Pondering Francis: Part II

A while back I posted an entry entitled “Pondering Francis“.  I am trying to get my head around this enigmatic man who is now the Vicar of Christ.  He sends mixed signals.  Surely there is a way to decode some of the puzzling things he says and does.  Or so I hope.

I had posted, back in September, about a long conversation I had with South American journalist Alejandro Bermudez of CNA. The concept of “peripheries”, which seems to be important to Francis.  Thus,

Furthermore, Bermudez spoke of the influence on Francis of thinkers such as the Uruguayan writer-theologian Alberto Methol Ferré, the Russian-American sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, and the pivotal Spanish-language poet Rubén Darío.  To condense wildly, it seems that Francis may breathe in a school of thought that sees a kind of “manifest destiny” for Latin America.  When cultures develop a interior decay, which they always do, revitalization of the cultures comes from “peripheries”.  For the larger Church, experiencing an interior decay, a periphery is Latin America.  Latin America, unlike any other continent, is unified in language (by far dominated by Spanish with related Portughese) and is/was unified in religion, Catholicism (though there is bad erosion).  With these unifying factors, Latin America has a critical role to play.  Also, if you are paying attention, Francis seems to use the word “periphery” a lot.  This not quite the same thing as “margin”.

I am paying attention.  Benedict has a few key concepts and code words by which he signaled key thoughts.  Francis seems to as well, and one of them is “peripheries“.

I now circle back to the Q&A period Pope Francis spent with members of the Schoenstaat movement, who met in Rome for their 100th anniversary.  That’s the talk in which Francis spoke about the family being “bastardized” these days.  HERE

Here is something from the report by EWTN/CNA on what else Francis told Schoenstaat:

True witness propels us out of ourselves and into the streets of the world, the Pope continued, repeating his common declaration that a Church, movement or community that doesn’t go out of itself “becomes sick.” [Shades of the “interior decay” mentioned above.]

“A movement, a Church or a community that doesn’t go out, is mistaken,” he said. “Don’t be afraid! Go out in mission, go out on the road. We are walkers.” [Who have a kind of “destiny”.]

In answer to questions regarding how he can be defined as “reckless,” the Roman Pontiff admitted that although he can be considered “a little reckless,” he still surrenders himself to prayer, saying that it helps him to place Jesus at the center, rather than himself. [¡Hagan lío!]

“There is only one center: Jesus Christ – who rather looks at things from the periphery, no? Where he sees things more clearly,” the Pope observed, saying that when closed inside the small worlds of a parish, a community and even the Roman Curia, “then you do not grasp the truth.” [Christ looks at things from the periphery.  So, I suppose for Francis, to see things as Christ sees them, we have to go to the periphery where Christ is also seeing things.  Right?]

He explained how reality is always seen better from the peripheries rather than the center, and noted how he has seen some episcopal conferences who charge for almost every small thing, where “nothing escapes.” [HEY!  Pope Francis!  The Libreria Editrice Vaticana charges for use of your texts as well as Scripture.  Just saying’….]

“Everything is working well, everything is well organized,” the pontiff observed, but they could do with less “functionalism and more apostolic zeal, more interior freedom, more prayer, (and) this interior freedom is the courage to go out.” [There sure was a lot of going out, of missionary work, for centuries after the Council of Trent.]


There were a few other interesting things in that Q&A, but this underscores something I have been pondering about Francis.

If there is a malaise in the Church today, if there is an interior decay (and there is), then we should look to peripheries for that which can help to revitalize our identity, get us strong and healthy again.  We need what the periphery has to offer.

Traditional Catholics whose “legitimate aspirations” have been drawn to the traditional forms of our sacred liturgical worship, and who stick closely to traditional expressions of doctrine, are a periphery.   They have even been made into a periphery by the Church’s own appointed pastors.

It’s time to start listening to this periphery.

Benedict XVI sure thought so.  He put it in different terms.  He is focused on the idea of continuity.  By bringing the older, traditional forms of liturgy into contact with the present rank and file, we can renew our liturgical worship and, thereby, renew our Catholic identity.  This is a vital, urgent task to be undertaken in the face of the Dictatorship of Relativism.   My analogy of the Marshall Plan fits in here.  After WWII the USA rebuilt Europe so that it could be a good trading partner and a bulwark against atheistic Communism.  So too Benedict’s pontificate revealed what I call his own Marshall Plan, which had the three-fold task of renewing our liturgical worship (without which everything else falls apart), recalling how to read Scripture properly, and finding a proper interpretive lens for the Second Vatican Council.  All three of these are like structure that sustained horrible bombing, as during a war.  They have to be rebuilt.

Taking this a step farther, we might say that going to the periphery of the liturgical practice of the Roman Rite will bring the proper perspective to our liturgical worship of God.  There is a rot, a malaise, in our wide-spread, main-stream liturgical practice.  This must result in the enervation of every other aspect of the Church’s life.  We need what the Usus Antiquoir has to give and we need it NOW.  Priests and bishops must go to the periphery, learn the traditional forms, and begin using them.

Going on with the Franciscan periphery and Benedictine hermeneutic nexus, we must go to what has become over the decades another periphery, the Fathers of the Church.  They can teach us how to read Scripture again in a way that connects us to the insights of the ancient Church and the regula fidei.  The past seems to be a periphery.  Let’s go there to gain the right perspective.  Benedict explains what he means about the problems with modern exegesis in his Jesus of Nazareth (USA HERE UK HERE).

Finally, we might see the actual documents, the letter, of the Second Vatican Council as a kind of periphery.  Lots of people, especially on the catholic Left, focus on a chimeric “spirit” of the Council.  The media created it’s own Council, just as it did recently with the Synod of Bishops.  Benedict spoke poignantly of the Council of the Media just hours before he abdicated.  His famous address to the Roman Curia in 2005 was about proper interpretation of the Council, about continuity.  Let’s go to what has been set aside, shoved down to the end of the shelf: the Council documents, read in continuity with all the other Councils of the Church, which themselves have been shoved aside.  It is as if the history of the Church began in 1963.  Our forebears are a periphery!  We need Christ’s perspective from them.

At the beginning of Pope Francis pontificate, honestly disturbed by some of the signals the new Pope was sending, I really tried to get me head around what he was doing and saying by looking at what he was really doing and saying.  I used a quick phrase, “Reading Francis Through Benedict” because I saw some connections between the two Popes.  Those connections certainly were in matters of style.  They have sure not turned out to be similar in matters of governance.  When it comes to that, Benedict and Francis are both carbon-based life forms, but that’s about where it ends.  Still, rather than just thrown up my hands and turn my back on Francis, puzzled by what he is trying to accomplish (which isn’t clear at all), I think we can draw some lines between the way Francis thinks and what Benedict tried to do.  I wish we had had a few more years of Benedict but, hey, we didn’t.   Well, we sort of do.  His written remarks to the Urbaniana the other day were classic Ratzinger.  (Italian HERE) We must work with what we have, which is still helpful and valid today just as it was a couple years ago.  Francis makes it pretty hard sometimes to read him in continuity with his predecessors, but it can and it must be done.

Come to think of it, was there a better example of ¡Hagan lío! in the last few decades of the Church’s life than what Benedict XVI did on 7 July 2007?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Paul says:

    Interesting perspective Father. Using your analogy it would appear Pope Francis does not see Traditional Catholics as the periphery but the center.

  2. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    We no longer have in the modern world reason, ethics, politics, faith, worship. Instead of reason, we have “easy-going nihilism” (Allan Bloom). Instead of ethics, we have “feelings”, emotivism (McIntyre). Instead of politics we have “the systematic organization of hatreds” (Henry Adams). Instead of faith, we have “do-it-yourself religion”. Instead of worship, we have entertainment and emotional release.

    The ancients, be they the pagan philosophers, be they Jews, be they Christians, would have regarded us moderns as insane and criminal. The ancients are indeed peripheral; let’s go to the periphery.

  3. Unwilling says:

    Bermudez “revitalization of the cultures comes from ‘peripheries'”.
    The idea that the course of events shows the operation of regular cyclic laws governing “cultures” as causal entities derives from Hegel-Spengler-Toynbee. The paradigm case is the fall of Rome, eventually replaced over several centuries of pressure from the hordes of various Goths etc. on the borders or peripheries. These “vigorous” “civilizations” brought new powerful energies and insights that eventually transformed the old Empire into the long-successful entity of Europe. But cyclical views of history are fundamentally atheistic and do not fit with the notion of a Divine Economy and an Eternal Plan aiming at the return of Christ and the End of Time.

    Fr Z “go to the periphery, learn the traditional forms”
    This perception of the tradition being on the metaphorical periphery of Catholic life is something most readers here will instantly recognize as accurate and problematic. The potential for the tradition to effect a saving transformation of the dying culture of liberalism is plausible to us. But it seems many (no names) see the tradition as a kind of meaningless gravitational mass of rotting irrelevance at the centre of the Church, making no (or no additional) healthy contribution but, by its presence, stubbornly preventing salutary infusions of ideas from “the Real World”, i.e. from current, merciful, secular perceptions and standards of morality.

  4. Tradster says:

    Beautifully written, Father. May it go from your keyboard to God’s ears that Pope Francis embraces tradition and traditionalists to right the Barque. Sadly, though, the smart money is still on that proverbial snowball in Hades.

  5. The Masked Chicken says:

    “If there is a malaise in the Church today, if there is an interior decay (and there is), then we should look to peripheries for that which can help to revitalize our identity, get us strong and healthy again.”

    Well, Malcolm Muggeridge knew about the tendency for things to decay from within in the 1980’s. Applied to the Church, he called it, “inner dissipation.” The answer to this, the re-growth, however, does not come from the peripheries. It comes from re-discovery. The Israelites were brought back to a worship of God after the Exile by a re-discovery of the Books of the Law (Nehemiah, chapter 8):

    “And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel…

    And Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month…

    And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading…

    And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.”

    The flaw with the idea of a renewal from the periphery is that it assumes a specific form, a specific structure of the evolution of order, which is simply too simple. Remember, after all, who were on the periphery when Rome way decaying? The Barbarians were. They, really, didn’t do much to restore Rome. Indeed, Rome was restored, albeit changed, by Christians acting from within. One might argue that they were on the moral periphery, but this goes to the very point that restoration is not a one-dimensional thing. Any dimension of human existence might spawn renewal. In bacteriology, one does not look at the periphery to find healthy cells that will renew the body. One looks in the center of purity created by penicillin that radiates outward. All around the site is pestilence. What renews must be connected to what it renews. If Latin America is to have any effect, it must remain rooted in the Church and, yet, Latin America has its own contaminations, which just happen to be different than the contaminations in the West, so it does no good to spout a holier-than-thou attitude with regards to renewal.

    Indeed, one thing that really bothers me is that the Church is losing 4000 people per day to Pentecostal groups in Latin America and Southern Asia – two of the so-called hotbeds of Catholicism. If the faith were so strong, how could this happen?

    Seriously, the inner dissipation of the Church has been cause, specifically, because people have been reaching out to the peripheries – only they have been the wrong peripheries. They have reached out to Protestants, not with the goal of converting them, but of embracing their lifestyle and thus, we get the modern watered-down Mass. They have reached out to the sinner, but not with the goal of converting them, but of showing their solidarity, and thus, we get the loss of a sense of sin in society. They have reached out to the poor, not with the goal of spiritually elevating them, but of pretending to be one of them, and thus, we get the loss of detachment. They have reached out to the disordered, not with the goal of helping them find order, but in understanding their, “contribution,” and thus, we get the abuse crisis.

    The simple fact is that any authentic renewal must be worked for, in concert with the graces given by the Holy Spirit and it is hard. The Spirit blows where it will, so it is the height of pride to say from whence our help will come, except to say that when it does, our help shall be in the name of the Lord (Ps. 125).

    Ultimately, the renewal of the Church will not come from an external baptism from a periphery. It will come from the stark realization that there is God within and we knew Him, not. The biggest single thing that we can do to renew the Church is to separate the Church, both spiritually and physically, from men, at least for a time. The Catholic Church no longer looks like it harbors the Holy Spirit, the jealous Spirit. What causes the wars within the Church? St. James, chapter 4, is direct and clear:

    “What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

    Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.”

    Where is the humble Church? Where is the weeping Church? Where is the Church who resist the Devil? Show me that Church, for it will be the renewal of Christ in the world. That Church is not in Latin America. It is not even in Africa. It exists nowhere in the world, at the present time. It does exist in the hearts of a few good men and if the renewal of the Church is to take place, it will take place from within those holy hearts. Much as Rome had the Truth within its midst and knew it not, those souls willing to suffer for the Church, those White Martyrs, will be the renewal of the Church and they are within. Even Jesus said [Lk 17: 20 – 21],

    “Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

    The renewal of the Church is within itself, if only those men willing to die for it will step forward, for it is only by dying that the Church is reborn in every age.

    The Chicken

  6. gsk says:

    Wow, Father, that is really helpful, although I’m having difficulty “baptising” it. Here at Providence College (great school, btw) we are taught to look for “root metaphors,” in order to understand different approaches to the faith, and you seem to have hit upon what may be Francis’. BUT, does it work as a template to explain and promote the faith? That’s the question, and in isolating this approach, you may have hit upon the defect in the metaphor.

    Christ is the centre, and the Eucharist is the heart. The family is the bedrock, and the Deposit of Faith is the starting point in understanding how to build a culture around those things. From that standpoint, we are charged with bringing all things into communion with the centre, NOTHING is left untouched, unloved, untransformed — especially the peripheries. But if you start with the peripheries, you have chaos, a pulling away from the heart, a fragmentation, and a neglect of the centre — the Truth that binds it all together.

    I think people with very strong faith (such as Francis) don’t get this, because often they take the centre for granted and assume it will hold — even when those gathered there are scolded and corrected and told that they’re not doing what they ought. He seems to be saying that it’s a zero-sum game, in that those who are nourishing themselves as the Church has always taught will not be out in the barrios, tending to the peripheries. I would say it’s the opposite: those who start in the peripheries and are told that that’s the most important manifestation of God never get to the centre, because they have a nascent distrust — fed by the pope who tells them they are better on the edges of faith.

  7. Is it not a problem rather than a solution that the the Church and (in particular) its bishops as a whole appear to see the liturgy as peripheral? In all forms, with the extraordinary form perhaps most peripheral of all. Not realizing that all the talk about “the new evangelization” will remain just that until a revitalization of the liturgy to reclaim the reverence and sanctity of the EF is placed at the center rather than the periphery. (I guess I’m just not buying this metaphor and the strategy of relegating liturgy and doctrine and what else to the periphery.)

  8. Eliane says:

    ” I used a quick phrase, “Reading Francis Through Benedict”… ”

    I would love to be able to do that. However, I see the pope himself wanting to be read through +Kasper and worse yet, eager to diminish and even use his papal authority in a punitive manner against those who believe that human sexuality has a moral dimension. I hope I am wrong.

  9. acardnal says:

    “Save the liturgy, save the world.”

    So much could be improved in the Church and Christian life by restoring proper liturgical worship.

  10. Andrew says:

    Taking this a step farther, we might say that going to the periphery of the liturgical practice of the Roman Rite will bring the proper perspective to our liturgical worship of God.

    Now that’s a ‘periphery’ for sure! But you can go even further: further out to an extreme periphery: with those who labor to restore the Latin tongue as the language of our culture. That’s a place where a handful of lonely individuals wonder in a cultural desert in solitary isolation of an extreme periphery – if not despised, certainly neglected even by those who label themselves as “traditionalists”. Who wants to speak Latin, right? Nobody! If we see Latin let’s quickly translate it into English “so that it can be understandable”. So that we know “what the prayer REALLY says”.

  11. Ferde Rombola says:

    Kudos to Fr. Z amd The Chicken for excellent observations. I hope the right people read them.

    As Bishop Tobin (Providence, RI) wrote about Pope Francis recently, “He said he wanted to make a mess. Mission Accomplished.” At the time he was elevated to the Chair I read that a prelate close to him whispered in his ear, “Don’t forget the poor.” My thought was, “This man is an enemy of the Church. He is calling the Pope away from his task.”

    There are thousands of Catholics and other Christians taking care of the poor every day all over the world. It is the Pope’s duty to take care of the Church, to defend the Faith and preserve her unity, Creating a mess isn’t preserving unity.

    The perspective from his periphery is limited and the limitations are glaring. For example, I wish the Pope would stop acting like he’s running a parish or a small diocese. He seems not to understand the obligations of the Vicar of Christ, one of which is to speak clearly and unequivocally. Making yourself heard is not making yourself understood, so the question for that issue is, does he understand he’s causing confusion or not? If ‘no,’ it’s time to learn; if ‘yes,’ God help us.

  12. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Might it be good to recall the old image, here, of God being ‘a Circle Whose Center is everywhere and Whose circumference in nowhere’?

    In a historical apostolic/missionary sense, that ‘Center’ (also Liturgically, Eucharistically) was brought to the ‘peripheral’ “ends of the earth” – such as Pictish Britain and Saxon Britain, and before long, Anglo-Saxon mssionaries were bringing the ‘Center’ to the Northern periferies, and Macedonian missionaries, to the Slavic periferies, as urban missionaries had, to the rural periferies (St. Martin of Tours). With such success, that later the Cistercians had to go far afield, seeking ‘eremitical’ new periferies – which were soon blossoming (even ‘dangerously’, in terms of economic ‘material success’).

    Where the ‘Center’ has earlier come to be, it can be in need of rediscovery: also, as Fr. Z suggests, chronologically. Such rediscovery is a rebringing of the ‘Center’ and to the ‘Center’. Any ‘privilege’ of a ‘perifery’ is be(come), no ‘circumference’, but a place of the ‘Center’.

  13. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Sorry: “to be(come)”

  14. jacobi says:

    Hmmm,“ from the peripheries”, interesting idea.

    The ultimate peripheral watcher, the “green eyed man for outer space” looking down, would see a divided, frequently angry, confused and ritually chaotic Church, the latter being what he would most easily notice of course.

    All so different since his last visit in passing in 1955 (Earth Time), but similar to that fundamental conflict in the “Catholic” group, that was reported some 500 Earth years before, during an earlier passing visit.

    There they go again. What an absolute shower, he might speculate. Why on Earth can’t they just carry on in Continuity. They had sorted themselves out and were doing so well up to about 1965, Earth time that is.

    They really ought to get back to having their Councils only when they really need to and not on a whim, he would conclude. Enough problems for them in the offing without going out looking for trouble!

  15. samwise says:

    Another influence on Francis is Mgr Benson’s LORD OF THE WORLD.
    BTW: I am on board with this post. Coming from St. Agnes in MN, the key concept is evangelization. Francis is about evangelizing the peripheries, or, like this post suggests revitalizing the Church by means of the peripheries that evangelize: Latin America, impoverished Catholics rich in faith, Solemn and devout liturgy, etc. Goodness, Truth, and Beauty evangelize in this way and they can be found on the peripheries.

  16. Pat says:

    Well, Padre, if any of the personnel moves explained here happen http://ncronline.org/blogs/roman-observer/next-pope-francis-agenda-curia-reform-personnel-moves-revamped-synod
    then there will be more to ponder/be concerned about.

  17. donato2 says:


    Of all the many things that I’ve read about the Synod and its aftermath, one of the best, perhaps the best, was Fr. Longenecker’s article in Crisis (link above). Fr. Longenecker’s point, applied to the peripheries concept, would be that for the Church to reach the peripheries she must preach the Gospel clearly and joyfully, in all its integrity, and without equivocation. The present focus on (and confusion about) whether the Church should change, or tone down, part of her teachings is the epitome of looking inward; it is the opposite of going out to the peripheries.

  18. AndyMo says:

    and noted how he has seen some episcopal conferences who charge for almost every small thing, where “nothing escapes.”

    For example our own conference jealously guards the use of our “official” translation of the Bible itself, which couldn’t possibly be simony, nosiree…

  19. ChrisRawlings says:

    Make of this what you will, but perhaps this quote illuminates what the Holy Father is doing, and perhaps ever who he is. G.K. Chesterton wrote this:

    ‘Suppose we heard an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation (as has been already admitted) would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape. Outrageously tall men might feel him to be short. Very short men might feel him to be tall. Old bucks who are growing stout might consider him insufficiently filled out; old beaux who were growing thin might feel that he expanded beyond the narrow lines of elegance… Perhaps (in short) this extraordinary thing is really the ordinary thing; at least the normal thing, the centre. Perhaps, after all, it is Christianity that is sane and all its critics that are mad—in various ways.’

    If the peripheries of human existence almost compel renewal, then it is quite likely because they also compel self-reflection, self-identification, and a consequent evaluation of what the point of it all really is. When the Pope talks about “newness” and being fearless about that encounter with the peripheries, I don’t think that he is suggesting that we ought to embrace the various neuralgias of the culture because he worships at the contemporary altar of novelty, which is a temptation for us in a world like ours. I think that he is telling us that the encounter with the peripheries isn’t something to be feared because guided by the Magisterium, the Gospel, and by the grace of our Lord, we already know who we are and what we’re doing and anything “new” is going to be a deepening of that knowledge and understanding.

    Think of a husband who leaves his family for a week of business meetings in another city. His family is central to his self-understanding, and it ought to be that way. But sometimes you can lose that perspective, ground down by daily life. After being gone for a week, that husband is going to love his wife even more, find her even more beautiful and attractive, and his kids are going to be even more treasured. There is a renewal that happens in that family.
    The Church’s encounter with the periphery of human existence is a lot like that. The “newness” of the Pope might be the “freshening” of our love for God, like the husband’s love and appreciation is freshened for his wife after being gone for a week.

    In other words, it is the peripheries that help make the center shine brightest.

    Maybe. That is actually just a wild guess, and I may be completely off.

  20. Maria says:

    Christ is the center of our being.

    “revitalization of the cultures comes from “peripheries”” — I think revitalization of cultures comes in renewing and accepting Christ as center of our being, thus, lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi, will have a ripple effect to peripheries.

  21. Cosmos says:

    I am not sure why Pope Francis sees himself as outside of the center. He climbed high in the goverenance of the Jesuits in Argentina, was temporarily exiled, and then climbed all the way to the top of the goverenance of the entire Church. He ascribes an outsider status to himself that seems self-deceptive.

    The reality is, as Fr. z said, there used to be a whole lot of missionary work in the Church. There is not now, despite Pope Francis and other important clerics insistance that there should be. Why not? The Catholicism they preach (dialogue, ecumenicism, listening, constant openness to others and new suprising ideas)–as much as they insist to the contrary–neither inspires nor demands (as a matter of internal coherence) mission. It inspires and demands talk. No doubt that talk is about action (especially talk about helping the poor), but VERY, VERY few are inspired to radically leave everything behind to do something that is not radical.

    Long story short: those who insist they want action and not talk, seem to universally insist on a spirituality that leads away from action and straight to talk. It’s pretty wild to watch them ignore the obvious.

    If action is what you want, the old way is better. If modern education and experience has led us to the inevitable conclusion that we must abandon the old and corageously walk forward along this new path…. you can’t expect a lot of books, conferences, important speeches, and committee meetings.

  22. Johnsum says:

    Hilaire Belloc (in Europe and the Faith?) blames the decline and eventual breakdown not on the barbarian hordes per se, but on the degeneration of the central power of the state, hence loss of the ability to govern the parts, especially the periphery. Local chieftains, mainly military commanders of the resident roman garrisons, assumed command and acted more and more independently as the center could no longer was able to give the necessary orders.

    Something similar happened to the Church at the time of VC-2. It was not VC-2 itself, but it was the event which gave the agents of revolt against the center the opportunity for action. The various national conferences of bishops now rule. The liturgy deform was the chief instrument of transformation.

    The present periphery(s) is not Catholic even when Christian in some sense. They are secular developments descended from Enlightenment philosophy and various other philosophies and ideologies. Protestantism is the formative core of Latin peripheries. Pope Francis seems to be a captive of secular and protestant peripheries. If I am correct Fr. Z advocates to go to the Catholic ones if the goal is to restore the Catholic Church. The present course set by Francis will not lead to a Catholic restoration but a protestant one, or worse a secular syncretic ethical culture that will have no use for Catholics at all.

  23. Paulo says:

    I certainly like how Father Z reads Pope Francis words, and this interpretation is a beam of hope. I personally do not agree completely with this interpretation, though: as a born and bred Brazilian, I see the usage of the word “periferia” in South America (which has an identical meaning in Portuguese and Spanish) mostly applied to describe those who find themselves as social outcasts, those living on the outskirts of the city cores where the perceived privileged live. Although traditional Catholicism could be perceived as such (from the point of view as the current NO core of the Church), so could all those fringe elements that caused so much confusion (and confusion IS of the Devil!) early in the extraordinary synod. I do believe, however, that Pope Francis is inviting us to engage on a “revitalization from within” (to quote The Chicken) by fulfilling the mission of the “New Evangelization”, which, in the view of some, would involve reaching out to those living in the “periferia”: “A movement, a Church or a community that doesn’t go out, is mistaken. (…) There is only one center: Jesus Christ – who rather looks at things from the periphery, no? Where he sees things more clearly.”

    Anyway, I am still chewing this up…

  24. oldcanon2257 says:

    If the Holy Father appointed new bishops for all dioceses in Latin America, picking the ones who are truly theologically and liturgically orthodox along the line of the late, great Bishop of Campos, His Excellency The Most Reverend Antônio de Castro Mayer, then Church in South America could be the much needed “peripheries” to renew the entire universal Church in Christ.

    Regardless of what we think of his action in 1988, keep in mind that during the tumultuous years right after the Second Vatican Council, the Diocese of Campos under Bishop de Castro Mayer was as stable as rock up until his retirement in 1981, as he was fiercely fighting both communism and liberation theology in his diocese. Formation for both laymen and clergy were solid while he was the ordinary.

    That, and maybe dismantle CELAM. We’re in the mess of liberation theology spreading throughout South America because of CELAM actions in the 1970’s.

    While he’s at it, perhaps the Holy Father together with all bishops in Latin America could (re-)consecrate the entire Latin America to Our Lady of Guadalupe since she is the patron saint of the Americas after all. And to get out of this “mess”, we certainly need her powerful intercession.

    Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!

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  26. mysticalrose says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your point, Father, that we need to return to the “periphery” of the rest of Tradition. No Council, whether dogmatic or pastoral, could possibly be the source of the whole of the Church’s faith. Nor could it address every possible pastoral difficulty of every age. This is what I find so frustrating about the über-VIIers. How can a Catholic trap themselves in a 50 year bubble?! It’s madness. Could the Church have survived on Nicaea alone? No, it needed Constantinople I. Was Augustine enough in an increasingly Aristotelian medieval context? No, the Church needed a Thomas also. Is VII the Council of Councils to which nothing need be added? Hardly. Even a cursory glance at the problematic described in Gaudium et Spes demonstrates the contextual (I know its a liberal word, but I think it is fitting) aspect of VII’s pastoral approach.

    I guess I just don’t understand why our Shepherd’s themselves don’t often draw on the fullness of the faith as it has been formulated and explicated and celebrated for 20 centuries.

  27. marcelus says:

    try to get this book. Not sure if it’s in english

    Written by S Rubin An Argentine journalist based on conversations with Cardena Bergoglio. It is the only ‘official’ one.

    It’s called “the jesuit” HERE

  28. samwise says:

    @Paulo: reference to “periferia” is spot on
    Francis is borrowing from Pope Benedict’s Aparecida Document when he refers to peripheries:
    “In our region there are different indigenous, Afro-American, mestizo, rural, urban, and peripheral-urban cultures. Peripheral-urban culture is the result of the huge migrations of generally poor people who settled around cities in peripheries of extreme poverty. In these cultures, the problems of identity and belonging, relationship, living space and home are increasingly complex” (Par# 57-58)
    In Bergoglio’s own commentary on this document, he mentions periferia often:
    “Salimos a los que están en las periferias existenciales donde la vida (las personas) está más vulnerada (65, 78, 417), periferias más hondas de la existencia” ( Propuesta de Aparecida para la Pastoral de la Iglesia en Argentina 06/15/2009)

  29. Bea says:

    In my understanding of Spanish “peripheries” translation it means “outskirts”.
    If the inner core, the center, the Curia? has become “sick” then you go to the “peripheries” (the common people,the laity) to view the Church as Christ views it?

    I think he’s got this backwards, it doesn’t matter how the Curia or the Laity view the Church, not even how Francis views it. Perhaps not even how Christ views it. He must be sad to view what has become of it in our human hands.
    the only thing to view is how God ESTABLISHED it, not how it is viewed.
    As long as there are 2 people on earth, you will find 2 views on everything.

  30. krrice1 says:

    Here is a thought for interpreting Francis. A bad tree cannot produce good fruit and vice versa. You are either on the side of God or you are on the side of satan. You either take the deposit of faith as it has been handed down for generations since the time of Christ or you try to change it, mute it, blur it…… Logically, tradition and the deposit of Faith have to be the center. Those are the foundations of the Church. The problem is that Francis has made himself a periphery, but thinks he is the center. That’s why he says, we have to go to the periphery. Because Francis thinks he is the center, he has to try and draw the actual center to him, but it cannot be done. This is why he punishes the traditionalists. He is actually distancing himself from the center. This is why Cardinal Burke has been demoted. The deposit of faith is unchangeable and cannot be anywhere other than the center right next to God. We cannot say that our forbearers, the Saints, are a periphery either because they took what was received and passed it on as they had received it. Therefore, they must be in the center as well.

    Father Z, I would recommend you read a book called “the Politician” by Robert Welch. It’ll make you rethink your opinion of the Marshall Plan. The Marshall plan helped solidify the spread of Communism which surrounds us today. I bet Pius XII told them that their plan would fail because to stop Russia, the Pope of 1960 must consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Communism is alive and well friends.

  31. Dialogos says:

    Thanks for more Zedian exegesis, Father Z. Your point about the actual documents of Vatican II being potentially peripheral in the Pope’s approach) is a salient one: when I was on my way into the Church I read through ALL the documents, conciliar and post-conciliar, and kept waiting for the legendary Spirit of Vatican II to speak to me as if I were in a Dickens tale, but never heard a peep. Instead, I found myself saying “why aren’t we doing this, and this, and this?!” There must be a way to use the actual documents to sink the rubber duckies of the post-Vatican II flotilla.

  32. St. Epaphras says:

    For those who know and believe the truth of our Catholic Faith, it isn’t really hard to express it clearly. If a person is confused about the truth, however, or if he doesn’t believe some aspects of it, his words and actions will often seem confusing to us when compared to objective Truth. We make this thing too hard, I think. Truth matters. When any person’s words and actions agree with it, we may follow him. When they do not, we stick with the truth. We have in our Church “all things that pertain unto life and godliness (2 Peter 1, 3)”. In other words, all truth that is necessary for us to attain eternal life and to be holy has already been given to us. God won’t be surprising us with new stuff that will finally enable us to attain the end for which we have been created: to know, love and serve God in this life and to be happy with him forever in the next.

    When we hear something, no matter who says it, which jars us when compared to the perennial truth of our Faith, it’s wrong. God, knowing our frame (weak) made sure to reveal to us clearly what we need to know to love Him and our neighbor. The challenge is to not let our undergarments get in disarray (or our drawers in a wad if you are from the South) when we keep hearing confusing things from those over us. Our Lord never confused us and He never will.

    Maybe we just need to hang on tight to the truth, live it and speak it and try to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem and not try to figure out anyone else. Confused people are confusing. Just my two cents, for what it may or may not be worth.

  33. The Cobbler says:

    Ok, so, question —

    Are we dealing with peripheries where the poor settle around the city, or peripheries where the inner city rots? A couple commenters have mentioned the former phenomenon, but the latter is what I’m familiar with in the American (United States…ian?) “midwest” and Fr. Z’s analysis mentions interior decay.

  34. Traductora says:

    Regarding Pope Francis as referring to Latin America or even being seriously representative of it is a big mistake. Argentines are barely regarded as Latin Americans by other verifiable Latin Americans, and Argentinans certainly do not think of themselves as Latin Americans – except when it benefits them to do so. They say that an Argentinian is an Italian who speaks Spanish and wishes he were English. Actually, I think most of them wish they were German, because they are totally in awe of Germans – not only the Nazis they sheltered, but people like Kasper.

    Francis is speaking about a rather amorphous concept of the “marginalized,” which appears a lot in modern leftist soft-think and is totally meaningless. The “marginalized,” realistically speaking, are not the poor – who are easy to help, grateful for anything they get, and might win you a Nobel Prize – but the people who are not glamorous and whom nobody cares about helping: the dreary workaday middle class, who don’t even wear cute ethnic costumes.

    A lot of Francis ‘ thought or – non-thought – comes from CL (Communion & Liberation). BXVI liked them too and I believe the sisters who tend to him are from CL. However, BXVI knew where to draw the line. Msgr Giussani’s writings are confusing, a chaotic high-flown word salad, and virtually incomprehensible in the same way that Francis’ words are. But some people love them and just because I don’t like them, I can’t say that they haven’t been helpful to many people, probably including the current Pope.

    If you want to understand more about Francis, look at CL. It’s a somewhat crazy, somewhat devout, but VERY Italian movement , and that’s how he really sees himself. He hasn’t yet gotten to the point where the Papacy has stopped being about him. Hopefully, he will do so soon.

  35. Paulo says:

    @The Cobbler: for what’s worth… my opinion, based on my understanding on what the word “periphery” means when used in South America, and considering that Pope Francis, an Argentinian, is using the word, is that the meaning of the whole thing is: “the Church is too self centred, closed to those on the outside; and that the Church has to step outside her comfort zone and reach out to these ones on the outside”. Namely, I don’t think the meaning of “periphery” in the context of the talk is as nuanced as presented by Father. It’s a metaphor, for sure, but methinks it is a metaphor alluding to something else than traditional Catholicism. I leave to folks smarter than me to mull it over.

  36. gsk says:

    @Traductora: brilliant, thanks!

  37. KingofCharity says:

    Like Jesus, Pope Francis is a revolutionary; he is a riddler. He speaks in parables and mysteries. He is unsettling. He is a conundrum. He is a paradox. He appears self-contradictory at times. Sometimes he seems peaceful and submissive and collegial, and other times he is a firm and decisive leader who speaks very bluntly and clearly. He is divisive– Matthew 10:34 – 36: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.”
    I’ve said this since day one- Francis wants to unite the entire gamut of the Church and embrace the entire teaching of the Catechism (even the most liberal social teachings), and in order to do this, he is going to shake things up. In order to unite the Church he is going to mess it up first. He wants everyone in the Church challenged and uncomfortable. No one is safe. Left. Middle. Or Right. Progressive or Traditionalist. No Catholic “has everything just right.” He has even called out the “safe,” orthodox middle (Catholic Answers, EWTN, CUF, etc.). He is taking the “best of the right” and the “best of the left” and trying to fuse them together in a new, unified moderate middle that embraces every last word of the Catechism. He is going to challenge every one in the Church, as well as the secular world. Instead of eating with prostitutes and tax collectors like Jesus, the Vicar of Christ is befriending atheists, evangelicals, Muslims, secular humanists, liberal Catholics, etc. via new media and grass root activism. Sometimes he reinforces the status quo and other times he rebukes the legalistic, Pharisetical mindset. Sometimes he uses canon law swiftly and promptly to accomplish his goals and vision, and other times he seems to demean canon law as “small minded rules” and vain religiosity. Like Jesus, he loves to stir things up. Make people take notice. Make people debate. Make people question themselves. Make people “murmur” in confusion and question their expectations.
    He is reminding us all of how radical Christ was at His First Coming. Christ was anything but safe, steady, and predictable. He was shocking. Unsettling. The Truth of Christ was Earth shattering and defied the norms and customs and expectations of the people. He was a sign of peace and a sign of contradiction. One minute he would tell people to obey the Pharisees and to do all they command, and other times he would deplore their legalistic spirituality and religiosity. I really think Pope Francis wants to dust off the Church and wake up a sleeping giant. He does not want us to become a museum of stagnant tradition that is esoteric and self-preserving. Isolationists so to speak. Time and time again he has spoken of “going out,” “mission,” “walking” the faith, “journeying,” reaching the “periphery.” He wants to set the world on fire with evangelical and missionary fervor, just like the Christians of the first three centuries. He knows that Christianity and the Gospel are electrifying. They are explosive. He wants the Gospel to explode the New Atheism and the arrogant triumphalism of secular humanism.
    He hasn’t said or done anything that is even close to heresy. He just words things in a way to stir up controversy and get people talking. Through his diction and phrasings, he forces everyone to clarify what the Church does and does not teach. At the end of the day, we all know our faith better after the dust settles from his explosive comments.
    Think about it: He has done some very conservative, orthodox things- excommunicating liberal priests in Australia, calling out the LCWR, promoting Bishop Chaput to Philadelphia, constructed and blessed the St. Michael statue at the Vatican and consecrated the Vatican to St. Michael, he has spoken of the reality of the devil more than the last three popes combined, he prefers simplified Norvus Ordo liturgy, but he has encouraged newfound reverence.

  38. Bea says:

    Just today on this link
    the Pope said:

    Tuesday, October 28, 2014
    The Pope in the World Meeting of Popular Movements: combat the structural causes of poverty

    Vatican City, 2014 (VIS) – This morning in the Synod Hall the Holy Father met with participants in the World Meeting of Popular Movements (27 to 29 October), organised by the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace” in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences and with the leaders of various movements.
    “This meeting corresponds to a more concrete desire, that any father or mother would want for their children: an aspiration that should be within the reach of all but which we sadly see is increasingly unavailable to the majority: land, housing and work. It is strange, but if I talk about this, there are those who think that the Pope is communist”.
    Is this the view from the peripheries?
    Is this what any father or mother would want for their children?
    Is this the goal for which parents send their children to the USA putting them in danger from coyotes?
    Land, Housing and Work?
    The only goal The Church should lead the sheep (the peripheries) to, is …. Heaven.

    reminds me of the poem “The Labyrinth” by WH Auden
    “The centre which I cannot find
    Is known to my unconscious mind
    I have no reason to despair
    Because I am already there.

    My problem is how not to will;
    They move most quickly who stand still;
    I’m only lost until I see
    I’m lost because I want to be”

    GOD is the center which we already found and lost through sin and denial of Christ’s Teachings.
    Christ wept over Jerusalem because they did not recognize Him or understand His Message.
    Douay-Rheims Bible
    34They said therefore unto him: Lord, give us always this bread.
    35And Jesus said to them: I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall not hunger: and he that believeth in me shall never thirst. 36But I said unto you, that you also have seen me, and you believe not.51I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world.

    52The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? 53Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. 54He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. 55For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. 56He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. 57As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.

    59These things he said, teaching in the synagogue, in Capharnaum.
    60Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard, and who can hear it? 61But Jesus, knowing in himself, that his disciples murmured at this, said to them: Doth this scandalize you? 62If then you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? 63It is the spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I have spoken to you, are spirit and life. 64But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning, who they were that did not believe, and who he was, that would betray him. 65And he said: Therefore did I say to you, that no man can come to me, unless it be given him by my Father.
    66After this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with him. 67Then Jesus said to the twelve: Will you also go away?

    I think many in the Curia have already walked away because they are seeing the peripheries and forgetting to look at the Center: The center where the Traditionalists (one of these “judged”) still remain.

  39. chuckharold says:

    When one is locked into an institution it is hard to see the peripheries. I think, Fr. Z, that you may be too far into the institutional Church. The “traditionalist and the ancient mass” are not at the periphery. Vatican II called us to the periphery, but the institution didn’t allow it to flourish. Now the Church, led by Pope Francis, must again go to the edges and see the world as Christ sees it. The Church is corrupt from the inside, a well established and accepted view. Look to the recent Extraordinary Synod. The Bishops who are Pastors in the field, the periphery if you will, had different views than the Curia folks, yet they were again shut out. Look at the pictures of Cardinal Burke, a profoundly religious man, in his twenty foot red cape and you will see someone in the middle and not at the periphery. You, we, might consider going to the edge and seeing what life is like out there. We will be surprised at how far out of touch we are.

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  41. mysticalrose says: I guess I just don’t understand why our Shepherd’s themselves don’t often draw on the fullness of the faith as it has been formulated and explicated and celebrated for 20 centuries.

    Because many of them simply do not believe. They do not accept the content of the Deposit of Faith, nor see a need to. The cool kids, after all, do not buy into that medieval superstitious junk. They live in a gray world devoid of supernatural reality; to them, only the jejune, the flat-footed, the practical and the pedestrian are real. They do not recognize the Church as the holy Bride of Christ, and they do not love her. And they are not alone: much of the laity in the Church have the same mindset. Sorry, but that is the situation, and has been for a long time.

  42. Gratias says:

    There are so many profound thoughts in this thread. Many of us are so distressed to see the Catholic Church in all its grandeur frittered away. Ancient protocols should not be abandoned for demagogy.

    Perhaps one might understand Francis through Peron.

  43. Mr. Green says:

    King of Charity and Samwise: well said. Those who are getting hung up on the “centre” have got the metaphor backwards. Of course Christ and the Church are central, but God ways are not man’s ways; His centre is often our periphery. The image that ought to come immediately to mind is the Shepherd who goes after the lost sheep. He does not remain in the “centre” — or even take the other 99 sheep with him — he leaves them go after the one that was lost. There is an important point to that story, and if we don’t understand it, we won’t understand Francis.

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  45. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Mr. Green,

    I have the impression that some (happily, I do not suggest that the Holy Father is among them!) think the important point of the story is that that one sheep probably has so much to teach – not only to the other sheep, but to the Shepherd, too – if only they would humbly sit at his – or her – or any more accrptable pronoun now being promoted – hooves and imbide the bleats.

  46. AnnTherese says:

    Pope Francis’ comments reminded me of the Preferential Option for the Poor addressed in Catholic Social Teaching. From reading the Gospels, it appears Jesus spent more time in the streets than the Temple–and much of that time with the poor, outcast, guilty, suffering, etc.–the periphery of humanity– or the lost sheep, as Mr. Green pointed out. This is my model for being Christian in the world and for living out my Catholic faith. I’m grateful that Pope Francis is drawn to the periphery and is reminding us of our mission to love (actively) “the least among us.”

  47. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    “From reading the Gospels, it appears Jesus spent” – a fair bit of time in synagogues, dining with Pharisees, and, when in Jerusalem, in the Temple, too – an example followed by the apostles who knew Him before the Ascension, as well as by St. Paul. The one does not exclude the other – which some might conceivably be in danger of reading into your words – which is to be noted, as you imply, when seeking “the lost sheep” in the sense of the “guilty”, especially those not yet aware of how much ‘finding’ they need.

    It is good to read the parable in St. Luke together with the teachings in St. John 9:39-10:18, in which the Good Shepherd tells how He has a sheepfold in which He protects His sheep, is, indeed, its Door, not leaving the sheep in danger (v. 12), but laying down His life for them – though, indeed, bringing other sheep (v. 16), and laying down His life that He may take it again, for them, as well.

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