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Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Cheering for the jersey.

Michael Brendan Dougherty launches one into the cheap seats today, weaving together with considerably more verve and skill themes I've taken at a scattershot level. Before you dismiss him as a hater (as about 50% of his commenters have), note the respectful tone and careful framing of the issues (emph. added):

Pope Francis has a funny way of naming and shaming certain tendencies in the church, using insults that are inventive, apposite, and confounding. His ear is finely tuned for the way the Catholic faith can be distorted by ideology. And I'd like to imitate his example when I say this: Most Catholics are completely unprepared for a wicked pope. And they may not be prepared for Pope Francis either. They are more loyal to an imagined Catholic party than to the Catholic faith or the church....

The near omnipresence that the modern papacy achieves through media makes me worry that the institution of the papacy would have already hit upon a grave crisis if it weren't for the unusual theological ability of Joseph Ratzinger, first as cardinal and later as Pope Benedict XVI, acting as a ballast. Modern media, especially the modern Catholic media, has brought the pope into our homes, across the radio, in television, and into our niche media world. He's in the browser of many Catholics every day. And conservative Catholic media relies heavily on the inflated imaginative role of the papacy, just like British tabloids rely on the royals. The pageantry, mystery, and fame attached to the office are a great way of selling magazines, getting clicks, or raising funds. He is the worldwide celebrity that represents "us." He's the reason the Faith gets talked about by others. 

When you add to this the fact that the cultural formation of most engaged Catholics is primarily the ideological combat of political and cultural factions, they tend to treat the pope as their "party leader," and to treat "the world" as an opposing party.

Dougherty also notes that the rhetorical "defensive crouch" is a real problem, given the facts on the ground:

The Catholic Party eclipsing the Catholic Church has a distorting effect on the world's perception too. If the loudest and most prominent orthodox members of the church in the media treat the pope like a party leader and are so quick with clever-dick rationalizations of the massive changes to the practice of the Faith over the past 50 years, why should they be surprised that the world conceives of the doctrines and dogmas of the Faith as mere party planks or mutable policy, to be exchanged, updated, or abandoned as the times change?

And why should they be surprised that even their co-religionists fail to understand the Faith? In truth, the most salient fact of contemporary Catholic life in the West is the way it is pervaded by the pattern of saying things and then acting as if something else were true.

Catholic parishes teach their catechumens that people must be absolved from their mortal sins in sacramental confession before presenting themselves for Holy Communion, yet priests serve communion to packed churches just hours after tiny lines for confession. They say one thing, but act another way. Catholics teach that the Holy Eucharist becomes the body and blood of their Lord, yet the ad-hoc nature of their revised liturgy, the disappearance of genuflection as a Catholic gesture (it's now Tebowing!), and the behavior of priests and extraordinary ministers says that we are as unmoved by consecrated host as Pentecostals.

That about stretches fair use to its limits: tolle, lege--and ponder it. I will just add a huge "AMEN!" to the historical amnesia which fails to inform our discussions and thinking these days. We relish the Newman quote that "to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant," deploying it with saturation-bombing frequency in spats with the sons of the Protestant Reformation. But how many of us--self-included--really have a passable grip on the entirety of Catholic history? I don't. Yet most of us readily appeal to that history without really knowing it.

I think that may be some of the fuel for the infighting. We're in the eternal now--this present moment--without any but the most tenuous grip on the past, save for apologetic sore-spots that require regular applications of topical (rimshot!) cream. That leads to lazy thinking, slogans and catchphrases that substitute for thought. I really need to do better on that. 

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