Monday, November 18, 2013

Pope Francis and Traditionalist Roman Catholics

Pope Francis is a popular figure these days.  But while many are taken with Francis, there is one group of Roman Catholics that feels less than enthralled - traditionalists.  The New York Times published an article recently, entitled "Conservative U.S. Catholics Feel Left out of Pope's Embrace," that recounts the frustration some in the U.S. church have with Pope Francis' lack of focus on the primary 'culture war' issues - abortion, gay marriage, etc. - as well as frustration with what some called his "imprudent" and "naive" comments about homosexuality and atheism.

There's a traditionalist website that I look at every so often called Rorate Caeli where reaction to the pontiff has generally not been positive.  Rorate Caeli has raised concerns about the Pope's more informal way of speaking off-the-cuff, and particularly about the Pope's apparent unconcern with liturgical beauty, beauty that traditionalists hold dear.  Most of the site's criticisms of the Pope have been measured, but they have been direct.

While I am not a traditionalist, I do have a deep love of liturgy and am always moved by the beauty of the Tridentine mass.  I understand the emphasis my traditionalist brothers and sisters place on the transformative power of beautiful liturgy, and I get their frustration when others don't share their concerns, particularly when one of those others appears to be the Pope.

My sense is that few non-traditionalist Catholics really understand their traditionalist brothers and sisters.  When I take my students to a Tridentine mass on a field trip (which I do for my History of Christianity class), most experience this mass as foreign and boring, and are shocked when I tell them that there are a sizable group of people who very devoutly advocate for more widespread celebration of the mass in this way.  And I've heard other Catholics summarily dismiss traditionalists as backwards.

In my last blog post, I wrote about the necessity of not marginalizing those with opinions and ideas different than our own, arguing that we must take seriously Pope Francis' exhortation that "It is everybody's church!"  And Rorate Caeli yesterday published a post that shows Pope Francis once again demonstrating what acceptance of the other could look like.

Mario Palmaro, a traditionalist Italian Catholic who has been very critical of Pope Francis, received a phone call from Pope Francis on All Saints Day (November 1).  It would appear that Pope Francis called Palmaro because Palmaro is gravely ill, and the Pope wanted him to know of his love.  What is interesting to note is how Pope Francis responded to Palmaro when the latter brought up his criticism of the pontiff.  Palmaro said the following (taken from the Rorate Caeli website):
Pope Francis told me that he was very close to me, having learned of my health condition, of my grave illness, and I clearly noticed his deep empathy, the attention for a person as such, beyond ideas and opinions, while I live through a time of trial and suffering.
I was astonished, amazed, above all moved: for me, as a Catholic, that which I was experiencing was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. But I felt the duty to remind the Pope that I, together with Gnocchi, had expressed specific criticisms regarding his work, while I renewed my total fidelity [to him] as a son of the Church. The Pope almost did not let me finish the sentence, saying that he had understood that those criticisms had been made with love, and how important it had been for him to receive them.  [These words] comforted me greatly.
The last part is worth repeating.  The Pope said "that he had understood that those criticisms had been made with love, and how important it had been for him to receive them."  I noted in my last blog post that it is a temptation to all of us to want to find ways to silence those whose political and/or theological opinions differ from our own, but that to succumb to this temptation is to marginalize others who have a rightful place in the church.  Pope Francis made it clear to Palmaro not only that he recognized that his criticisms were made in love, but that such criticism is essential within the church.  He made it clear, in other words, that whether we agree with each other or not, we each need to allow the other to have a voice.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Pope Francis - "It is everyone's Church!"

The gospel reading for yesterday's mass was Luke 14:15-24, in which Jesus tells a parable about a man who threw a feast and invited many people.  When those people refused to attend, the man proceeded to invite "the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame" to his feast.  In his homily on this text yesterday, Pope Francis focused on the idea of Christianity as a feast, emphasizing the centrality of community.  He also spoke about those who are invited into the feast that is Christianity, and as he has done so frequently in the eight months since his election, he talked about the Church in terms of radical inclusivity.  "You can't pick and choose," the Pope said. "The Church is for everyone, beginning...with the most marginalized.  It is everyone's Church!"

The following video gives an excerpt from the homily, and you'll find the text of the homily below the video (the text is from and the video is from Rome Reports).

A Christian is one who is invited. Invited to what? To a shop? To take a walk? The Lord wants to tell us something more: You are invited to join in the feast, to the joy of being saved, to the joy of being redeemed, to the joy of sharing life with Christ. This is a joy! You are called to a party! A feast is a gathering of people who talk, laugh, celebrate, are happy together. I have never seen anyone party on their own. That would be boring, no? Opening the bottle of wine . . . That’s not a feast, it’s something else. You have to party with others, with the family, with friends, with those who’ve been invited, as I was invited. Being Christian means belonging, belonging to this body, to the people that have been invited to the feast: this is Christian belonging.”
Turning to the Letter to the Romans, the Pope then affirmed that this feast is a “feast of unity.” He underlined the fact that all are invited, “the good and the bad.” And the first to be invited are the marginalized:
The Church is not the Church only for good people. Do we want to describe who belongs to the Church, to this feast? The sinners. All of us sinners are invited. At this point there is a community that has diverse gifts: one has the gift of prophecy, another of ministry, who teaching. . . We all have qualities and strengths. But each of us brings to the feast a common gift. Each of us is called to participate fully in the feast. Christian existence cannot be understood without this participation. ‘I go to the feast, but I don’t go beyond the antechamber, because I want to be only with the three or four people that I familiar with. . .’ You can’t do this in the Church! You either participate fully or you remain outside. You can’t pick and choose: the Church is for everyone, beginning with those I’ve already mentioned, the most marginalized. It is everyone’s Church!
Speaking about the parable in which Jesus said some who were invited began to make excuses, Pope Francis said: “They don’t accept the invitation! They say ‘yes,’ but their actions say ‘no.’” These people, he said, “are Christians who are content to be on the guest list: chosen Christians.” But, he warned, this is not sufficient, because if you don’t participate you are not a Christian. “You were on the list,” he said, but this isn’t enough for salvation! This is the Church: to enter into the Church is a grace; to enter into the Church is an invitation.” And this right, he added, cannot be purchased. “To enter into the Church,” he added, “is to become part of a community, the community of the Church. To enter into the Church is to participate in all the virtues, the qualities that the Lord has given us in our service of one for the other.” Pope Francis continued, “To enter into the Church means to be responsible for those things that the Lord asks of us.” Ultimately, he said, “to enter into the Church is to enter into this People of God, in its journey towards eternity.” No one, he warned, is the protagonist of the Church: but we have ONE,” who has done everything. God “is the protagonist!” We are his followers . . . and “he who does not follow Him is the one who excuses himself” and does not go to the feast:
The Lord is very generous. The Lord opens all doors. The Lord also understands those who say to Him, ‘No, Lord, I don’t want to go to you.’ He understands and is waiting for them, because He is merciful. But the Lord does not like those who say ‘yes’ and do the opposite; who pretend to thank Him for all the good things; who have good manners, but go their own way and do not follow the way of the Lord: those who always excuse themselves, those who do not know joy, who don’t experience the joy of belonging. Let us ask the Lord for this grace of understanding: how beautiful it is to be invited to the feast, how beautiful it is to take part in it and to share one’s qualities, how beautiful it is to be with Him and how wrong it is to dither between ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ to say ‘yes,’ but to be satisfied merely with being a nominal Christian.
 Image above from

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Voiceless Drone Strike Victims

Nabila Rehman, 9, holds up a picture of the drones. Notice the empty seats behind her?
I don't often comment on here about specific political issues, though I sometimes write on theological ideas and themes that have political implications.  But I find myself deeply bothered by an event that occurred last Tuesday, about which there was minimal coverage in the American media.  On October 29, a Pakistani family came to Washington, D.C. to present to a Congressional hearing about the devastation they experienced when a drone attack killed their mother and grandmother.  You can read about this hearing on the Guardian website here.  I was initially surprised and pleased that Congress had set up such a hearing, encouraged that Congress was actually going to start paying attention to the fact that hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed by American drones in a program that began under Bush but has been ramped up under Obama.

Then I learned that only 5 Congresspeople showed up for the hearing.

As an outsider living in the United States, I have to admit my utter incomprehension that our Congresspeople, and a certain percentage of the citizenry, can get enraged by efforts to bring affordable health care to millions of people (granted, of course, that those efforts have been a mess), but don't appear to care at all that our government is killing innocent people in our name.  I also have to admit frustration with those who support our president so fervently as to be willing to turn a blind eye to the devastation that Obama's drone policies bring to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and Pakistan.

I'd encourage you to watch a report on the hearing here, and I would encourage you as well to write your representatives to ask them why they did not attend this hearing.  I will be doing so.

And might I also suggest that you write to thank the representatives who actually showed up? They were Rush Holt of New Jersey, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, John Conyers of Michigan, Rick Nolan of Minnesota, and Alan Grayson of Florida (Grayson actually organized the hearing).