Happy feast of St. John Paul II!

Our Sunday Visitor offers this today, on this very first celebration of the feast of Saint John Paul II:

Today, Oct. 22, marks the first feast day of Pope St. John Paul II, who was canonized April 27 along with Pope St. John XXIII.

Barry Hudock wrote on the legacy of this great pope earlier this year:

“Pope St. John Paul II reminded the Church of its central mission: the proclamation of Jesus Christ to the world. From his very first encyclical letter in which he proclaimed Jesus as “the center of the universe and of history,” John Paul produced a massive amount of documents, speeches and books marked by the centrality of Jesus and the redemption he won for humanity. Besides his words, this pope also provided a striking personal example, traveling to 129 countries to proclaim the Gospel. On each voyage, he made contact with common people — particularly with the young, the sick and the poor — just as effectively as with world leaders. One of his most striking evangelization efforts is the World Youth Day celebrations. Starting with an event in Rome in 1984, he led massive gatherings of young people in such cities as Buenos Aires, Czestochowa, Denver and Sydney. (The 1995 event in Manila brought a gathering of a stunning 5 million people, one of the largest gatherings of people for any reason in history.)”

As we remember Pope St. John Paul II today, here’s a short prayer in his honor:

Wise and gracious God,
in your divine wisdom
you send Pope Saint John Paul II
to guide and shepherd the Church
in changing times.

He courageously defended all human life
from conception to death.
Through his intercession, we pray,
strengthen us to follow in his footsteps
so that we might experience
“true joy and authentic love,
and a lasting solidarity among peoples.”

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us.

Happy day!

Man, JP2 and B16 sure did have a knack for raising heretics to positions of authority

So to summarize and perhaps expand just a bit on a little Twitter conversation, one thing that is especially interesting and dismaying to me about the Catholic conversation of recent weeks is how widely the uber-Catholics had to expand the circle of those who must be included among the bad guys, the ones who are not Catholic enough, those who have betrayed their faith and capitulated to the spirit of the world, in order to make their case that the discussion at the synod was evidence of the smoke of Satan in the Church .

I mean, think about it. For the Rorate Coeli and National Catholic Register narrative to be right, the people who are building a “false and dark church” are guys like

  • Christoph Schonborn, the general editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (chosen for that job by Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, you’ll recall)
  • Walter Kasper, author of one of the most respected and cited christologies of the post-Vatican II era, and another distinguished work on trinitarian theology
  • Donald Wuerl, author of The Teaching of Christ, probably one of the most popular and soundest of post-Vatican II catechisms published in English prior to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • And Bruno Forte, another highly regarded theologian — accomplished and sound enough that Pope John Paul II invited Forte to preach his Lenten retreat one year (that’s an invitation, we might note, that is sometimes taken by Vatican-watchers to be a subtle indication of who the current Pope thinks might be a good successor in his chair)

Every one of these guys were named bishops and then archbishops and then (with the exception of Forte) cardinals by Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

And these are our traitors? These are the people we are to believe are under the sway of the dictatorship of relativism? These are the ones who have, without a care, thrown the deposit of the faith under the bus in favor of a wishy-washy, modernistic, kumbayah alternative? Not a lone rogue element who went off the reservation, but of all of ‘em. Seriously? (And don’t forget, at least half the synod fathers — a large group of distinguished pastors from around the world — seem to think that the conversation they want to have is worth having.) Because, after all, that was the criticism of JP2 and B16 all along, right: they were careless in paying attention to the doctrinal convictions of the men they named bishops and cardinals. Yeah.

Let me be clear: I have my own doubts about whether or not Kasper’s proposal for communion to the divorced and remarried is workable. I blogged about that here, on the first day of the Synod. But my response to this fact is to think, “Hm, this will be an interesting conversation among some extraordinary theological and pastoral leaders. It sure would be amazing if we could work out a way that people who are divorced and remarried to remarried to receive Communion. Let’s see where this goes,” and to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance of their work.

It is not to sound the alarms and scream about traitors to the faith who are building a dark and false church, much less to suggest in public that the Pope (another guy to whom I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt!) is doing great harm to the Church by allowing the discussion to happen.

But that’s just me.

Blessed Paul VI

With the beatification of Pope Paul VI upon us, I wanted to point out just a few posts from this blog in which this fascinating Pope is featured.

1. I did a series of posts to mark the fifth anniversary of Pope Benedict’s social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. One of them took a look at the previous papal encyclical that Benedict intended to commemorate by publishing it, Pope Paul VI’s historic Populorum Progressio. I noted:

CiV was intended to mark the fortieth anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s landmark 1967 encyclical on human development, Populorum Progressio. This is itself noteworthy, since almost every social encyclical prior to that was published on an anniversary of Rerum Novarum; for tradition-minded Benedict, the departure was certainly a deliberate choice. Why make it?

That full post is here.

2. During my John Courtney Murray research, I offered a post about the events of one particular day at the Second Vatican Council, under Paul VI’s leadership. It’s a window into the Council’s deliberations on the topic of religious freedom.

This one is especially relevant right now because it’s helpful remedial history to anyone who thinks what happened in Rome these last three weeks is not a lot like what went on for four years at Vatican II. And it’s a helpful theological-doctrinal-pastoral lesson to anyone who thinks that taking the most hardline, conservative approach to any doctrinal question is always the one most faithful to authentic Catholic tradition. Does this paragraph from that post, for example, have a familiar ring to it?

Despite these dramatic statements, there still was a great deal of disarray on the issue among the bishops and theologians at the Council. Several interventions were highly negative. Archbishop Lefebvre — who was then the superior general of the Holy Ghost Fathers, but later excommunicated from the Catholic Church — bitterly condemned it the schema, saying that the principle of religious freedom “is not one conceived … by the church.” The sharp conflict even generated some apathy on the part of some Council fathers. Many of the official Protestant observers began to sense that the schema might not succeed. Historian Gilles Routhier has written of this point, “The debate seemed to have bogged down, and no one could find a way of ending it.” The next morning’s headline in the New York Herald Tribune would read “Vatican Council near Crisis over Religious Liberty Issue.”

The full post is here.

3. Finally, when Pope Francis released his remarkable apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium last year, I pointed out the appearance in it of a significant quotation from Pope Paul VI’s apostolic letter Octogesima Adveniens. In a post titled “Octogesima Adveniens is Back,” I commented:

Among the (ever-growing) list of “firsts” ascribed to Pope Francis, we can add: first Pope to quote section 4 of OA in a papal document. (Not as sexy, I’ll grant you, as first Pope to be named Esquire magazine’s Best Dressed Man of the Year. But interesting at the very least.)

Find out why the quotation is both unique and perhaps quite important in the full post, here.

These are not the only places Paul VI has been brought up on this blog. All my posts related to Paul VI are here.

This supremely Catholic synod

In an article published today at The Week, Damon Linker opens with a question and asks for some help answering it. He spends a few paragraphs asking it, taking his time and doing a good job laying the groundwork and making clear the reasons for his “confusion.” Here is what he writes:

Maybe you can help me. I’m confused.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares as a matter of binding doctrine that homosexual acts are “acts of grave depravity,” “contrary to the natural law,” and “intrinsically” as well as “objectively disordered.” “Under no circumstances” can those acts “be approved.” Although people who feel same-sex attractions “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” they are called by the church to take up “the Lord’s cross” and embrace a life of “chastity” through “self-mastery” of their desires. That is the only way for them to “gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

That sounds pretty unequivocal, wouldn’t you say?

Now let’s look at Tuesday’s edition of The New York Times, which contains an above-the-fold front-page story about a 12-page document released on Monday by the synod on marriage and the family that Pope Francis has convened at the Vatican. In the second paragraph of the story, we are informed (quite accurately) that the document “does not change church doctrine or teaching.” And yet the story also states (in the third paragraph) that the document is “the first signal that the institutional church may follow the direction Francis has set in the first 18 months of his papacy, away from condemnation of unconventional family situations and toward understanding, openness, and mercy.”

And indeed, the document does say some nice things, about homosexual relationships, but also about “cohabitation” among heterosexual couples. If you’re a non-celibate gay Catholic, or a Catholic who’s divorced and remarried and so technically excluded from receiving the sacrament of Communion at Mass, these words no doubt come as a comfort.

But how significant are they? The answer to that question depends in large part on what the pope has in mind. And that’s where I become confused.

Even if the language of the document released on Monday is approved in total at the conclusion of the synod, it will still change nothing at all in church doctrine or teaching. Homosexual acts will still be deemed intrinsically and objectively disordered. It’s just that the Vatican will now be urging pastors to soft-peddle the doctrine to parishioners. Priests and bishops will be urged to accentuate the positive, to talk about the “gifts and qualities” that gay people “offer to the Christian community,” and to acknowledge that gay couples often provide each other “mutual aid” and “precious support.”

That sounds like a modest expansion on or elaboration of the Catechism’s injunction to accept gay people “with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” combined with a suggestion that priests and bishops not shove down people’s throats the much harsher official doctrine about homosexual acts.

But the doctrine itself will remain unchanged.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this makes no sense whatsoever.

I want to offer an answer to the question, because it seems that there are not a few good, faithful Catholics who are asking themselves something like it in recent days, and also because there are many bad answers to it being offered — answers that would have us believe that a “dark and false Church” is in the making, that a “dictatorship of relativism” is holding sway at the synod, that the synod itself is “counterfeit” and “sick,” and that it might be time for the few good bishops who are left in Rome to starting kicking some ass. Linker himself suggests that Pope Francis must have some “supremely Machiavellian strategy” in play to change church teaching.

So, here goes.

I’m a dad. The father of seven, in fact. (And while we’re on the topic, I’m the father of seven largely because my wife and I believe Humanae Vitae to be an expression of moral truth, taught to us authoritatively by Christ’s vicar on earth — so let’s please dispense now with any idea of this whole post being rooted in my wishy-washy heretical modernism.)

My kids do “bad” things all the time. (They’re my kids, after all.) From time to time they squabble, ignore homework assignments, talk disrespectfully to my wife and I, refuse to walk the dog when asked, and other such things. When they do these things, I or my wife correct them. It’s our job as parents, right? And when they sometimes choose to ignore several quick and polite verbal corrections, as they occasionally do, it’s sometimes necessary for me to raise my voice a bit or provide some consequence that gets their attention a little more effectively: they’re sent to their room for a period of time or loose the privilege of watching television for a while, that sort of thing.

But if these corrections and punishments were all I ever had to say to them, or even most of what I ever had to say to them, if I simply kept quiet and bided my time until the next bad choice came along, my relationship with them would quickly go into a tailspin, because what the heck kind of father-child relationship is that: me, the Corrector? They would grow tired of and quite accustomed to my scoldings, and any joy in their relationship with me would wither. Sure, I love them, and I might even convince myself that I am correcting them and punishing them because I love them, because after all, it is true that it’s wrong to fight and be disrespectful, and loving them means teaching them that, dammit. But my children would only with great difficulty know that I love them and experience the relationship as one of love.

This is one reason — though certainly not the only one — that I try to make sure I have lots of conversations with them about the good things happening at school, the fun stuff they’re doing with their friends, the books they’re reading, and the best shows on television. I also make sure that I point out as often as I can the great stuff they do and excellent moral choices they make. When they excel at sports or get good grades, I encourage and praise them, and when they go out of their way to be respectful, loving, or generous, I say so enthusiastically.  Not only is this just; it almost certainly makes my moments of correction and punishment more effective, because they know these corrections are coming from a parent who loves them and respects them, and they know I don’t do it simply because I like correcting them; indeed, they know I would much rather be praising them.

In fact, I make sure my kids know, unequivocally (they have heard me say this clearly and often): There is nothing you can do that would make me stop loving you. If they don’t know that — and I mean know it in their bones — I’ve failed in a significant way as a father.

I would suggest that herein lies the “sense” of approach we find in the mid-term synod document released yesterday. As has been made clear by almost everyone, no doctrinal changes have been proposed or are suggested. The Church still believes marriage is intended by God to be permanent, that it is between a man and a woman, that remarriage after divorce is contrary to the nature of marriage, and that homosexual activity is sinful.

The insight of at least some of the synod fathers and, it seems, Pope Francis, is that if the only thing the Church ever says to people who are divorced and remarried or people who are gay or people who are living together is “what you are doing is wrong” or “your desires are disordered,” then the Church is carrying out its role as mater et magister poorly.

Some will object to this line of thinking: “But that’s not all we say to them. Haven’t you read the Theology of the Body?” I have read it, in fact, and find it to be quite compelling and in places beautiful. I have taught its ideas to others over the years. In fact, I was an “early adopter,” if you will, teaching Theology of the Body in the mid-1990s, long before it became much more widely known within the Church.

But the fact is, it’s not that compelling to some folks. Some are not convinced by Catholic moral teaching — in some cases because they could care less what the Church says, and in some cases because they have reflected on it, prayed about it, discussed it, and struggled with it, and they still don’t buy it. Of course, the Church should and must continue to teach it as the good news that it is. But if all they hear is the Church continually insisting that they’re wrong about that, and they never hear that despite the Church’s different view of things, they are still respected and loved and welcome among us, we’re doing something wrong.

If people, all people, do not know that there’s nothing they can do to make God stop loving them, and therefore that there is nothing they can do to make the Church stop loving them and respecting them and welcoming them, then the Church’s teachers have to some degree failed in their roles as fathers and teachers. In my view, the mid-term synod document was a moment in which the synod of bishops decided to say something like that. And in saying it, they were expressing the orthodox, evangelical, essential truth of Catholic Christianity.

And so maybe Cardinal Burke wasn’t “punished” (as Mr. Linker puts it) “for forthrightly stating and defending in public the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church.” Maybe he was moved on to a less prominent position because he seems unenthusiastic about stating and defending in public another authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church: that God loves sinners, and he wants them to know, through the Church’s teaching and practices, in their bones, that they are loved.

“I submit,” Damon Linker writes, “that there is only one way to make sense of the pope’s actions…. It’s a brilliant, clever, supremely Machiavellian strategy — one that promises to produce far-reaching reforms down the road while permitting the present pope both to claim plausible deniability (‘I haven’t changed church doctrine!’) and to enjoy nearly constant effusive coverage in the secular press.”

But I submit, Mr. Linker, that there is more than one way to make sense of the pope’s actions, and that the most reasonable and likely way involves not a supremely Machiavellian strategy, but a supremely Catholic one, and that is that he intends to proclaim God’s unconditional love to the sinners for whom his Son Jesus died.


Q&A, remedial

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, apparently troubled about the Synod’s encouragement of a more welcoming attitude by the Church toward gay people, asks:

Surely we believe that all persons have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community. Are we saying that homosexuals have some sort of special, unique gifts to offer simply because they are persons with same sex attraction? Where does that come from? What exactly are those unique gifts they have because they are homosexuals? Do they have gifts and qualities and insights because they live a celibate and single life? How are their gifts different then, from the gifts and qualities of the heterosexual single, celibate person? Isn’t this patronizing and offensive to heterosexual single people?…

People with same sex attraction are already welcomed into the church equally with whatever gifts and qualities they have as individuals. Why does their sexuality have anything to do with it? Are we suggesting that homosexual people are more sensitive, caring, artistic or spiritual? If so, isn’t that patronizing–almost like saying, “Gerald is such a witty person! He’d make such a good interior designer…” If that is what we are saying are we suggesting that all homosexual people have these gifts and qualities simply because they have same sex attraction? Does that mean we think there cannot be homosexuals who are dull, selfish, stupid, brutish, violent, vulgar and boorish? Are we putting one group of people in some kind of special category because of their sexual orientation? If so how crazy is that?

Mark Shea, with the patience of a good kindergarten teacher, answers helpfully:

[I]f we are going to welcome homosexuals into the circle of humanity for whom Christ died, that means, you know, treating them like human beings, both made in the image and likeness of God and fallen sinners. And that means, when homosexuals consistently report a sense that they are not welcome and not human beings to many of their fellow Catholics (and when those who are trying to live faithful lives report that even that effort is not good enough for some of their fellow Catholics), it may be time to do a re-think about how best to shepherd them.

As if we should have to explain such things.