Brick by brick… ring kiss by ring kiss

RealClearPolitics has an interesting piece by E.J. Dionne which I share with you along with my usual emphases and comments.

 

April 18, 2008
The Pontiff’s Counterculture
By E. J. Dionne

WASHINGTON — The most jarring word that Pope Benedict XVI is using during his visit to the United States is "countercultural." The American sense of that term is shaped by the 1960s: free love, drugs, hippies, rock music and rebellion. Needless to say, that’s not what Benedict is preaching.  [I find it interesting how Papa Ratzinger has always been willing and oh so very able to appropriate concepts and terms of very inimical positions and convert them to his own uses.  For example, he did so with a certain dimension of Liberation Theology as a starting point for a liturgical theology.  Brilliant.]

That word is the key to understanding how Benedict’s message runs crosswise to conventional liberalism and conservatism. Benedict came to the United States as a quiet but forceful critic of "an increasingly secular and materialistic culture," as he put it during Thursday’s Mass. Almost any American who paid attention to his sermon had to be uncomfortable because all of us are shaped by the very forces he was criticizing[How frank!]

Benedict directly challenged an assumption so many Americans make about religion: that it is a matter of private devotion with few public implications.  [Well said!]

Not true, said the pope. "Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted," he told the country’s Catholic bishops on Wednesday. "Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel." [Ergo, the bishops must shore up their subjects, their public political subjects. And this reminder came in a televised meeting, not behind closed doors.]

That is a demanding and unsettling standard for the right and the left alike. Benedict asked a pointed question: "Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?"

This is the thinking of a communitarian counseling against radical individualism. "In a society which values personal freedom and autonomy," he said, "it is easy to lose sight of our dependence on others as well as the responsibilities that we bear towards them. … We were created as social beings who find fulfillment only in love — for God and for our neighbor." It is this attitude that Benedict described as "countercultural."

There will be much pious talk among Catholics (I speak from the inside) about how marvelous Benedict’s words were, how warm and gentle he proved to be. Parodies [pious talk and parodies] that paint him as a heartless enforcer are, of course, false. He seemed determined to confess the church’s great sin in the sexual abuse scandal, and he asked again and again for forgiveness. He took the extra step Thursday of meeting with a group of victims of abuse.

It was a good and necessary act of penance.

Yet there is a radicalism underlying Benedict’s view (he spoke on Thursday of "a disturbing breakdown in the very foundations of society") rooted in a rather different spirit from the one animating the church at the time of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

John saw it as imperative for the church to discern "the signs of the times" and was critical of excessive gloom about modernity. "Distrustful souls," John wrote in 1961, "see only darkness burdening the face of the earth."

Benedict is certainly not without hope. Indeed, his November encyclical on hope — to which he has made frequent references this week — is a moving and intellectually powerful argument on behalf of an often forgotten virtue. Yet Benedict is more inclined than John was to see the church as beleaguered. [He is in this, perhaps, a bit more Augustinian in his perspective.] He is less eager to seek "the signs of the times" than to worry about Christians who "are easily tempted to conform themselves to the spirit of this age," as he put it this week.

For this reason, I suspect that American Catholics of all political hues will find themselves struggling with his message. For myself, I admire Benedict’s distinctly Catholic critique of radical individualism in both the moral and economic spheres, and his insistence that the Christian message cannot be divorced from the social and political realm.

Yet I do not see the "spirit of this age" as being quite so threatening to faith or human flourishing as Benedict seems to think. As the pope has acknowledged in the past, Catholicism has been enriched by its encounter with enlightenment thought. The church should not now close itself off to what our age has to teach about the equality of men and women or the virtues of more democratic structures in its internal life.  [I don’t believe that this is so.  I don’t think Benedict wants to close off to the world or modern thought.  I think he is taking it head on and shaping it.  He is making his contribution, a contribution entirely formed in the very root of all ages, yesterday, today and tomorrow.]

Perhaps it is the task of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church to bring discomfort to a people so thoroughly shaped by modernity, as we Americans are. If so, Benedict is succeeding.

postchat@aol.com

Dionne’s comments about the way Benedict has provoked bishops to do their duty also with their politician subjects draws my mind back to the image of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) kissing the Holy Father’s ring on Papa’s first day in the USA. 

I cannot begrudge her the desire to do so or the opportunity seized.  Catholics, good – not so good, will desire to do this, I think.  It is in our Catholic DNA.  Many non-Catholics do this on sincere impuse.  It is the right thing to do, not only for the office, but especially for the estimable men who have held that office. 

But the fact remains that many of our Catholic pols betray a weak inner core in their Catholic identity.  Papa Ratzinger has a long term vision, his "Marshall Plan" as I call it, to revitalize Catholic identity. 

This must be accomplished brick by brick.

Ring kiss by ring kiss.

FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Brick by brick… ring kiss by ring kiss

  1. SuzyQ says:

    Fr Z.,

    Can you explain what you mean by “a bit more Augustinian in his perspective”? What are the hallmarks of an Augustinian perspective/philosophy as opposed to, say, a Thomistic perspective/philosophy?

    Thanks.

  2. Dan J says:

    Fr Z.,

    I have a question for you concerning the “Marshall Plan” that our Holy Father is trying to put into effect for all of us that want to follow it. As you see it what can that average Catholic that doesn’t have a degree in theology can do to contribute or make themselves more open to this “Marshall Plan” that has clearly been voiced on. I personally feel that in today environment it is countercultural to be Catholic in this secular world.

  3. MMajor Fan says:

    Agree that PB16 has the Augustine perspective, both spiritually and literally. (I think PB16 has answered the “what books would you take to the island” question as being the Bible and Augustine’s works). Regarding the literal, Augustine died of natural causes during the violent siege by Genseric (King of the Vandals), and he had forbidden the bishops and clergy to flee for their lives from the “hun” invaders, insisting they stay with the besieged flock. I think many of the clergy were slain with their parishioners when the city fell, so it was indeed a Church beleaguered, literally, in addition to the spiritual fighting with/beleaguered by Manichaeism, Donatism and Pelagianism.

  4. Anthony says:

    Viva il Papa!

    Ave Christus Rex!

  5. Anne says:

    Lets not be naive, Father. Pelosi kissed the ring because it was a photo opp and nothing more.

    I would not want to be touched by a rabid abortion enabler. She is a willing accomplice to the murder of millions of unborn children. I would have preferred that Holy Father do what JPII did with the leftwing Marxist priest in South America. He never said a word just walked up to him and shook his finger in the Communist’s face. Kind of gave him the papal finger. I loved it.

  6. Larry says:

    That Papa Ratzinger is countercultural should surpriase no one. How could he be a supporter of the “culture of death” as JP2 discribed it? Remember this is the culture that revolted him in 1968 causing him to reflect on just what the spirit of the age is.
    Remember that as an expert at the Council it was his Archbishop who confronted Card. Otaviani in a most questionable fashion. Now he is a much changed man in many ways; but, his mea culpa is not meant as a complete repudiation of all that went before. Instead he brings the mature wisdom that Church needs desperately as it moves in the very dangerous waters of the secular world. Note carefully his use of the term “opting in” vs “opting out” found in his address to the young people and seminarians on 19 April. Recall the phrase from the 60’s “drop out” that was the by word of the drug culture. Here the pope is asking the young people to join the new counter culture; to join the search for Truth and lead others on the WAY. Papa Ratzinger may not have been a child of the 60’s but he was who saw the dawning of a new age and was filled with hope. THose hopes became realities of which he never dreamed, and he has like the wise scribe he is returned to the cupboard to bring forth treasures that had almost been forgotten in the stampede toward progress. Viva il Papa!

  7. Kevin Jones says:

    “I find it interesting how Papa Ratzinger has always been willing and oh so very able to appropriate concepts and terms of very inimical positions and convert them to his own uses.”

    It’s like theological ju-jitsu, using the momentum of an opponent against him.

    Dionne says: “As the pope has acknowledged in the past, Catholicism has been enriched by its encounter with enlightenment thought.”

    Somehow I don’t think Dionne is talking about the enriching blood of the martyrs slain by Enlightenment movements. We are too gullible if, unlike Pope Benedict, we let the Enlightenment’s self-description define our view of it. In some ways, its strains have made bloodshed all the easier, and all the more horrific.

  8. Forrest says:

    Father…please answer this: Is a pro-abortion politician “Catholic” politician who profanes our Lord by taking Communion committing heresy? Is this same politician essentially excommunicated by their repeat actions against the unborn? They clearly are unrepentant in their advocacy for murdering the innocent, why why why do we not hear of any bishop excommunicating any of these evil people? It saddens my wife and I to see them constantly parading as Catholics, attending Mass (even obtaining special seating (Pelosi, Kerry) and continuing to push their anti-Catholic agentda.

    Please make sense of this.

  9. Jon says:

    Father,

    Now that the dust of The Visit has settled, life and the worrying on things we always worry about can return. In light of that, I’m wondering if you can address a post as to the latest you’re hearing through the Z-vine as regarding a date for the “document on the document (SP)” we’re all waiting for?

    One more personal postscript on the Holy Father’s visit, though, if you’ll bear with me.

    Yesterday, for work, I was traveling on I-81 near Hazleton, PA. I stopped at a rest area, and what do I see but a table of five picnicking nuns. I recognized them right away by their full, traditional habits, to be Dominicans of some sort. I figured they were returning from seeing Pope Benedict, and decided, since I’m a 3rd Order Dominican, to stop and pay my respects.

    It turned out to be the legendary Mother Assumpta Long, and four of her sisters having a roadside picnic under the springtime trees. They’d paused during their 11-hour drive back to Michigan after seeing the Holy Father. I was very impressed. They were light-hearted and euphorically cheerful after all the excitement.

    As many of you know, Mother Assumpta is a foundress of one of the most orthodox, thriving, reform of the reform orders of nuns in the country. They do wonderful work, and are bursting with vocations. If you haven’t sat down to write them a check, please do. It’ll go to blessed use. http://www.sistersofmary.org/category.php?id=3

  10. PNP, OP says:

    “That word [countercultural] is the key to understanding how Benedict’s message runs crosswise to conventional liberalism and conservatism.”

    CROSSwise, indeed!

    Fr. Philip, OP

  11. MMajor Fan: Actually, it was the Bible the Augustine’s Confessions, but he did want Augustine with him.

  12. Dan J: what can that average Catholic that doesn’t have a degree in theology can do to contribute or make themselves more open to this “Marshall Plan”

    Here are some ideas. I will give this more thought along the way.

    First, I think making sure you are flying straight is important. Frequent Confession and good active participation at Holy Mass are sine quibus non

    Second, demonstrate joy in being Catholic.

    Third, get involved in the parish.

    Fourth, be inviting, especially to fallen away Catholics.

    Fifth, and we could all take this to heart, strive to embody 1 Peter 3:15.

    Sixth, give solid positive support to priests and bishops, at least in silent prayer and acts of mortification and even acts of reparation if necessary. Priests and bishops need support.

    Seventh, be clearly “Catholic” without waffling on important issues and Catholic practice. I do not mean being an extremist or obnoxious, or pushing it in people’s faces.

  13. Jon: In light of that, I’m wondering if you can address a post as to the latest you’re hearing through the Z-vine as regarding a date for the “document on the document (SP)” we’re all waiting for?

    When I get back to the Sabine Farm from my travels, I will check the Z-vine.

  14. RBrown says:

    EJ Dionne’s comment that he doesn’t see this age as being threatening to the faith is typical fare from a pro-abortion “Catholic”.

  15. RBrown says:

    Father…please answer this: Is a pro-abortion politician “Catholic” politician who profanes our Lord by taking Communion committing heresy? Is this same politician essentially excommunicated by their repeat actions against the unborn? They clearly are unrepentant in their advocacy for murdering the innocent, why why why do we not hear of any bishop excommunicating any of these evil people? It saddens my wife and I to see them constantly parading as Catholics, attending Mass (even obtaining special seating (Pelosi, Kerry) and continuing to push their anti-Catholic agentda.

    Please make sense of this.
    Comment by Forrest

    There is no sense to be made of it. I have thought for some time that I will not consider the bishops serious about opposing abortion until they stop giving Communion to pro-abortion politicians,

  16. SuzyQ: Can you explain what you mean by “a bit more Augustinian in his perspective”? What are the hallmarks of an Augustinian perspective/philosophy as opposed to, say, a Thomistic perspective/philosophy?

    I suppose we could look at his thought as standing firmly in the Augustinian tradition in the philosophical/theological sense.

    However, Augustine had a pretty realistic view of the fallen human condition. He is often called pessimistic, which is an over-simplification. We have to be very careful about this word “pessimism” in this context, because Augustine is also wonderful hopeful. Benedict XVI framed his whole apostolic voyage to the USA in terms of HOPE. He wrote his second encyclical on HOPE. So, it seems on the surface to be a contradiction that one can be realistic about the human condition in Augustinian terms and also hopeful. But that is, in fact, quite possible. As a matter of fact, that realism gives shape to hope and makes is quite concrete! If there weren’t serious consequences for us as a race that is fallen, then what can we make of the concept of hope?

  17. Forrest: Father…please answer this: Is a pro-abortion politician “Catholic” politician who profanes our Lord by taking Communion committing heresy?

    On the surface of it, no. This is not heresy. Depending on the person’s interior state at that moment, it is very possibly sacrilege, a very serious sin.

    Is this same politician essentially excommunicated by their repeat actions against the unborn? They clearly are unrepentant in their advocacy for murdering the innocent, why why why do we not hear of any bishop excommunicating any of these evil people?

    Well… yes. I think so. When a Catholic public figure repeatedly talks and acts in a way inconsistent with Catholic teaching, he commits the sin of scandal. He needs to make public acts and make public statements to repair the damage he has done before he can publicly demonstrate that he has been reconciled with the Church. The clear sign of that reconciliation is the reception of Holy Communion under normal circumstances. And so, yes, by their words and actions the effectively excommunicate themselves. This is not juridical, formal excommunication: that requires a declaration from proper Church authorities. However, they are by their actions really imposing the same effect on themselves: they ought not receive Communion until they have walked back, in some way, their public words and actions.

    I don’t understand why most bishops won’t take a clearer stand on this. I think it has a lot to do with the human desire to be liked and wanting to avoid conflict. Pope Benedict, in his address to the US bishops, did underscore their role, however. We must now watch to see who takes it to heart. Thank heaven for strong examples such as Archbishop Burke, who has laid out all the proper principles and taken concrete action.

    It saddens my wife and I to see them constantly parading as Catholics, attending Mass (even obtaining special seating (Pelosi, Kerry) and continuing to push their anti-Catholic agentda.

    I don’t actually begrudge prominent Catholic figures having prominent places at such an event.

    Remember, they are also obliged to attend Holy Mass on days of obligation, just like every other Catholic, through they shouldn’t go to Communion.

    I always have the hope that something, some wonderful grace or their own compunction or interior illumination, will in those moments stir them to a conversion of mind and heart. I don’t think we can give up on them.

    Keep in mind that when people fall away from their Church or from the right path, they lose the virtue of charity. They can even fall into despair and lose hope. However, very often even the greatest blackest sinner often retains faith. Faith is almost always the last thing to fade in a person’s life. They may be sinners and say and do outrageous things, but, oddly, they still believe the fundamentals of the faith.

    In any event, I think that photo of Speaker Pelosi kissing the Holy Father’s ring, or one of some obvious errant Catholic pol receiving Communion without having tried first to repair, is very instructive.

  18. Fr. Paul says:

    In Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” after the kiss of betrayal, the lips of Judas begin to deteriorate, like leprosy, which seems to spread quickly. Nancy Pelosi’s innaugural role as Speaker of the House of Representatives began with pro-abortion congressman,Fr. Robert Drinan, SJ offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at Pelosis’s alma mater,a DC Catholic University. Just days later, Drinan, SJ died. How can Pelosi’s public act of respect for the Office of the Pope NOT have a severe impact for one who’s voting record on abortion is openly disrespectful of that same teaching Office?! Pelosi was not forced to kiss the Pope’s ring. No baton was employed, no pistol directed at her. She did it freely,voluntarily and in public. Can anyone touch the third rail of the subway and somehow believe that such great power will not be transmitted to their entire person?! And with the Vicar of Christ, the Great Power of Christ cannot be openly publicly mocked without real ramifications.

  19. Brian Day says:

    Note: E.J. Dionne is the author of the recent book Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right
    http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8599.html

    Radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt did a seven-part interview with Mr Dionne to talk about his book. If you want to know the mindset of the 60’s progressive Catholic, then this book might be worth reading. All 7 hour-long segments are on-line. Searching for the transcripts is a bit of a pain – so only try if you really want to read it.
    Anyway, part 1 is here to give some background to Mr. Dionne:
    http://hughhewitt.townhall.com/talkradio/transcripts/Transcript.aspx?ContentGuid=4e2ce01f-c301-4195-b77d-e8b83ca9eb9f

  20. Tom says:

    “It saddens my wife and I to see them constantly parading as Catholics, attending Mass (even obtaining special seating (Pelosi, Kerry)…”

    Funny thing about “VIPs”…the first always remain the first.

    That is, even at Mass, the “important people” are always placed first…they are never seated in the lowest place.

    How interesting it would be if someday at such Masses, the “least”…the poor, the meek, the powerless…were placed in front-row seats and the “important people” sat in the back rows.

    How refreshing it would be if someday the “important people” siply on their own said…”no, we’ll sit with the ‘great unwashed’…a thousand feet from the altar.”

  21. Tom says:

    “…what can that average Catholic that doesn’t have a degree in theology can do to contribute or make themselves more open to this “Marshall Plan””

    The most powerful “Marshall Plan” that a Catholic can enact is to attach himself or herself to the Traditional Latin Mass…and attempt to bring others to the TLM.

    By attaching yourself to the Traditional Latin Mass, you will have attached yourself to the tremendous Roman Liturgical Tradition that is devoid of various liturgical novelties that may endanger the Faith.

    For example, Rome has initiated Communion in the hand (a liturgical novelty) for the Novus Ordo.

    Incredibly, despite have blessed said practice, in 1969, Pope Paul VI approved the following grave warning regarding Communion in the hand:

    “A change in a matter of such importance, which rests on a very ancient and venerable tradition, besides touching upon discipline can also include dangers. These may be feared from a new manner of administering Holy Communion: they are a lessening of reverence toward the noble Sacrament of the altar, its profanation, or the adulteration of correct doctrine.”

    There you have…straight from Pope Paul VI.

    A Vatican-approved liturgical novelty involves dangers…lessens reverence toward the Eucharistic…even involves profanation and adulteration of correct doctrine.

    That is why it is vital to attach yourself to the Traditonal Latin Mass…the surest and most powerful “Marshall Plan” to safeguard one’s faith.

    Pax.

  22. Matt says:

    Father Z,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments on Representative Pelosi and her cadre. They may need the opportunities more than us. Just as Jesus ate with the sinners, so must our Pope go to all of Christ’s flock, the faithful and the lost. It is his duty as the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of Peter. Think of what must have been going Pope Benedict’s heart and mind. He has my prayers, love and admiration. I know of few in all of history who could have done better.

    I actually turned my TV off last week and did not watch any of the coverage after the mass in Washington D.C. I do not need the Pope to come and visit me. I have the constant urge to go to him. I visit him through his writings. It is through the writings of the Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessors that I know them and by what they write, they know me and the rest of the world very well.

    Matt of South Kent

  23. Volpius says:

    “[I don’t believe that this is so. I don’t think Benedict wants to close off to the world or modern thought. I think he is taking it head on and shaping it. He is making his contribution, a contribution entirely formed in the very root of all ages, yesterday, today and tomorrow.]”

    I am with you on that Father, H.H. far from telling us to circle the wagons it telling us we need to sally forth and engage it with the purpose of making it Catholic. This can only be done by people who have a solid Catholic identity, another point H.H. has made.

  24. Chironomo says:

    Maybe this is not exactly the right thread for this, but am I only imagining it, or has nearly every article or blog posting about the Mass at Nationals Stadium been expunged from the USCCB site? The only thing I can find is the Pope’s homily and a CNS linked story about the Mass. The blog posting is gone, as are the other follow up articles that were there. Hmm….

  25. Maureen says:

    I saw the White House coverage and didn’t recognize Pelosi, though I saw her kissing the ring. She seemed very young and enthused in the way she moved. Maybe a little overshowy in her devotion, but — part of her was honestly excited. I was amazed when I realized that it must have been her.

    We probably should pray for her more.

  26. TJM says:

    I may be a bit of a cynic, and I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but I fear Ms. Pelosi kissed the papal ring as a photo op to prove she is a “devout Catholic, when she is a rabid pro-abortion politician. It makes me very uncomfortable that the Holy Father may have been used for political purposes. Tom

  27. Veritas says:

    “I find it interesting how Papa Ratzinger has always been willing and oh so very able to appropriate concepts and terms of very inimical positions and convert them to his own uses. For example, he did so with a certain dimension of Liberation Theology as a starting point for a liturgical theology. Brilliant.”

    Fr. Z, could we say that is another element of Benedict’s Augustinian influence? I read in that a prime example of Augustine’s notion of sanctifying the pagan.