Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Media and the Pope

Humble shoes, but still red: How Pope Francis could make everyone happy?
Tim Stanley has written a good post on his impressions of the still young papacy of Pope Francis.

The article is very refreshing and because it is about His Holiness, is also quite challenging. Pope Francis is a Pope who continues to surprise. He doesn't like the idea of comfortable Christians and from what we have seen so far, may well leave his flock on the edge of our seats.

A week or two ago His Holiness told us not to try and convert the poor man, but to give to him and 'Jesus will do the rest'. This week, he tells us that if we do not give the poor Jesus Christ then we have done very little for them.

I'd never heard of Leon Bloy, for instance, but after my second slice of vanilla cheesecake to celebrate the Feast of St Pius X, I am once reminded that I am a pig, just as Bloy says when he talks of Christians who are not virtuous or heroic. To me, he sounds a bit up himself, but then its easy for poor sinners like me to react against the exhortations of great Saints.

One thing that is starting to annoy me about how the media deal with Pope Francis - rather than what the Pope says - is how he is still being spun as the 'humble, radical Pope' unlike all the other 'proud, boring Popes', like Blessed Pope John Paul II, who was so 'boring' he was credited with much to bring down communism and the Soviet Bloc. Neither did I find Benedict XVI boring. How can someone with such a brilliant mind, with so much knowledge of the Church and especially the Church Fathers be 'boring'. If you could mine Benedict XVI's mind it would be a treasure trove.

Nowhere is this 'humble, radical Pope' media message so tedious as in the imagery of Pope Francis washing the feet of Catholics (and sometimes non-Catholics and ladies in defiance of the law of the Church) on Holy Thursday. I don't want to shake up the world of any non-Catholics out there, but there is something you need to know about Holy Thursday. On this day in the Church's calendar, nearly every Priest who is exercising his faculties within the Church - especially if he has his own parish - will be washing the feet of his parishioners because the General Instruction of the Roman Missal has it as an option to do so. It is, as it appears to be, an act of humble service, re-enacting the time when the Lord Jesus washed the feet of his Apostles on the evening of the Last Supper when He instituted the Holy Eucharist. In other words, Pope Francis humbly did what the vast majority of priests around the entire globe humbly do on Holy Thursday.

If Pope Francis, having celebrated the liturgy of Holy Thursday (and been faithful to the Church's law) had then gone out into St Peter's Square in order to round up some paupers in order to wash their feet outside of the liturgy after Mass, he could have washed the feet of as many Muslims, ladies, Hindus, atheists and whoever he wanted perfectly licitly. This would be both radical and humble, and after having washed their feet and kissed them he could say, 'I'll be back in ten minutes' in order to present them with a bag of money and a round of sandwiches each. This would be both a radical and humble example of service and love for the poor, instead of an instance of the Bishop of Rome bending or breaking the liturgical law to conform to his own will, rather than that of the Universal Church, the governance of which has been entrusted to His Holiness. To the World the foot-washing on Holy Thursday may have appeared humble, but to the Church the message was this: 'It's okay to break the Church's liturgical law. The law of the Church does not matter'.

I'm not saying this because I can't 'get over' Holy Thursday. I'm saying this because journalists continue to bring out photos of Pope Francis doing what every priest does on Holy Thursday and suggesting that this photo makes the Pope incredibly humble and radical. It isn't. It's just what Priests do. I've also given up on the idea that Pope Francis will follow the ancient tradition of his predecessors and wear red shoes, or even red sandals as a sign of holy poverty, holy humility and holy respect for the Blood of Christ and the blood of the martyrs of the Church, in which he walks.

Daily, we hear more martyrs are being added to that glorious list of souls; in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere across the globe Christians shed their blood for Christ and for His Church. Muslims are marking the doors of Christians with a black Cross as they go through the neighbourhoods targetting the Faithful for execution. How is that for 'uncomfortable Christianity'? Pope Francis, as Cardinal Bergoglio, might well have thought the Regensburg Address of Pope Benedict XVI to have been a bad idea and a destructive message in the Church's dialogue with Muslims, but that doesn't mean that Benedict XVI was wrong.

Just as Fr Blake makes the case for the Regensburg address of 2006, the Church cannot 'reason' or 'dialogue' with a section of Islam that has dispensed with the faculties of 'reason' in pursuit of ideological and religious zeal that is indifferent to the suffering of others. With the best will in the world, Islamists hell-bent on wiping Christianity from the Middle East are not going to listen to Pope Francis as His Holiness calls for an end to bloodshed and for more 'dialogue'. Only a Miracle is going to bring peace and stability to Egypt now. Let us pray that the Blessed Mother of God, will aid the Christians of the region with her prayers and open the eyes of the Islamists whose dreadful, vengeful fury continues to wreak destruction upon the land to which the Virgin and Child fled to find refuge with St Joseph, to escape the murderous King Herod.


Celia said...

The problem with Holy Thursday, feet, washing of, is that Pope Francis validated the actions of all those ordinary priests who wash the feet of women and who conceivably have no idea- the congregation certainly doesn't-of why Christ washed the feet of the Apostles. Humility and service yes, but also purification of the men who were to take his teaching into the world. Which is why boring Pope Benedict, if I remember rightly, usually washed the feet of priests or seminarians: as usual he got the point others missed.

As for the media, well they like to have their standard story. Benedict was cast years ago as the sinister, doctrinaire cardinal who 'covered up' sex abuse and worst of all didn't hug grannies every time he went out of the front door. Francis, who can't leave people alone, is therefore, conveniently cast as a cuddly liberal, a bit like John XXIII after Pius XII, if anyone can remember that far back. Never mind that doctrinally he's quite orthodox-as you rightly say, modern journalists, even the BBC's 'religious affairs correspondents' have no idea what the Catholic Church is about and tend to stick to familiar and lazy stereotypes.

Martha said...

I wonder if you have seen this article from the Daily Mail, and if there is any truth in it?

Lynda said...

The silence of the Church about the persecution including martyrdom of Christians in Egypt is scandalous.

BJC said...

Thanks for the video. I'd never heard of this apparition before.

Hughie said...

"... to the Church the message was this: 'It's okay to break the Church's liturgical law. The law of the Church does not matter'."

Much though I admire your writings and insights about the Catholic Faith and the Church, I am afraid I have to say that you have got this wrong, big style. As far as the canon law is concerned the Pope, any Pope, has the power to set it aside in any specific case for a specific purpose. On Holy Thursday he chose to do so NOT to send out the message you suggest but, rather, in the interests of evangelizing these incarcerated youngsters by his actions and not his, or anybody else's, words. The evangelical message was one of Faith and Charity but most especially of Hope: All of you young prisoners -- Catholic, Protestant and Muslim alike; all of you, male and female alike -- may be separated from your families and society but you have not been separated from the love God and of his only son, Christ Jesus, Our Lord.

I think that was a message worth sending, even if it offended the liturgists and canonists among us.

jaykay said...

Hughie: I think the question really is not whether he CAN set aside the law but whether he ought to have done so in this way. All this has been covered before, of course, but as Celia pointed out above, such actions do tend to open the door for those who have a problem with basic discipline.

And many of "those liturgists and canonists among us" (thanks for that snark) weren't exactly offended as such, more resigned I'd say, but did think that there were better opportunities for demonstrating the sort of evangelisation you mention outside of the liturgy of Holy Thursday. And of course HH has subsequently done so, and I personally have no problem with that, but I do like respect for norms.

Lynda said...

The Pope is of course bound by the law of the Church. Church law is not arbitrary and cannot be changed on a whim. There are procedures to be followed and any change must accord with the doctrine of the Faith.

Anonymous said...

On Holy Thursday, the Church commemorates our Lord's institution of two sacraments: Holy Orders and Holy Eucharist. The ritual washing of the feet has always been regarded as symbolic of the call to the priesthood, and that's why it was so jarring to see the Pope violate Holy Thursday rubric and traditional interpretation of the rite. Of course he is the supreme lawgiver of the Church. But I had wished he had annulled that rubric first instead of violating it. Or he could wash hundreds of people's feet, men's and women's, Christians' and Muslims' and what- have-you's on any other day but Holy Thursday.
I'm an old woman, just a few years younger than our Pope, but if I had been near him at that time, I'd have politely reminded him of Church's rules, much as I would my own father if I caught him about to violate our own household's rules. I'm still smarting over this Holy Thursday scandal and a few other instances where I thought the Pope was either being tacky or carelessly shooting off his mouth. So sorry.

Marietta said...

On Holy Thursday the Church commemorates two sacraments: Holy Orders and Holy Eucharist. The washing of feet is symbolic, not of charity, but of Our Lord's call to the priesthood.
Of course the Pope, being the supreme lawmaker of the Church, can do whatever he wanted, but I wished he had just annulled this law instead of violate it.

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