Among the many sad consequences of the divisions Pope Francis has exacerbated within the Church, we’re now forced to live with an undeniable reality: even when he says good things – and there are many such in his new Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad: On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World”) – they inevitably get drawn into the trench warfare he helped create.
His supporters often argue that opposition to the kind of changes he made in a document like Amoris laetitia stems from something like Franciphobia, an irrational dislike. It’s true that some Catholics now show a kind of blind fury at what they believe he is doing. But for many more, as Ross Douthat explains in his must-read book To Change the Church, it didn’t have to be this way.
That’s quite evident in how Rejoice and Be Glad invokes many traditional elements of Catholic spirituality and shapes them for current use. The pope states early on that he hasn’t written a comprehensive treatise on holiness, though in his meandering and sometimes self-contradictory way, he touches – helpfully – on almost everything.
Go on over and read the rest.
Then Fr. Dwight Longenecker weighs in here in a piece entitled Gaudete et Exsultate: Coming in from the Scold.
He analyzes the criticism in the document that is aimed at legalist, doctrinaire Catholics who observe a “punctilious” concern for liturgy. Fr. Longenecker asks whether this kind of scolding is productive, while at the same time noting there are far more Catholics who err in the opposite direction..
As I see it, there are five problems with the scolding:
- It doesn’t work. When you scold the self righteous they either deny that they are the ones to whom you are referring or they stick out their jaw, fold their arms and hunker down. The truly self righteous are impervious to criticism. So just smile and let them stew in their own juices and move on.
- It furthers division in the church. Guess what? The self righteous you shall have with you always. Its a personality type. They’re wired that way. The more you poke them, the more division you stir up.
- It feeds the self righteousness of the other side. When you scold the self righteous, legalistic, punctilious types all the easy going liberal types stand up and cheer. Great. Now you’ve not only divided the church into tribes again, you’ve fed the self righteousness of the other side too.
- It cheapens the office of the papacy. Really? You’re the pope. Rise above it all. Do you have to lower yourself and get involved in this petty bickering, insults and name calling?
- The name calling and generalizations don’t work. Maybe Father Maniple who may be a bit fussy liturgically turns out to do marvelous work in the local soup kitchen and has a great ministry with the Hispanic immigrants in his parish. Maybe Mr Latin Missal is also one of the most warm hearted and jovial people you know and who is a visitor in the local prison. So superficial judgements don’t help.
This is so true! Where is the desire to “accompany”- those who may be falling into legalism, older brother syndrome and so on? “Accompany” is a word Pope Francis has used to often regarding people who are broken, whose lives do not live up to the Christian ideal.
Fr. Longenecker references this piece by Carl Olson over at Catholic World Report.
Francis, as has been his common practice, warns not only against having too much concern for doctrine, but also too much emphasis on rules, describing as “pelagian or semi-pelagian” those who feel superior “because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style” (par 49). He says that like “the prophet Jonah, we are constantly tempted to flee to a safe haven. It can have many names: individualism, spiritualism, living in a little world, addiction, intransigence, the rejection of new ideas and approaches, dogmatism, nostalgia, pessimism, hiding behind rules and regulations. We can resist leaving behind a familiar and easy way of doing things.”
All of these descriptives can be parsed in an agreeable fashion, I suppose, but the overall impression is that rules, boundaries, limits, dogma, and tradition are almost always impediments. And yet, for a growing number of people in the West today—especially those who are younger—there is a recognition that the past several decades, which have witnessed full-scale assaults on many “rules and regulations” (and certainly on dogma), bear witness to the fact that some things really should hold fast and must stay put in order for goodness, order, and authentic love to survive, never mind thrive.
What struck me in reading the document yesterday, and as you know, I found much in it that was edifying, was that it seemed to be aimed at beginner Christians, at those in need of the new evangelization, so it was seeker-friendly, encouraging, and endeavoring to get people started and not worry too much about all that doctrine stuff or rules, but come and meet Jesus, and don’t let any of that get in your way of that encounter. And it’s maybe a warning to those who care about doctrine and rules not to get in the way of this reaching out to the fringes as he calls it.
Back a few decades ago, I didn’t care all that much about rules or doctrine. I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and I had experienced a profound level of repentance and conversion. I trusted Him to guide me via my intuition, which included assuming the Holy Spirit would bring to life Scripture passages to help me. I focused on what I could understand. I made some progress, yes. But real spiritual growth did not begin until I switched from trying to understand before I believed, and chose to believe the Apostolic faith in order to understand, as per St. Anselm’s dictum: Credo ut intelligam.
So, I have become a fan of right doctrine and the law, not as a substitute for that personal relationship with Jesus, but as a guide, a trustworthy road map trodden by the saints and apostles, prophets and martyrs, so the world, the flesh and the devil doesn’t beguile me away from my one true Love.