“But there have always been those people who, without any official title, go about disturbing the Christian community with discourses which unsettle souls: ‘Ah, no, what he said is heretical; that cannot be said, not that, the doctrine of the Church is this’. In reality, they are fanatics about things which are not clear, like those fanatics who went about sowing weeds to divide the Christian community. So, this is the problem: when the doctrine of the Church, which comes from the Gospel, which the Holy Spirit inspires (…) becomes ideology. Thus, we see the great error of these people: those who were going there were not believers; they were ‘ideologized’; they had an ideology which closed their heart to the work of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, the Apostles had animated discussions, but they weren’t ideologized: their heart was open to what the Spirit was saying. This is why, after discussion, they begin their letter by writing: ‘For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us’”
— Pope Francis
Friday, 19 May 2017
“Doctrine and Ideology”
Morning Meditation at Sanctae Marthae
Catholic social media has been in an uproar with the publication of a book about priestly celibacy, co-authored by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The coverage of this book has been juxtaposed and contrasted with Francis’ alleged intention to allow some married men to be ordained in response to the priest shortage in the Amazon region. Francis’ detractors have unsurprisingly taken advantage of this to add yet another criticism to their arsenal, while Francis’ defenders have reflexively come to the rescue by attacking Benedict. We at Where Peter Is, urge caution and serenity. The book is not yet released in English. I have already preordered it and will comment on it when I have read it in full and in context.
Today I would like to focus on why people have reacted to this in certain ways. Most of the responses stem from a misconception: that the papacies of Francis and his predecessor Benedict XVI are in rupture with one another. This misunderstanding, which should be confined to certain secularized Hollywood narratives, has unfortunately found fertile soil in Catholic circles.
This misunderstanding is rooted in a double misconception, that both pontiffs are heavily politicized. Benedict is portrayed as a hardline ultraconservative, and Francis as a Marxist-leaning liberal. For example, it has become fashionable among Francis’ critics to suggest that the Holy Father seldom talks about Christ (or religious faith in general). This idea falls flat on its face when we take the time to read Francis’ homilies and speeches. In fact, I think we haven’t had a pope with an approach as mystical as that of Francis for quite some time. Thinking that he is politicized is an exercise in projection by his critics. Indeed, one of the major themes of Francis’ papacy is his attempt to de-ideologize the Church.
This ideologization led to the second mistaken notion: that Benedict and Francis are opposites. Ideologies fashioned two strawmen, mitred them as popes, and pitted them against one another. To ideologues, Benedict is a tooth-and-nail conservative, who must be resisted or defended, depending on whether you are a liberal or conservative, respectively. Likewise, Francis is conceived of as a revolutionary Marxist liberal, who must be defended or resisted on the same grounds, though in reverse order.
Of course, this second error is easily disproved with a thorough study of both popes’ thoughts, but it can be refuted even more forcefully in light of the first error the critics commit and which Francis is fighting against: the ideologization of the Church. You see, apart from the differences in style and approach, there is a more fundamental continuity between Benedict and Francis, a continuity that has been largely overlooked. This continuity can be found in their perspective on the essence of the Church, and how she can overcome her current crisis.
This continuity is beautifully summarized in 3 documents that emerged during Francis’ pontificate. Unfortunately, the ideologization of the faith has, once again, prevented the wisdom of such teachings to come to light without being filtered by pundits in their unrelentless Culture War.
The first of these documents is Francis’ letter to the German people, in response to the Synod that is currently being organized by the German Bishop’s Conference. This letter has been hailed by many conservatives, who strategically put their resistance to Francis on hold, and instead appropriated its authority (despite their previous attempts to undermine it), since the letter seemed to counter the German Bishop’s Synodal Way. In many respects, the conservative sector considers the Synodal Way to be even more dangerous than Francis, so–just this once–pope could be portrayed as the “good guy.” Unfortunately, the only bits of this letter that were translated into English were the parts where it could be construed as fulfilling the ideological goal of undermining the German Bishops. I was able to translate most of it from the Spanish version on the Vatican website.
The second document is Benedict’s essay on the Church abuse crisis. Again, this letter was acclaimed by conservatives, but it was also absolutely trashed by liberals. The reason? Benedict seemed to place the blame of the abuse crisis on the 1960’s and the sexual moral decay that ensued. Both sides of the spectrum completely missed that in the first part of the letter, Benedict was providing context of the problem, taking his own experience into account, and that the solutions that he proposed actually appear much later in the letter.
The third and final document, the Letter of Pope Francis to the People of God, also in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis, saw the emergence of a temporary, unstable and very interesting alliance. It was bashed both by conservatives and liberals alike, since it seemed to advocate no direct action, only “prayers and penance.” Conservatives used this as another way to criticize Francis: portraying him as weak against abuse and, therefore, a bad pope. The “prayers and penance” also did not sit well with liberals, since their mindset has been conditioned by certain political battles to focus on action, and to reflexively consider “prayers” as an excuse for inertia. My wife Claire Navarro wrote a piece for this website detailing how this is profoundly wrong.
With the rejection of these three documents, or their acceptance in a piecemeal and warped fashion, the pearls of wisdom that both popes tried to sow in the hearts of their flocks were asphyxiated by ideological squabbles that were completely secondary to what they were trying to convey. This is ironic (I dare say, satanic), since those pearls of wisdom contain the antidotes to those very same ideological squabbles.
Something I have noticed in recent years (even before Francis’ election) is how the Catholic media (especially in the US) quite often ignores the spiritual life. I don’t see any evidence of Christian discernment on the part of so many commentators and pundits. Discernment, in the Catholic sense of the word, demands a spiritual understanding of the faith that is sorely lacking in Catholic media today. As we can see with the three documents above, interpretations of narratives and perspectives are accepted or rejected based on shallow labels, depending on whether they are useful or harmful to one’s ideological tribe.
This applies to Church teaching in general, whether the issue is sexual or social. A teaching is accepted or rejected by many Catholics only insofar as it validates preconceived political agendas. If it is helpful to make a certain party look Catholic, then it is set in stone as non-negotiable. If not, it is explained away as an optional teaching that one has the right and duty to resist.
Many of the current debates on social media have to do with how a Catholic should vote, especially in the US. This raises the question: before the rise of modern democracies–barely three hundred years ago–how was a Catholic supposed to be a good Catholic? It sometimes seems that Catholicism is exhausted by the act of casting the ballot and discussing how to cast the next ballot in four years. For some, political campaigning has replaced evangelization, and has adopted the worst aspects of the basest proselytism.
This is not to say that the political issues at hand are not grave. They demand our active engagement. There have been attacks on human dignity from the left (abortion, euthanasia, assaults on religious conscience) and on the right (anti-immigration sentiment, social injustice, the death penalty). But even on these issues, an ideological approach to the faith is an hindrance, not an asset. Ideologies demand that we close our eyes to evils perpetrated by our own “side” while we fight against the evils committed by the the other side. A consistent defense of human dignity is not possible in this mindset, and concrete actions are lost in the midst of political bickering. Ideological thinking has enabled an approach that asks, “Why are you focusing on this issue, when you should be concerned with this other issue that I’m fighting against?”
With an ideological approach, there is absolutely no metaphysical perspective, no discernment whatsoever. The eyes of the faithful do not gaze heavenwards, but turn to the worldly princes from whence they believe their salvation is going to come. They focus on action, not on prayer, but their action is not Christ-like, and they consistently fall on the three temptations that Christ so masterfully overcame in the desert: they focus almost solely on acquiring political power. When the Church denies them this power, they try to wrestle it from her, they try to change her. They believe that part of their mission is to to save the Church from herself.
Here is where both Francis and Benedict come in. In their messages to the Church, they both reminded the faithful that they do not need to save the Church. The Church already has a savior: Christ Himself. In his essay on the abuse crisis, Benedict explains:
“What must be done? Perhaps we should create another Church for things to work out? Well, that experiment has already been undertaken and has already failed. Only obedience and love for our Lord Jesus Christ can point the way. So let us first try to understand anew and from within [ourselves] what the Lord wants, and has wanted with us
Indeed, the Church today is widely regarded as just some kind of political apparatus. One speaks of it almost exclusively in political categories, and this applies even to bishops, who formulate their conception of the church of tomorrow almost exclusively in political terms. The crisis, caused by the many cases of clerical abuse, urges us to regard the Church as something almost unacceptable, which we must now take into our own hands and redesign. But a self-made Church cannot constitute hope.”
This is consistent with Benedict’s thought, both as pope and before his elevation to the papacy. In a very well-known interview, Ratzinger said he believed the Church in the West would shrink until becoming a mere remnant. This interview has been exploited for ideological purposes by reactionaries who believe they are this remnant. They forget that one of the characteristics of this remnant, per Ratzinger, is that it would be a “more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right … not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith.“
A more spiritual Church is precisely what both popes have been asking for, and what ideologues on both sides have been resisting this for many years, by projecting their own political inclinations onto pontiffs.
This is also true for a certain traditionalist faction, which condemns the Church (and Francis) for allegedly being too secularized. They decry Francis for not talking enough about Jesus, they use saccharine pictures of saints in their social media profiles, they call for fasts and prayers and penance in reparation for the Pope’s alleged sins. All of it serves an ulterior purpose that is not dissimilar to that of secularized Catholics: to acquire power in the Church and in society, to advance a certain ideological agenda. As Francis says in Gaudete et Exsultate #49,
Even though they speak warmly of God’s grace, “ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style.” When some of them tell the weak that all things can be accomplished with God’s grace, deep down they tend to give the idea that all things are possible by the human will.
Francis calls this idea neo-Pelagianism. In his letter to the Germans, Francis defines one of the facets of this new Pelagianism as “placing our trust in administrative structures and in the perfection of the organizations.” It is one of the “first and biggest temptations in the Church, to believe that the solutions for the present and future problems can come exclusively from purely structural, organic and bureaucratic reforms.”
Neo-Pelagianism is countered by a mystical outlook of the faith, for it is cured only by confidence in the Holy Spirit. As Francis goes on to say in the same letter:
“It is important for us not to lose sight of what the Church has taught repeatedly: we are not justified by our own works or our own efforts, but by the grace of the Lord, Who takes initiative. Without this theological dimension, in every single innovation and proposal, we will repeat that which is stopping the ecclesial community today of announcing the merciful love of Our Lord (…) Every single time that the ecclesial community tried to solve its problems on its own, trusting and focusing exclusively in its own strength and methods, its intelligence, its will and prestige, it ended perpetuating the evils it was trying to solve. Forgiveness and salvation cannot be bought, they cannot be acquired with our own works and efforts. Our Lord forgives us and frees us gratis. His self-giving in the Cross is so big, that we cannot, nor should we repay it: all we need to do is receive it with immense gratitude and joy of being so much loved beyond our wildest imaginations.”
In this statement, Francis warns us that an adequate answer to the present crisis cannot come from purely institutional changes. The temptation of thinking otherwise would assume that “everything would be solved … if the ecclesial life would acquire a predetermined order, new or old, that would put an end to the tensions proper to our being human, and even those that the Gospel seeks to provoke.”
“[W]e need much more than a structural, organizational or functional change,” says Francis. Benedict completes his train of thought in his own essay:
“And finally, there is the Mystery of the Church. The sentence with which Romano Guardini, almost 100 years ago, expressed the joyful hope that was instilled in him and many others, remains unforgotten: ‘An event of incalculable importance has begun; the Church is awakening in souls.’
He meant to say that no longer was the Church experienced and perceived as merely an external system entering our lives, as a kind of authority, but rather it began to be perceived as being present within people’s hearts — as something not merely external, but internally moving us. About half a century later, in reconsidering this process and looking at what had been happening, I felt tempted to reverse the sentence: ‘The Church is dying in souls.'”
In other words, the change that will bring us to a proper solution to the Church’s crisis today cannot be purely external. It cannot be ideological. It will have to transform us all from the inside. It will require a conversion, a metanoia, an inner transformation; and only then will external acts naturally follow. As Francis says in his Letter to the People of God:
“Together with those efforts, every one of the baptized should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need. This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does. For as Saint John Paul II liked to say: ‘If we have truly started out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he wished to be identified’ (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49). To see things as the Lord does, to be where the Lord wants us to be, to experience a conversion of heart in his presence.”
How is this conversion to be achieved? The two popes have a programmatic proposal, in which the suggestions of both complement each other and intersect. First and above all, the Pope Emeritus mentions that we must discern the way forward. “Only obedience and love for our Lord Jesus Christ can point the way. So let us first try to understand anew and from within [ourselves] what the Lord wants, and has wanted with us.“
This is discernment. We must “understand”, yes. But this is not understanding in the sense of knowledge, but understanding in the sense of discernment. It is a supernatural understanding, an understanding with the eyes of the faith, not of the world. Benedict, as one of the greatest intellectuals of the modern Church, grasped the limits of over-intellectualizing the faith, which many current-day dissenters are guilty of when they put their own arguments above the living Magisterium of Pope Francis:
“Indeed, in theology God is often taken for granted as a matter of course, but concretely one does not deal with Him. The theme of God seems so unreal, so far removed from the things that concern us. And yet everything becomes different if one does not presuppose but presents God. Not somehow leaving Him in the background, but recognizing Him as the center of our thoughts, words and actions.
God became man for us. Man as His creature is so close to His heart that He has united himself with him and has thus entered human history in a very practical way. He speaks with us, He lives with us, He suffers with us and He took death upon Himself for us. We talk about this in detail in theology, with learned words and thoughts. But it is precisely in this way that we run the risk of becoming masters of faith instead of being renewed and mastered by the Faith.”
What kind of “understanding” is Benedict proposing to us? In Deus Caritas Est #2, Benedict warns that “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
Benedict blames the ills of the Church and society on the “absence of God.” This happens because “a world without God can only be a world without meaning.” The corollary of this reasoning is that the solutions to the ills of the Church and society can only be found in God; namely in the meaning that the existence of God confers to everything. This meaning can be summarized thus, per Benedict:
“If we really wanted to summarize very briefly the content of the Faith as laid down in the Bible, we might do so by saying that the Lord has initiated a narrative of love with us and wants to subsume all creation in it. The counterforce against evil, which threatens us and the whole world, can ultimately only consist in our entering into this love. It is the real counterforce against evil. The power of evil arises from our refusal to love God. He who entrusts himself to the love of God is redeemed. Our being not redeemed is a consequence of our inability to love God. Learning to love God is therefore the path of human redemption.”
This is how Benedict sums up the supernatural “understanding” that must underlie the conversion of the faithful. From this “theoretical” basis (which is theoretical not in the sense of theological knowledge, but in the sense of wisdom), we are able to put it in practice. Since this practice springs from this renewed “understanding” that we acquired by searching for meaning in God, then the practice itself is centered in God as well. Benedict also discusses this approach in his essay on abuse, denouncing those who would decry it as “impractical”:
“We Christians and priests also prefer not to talk about God, because this speech does not seem to be practical (…) Above all, we ourselves must learn again to recognize God as the foundation of our life instead of leaving Him aside as a somehow ineffective phrase.”
It is precisely because of this that those who decried Francis’ Letter to the People of God as merely asking for prayers and penance, should heed what both popes have to say. It is not about eschewing action in favor of prayer. It is about having an action enlightened by prayer, purified from errors. Only through God’s guidance can any policy bear fruit. This is what Francis meant when he wrote:
“To do so, prayer and penance will help. I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command. This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says “never again” to every form of abuse.
The penitential dimension of fasting and prayer will help us as God’s People to come before the Lord and our wounded brothers and sisters as sinners imploring forgiveness and the grace of shame and conversion. In this way, we will come up with actions that can generate resources attuned to the Gospel. For “whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world” (Evangelii Gaudium, 11).
Likewise, penance and prayer will help us to open our eyes and our hearts to other people’s sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the root of those evils.”
It is, therefore, extremely ironic that conservatives who criticize Francis for allegedly being worldly and not focused on Jesus, would despise his calls for prayers and penance at such a crucial juncture, by accusing him of weaponizing the rosary, for example. Many of those would, later on, have no qualms with fasts and prayers called for by anonymous clergy in reparation of a supposed pagan ritual that did not happen. Once again, this was the creation of a propaganda apparatus meant to propel an ideological narrative intending to paint Francis as a “bad pope” whose Magisterium should not be followed, at least when his teachings contradict their ideology.
Francis says, in his Letter to the People of God, that “in salvation history, the Lord saved one people. We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual.” This is also in harmony with Benedict, who said in Spe salvi #48: “no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone.“
These fast-and-prayer campaigns that have been designed by biased pundits and anonymous priests are detached from the Church as a community of faithful, since they are done outside the scope of the hierarchical Church. They presuppose a de facto decapitated Church, because they do not respect the Visible Headship of the Church embodied by the Pope (even if they recognize Francis’ title, they do not respect his authority). These are initiatives that aggravate what Francis calls “a strong tendency for fragmentation and polarization.” Francis warns that the Synodal Way advocated by the German Bishops must be conducted “with Peter and under Peter.” Not alone. It’s important to understand that what Francis says to the Germans is also applicable to the Universal Church–and not just on the topic of synodality:
“The Universal Church lives in the particular churches, just like the particular churches live and flourish in the Universal Church. If they are separated from the whole ecclesial body, they get debilitated, they wither, they die. Therefore, it is necessary to always keep alive and effective the communion of the whole body of the Church, that helps us to overcome the anxiety that closes us in ourselves (…) This is not synonymous of not walking, not advancing, not changing and even not debating or disagreeing; it is simply the consequence of knowing that we are constitutively a part of a bigger body.
In my homeland, there is a powerful saying that can illuminate us: ‘the brothers should be united, for that is the first and greatest law’; let them have a true union at any time, because if they fight from within, they may be devoured by those from without.”
Who are those that may devour us from without? Francis continues the above quotation by giving us a glimpse of the enemy that takes advantage of such division. Contrary to what his critics want us to believe, his is a very spiritually-oriented answer; one that should satisfy those who are traditionally-inclines:
“Brothers and sisters, let us guard ourselves and be attentive to the temptation of the Father of Lies and Division, the master of separation that, tricking us into searching for a given good or answer to a specific situation, ends up fragmenting the body of the Holy People of God. As an apostolic body, let us walk together, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
Diabolus, in Latin, means the “separator.” That’s what the Devil does. He separates. Benedict complements Francis’ statement by describing one of the ways this Father of Division fragments the Church:
“[I]t is necessary to refer to an important text in the Revelation of St. John. The devil is identified as the accuser who accuses our brothers before God day and night (…) The timeliness of what the Apocalypse is telling us here is obvious. Today, the accusation against God is, above all, about characterizing His Church as entirely bad, and thus dissuading us from it. The idea of a better Church, created by ourselves, is in fact a proposal of the devil, with which he wants to lead us away from the living God, through a deceitful logic by which we are too easily duped.”
It is impressive how his words mimic those of Francis in his speech in the eve of the abuse summit: “One cannot live one’s whole life accusing, accusing, accusing the Church (…) Whose office is it to accuse? Who is the one the Bible calls the Great Accuser? The devil!“
It is impressive how conservatives, who are always marshalling for more speeches about the Devil and the need to do penance to avoid his satanic snares for the soul, wailed and gnashed their teeth at the fulfillment of their requests, as soon as they found themselves on the receiving end of these prophetic warnings. They wrongly accused the Pope of maligning the victims and the whistleblowers, but their anger gave away that they understood who Pope Francis was really describing. They knew they were the ones being denounced.
Constantly accusing the Church fragments the People of God. This is precisely the opposite of what Pope Francis asked for in his Letter to the People of God. “It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People. Indeed, whenever we have tried to replace, or silence, or ignore, or reduce the People of God to small elites, we ended up creating communities, projects, theological approaches, spiritualities and structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies and ultimately, without lives.”
But this fragmentation, produced by a permanent accusatory posture against the Church, can often result in more than division in the Church. It may actually disintegrate one’s own perspective on reality. In his letter to the Germans, Francis goes on to say that “when we are stuck in a conflictive conjuncture, we lose the sense of the profound unity of reality.” We may risk “being trapped in [the questions raised by the challenges ahead], losing perspective, limiting the horizon and fragmenting reality.” “In this sense, the Sensus Ecclesiae offers us an ample horizon of possibilities from whence we can answer the questions, and also remember the beauty of the pluriform face of the Church.”
Ideology certainly thrives on the fragmentation of reality produced by an accusatory and conflictive posture within the Church, but it also leads to the rejection of Church teaching. Not only is the ideologized Catholic suspicious of every teaching or doctrine that does not conform with his or her ideology, such a Catholic will also give religious submission of mind and will to the worldly answers the ideology provides. In this sense, the letter to the Germans gives a more stern warning to the liberals, but Francis’ advice should be heeded across the spectrum:
“[We must] be attentive to that old and always new temptation from the promoters of gnosticism. They wanted to make a name for themselves and expand their doctrine and fame, so they seeked something always new and distinct from what the Word of God gave them. That’s what St. John describes with the word proagon, i.e. the one who is too ahead, the one at the forefront, the one that always wants to go beyond of the ecclesial ‘Us’ which protects the community from excesses (…) The synodal perspective does not cancel antagonisms or surprises, and neither do conflicts get solved by syncretic solutions of ‘consensus’, resulting from the elaboration of censuses or surveys about one topic or another. That would be too reductive.”
This is the reason why Francis, in his apostolic exhortation on holiness, warns not just against neo-Pelagianism, but against neo-Gnosticism. This is the mistaken notion that Catholics are saved not just by their own works and wills, but also by what they think they know.
This is where ideology comes in. After fragmenting one’s own perception of reality, ideology fills in the voids left behind. Ideologies provide answers that seem clear, and are therefore comforting. These answers, however, are simplistic and cannot encompass the entire fabric of reality, which is complex and multifaceted. The reason why such answers seem clear is that they presuppose the fragmentation of our perception of reality, and that everything that does not fit within the simplistic framework of the ideology is explained away, ignored, or angrily rejected.
When used to explain the whole of reality, ideologies replace religious faith. In this way, Christianity is often made into an ideology. For example, Francis’ critics have transformed the terms “clarity” and “ambiguity” into dogwhistles. They boldly (but incorrectly) assert that Christianity was always “clear” until Francis came along and introduced “ambiguity” (which is often a code-word for heterodoxy, in their view). They have transformed Catholicism into an ideology that explains everything, and they rebel whenever the Visible Head of the Church teaches something that contradicts the false certainty they receive from this fantastical and ideologized version of Catholicism.
Remember, Catholicism is a religion that worships the God who was shrouded in a pillar of cloud–the God that appeared to Augustine as a child in the beach, illustrating the folly of filling Man’s head (the hole) with all the grandeur of God (the sea). An ideologized Catholicism does not have room for the Mystery. But Catholicism in its proper sense is Mystery, and therefore accepts that we will not have everything clarified in this life.
The only way to clarity is to rediscover our identity. As a Church, this identity revolves around God, and therefore every action must be preceded by prayer and penance that will purify our eyes so we can see God in the events happening in front of us. But our identity must also be recovered by knowing what the Church is. This is achieved, not by yielding to a fragmented perspective of reality, but by acknowledging reality as it is. In this sense, both popes ask us to walk together in community. It is only by experiencing the concrete realities of our brethren that we receive a taste of what reality really is, and therefore, be cured of the simplistic notions that ideologies serve us on a silver platter. From Francis’ letter to the Germans:
“The Sensus Ecclesiae frees us of particularisms and ideological tendencies, in order to make us like this certainty from the Second Vatican Council, that affirmed that the Anointment of the Saint (1 Jo 2:20,27) belongs to the totality of the faithful (…) Therefore, be vigilant and attentive to every temptation that tries to reduce the People of God to an enlightened group that will not allow us to see, savor and be thankful for this abundant holiness living ‘in the patient People of God: the fathers that raise their children with so much love; in the men and women that work to bring bread to their homes; in the sick; in the elderly nuns that keep on smiling’… In this constancy to keep going straight ahead day by day, I see the holiness of the Church Militant (…) This holiness always protects and shields the Church from every kind of positivist and manipulative ideological reductionism.”
Notwithstanding their differences in style and their inclinations (which are magnified beyond their true scope by ideologues), both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis agree on the fundamentals: they have a mystical approach to the Faith and they both know that only such an outlook can provide the solution for the current crisis. The answers certainly will not come from those who confuse the Will of God with their own ideological preconceptions and projects, but from those who are willing to be transformed by the Will of God, regardless of their own prejudices. The messages of Benedict and Francis have a continuity between them that ideologized Catholics on both sides of the spectrum have missed, because their worldly understanding of the Faith prevents them from seeing it. This continuity is much deeper than a bond between two modern pontiffs: it points to the essence of the Church herself, to what the Church really is, and to the center of our Faith – Jesus Christ, without Whom every action of ours, every reform we undertake, every answer we give, is doomed to fail.
[Photo credits: AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, HO]
Pedro Gabriel, MD, is a Catholic layman and physician, born and residing in Portugal. He is a medical oncologist, currently employed in a Portuguese public hospital. A published writer of Catholic novels with a Tolkienite flavor, he is also a parish reader and a former catechist. He seeks to better understand the relationship of God and Man by putting the lens on the frailty of the human condition, be it physical and spiritual. He also wishes to provide a fresh perspective of current Church and World affairs from the point of view of a small western European country, highly secularized but also highly Catholic by tradition.