For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Big Interview and the Fuss

Since the papal interview was published - that interview, with Fr Spadaro - there hasn't half been a fuss. A couple of thoughts have surfaced in my mind in the last few days. I am finally getting around to putting pen to paper. (My time to write this web diary has been terribly squeezed over the last month: it isn't so easy as it seemed at the beginning, in the less busy summer.)

The first thing is that the main point made was largely lost by the initial welcoming liberal reaction and conservative counter-reaction. That is, that the simple Gospel should be the centre and substance, and the motive force of every word and deed of Christians. This is quite true, necessary, vital also, and vital in the very literal sense of being the life-blood of the Church. But there are a couple of questions stirring in my mind, which I think might get to the heart of what the conservatives and traditionalists are uneasy about.

Shall we say that Papa Bergoglio is emphasising what our concern should be for the world outside the Church? In one sense, it doesn't matter what laws are passed in the land, what slippage there is in civic life into un-Christian forms of living, for the proclamation and living out of the Gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ is and remains the first duty of the Church Militant. One's primary concern oughtn't to be wielding legal machinery and the like, but to bring and to be Christ's light. Members of the Church are perfectly right to campaign against great evils, vast ignorance of natural law, and bad legislation: but this is not what the Church qua Church is about. One shouldn't fall for the anti-Nazi fallacy: abortion is a great and unseen social evil, like the Holocaust, and therefore the Church must make it its overriding mission to bring it to everyone's attention. We cannot allow such an evil to be perpetrated silently. True, but this isn't the primary meaning of the Church's existence. It must confront the world with its ruler, Christ crucified and risen, and as the One who takes away its sins. And of course abortion is one of the world's sins.

[Perhaps, even when the Christian approaches a matter like abortion (as he will be obliged to sooner or later), he must do so in an evangelical way: there isn't anything very Christian about e.g. denouncing abortion and then not lifting a finger to help a frightened girl who is being browbeaten into having an abortion by her boyfriend. The point is not to denounce simply, but to manifest the kind of life, together with one's fellow Christians, that witnesses to another kingdom. That is, a kingdom where one's goods and one's body are gifts from God, given to be enjoyed by being given firstly back to God. And in concrete terms, perhaps a homosexual person wouldn't feel rejected by the Church if he found the living and positive virtue of chastity in the life of young unmarried - and married - Christians around him, and lifted into God's service permanently in the vows of the consecrated. He would rather find a Christ-like image of what sexuality is for.]

That is my understanding of the thrust of the interview, but it does raise a further question. What about those within the Church? If our zeal and love towards those outside is to be evangelical, then what about those inside who don't quite agree with her teaching, don't - what is that phrase? - sentire con la chiesa, have a heart beating with her maternal heart? Of course, here also a love ignited by the Gospel is needed for wisdom in bringing them back to truth. But there is a problem with public scandal: not just Catholic politicians and public figures making ambiguous remarks or doing hostile acts against the clear teaching of Christ , but with people in one's parish whose lives manifest an open contradiction which they are in no hurry to correct. No-one seems too bothered. One would like to know what the Pope thinks of these internal disciplinary matters. Should the Church just muddle through, and never really confront the scandal within? There is a way of dealing with these things that is pastoral and charitable but clear (and not merely bureaucratic); but often confrontation of scandal is avoided through fear, confusion masquerading as tender love, or downright connivance. And what does the Bishop of Rome think of that? Because the two questions i.e. the need for an evangelical priority towards those without, and the need for holiness in those within, seem to me to be distinct. I am not sure that the answer to the second question comes across very clearly. We don't need to talk about the issues of communion for divorced-and-remarried people and homosexual people, about Catholic politicians who support abortion, all the time... but we are doing something about them, all the time, within the Church. And here is the problem: is vague, and contradictory, and nothing in particular, the right thing?

There a couple of other things that I wondered about in the interview.

What does the Pope mean by "ideologising" the Vetus Ordo? It seems that to create a good ideology out of the old rite would be a very good thing to do, if one actually compares what has been developed out of the Novus Ordo in some places. One might even call such an ideology theology. I sometimes wonder if anyone who dislikes the Traditional Rite and favours the Novus Ordo has the slightest notion about e.g. what the Orthodox view of the liturgy is, and why they think it shouldn't be fiddled with. I've spent a little time trying explain that in a previous post, Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi (I might as well shamelessly plug my most popular post by far). I can only give some idea of their conception by saying that paring down the liturgy for an Orthodox Christian is almost like chopping a few books out of the canon of Holy Writ. Might one say that what the Church has suffered from in the last 40 years has been an ideologising of the Novus Ordo to the detriment of the our worship of a Most Holy God and our belief in Him? I am not saying that it is justified to see in the Novus Ordo as the sole reason for Christian decline (or is that a bad word?) in the West, but rather that there has been an "ideologising", a bad theology that has grown up with it that is linked to the bad liturgy that has been permitted under its umbrella. And on Vatican II: people talk, said Pope Francis, about a hermeneutic of continuity or discontinuity. Yes, they do, but it seems that he certainly doesn't want to. Again, the question looms - is a certain reading of Vatican II to be allowed to become an ideology that will cut off the children of the Church from its past?

I should point out that the Pope's literary interests were anticipated on this blog: if you look back over the last few months I have penned posts on Dostoevsky and Hölderlin. What an oversight that he didn't mention the book I have written about most recently, The Wind in the Willows.

I don't know if all the fuss is helpful anytime Pope Francis says something that irritates traditionalists. The point about the Eucharist as the source and centre of Christian life is that Christianity isn't a personal cult of Pontifex Maximus. It is for the Incarnate Christ and the feeding of His flock that the See of Peter is there at all. Anglo-Catholics, even those for whom the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was a God-send, have I think developed in their wilderness a quite strongly spiritual and Eucharistic sense of unity with the Petrine see. They (how shall I put this?) probably don't invest too much in desperate readings of every papal pronouncement to see if things are "going their way". Things didn't go their way for so long in the Church of England, the faculty of seriously hopeful wishing that things would go their way atrophied like a vestigial organ. There are better things to get on with, anyhow: as we are reminded in the interview, things like being a faithful and joyful Christian, serving the poor, living and speaking the Gospel in a direct and simple way, and reaching out in hope for God's promises.

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