Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Catholic Virtual Wars: 03 Messy Catholics

This is my third blogpost in the series, Catholic Virtual Wars.   There is also a label under the social media share buttons at the bottom (click and scroll to find them all).  In this post, we will look at the words of Pope Francis, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Francis of Assisi.

Knowledge of the faith without virtue in practice is like driving a car with square tires.

A Pope and His Marching Orders

“I want to tell you something. What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess. We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses!” he said, speaking off the cuff in his native Spanish. “I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out!” 

Those were the words of Pope Francis as widely reported in the press when it happened, including the Catholic press

Some say the translation was more like the Holy Father wanted people to, "shake things up."   I saw others saying the words were "make some noise."   I decided to see if the Holy See offered this "off the cuff" remark in the final, online version.   That which they show for the July 25, 2013 address sufficiently captures his intent, regardless.   So, let's just set aside the translation issue for now.

Let me tell you what I hope will be the outcome of World Youth Day: I hope there will be noise. Here there will be noise, I’m quite sure. Here in Rio there will be plenty of noise, no doubt about that. But I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses, I want the noise to go out, I want the Church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves. The parishes, the schools, the institutions are made for going out ... if they don’t, they become an NGO, and the Church cannot be an NGO. May the bishops and priests forgive me if some of you create a bit of confusion afterwards. That’s my advice. Thanks for whatever you can do.

Looking at some points from his full address, which I encourage you to read in full, he then expands.  In fact, what I quote in my third bullet is probably far more important than what everyone is quoting him on from that day.

  • He talks about how the world has gone beyond it's limits by making money a god and how those have led to a practice and philosophy that exclude the elderly and our youth.   He says:
As for the young, they must emerge, they must assert themselves, the young must go out to fight for values, to fight for these values; and the elderly must open their mouths, the elderly must open their mouths and teach us! Pass on to us the wisdom of the peoples!

  • He tells these groups not to allow themselves to be excluded, to take the faith seriously, and not dilute it: 
We dilute fruit drinks – orange, apple, or banana juice, but please do not drink a diluted form of faith. Faith is whole and entire, not something that you water down. It is faith in Jesus. It is faith in the Son of God made man, who loved me and who died for me. So then: make yourselves heard; take care of the two ends of the population: the elderly and the young; do not allow yourselves to be excluded and do not allow the elderly to be excluded. 

Do not “water down” your faith in Jesus Christ. The Beatitudes: What must we do, Father? Look, read the Beatitudes: that will do you good. If you want to know what you actually have to do, read Matthew Chapter 25, which is the standard by which we will be judged. With these two things you have the action plan: the Beatitudes and Matthew 25. You do not need to read anything else. I ask you this with all my heart.

Okay, how many of us have done this homework assignment?

What do the Church Fathers say about Matthew 25?  Wouldn't this be a good way to augment your understanding and wouldn't it be a good investment of your time?  I'm not going to do your  supplemental homework for you.  New Advent, a site I like to visit daily for their front page portal, is a vast resource (look in the upper, right hand corner at the tabs).  I just did a search on Matthew 25.  Scan the titles in the link and read some of what is written by the Fathers.  This is a good way to learn more about what you are reading in Scripture and a very productive use of your time.

Let's look at the Beatitudes also found in Matthew, but in chapter 5:3-10.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. 
Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted. 
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. 
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. 
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.   
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.   
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

The Mess Pope Francis Wants

So, everything that Pope Francis had to say about making a mess, or making noise, or shaking things up, seems to have to do with first shaking us up to go out of ourselves, as he so often says, and being active - active in learning, and active in applying what we learn, and active in engaging others - especially among those who may be vulnerable and isolated, or excluded.  He wants us to go out and apply the Gospel with those around us.  He wants us to put on the face of Christ and mirror his love so that others can be attracted to the pure beauty of the faith. He especially wants us to be active with the inactive. He gives us all that we need in the Beatitudes and Matthew 25 to get kick-started.  The greatest mess he wants us to create is to shake ourselves up, to get out of our narcissistic ways, which focuses on the self, and to become selfless in thinking about others.  He wants us to spend time with others serving them and sharing the faith.

The "Mess" Pope Francis Did Not Request

Looking at the full context of the address that day in which Pope Francis said to go out and create a mess, or make a noise, or shake things up, I'd like to point out what was missing:

  • He never said anything that could even be loosely construed as going out and digging up scandals, or perceived scandals, and using them in the name of "defending the faith." 
  • He never said anything about going out of ourselves by complaining about others, or discussing their faults, or perceived faults, especially in a public way. 
  • He never said to go out and create discord and infighting, and getting others to take their eye off of Christ in order focus on their neighbor in a negative way.
  • He never even  hinted that we should go out and publicly castigate bishops, even if we don't like something they do (I'll get to Aquinas in a minute, as he has something to say about this).

This kind of thing does not put beauty on the face of the Catholic faith!

What would Pope Francis say if he encountered people exploiting his message in this way?

Matthew 25 warns us to feed the hungry and to give drink to the thirsty. We neglect it at our own peril. Who gives the hungry a stone for a meal and sand for drink? The people are starving for knowledge of the faith, not for discord (unless they have formed the habit of following their lower nature). They want to wash that knowledge of the faith down with a refreshing drink,  that is the virtues - to learn how to grow in holiness. In this way, Christ will be more visible in them, ultimately attracting others to him through us.

If anyone leads you to act on the kinds of things in that list --  sowing discord rather than peace using the words of Pope Francis on July 25, 2013, then they are engaging in a perversion of those words.  I'm not sure what spirit would lead someone to do something like that, if you encounter it, but it would not be originating from the Holy Spirit. A room cannot be both light and dark at the same time.

Discern this, carefully, yourself, in prayer and Adoration: What do you want when you spend time online perusing Catholic material? To grow in the faith and virtue - or to become obsessed with everyone else?

St. Thomas Aquinas on Fraternal Correction of Superiors

On that last bullet, St. Thomas Aquinas says that a subject may, in charity, apply fraternal correction even to a superior at times.  But lets read his main response:

I answer that, A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction.  
Now an act which proceeds from a habit or power extends to whatever is contained under the object of that power or habit: thus vision extends to all things comprised in the object of sight. Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the Apostle says (1 Timothy 5:1): "An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as a father." Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep. viii), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning him out of the church.

Have you ever stumbled on sites or material which are critical of bishops? Is it done in the spirit of fraternal correction St. Thomas describes?  Or is it done in a spirit of harshness and impudence?

Inform yourself about these things before engaging in them. If you spend a lot of time at websites that are critical of bishops on a regular basis, you might want to re-examine whether you should cut that eye out lest it lead you into sin (Mt 5:29).

So, what to do about the problems we see with bishops?  St. Francis has a suggestion for you below.

Read the whole series on fraternal correction from the Summa at New Advent to balance out all those cherry-picked quotes floating around in comboxes where bishops are bashed.  For those who have not read Aquinas, he first states several possible positions, but then he states his own position. Following that, he explains the problem with each of the "objections." Once you've read several of his pages, you will get the hang of it.

Saint Francis and Respect for Clerics

Also on that last bullet it's worthy to mention, that the saint, after whom Pope Francis took his name, had a great respect for clerics.  I have some quotes from the book of Celano, Second Life from the St. Francis of Assisi Omnibus of Sources.  While it is aimed at religious brothers and how they should treat clerics, we can also learn from this wisdom.  This is authentic humlity. It's a gold standard and one we should use as a measure. 

Chapter CVII: How and why Francis wanted the brothers to be subject to the clergy 
146. But, though Francis wanted his sons to be at peace with all men(1) and to conduct themselves as little ones among all, he taught by his words and showed by his example that they were to be especially humble towards clerics.  For he used to say: "We have been sent to help the clergy(2) toward the salvation of souls so that what might be found insufficient in them might be supplied by us.  Everyone will receive his reward, not according to the authority he exercises, but according to the labor he does.  Know brothers," he said, "the fruit of souls is most pleasing to God, and it can be better obtained by peace with clerics than by disagreements with them. If they hinder the salvation of people, the revenge pertains to God and he will repay them in due time (3).  Therefore, be subject to prelates, so that, in so far as you can help it, no jealousy will spring up. If you will be sons of peace, you will win the clergy and  the people for the Lord, and the Lord judges this more acceptable than to win the people but scandalize the clergy. Hide their lapses, supply for their many defects; and when you have done this, be even more humble.  

Saint Francis created a different kind "mess" with that one.  He messed with the inner workings of the soul that wants to follow the "order" of human fallen nature. He offers a road map using the Beatitudes, speaking about peacemaking and meekness.

Don't take my word for any of this.  Take it into Adoration and ask God what He thinks.

*Perhaps, at some point, we will explore what St. Pio of Pietrelcina thought about those who would go after bishops in a public way for what they thought was a good cause.  It's called engaging in a form of consequentialism (see Veritatis Splendor 75) whereby the ends of "defending the Church" justifies - in the minds of those doing it - the means of using calumny and detraction, which they don't often realize they are doing.

Here's a picture worth sharing with a partial quote from above. Feel free to click on it, save it, upload it to social media, blogs, whatever.

*Think about that the next time someone refers to others, who don't publicly complain about others, especially about the bishops, as, "cowards."  Pay no attention to them. You risk nothing by not engaging in this behavior because others are accountable for what they say or don't say, not you.  You risk offending God through lack of virtue at best, and involving yourself in objectively grave matter at worst.  In fact, even suggesting others are cowards is a judgment of their hearts as cowardice is a motive.  It takes far more fortitude to hold one's tongue than to just say whatever you feel like.  If you don't believe me, we'll look at what Scripture and the saints have to say about that too.

Further Reading

If you really want to probe the Beatitudes more deeply, I recommend to you a book written by the president of my secular Carmelite community at Assumption Grotto: St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross on The Beatitudes I did a review of the book not long ago, here. 

While I may quote from the Omnibus of Sources on St. Francis, it is basically a collection of his books and books on him - the early material.  This is great stuff, but the omnibus itself is expensive. Look for individual books if you cannot get the big collection.

Even the early rules written by the saints who founded religious orders is worth mining for gems.  Use it for meditation.  I recommend people buy books at their local Catholic book store, but if you cannot find it there, you will here.  Don't forget online Catholic merchants, as well.

If you like this post, you can find others in the Catholic Virtual War Series by clicking on the label under the social media share buttons at the bottom of this post.

Photo credit at top: CNS photo / L’Osservatore Romano

Footnotes for St. Francis Quotes from the Omnibus (footnote numbers changed):
1) Ps. 12:18
2) Francis seems to have been mindful of the decree of the Lateran Council (1215) that there be in cathedral  and other churches suitable men to assist the bishop and the clergy in caring for souls. See the Analecta Fracniscana X, p. 214, note 8.
3) Deut. 23:35

*This post has been edited for clarity, including additional text; footnotes added to the St. Francis quote from the original text.

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