underestimated the more orthodox third world outside of Latin America). In doing this he may be relying on a false notion of the sensus fidelium as a pretext for making the changes he wants.
Ordinarily, when bad things happen in the Church, the charitable and prudent thing to do is to look for explanations that do not imply any grave fault on the part of the Supreme Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ. And if some prominent fault is found in the Holy Father, we do not dwell on it, but put the best construction on things and cling to the goodness and faithfulness we know is there. It’s also true that the pope’s governing decisions can be complicated and must take into account many things we aren’t even aware of, so our judgments can easily be mistaken. In any case – aside from the influence of our prayers – the governance of the Church is entirely out of our hands as laity. Normally it is a healthy Catholic impulse to avoid passing judgment on the prudential decisions of a pope.
But this pope is different, and this crisis is different. Catholicism is, above all, a religion that faces reality square in the face – let the chips fall where they may. We adore the crucifix, we make the stations, we examine our consciences and confess our sins. The truth can hurt but it must not be avoided. For reasons I have been documenting over the past year (please see the archives) it is impossible to give Pope Francis the “benefit of the doubt” anymore. We know his eucharistic and sacerdotal theology is gravely defective, to say the least. We know the irrepressible heterodox ideas that are floating around in his head. We know that he is the pope of experience and good feelings, with nothing but contempt for doctrinal concerns that get in the way of experience and good feelings. It’s not that Pope Francis is being manipulated or undermined by cunning advisors, or is being radically misinterpreted by the media, or is the constant victim of bad translations; and it’s not that he hasn’t been on the job long enough. No, Pope Francis himself tells us who he is and what he wants. One of his virtues – and I mean that sincerely – is that he is very much a “what you see is what you get” kind of man. Not that he’s entirely above duplicity, of course, but he genuinely prefers everything to be above board. It’s true that he speaks in progressivist code language a lot, but he’s been doing that for so long that it isn’t code to him anymore: everyone who counts, no matter their views, knows exactly what he means even if they are afraid to say it openly. He called the October Synod in order to finally capture what has long been considered “low hanging fruit” by the progressivist element in the Church. That’s the long and the short of it. We have a crisis because the discipline under consideration, once it falls, will not only open the floodgates to sacrilege but will undermine the Church’s theology and discipline across the board. The implications are enormous and, if the pope succeeds, will almost certainly lead to schism.
How are good Catholics supposed to survive this crisis? The first thing is to know your Catholic Faith, especially Our Lord’s teaching on marriage and the eucharist as infallibly taught by the Church from the beginning. The second thing is to have your eyes open wide. Perhaps disaster will be averted, and perhaps it won’t, but the danger is real and imminent. You may have to make some excruciating choices in the near future. You may need to re-think some of your old prejudices. You may suffer more divisions within your family and among your friends. It’s good to try to be ready for such things. The truth will not change, but it’s possible that Catholic prelates will abandon the truth in droves – even at the highest levels. Our Lady promises that all such evils can be avoided with sufficient prayer and penance, so we know what we should be doing. Most of us have contributed to this crisis in some way already, so there’s no room for pride or haughtiness.
Still, we need more than knowledge, prudence, and piety. Dr. Peter Kwasniewski offers some timeless spiritual advice in his latest contribution at the New Liturgical Movement, “There But for the Grace of God”. (My original intention was just to provide a link and a quote from this essay, but I got carried away with my introduction.) In summary …
Modernity is a terribly confused time, and the Church, in her human members, will not escape at least some of that confusion. It is one of the crosses we are asked to bear in our lives: the cross of a confused world that is careening out of control. We don’t know when the end of time will come, but we do know that it will be like purgatory on earth. As our Lord prophesies, it will be a time of momentous upheavals, massive apostasy, vast deception, horrible crime: “Will the Son of Man find faith left on earth?” The barque of the Church will be tossed on the waves of this storm, and some of the raging sea will come overboard, not to mention plenty of shot and cannonballs. To play our part well, we need to be full of faith, equipped and ready for anything, gritty, determined, ever obedient to high command and not overwhelmed by the casualties or the confusion. And to do that, we need, more than ever, a serious interior life.
St. Alphonsus Liguori once said: “Short of a miracle, a man who does not practice mental prayer will end up in mortal sin.” Even fifteen minutes of quiet prayer each day, abiding in the presence of our Lord, will make the difference between sanity and insanity. According to the saints, daily mental prayer, jealously guarded, makes the difference between a frantic activism that terminates in despair and a peaceful reliance on God’s grace that renders our activities fruitful, even when humanly unsuccessful. The deeper our interior life, the more we can handle adversity of any kind. The shallower it is, the harder life seems for us—indeed, the harder it really becomes. It is a truth taught quite clearly by our Lord: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these other things shall be given unto you.” “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
My, how this pope can rant! This has got to be the best rant of his pontificate thus far. Please do read the whole report at the link. Clearly – reading between the lines – Pope Francis is running into those who are “resisting the Holy Spirit” by presenting reasoned (i.e., “intellectual”) arguments against abolishing the Church’s perennial discipline on divorce, re-marriage, and holy communion. Pharisees and whited sepulchers, the whole lot of ’em!
True faith in Christ is only possible if we open our hearts and show “docility” to the Holy Spirit which inspires “good things” in us. One group which has a tough time reaching this faith are the “intellectuals”. “They always came back to the same point, because they believed that religion was a thing of the mind, of laws.”
“Jesus”, the Pope noted, “has always had problems with them” because they saw it as a question of “fulfilling the commandments and nothing more. They cannot even imagine the existence of the Holy Spirit”. They questioned Jesus, “they wanted to argue. Everything was about the mind, the intellect”. “These people had no heart” he added, “there is no love or beauty, there is no harmony”, these people “only want explanations.”
“And you give them their explanations and, not convinced, they return with more questions. This is their way: they spin round and round … As they spun Jesus around throughout his life, until the time that they were able to take him and kill him! These people do not open their hearts to the Holy Spirit! They believe that the things of God can be understood only with the head, with ideas, with their own ideas. They are proud. They think they know everything. And what does not fit into their intelligence is not true. You can raise a dead man in front of them, but they do not believe.”
… “These people had distanced themselves, they did not believe in the people of God, they only believed in their own things, and thus built a whole system of commandments that chased the people away: they chased people away and would not let them come into the Church, the people. They could not believe! This is the sin of resisting the Holy Spirit”.
Pope Francis concluded: “Two groups of people”, those who are “gentle, sweet people, humble, open to the Holy Spirit”, and the others “proud, self-sufficient, detached from the people, intellectual aristocrats, who closed their doors and resist the Holy Spirit”. “This is not just stubbornness”, he said, “it is much more: it is having a hard heart! And this is more dangerous”. “Let us ask the Lord for the grace of docility to the Holy Spirit to move forward in life, to be creative, to be joyful, because the other people were not joyful”. When “there is a lot of seriousness – he said – the Spirit of God is lacking”. We ask, therefore, “for the grace of obedience and that the Holy Spirit will help us to defend ourselves from this other evil spirit of self-sufficiency, pride, arrogance, closure of the heart to the Holy Spirit”.
One wants to laugh because it’s all so petty and mean and ridiculous, but one also wants to cry, because this is a tragically unhappy man who is fundamentally at war with the Church. And yes, he is our pope. Let’s pray mightily for him. Even more importantly, may Almighty God continue to frustrate his intentions.
Many faithful, thoroughly orthodox Catholics will say things like this: “The SSPX needs to ‘return to the Church’ (i.e., regularize their canonical status) in order to help us fight from the inside. They don’t do any good on the outside.” Putting aside, for the moment, the mistake of thinking the SSPX is not already in the heart of the Church, the fact is that the SSPX would never be allowed to say things that need saying if they were under the control of the modernist hierarchy. Theirs is an indispensible voice at the present time.
Let’s take just one real world scenario, which I mentioned in an earlier comment. On April 8 in Saint Louis, the diocese recently co-sponsored a Jewish Seder meal, with prayers led by a local rabbi, purportedly to combat hunger. Catholics were encouraged to attend. Naturally, this kind of thing has long been forbidden by the Church, the danger of indifferentism for Catholics being rather obvious, and the negligence of permitting Jews to believe that the Church does not desire their conversion being still more scandalous. A good priest would warn his flock that they should not under any circumstances attend this event. But how likely is it that the bishop would tolerate one of his own priests, or even a priest of the traditionalist orders, publicly issuing such a warning? Such insubordination is naturally intolerable. Only the SSPX is in a position to act freely against this kind of scandal.
It’s wrong to say, as some in the Society occasionally do, that the Ecclesia Dei institutes cannot combat errors or fight for tradition. They can and they do, but on a different front. The work of these institutes is also very necessary. They teach and sanctify, reaching thousands who cannot be reached by the SSPX and who might have been lost otherwise. A congregation that has been well instructed by them already understands that attendance at the “interfaith Seder” would be scandalous. But these institutes cannot publicly oppose the bishop upon whose generosity they depend. The SSPX remains a necessary voice 25 years after the consecrations.
Two big stories in the news this week.
First, the Vatican has issued yet another warning to the LCWR, an umbrella group riddled with dissent and heresy that represents about 80 percent of American nuns.
Second, Cardinal Walter Kasper has brushed off the warning and assured the nuns they have no reason to worry. “I am also considered suspect!” he laughed. More interesting is this reported exchange between Cardinal Kasper and Pope Francis:
Kasper is in the U.S. to discuss his book, “Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life.” It includes a blurb from Pope Francis, who has made mercy a cornerstone of his ministry since he was elected last year.
On Monday, Kasper told the audience that after Francis praised him by name just days after his election, “an old cardinal came to him and said, ‘Holy Father, you cannot do this! There are heresies in this book!’ ”
As Francis recounted the story to Kasper, he said, the pope smiled and added: “This enters in one ear and goes out the other.”
This shouldn’t surprise anyone. You might recall the pope’s famous magazine interview last September:
“It is amazing to see the denunciations for lack of orthodoxy that come to Rome. I think the cases should be investigated by the local bishops’ conferences, which can get valuable assistance from Rome. These cases, in fact, are much better dealt with locally.”