Francis has asked much of Catholics, particularly young Catholics, over the last five years.
Francis’ papacy was almost immediately characterized in social media as a pendulum swing away from Benedict, away from the hardline teachings and Latin Mass and all the trappings. The new Pope’s statements coupled with the response of an eager secular media gave the impression that the Church was going to be subjected to a rapid development of doctrine and the abandonment of Tradition.
What some media have failed to fully appreciate, however, is how Francis’ dynamic orthodoxy holds firmly to the truth of the faith. Even though his words and actions may result in “confusion” (Francis admits this), this does not mean truth is now unimportant. The confusion Francis causes is most often due to a mismatch between expectations and reality–that is to say, between what people think Truth is and what the Church actually teaches.
Still, the effect has been to insert a certain doubt into the minds of Catholics. How can Benedict and Francis both represent authentic Catholicism? Whipsawed, many who have desired to remain faithful to the Church over the past 10-15 years, have begun to reevaluate deeply-held convictions about what the Church stands for and about the faith itself.
Such questioning can and should lead to a healthier faith, disentangled from false attachments to politics or mere preference. I have little doubt that this has partly been the intention of Francis over these last five years, “making a little mess” as Francis was known to say. However, when empowered by false reporting, lies and exaggeration like those rampant in social media, this questioning can also lead to doubt regarding even the bedrock principles of the faith.
Sadly, this is occurring today. Readers will no doubt be familiar with Catholics who have attempted to justify direct abortion in “complicated situations”; who have argued for the removal of conscience protections; who have made the case that the use of artificial contraception may be the objective ideal in certain cases. And so on.
In what I refer to, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as woke Catholicism, many feel the freedom and even the necessity to reevaluate the validity of clear teachings and to find new ways to defend what Tradition has condemned.
These Catholics share in a well-ordered desire to lead with mercy and to couch the Church’s teachings in the Cross of Christ, without which doctrine becomes dead stones we hurl at others. These are the recommendations of Francis in Amoris Laetitia.
However, they tend to neglect the other parts of that same document, such as “discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity.” Also later in which Francis writes that, “In no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage. […] To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being.”
This important passage in Amoris Laetitia echoes Pope Benedict in Caritas in Veritate:
Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breathing-space.
Truth cuts through false opinions, even ones that seem completely ordered to another’s good. Social media is filled with these false opinions, where well-placed sympathy with others’ pain and suffering has induced so much bad theology and moral reasoning that in one way or another stands in contradiction to Truth, as revealed by the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church.
What is important to recall is that the essential nature of truth is not diminished by its effect in others upon its reception. Truth doesn’t become false because it hurts another’s feelings. Rather, it is the deliverer that has a responsibility to speak the truth in love.
A truth, particularly when it is delivered harshly or in a way that is disproportionate to the other’s capabilities or prejudices, may be rejected and be the cause of irreparable spiritual harm. These are the “dead stones” Francis references. When this occurs, the rejection of the truth is not primarily the fault of the person hearing but rather the person speaking it. To turn the truth into a weapon or to neglect one’s duty to teach the truth with love is a sin against Truth.
On the other hand, one may deliver a truth in a respectful and pastoral way but it still be received angrily or with great disappointment. Despite the apparently bad outcome, this is always a more loving approach when compared to giving a false opinion with an aim to merely console or to provide a false sense of freedom. It is also more loving than not delivering the truth at all for fear of offending. Sometimes, offense is inevitable.
Where Peter Is readers will hopefully know by now how we strive to remain fully committed to the Church, as we sift through the distortions to provide, to the best of our ability, clear re-presentations of Francis’ teachings. There is a need to correct the false opinions of Catholics who have bought into the perception of Francis as a liberalizer and a Tradition-breaker.
In the process of doing so, we have observed that many Catholics are ignorant of a facet of Church teaching that has been “harder to accept” in modern circumstances. Most recently, we have pointed out the responsibility that wealthy nations must accept for refugees and migrants.
Francis writes in Lumen Fidei:
Each period of history can find this or that point of faith easier or harder to accept: hence the need for vigilance in ensuring that the deposit of faith is passed on in its entirety (cf. 1 Tim 6:20) and that all aspects of the profession of faith are duly emphasized. Indeed, inasmuch as the unity of faith is the unity of the Church, to subtract something from the faith is to subtract something from the veracity of communion.
On the flip side of the coin, however, we find woke Catholicism, which in its own way has also bought into this same false perception of Francis. Believing Francis’ papacy to be about challenging the applicability of Church teaching to individual situations, many Catholics feel empowered to do the same. This is an affront to the truth of the faith and a departure from the guidance and leadership of Francis, who has sought to highlight the primacy of conscience and the importance of mercy, but always in relation to the truth.
Francis writes in Lumen Fidei:
Without truth, love is incapable of establishing a firm bond; it cannot liberate our isolated ego or redeem it from the fleeting moment in order to create life and bear fruit.
There is for us, as contributors on this website, the need for great humility before the truth. We know that at any given time our understanding is imperfect and our spirituality lacking. There is also great diversity in our Church and different ways of interpreting revelation that are not all false (cf. Gaudete et Exsultate 43). Respectful of Francis’ teachings, we know that the key for any good discussion is humility and silence. Francis writes in Open Mind, Faithful Heart:
It’s very hard for us not to have the last word, not to utter the always definitive prophecy. We do not like being fools. We have a hard time saying “I don’t know” without feeling disturbed or showing indifference. Leading God’s faithful people sometimes requires us to forgo the urgency of answers and to remember that silence is often the best response of the wise.
Social media is a “loud” place where malformed thoughts can quickly become hurtful and harmful words. In charity, we hope to live up to the high standards of Francis, to listen first and speak the truth with wisdom. We believe, as Francis writes in Lumen Fidei, that unity is through the truth as we seek to build up that unity in truth through our writing.