Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Don't read Francis through Benedict

The Bishop of Rome returns from Brazil in triumph, even the western media seemed impressed. In everything he did he excelled. There was no complex theology, indeed his short addresses were not great teaching moments and in many ways predictable, which seems to be Francis' charm. His nonchalant attitude to security, his obvious delight at being with the crowds, his casual homely way, his pleasure at being disruptive himself, the almost anarchic revelling in being 'not the Pope', I mean his obvious joy on his visit to the slums, in saying he would like to visit everyone's house, to ask for a glass of water, or perhaps have a cup of coffee, actually seemed to make him appear as visiting great uncle, a friend, rather than a visiting bishop. Someone willing to listen as much as someone come to teach.

For me his lack of theology actually seemed a strong point. For the media, he seemed to say what they expected a Pope to say, a message of reconciliation. Francis preaching by smiles and hugs, even a few tears, a cup of mate, a sombrero, an indigenous headdress, casual conversations with embraces and kisses, in fact his physical openness to the world was actually much more coherent than any words he had to say. His message was simple, "to the streets, bring Christ the edges of society". Francis himself through his actions is a model of this.

Personally, I have had difficulty with the transition from Benedict to Francis, maybe because I was trying to "read Francis through Benedict" rather than seeing both as gift from God to his Church.

Francis intention seems to be simply to show human warmth as a means first to being human, then to evangelisation, Benedict actually did the same, he visited drug addicts embraced the poor, sat down and eat with the homeless, which Francis has yet to do but it was his words, his teaching we wanted. Francis really has nothing very exciting to say, it is a bit ambiguous, imprecise, often he appears to contradict on Monday what he said the previous Wednesday. His words are stream of consciousness stuff, it is his actions that are important. I think we should stop reading or hearing Francis through his predecessor but rather see his actions through the theology of his predecessors.

If we can see anything of God's Providence through Francis, perhaps God is saying enough of theology, enough words, enough discussion, now go and embrace, smile hug, show kindness, go the slums, reach out to the young, embrace the unbeliever, draw in the outsider.

On the plane back he seemed to show the same sense of reconciliation, he wants to emphasise the positive, whether it is about homosexuals who genuinely seeking Christ, or any other section of the Church. We really do not need to see that Church as a fortress keeping out the enemy but rather a ship come to rescue fallen frightened humanity. The Church does not exist for its members but for humanity, we are indeed sent to evangelise. I am beginning to see Francis as an antidote to illness of the Church since the Council, where for the past 50 years we have been looking inwards to such an extent that the world sees Christ's disciples not as a source of goodness and hope for the world but as something evil, corrupt and immoral.


quiavideruntoculi said...

Face it Father; the man's an ass. If his hail-fellow-well-met, call-me-Jorge/Bishop of Rome, 'example' counts as a gift to the Church, I don't know what counts as a chastisement.

God is punishing us. This man is a scourge; no true pastor, but a destroyer.

umblepie said...

'We really do not need to see that Church as a fortress keeping out the enemy but rather a ship come to rescue fallen frightened humanity. The Church does not exist for its members but for humanity' - thanks for this timely reminder Father, and thanks for this encouraging post.

Fr Ray Blake said...

We have no choice but to see what God has given us as "gift", it is an office manifest in a person that unites the Church. His role is to feed, ours to be fed. If we refuse to accept the food of the shepherd given to us by God we starve and separate ourselves from the flock.

Insulting the Pope is simply not acceptable, he above all deserves our charity, for our sake, lest we are judged; and for the sake of the unity of the Church.
We can acknowledge weaknesses but our Faith demands charity, and obedience too, that is the nature of being a Catholic, gratuitous knee-jerk insults are not.

CSR said...

For better or worse, Father, many people see the emptying of Catholic Churches, the banalizing of the liturgy, the shrinking of the Catholic family, the sexual abuse of children, and the squandering and misdirecting of Church funds as the real fruits of the Church of "Yes!"

The fact that such an ideology has some sincere, joyful, pious representatives just doesn't go as far as it used to. It all very suspect at this point. I'm not going to insult the Pope, but I am wary of playing the game where God's intentions are manifestly speaking through his every action.

So after the globe-treking JPII God wanted a more quiet, contemplative, intellectual Church, so he gave us Benedict, but after eight years of that, he is calling us to "just do it"? I'm not so sure I can read history this way.

nickbris said...

MILLIONS of happy people;probably the most successful Papal Visit ever although the visit of Benedict to the UK also created a lot of happiness and good will.

Inevitably the Garbage Press will pull out all the stops to bring negativity to bear,they have discovered some more long dead priests who are supposed to have gone off the rails.

That quavidocoli person ought to have a check up at the doctors if you ask me sounds like some tropical disease.

Martina Katholik said...

With all due respect Father but I think you are still looking at this Pope through rose-coloured-glasses.

Recusant said...


As you are following the Richard Williamsonpath - Anglicanism straight to the SSPX - it might be adviseable not to follow his methodology as well.

Bruvver Eccles said...

I think it's good to look for the positive aspects of Francis's papacy; they just aren't the same as the +ve aspects of Benedict's.

parepidemos said...

Father Blake, I echo what umblepie said about being grateful to you for this encouraging post.

We all know that the nature of the scandals that continue to hurt the Church; sadly, these have seriously damaged its credibility in the eyes of many and some look upon situation his with glee. My feeling is that God has given us Francis to restore that credibility through actions rather than teaching. Once credibility has been restored, people will be more open to the teaching; at least, that is my prayer.

In closing, one thing which makes me truly happy is the great respect and affection Francis has for Benedict with whom he apparently converses frequently.

Lola said...

The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

"2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one's neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity."

Catholic bloggers, lay and clergy, should know better than to encourage the above. When people are induced to comment in the way that quiavideruntoculi has done, pulling the knife from the back of the Holy Father comes rather late at this time.

Fr Mark said...

Of course, Francis speaks more easily to the modern world because he has mastered the art of the soundbite. I am an intellectual. I can't help it, I was born that way. I feel slightly as if I belong to a class of lepers much despised in the current Church. When I read Tina Beattie - who, whatever else she is, is supposed to be an academic theologian - stigmatizing B XVI as an academic theologian and welcoming the advent of a pope who is anything but, I am a little dismayed. Soundbites may be more effective in getting in the crowds, but I regret the loss of depth and clarity as well as nuance. Benedict XVI was a much more humble person than he was given credit for, and his successor, while professing to be against the cult of personality, paradoxically seems to be reviving it after an 8 year respite. Of course, the world values the spectacular gesture and not the reasoned argument, But where does effective communication become demagogical showmanship? I think it is dangerous to flatter and pander to the weaknesses of our present civilization. The church in the dark ages preserved the learned and rational culture of the West, the church in our age looks as if she is trying to please the crowds and - call me an intellectual snob if you will - I find it deeply worrying.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Fr Mark,
I think there is a great danger of anti-intellectual Peronism, a danger of driving intellectuals out or at least of making them feel unwelcome.
So many of our younger clergy are in this position.
The candy-floss of the charismatic sound bite is the present mode, and has been that of a great many bishops, priests and laity. Most are not 'intellectual' but an intellectual underpinning is absolutely vital because when the age of the sound bite passes, it is always transient, there will be nothing left, except Truth and hard thinking.
We have to read Benedict whilst watching Francis and interpret Francis in the light of Benedict.
Providence gave us the solidity of Benedict before Francis. Benedict's teaching has formed a generation of Catholic theologians.

Katalina said...

I think that although Francis means well through his words and actions his is causing a lot of confusion more so than even John Paul II. The comments on the plane about homosexual priests is just the latest example. Everything he does or says has to be clarified and I for one of tired of it. We don't need any more emotionalism Our faith is intellect based.

Catholic Left-winger said...

Fr Mark, fear not. Pope Benedict isn't putting on an act, he is continuing to live as he did before. If it was a sudden act or whim for the sake of a soundbite, I would share your worry.
I know God chose Francis for our time and Fr Blake's post explains it as well as any other.
Tina Beattie doesn't really get it but don/t blame Pope Francis for her unsought approbation anymore than you would Pope Benedict for her unsought opprobrium.

John Nolan said...

Who is advising the Pope? He needs someone with the stature of Merry del Val, who combined great intellectual and diplomatic ability with great holiness.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Ah John Nolan,
Here is the problem, probably no-one. Jesuits tend to lone wolves.

Genty said...

I'm afraid it was always wishful thinking to read Francis through Benedict. You cannot reconcile two completely different personalities in that way.
Yes, the Catholic Church should be trawling for souls, but reaching down into the deep is not enough. it's also about lifting up spiritually.
I admire your reasoning, Father, but in the end I have to agree with Fr. Mark.
I am worried that there is a clear and present danger that if Francis continues in the way he has begun, and the novelty wears off, he will end up as a caricature to the world.

Damask Rose said...

I don't think it is that Pope Francis is not intellectual.

He is a man who joined the Society of Jesus for its charism.

Seems to me the Jesuit Order suits Francis down to a Tee.

I've always understood the Jesuits as being highly intellectual, but practical men with a certain type of drive.

If a bunch of Jesuits were sent into the jungle to build a mission, I'd bet they'd not only cut down the jungle with machetes but bang the nails into the wooden beams to build the church!

Pétrus said...

I think Francis is the "hook" for many. People seem to be far more willing to listen to him than Benedict.

I just can't shake the feeling we need more substance with which to feed those who open up.

Supertradmum said...

Father, I appreciate your excellent words and agree with the fact that most things the Pope does is good and an example for all of us. But, we are living among wolves, even some in the Church, who will use everything for their own agenda. If there was ever a time when we need prudence and wisdom in the words of our leaders, and especially the Pope, it is now. We should never compare Popes, that is not helpful, but we need to see a transcendent maturity, so that in the market place, in discussions and on line, we are not putting out the little fires of misunderstandings. I pray for the Pope and hope that his warm and open heart, which is a gift, also embraces the Church Militant; those of us in the trenches, needing protection and guidance in the harder days to come.

Victoria said...

"If a bunch of Jesuits were sent into the jungle to build a mission, I'd bet they'd not only cut down the jungle with machetes but bang the nails into the wooden beams to build the church!"

And then preach liberation theology and New Age meditation from the pulpit!.

Brother Burrito said...

Give the guy a chance! He is not even 6 months into his mission, in hostile territory, and already the snipers are after him, and they are supposed to be on the same side!

I can imagine some of the above comments being made about Our Lord as He trod His way in the world.

I believe that like his Master, Pope Francis is full of surprises, with plenty more to come. Ad multos annos!

quiavideruntoculi said...

Two questions, Father:

1) Where is it written that calling the Pope's competency publicly into question is not lawful? Isn't it necessary to discredit the errors he is teaching by his example?
2) Where is it written that insulting someone is, in se, against charity? (Granted that it can be.)

Fr Ray Blake said...

Being gratuitously insulting about anyone is contrary to the second of Jesus' commandments. To insult the Pope is contrary to the 4th Commandment according to every Catholic teacher from Aquinas (if not Ignatius of Antioch) onwards.

To ask questions politely and reverentially, to express concern respectfully and with docility is the duty of a disciple. Calling Christ's Vicar an "ass" is unacceptable

johnf said...

Father, please explain. Why is the Pope accusung people like me - traditionalists - pelagians? What has pelagianism got to do with the Latin Mass?

Looking as the definitions on the web pelagius maintained that original sin did not taint human nature and we could achieve salvation by good works alone and without the help of God. Well, just being in the world for a few years gives the lie to that one. So many organisations have been set up with 'perfect intentions' and lost their way some years later with bickerings, internecine struggles, hijackings with a different agenda.

Samuel Johnson put it well when he said
"With respect to original sin, the inquiry is not necessary; for whatever is the cause of human corruption, men are evidently and confessedly so corrupt that all the laws of heaven and earth are insufficient to restrain them from crimes"

What has all this got to do with a traditional approach, love of the EF Mass etc?

It is the second time he has made this comment so we need an explanation.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I think his reference to "new traditional communities" probably means non-charismatic communities like the Legionaries of Christ or even Opus Dei where there is a very strong emphasis on obedience to the will of the founder and the 'Rule", rather what we would call "traditional". I think these communities, which he would have come across regularly, and possibly clashed with, in S.America seem to prize a Pelagian obedience more than anything. Traddy Communities on the other hand seem to be quite anarchic, more concerned with getting the Mass and Sacraments to people than slavishly following the dictats of Fr General.

I suspect Trad Comms steered clear of Abp Bergoglio.

EuropeanCatholic said...

I think there is much to be thankful for with Pope Francis. I for one was encouraged and helped by his eloquent talks after the Via Crucis in Rome and Rio.

Nevertheless, I like many other Catholics have concerns.

I watched Rome Reports on YouTube last night. Rome Reports reported on the Pope’s visit to St. Mary Major after he returned from Rio. That is wonderful of course that he should want to thank Our Lady. But it’s difficult to watch the Holy Father place both a beach ball and a brazillian football jersey beneath the painting of Our Lady. I mean, a beach ball??

Archbishop Chaput in a recent interview appeared to recognise that there is at least some disquiet about what has been happening since the Pope’s election.

Fr Ray Blake said...


Jeremiah Methuselah said...

Reverend Father,

Yes, certainly it is wrong to call Papa Bergoglio an “Ass!”, of course, most ill-advised. But do you not understand how so many people are utterly perplexed by his statements, which seem to be improvised sound bites ? His comportment is so different and doesn’t seem, from what I have been able to see on the Internet, in the same category of recent Popes. It’s utterly baffling, it is certainly not ordinary communication, but we must assume he knows what he is doing, even if we do not.

But, placing a beach ball on the (high?) altar of Santa Maria Maggiore, what on earth does this mean ? Nowhere have I been prepared for this type of thing. May I not be permitted to disapprove of this strange event, as I have seen no creditable explanation ?

Damask Rose said...

Victoria @ 5:37.

"And then preach liberation theology and New Age meditation from the pulpit!."


Sometimes I wish St Ignatius Loyola would just appear to the Black Pope and his majordomos at Jesuit "GCHQ" and er, well, "kick butt".

Some intercession from St Edmund Campion would be real good right now.

momangelica said...

With all due respect Fr. Ray,draw them to what? Dancing, prancing people on the altar? Dubious liturgy and words in hymns? Badly catechised members within the congregation? Pro-contraception, pro-abortion, Fr. Raymond Brown theology taught at 'group' meetings and RCIA? I won't even start on the RE taught at the schools or the various sex ed. And heaven help them if anyone 'was drawn into our deanery church where dissident married priest speaks out against the churches teachings? Sound Catholic's can barely stand the constant devaluing of the Holy Mass as it is. I think the 'Ship' has been hit and partially submerged at present. Souls are drawn to the Catholic Church but they do not remain it it as she presents herself at the moment- sadly.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I hope you are not my deanery, our married priests are very orthodox.

momangelica said...

Dear Fr. Ray,
If I was in your Deanery you would know it as I would be coming to your Masses. Unfortunately, I have to travel quite a bit for an Orthodox Mass but not as far as having to get to you.