First Principles and the Greater Principle
Pope Francis, a Pontiff chosen “from the ends of the Earth”, continues to display a boundless energy that attracts huge attention from both within the Church and without. Just in the past few days we have seen millions flock to hear his message promoting love, mercy and reconciliation in Colombia, and also the appearance of his Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio, Magnum Principium, concerning the preparation of liturgical translations. The reception of both events could, in a sense, be seen as a microcosm of his entire Pontificate. On the one hand, there is the joy of countless simple faithful who love him, who see in him the active presence of the Holy Spirit, who above all recognize a pure, authentic Christianity; on the other hand, a bitter faction who can see little else but the deliberate dilution of Catholic doctrine and tradition. How can we explain this sad and unnecessary situation?
Thus begins this trenchant piece of propaganda by Steven Walford, serving as an introduction precisely as it means to go on. The first section of the paragraph conveys the Pope's enormous popularity. With whom? The answer comes: from 'simple faithful who love him'. Could any of those with whom the Pope has in some way fallen out of favour ever constitute 'the simple faithful'? It would appear not! Already, see, the sheep and the goats are separated, but not without insult, not even towards the Pope's 'joyful' supporters as opposed, we may surmise, to the 'joyless' detractors. Next time you call your friend a simpleton, see how they react. They, the Pope's fans, you see, are the 'simple' faithful. The critics are not the simple faithful. We shall see who and what manner of persons they are later in the next post.
|The 'simple faithful'|
Why are the Pope's critics not 'the simple faithful'? The answer comes: they have failed to recognise the 'pure, authentic Christianity' that the Pope promotes. We shall address this 'pure, authentic Christianity' later on. But more than this, they are 'a bitter faction'. They cannot see, as 'the simple faithful' see, the Pope in his greatness. All they see is wilful dilution of Catholic doctrine and tradition. Speaking personally, I have to say Mr Walford is correct here. Much of the Pope's wonderful PR is, I fear, a wonderful camouflage for doctrinal dilution, but on this point I can speak for none but myself. Yes, I am a cynic. If you're not a cynic in the 21st century, then I would ask where you have been.
If Mr Walford wishes to, he can define his terms of the 'simple faithful'. Does he mean those who simply believe that everything the Pope does is wonderful because he is the Pope? Or does he mean 'the uncatechised' who the Pope has failed to teach and does not wish to teach the Catholic Faith? Or does he mean 'the ignorant' who simply aren't sure what's going on in the Church viz a viz the dubia and the Pope's rejection of the Four Cardinals who submitted it to him, asking him to clarify his teachings on key points of Catholic doctrine, but whom he has ignored? We are left untold.
For the majority of Catholics, I would suggest, Pope Francis is a prophet in the truest sense of the word; one who has put heart and soul into carrying out the divine mandate he has been given. Yet prophets always leave one uneasy. They invariably come with a message many do not want to hear; they pierce the conscience in a way others do not, and they appear like a comet, ready to cause havoc for the unprepared. This, of course, explains why they usually end up wearing the crown of martyrdom. The key distinguishing feature of these luminous figures is a steely courage, and a focus that cares not for worldly adulation or concern about possible persecution. No, they come in the name of God in order to sweep clean the historical path that leads to eschatological newness.
I too believe that Pope Francis is a 'prophet', though I do not have to believe it, since I am only called upon to believe he is occupying the Chair of Peter. The question is whether he is a 'true' prophet, or, as many fear, a 'false' prophet. Before we begin in earnest on this question, let us not be so silly as to think that a Pope cannot become a false prophet. Of course, in considering this mystery of the papacy, much of Mr Walford's argument will not hold water, because he is starting out on first principles that require the Pope to be immune to Satan's wiles. This is essential to understanding the narrative of awe built around this papacy and it is not a Catholic belief that the Pope has had his personal will removed by the Holy Spirit, that he may not refuse good and instead pursue evil. The Gospels record that such immunity was never promised to the Successors of St Peter, otherwise Our Lord would not have said to St Peter that Satan intended to sift him like wheat, but that He had prayed for him, that on recovering (the Pope may fall) he may turn and strengthen the brethren. If Peter could not fall in such manner, then we may even ask what good it would serve the Church for the incidence of Peter's disloyalty to be included in the Gospels.
Mr Walford clearly believes Pope Francis to be a true prophet, which means that He has been sent by Almighty God for the edification of His children, by calling them back, as prophets do, from the road that leads to eternal perdition to the narrow way that leads to eternal life. This is what Scripture tells us prophets do. False prophets, as Jesus Himself said in the Gospels, tell people what they wish to hear, gaining popularity for themselves but leaving their hearers starved of the Word of God and the means to obtaining eternal Salvation. It is for this reason that prophets are often martyred. It is for this reason that the are vilified. It is for this reason that prophets, if they are true, make us feel uncomfortable. They lead us out of our comfort zones of sin and awake within us the voice of God that calls us to repentance and renewal of our lives in Him.
A good example would be the prophet par excellence, St John the Baptist, forerunner and herald of Our Blessed Lord who, for upholding the dignity and integrity of marriage, was cast into prison before being beheaded. Now, let us ask the question, is this what Pope Francis does? He has received worldly adulation, yet we are told this is what a true prophet rejects. He refuses to answer five basic points of Catholic doctrine, of which the dignity and sanctity of marriage is a subject. I leave it to the reader to discern therefore whether Pope Francis, as yet, can be described as a prophet, 'in the truest sense of the word'. Finally, it must be said that prophets do not necessarily come to 'sweep clean the historical path that leads to eschatalogical newness', unless, in referring to Pope Francis as just such a prophet, Mr Walford believes that a true prophet destroys what has come before him in order to assert his dominance upon the present and inscribe upon the future of the Church, not the Law of God, nor the spirit of Christ, but the steely mark of his very own self.
Prophets are also sent at specific times; times when the people of God have turned away, or are sleeping in a “safe” and cosy Christianity that is oblivious to the sufferings of the poor or the outcasts of society. They come with two main messages linked to salvation history: justice and mercy. But as the Crucified Christ shows, God’s justice is manifest in divine mercy, “where sin abounds, grace even more abounds!” The prophet’s message therefore will always contain a message of hope, based on God’s desire to bring salvation to all.
This paragraph, by again omitting what God's real prophets do - call people back to God and His Law - turns 'the prophet' into someone who shouts on behalf of the poor and marginalised. Fair enough, but it must be said that the prophet does not simply have regard for the plight of the poor because helping the poor is his message, but that the blood of the poor will be avenged by God Who raises the poor from the dunghill and casts princes from their thrones, who exalts the lowly and humbles the proud. It is a mark of a society which has descended into abject sin that even toleration of the poor is forfeited on account of the pride of life and the lust for pleasures and wealth. In Great Britain the poor are criminalised for begging while the sins of the rich are overlooked or enshrined into law, such is the perversion of justice we now see with our own eyes.
Finally, God's desire to see the Salvation of all, unless God has changed, will require that His commandments are respected greatly by the Church and proclaimed by the Church, since how can God grant mercy to those who stand in ignorance or are defiant of their need for mercy? Perhaps He has a way, but Jesus has not revealed this. He has told His Apostles to baptize and teach in His name for the salvation of the world. It is not mercy to leave in ignorance the adulterer, the fornicator, the thief, the active homosexual and every and any kind of sinner inhabiting the Church and the World. It is a work of mercy, the Catechism holds, to admonish the sinner and instruct the ignorant. Does Pope Francis assist or hinder the propagation of those divine truths that Lord God wills, the Lord Whose desire is the Salvation of the World? If he does, he could begin by answering the dubia. If he does not wish this, then he may continue as he has hitherto chosen to proceed, be it with serenity, or, indeed, not, since as we all know, His Holiness is given to a hot temper at times but only when things don't go his way. When the Church ignores the divine mandate entrusted to him and the Successors of the Apostles, he appears thoroughly pleased.
If we take authentic private revelation into consideration, alongside many prophetic statements of a succession of popes, then we begin to understand that we live in a Kairos of mercy; a season of advent that will eventually lead, in God’s own time, to the making of all things new. Anyone who has studied Divine Mercy in my Soul by St. Faustina Kowalska cannot fail to see this momentous element. Indeed, St. John Paul II while dedicating the new Shrine of Divine Mercy in 2002, recalled Jesus’ famous prophecy about a “spark from Poland” that “will prepare the world for my final coming”, calling it a “binding promise.”
If only we could say that this was visibly the case but we cannot, as Mr Walford does, simply wish something to be that is not because we wish this were to be. Alas, Pope Francis, were he to be a continuation of the divine mercy message proclaimed by the Polish Pope, he would surely not in a manner that could only be described as like unto subterfuge the enormous defence of marriage and the family undertaken by St John Paul II. Simply taking the language of mercy used by St JPII and Benedict XVI and manipulating it to mean something which, in the Church's understanding since the beginning, it does not mean, is not an extension of the themes of these pontificates but in fact constitutes a rupture with them.
Now, Mr Walford, if Pope Francis is a continuation of these 'mercy' Popes, and Pope Francis heralds, through Amoris Laetitia, the continuation or deepening of this mercy theme, why should Pope Francis wish to open up the possibility of admittance to Holy Communion to those who, for their own good, as well as for the good of souls in general, were categorically forbade from reception of the Body and Blood of the Lord where repentance and resolution to live chastly was lacking?
How can you possibly tell the 'simple' Faithful that Francis's exhortation in this matter reflects that which has come before or opens new paths of mercy when previous Popes made plain that this teaching and discipline was true not just for then, or now, but for all time when they, of course, are not the only ones? That those in unrepentant mortal sin may not receive Holy Communion is a simple timeless truth of the Holy Faith. Anyone above the age of reason can understand it. Yes, Mr Walford, even the 'simple faithful' can understand it.
No Pope can alter this and if he tries to do so, that Pope will be a false prophet leading souls into Hell, but, of course, if we believe what you write, you seem to believe that Popes cannot go to Hell, since Popes cannot mislead people, or do wrong things, or lead God's people astray, or be vainglorious, because everything they do is holy. Familiaris Consortio was the exhortation of St John Paul II on the family. Amoris Laetitia obliquely contradicts it. Please, do not tell me, that an intelligent man such as you, also believes that 2 + 2 = 5 at the Pope's say so. If this Pope is to tell Christ's Church that the Lord's second coming is close then will you, who are able to gain audiences with him, please ask him to call the sons and daughters of the Church to fidelity to Christ? If we can call the sons and daughters of the Church to fidelity to Christ, perhaps too we can boldly proclaim Christ to the nations of the World also.
If the great Polish Pontiff was the main instigator of the new promotion of mercy (although we should of course recall St. John XXIII), then Pope Francis must be seen as the one who has placed this “greatest attribute of God” at the very heart of the Church and the hermeneutical key to understanding his magisterium.
One question arises here: If it is only the 'simple faithful' who understand Pope Francis's dynamic teaching which is both new and fresh, but which also retains that which his predecessors taught, then why is a 'hermeneutical key' required to understanding his magisterium? You cannot have it both ways, Mr Walford. Either the 'simple faithful' get Pope Francis's message because they are humble, simple folk, or only such men as yourself, with theology degrees, understand Francis because you have the magical hermeneutical key to understanding his magisterium, the key that renders rational thought useless in the face of his holy gaze of mercy and requires that the divine mandate you say he exercises with such exuberance be utterly redefined to mean something different to that which the Church's Founder meant.
Either the changing of the discipline of the Church on who may be admitted to Holy Communion via a process of personal discernment and acccompaniment that does not seem to require the deliberate choice to renounce sexual relations in the case of the divorced and remarried is a watershed moment of astonishing change that suggests rupture with tradition, or it is not, because this discipline and teaching has not changed. It cannot be both. Forgive me for not being fooled, but I and many others who you describe as embittered are not fooled. Why? Because we are striving to be faithful to Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed and Thrice Holy Trinity! Because, in a word, we are Christians!
'Pure, authentic Christianity', as you put it, is not what this Pope presents to the Church, because what he presents to the Church are not yet faithful to the teaching of Jesus Christ. What he presents is subversive of His teachings. If you want an ancient heresy, Steven, try the ancient heresy that asserts that 'pure, authentic Christianity' can be found by re-inventing it and then claiming your version of it as that of its Founder, since each heretic claims that he represents the 'true' version intended by Him. If the Pope represented 'pure, authentic Christianity', then doctrine, even the dubia, would not present an obstacle to his course because, until 2013, when doctrine became a dirty word, it was considered risable that we could have Jesus Christ without fidelity to Jesus Christ's teachings. To say that we can throw Jesus Christ's teachings overboard and still have 'pure, authentic Christianity' is, sorry, ridiculous. Please, do not pretend that the Pope is not dispensing with Jesus Christ's teachings, while he passes over in silence His teaching on adultery, divorce and remarriage and makes ambiguous statements over who may receive Holy Communion, thus wilfully sanctioning by proxy the behaviour of those in mortal sin and legislating for sacrilege. Unless black means white and white means black, this is the precise opposite of what a 'true prophet' would do.
Two Bergoglian images of the Church speak of this charism: 1) a spiritual field hospital 2) a tender mother. Francis sees mercy as a way into people’s lives; an outreach ministry that is willing to descend into the darkest places where despair leaves souls paralysed; a means to see in the gravest sinner, a dearest brother. This may, in part, explain his dislike for bureaucrat priests, airport bishops and those who prefer a preening Church, standing in front of the mirror admiring its own beauty. In essence he rails against a narcissistic attitude that hides the maternal nature of Mother Church. The Church as a field hospital on the other hand, is always at the service of a wounded humanity, ready to apply the medicine of mercy with compassionate and open arms; it will always set up shelter wherever needed. It does not ask needless doctrinal or theological questions when souls are ill, but works on the immediate priority–that is to offer love, mercy and hope. In those critical moments, everything else is of secondary importance.
There can be no objection to either the Church as a field hospital nor the Church as a tender mother. Certainly, none of us are without sin. The question is Who do we require to heal us? Deeper questions also arise for us. Do we want to be healed? Might we also make a distinction between who is Mother and who is Healer? Might we also ask by what means we might be healed? Or is it the case that we may be left by the teaching of Francis unaware that Jesus Christ is no mere private trained in medicine pouring whisky over our wounds in a trench, but that the Lord wills very much that we may entrust ourselves to Him completely and allow Him to heal us of all that wounds us, but also cleanse us of all that offends Him? One might also ask whether, in the field hospital, Jesus Christ is even mentioned. I fear not. Only the Church is mentioned, the Church and Francis, Francis who indeed limits the Church to this truncated analogy of a field hospital in which 'doctrinal or theological questions' - let us call them dubia - are ignored. Why are they ignored? Because souls are ill. They are the priority. Fine. What are they offered? Love, mercy and hope. Are they also offered the Truth, which is necessary to obtain the forgiveness of our sins, since ignorance of sin will likely lead us into sin and, unrepented of, eternal perdition? Are they offered this? No. Of course not. These things are, after all, of 'secondary importance'.
The radicalness of the Gospel message is that each Christian must pour out themselves for others in a continuous and unconditional act of love. Too often, however, this truth is conveniently ignored and thus hypocrisy becomes an anti-gospel where mercy is replaced by judgment and accusation.
Mr Walford, as a Vatican observer I have compiled a book of some of His Holiness's most imaginative insults, his judgements towards the faithful, priests, bishops, Cardinals, laity and yes, even nuns. So aside from my own lamentable vice or seeing fault in others when of course I am a miserable sinner, my own vocabulary has been broadened by this Supreme Pontiff when it comes to running others down. However, I do detect within this paragraph perhaps just the smallest admonition to those who are not thoroughly convinced, as you reputedly are, of the wisdom of this Pope's governance of the Church. Do you perhaps think that it is the Church's 'bitter faction' which replaces mercy with judgement and accusation?
Yes, it is a lamentable vice, but I must say, if it is going to be a vice enjoyed by those disputing the current remarkable events going on in Holy Mother Church, let those who throw insults first produce a logical argument - one grounded perhaps in the Church's perennial teachings - and in the teachings of successive popes, perhaps even the words of our Blessed Lord Himself, before such fierce accusations are made. I, for one, shall hold back, since it profits me nothing to insult you. I shall not insult you. I shall allow your own arguments to do that for you. You may claim, if you wish, that you stand on rock, for you unequivocably support the Pope's document without reservation and see in it no inconsistencies at all and the Pope is the rock. But if you do not stand with Jesus Christ, if the Pope chooses to stand aside from Him or distance the Church from Him, do you think you, do you think I will stand His coming, if we choose to forget God and His Commandments because the Pope willed it? Do you really think being 'faithful' is really that 'simple'? Well, you are one for prophecy, so here it is, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Mr Walford, if you consider that the Lord's return is close, you had better prepare yourself for the persecution that is coming, the persecution that precedes it. I assure you, that if Pope Francis continues in the manner he has been, and you continue in the manner you have been, you shall meet with no persecution at all. Criticism from a 'bitter faction'? Yes. But that is not the same thing and you know that. For the love of Christ, however, articles such as yours must be replied to by those who will grow more and more saddened that our prelates should choose to sell Our Lord for worldly glory.
I, for one, will not be silent, not, at any rate, on this vehicle for communication, as long as I see that Catholics are being told, by such men as you, to suspend the operation not only of logic and reason, but also the divine faith unto which we cling for our salvation and for the salvation of the whole world just because 'Pope says so'. To follow your advice would indeed be a great insult, not only to intelligence, but also to the theological virtue of Faith which does not follow fashion blindly and does not accept as true that which has already been declared false, which does not accept as 'mercy' that which is, in fact, complicity in evil. Jesus warned, as well you know, His disciples about false prophets who would appear to deceive even the elect. If He had wanted to say that it could never happen that such a prophet could appear in the black loafers and white cassock of a Pope, He could have. He did not. Where would we stand if Jesus Christ returned tomorrow is the most important question for us all, but a lesser one for you, Steven...
Where would you stand if a Catholic Pope turned up tomorrow?