Pope Francis is confusing. Reasonable people won’t deny that. He is confusing to both the Left and the Right, as well as the tepid, but for different reasons.
Some people are really upset by him. I spend quite a bit of energy in email and conversations talking people down off the ledge. That’s the part of the blog that you don’t see. Posts like these are my PSAs, public service announcements, as it were.
In several posts, one recently (HERE), I have advocated a “long view” of the pontificate of Pope Francis. For example…
I’ve advised elsewhere that if this pontificate, or perhaps “parenthesis”, is getting you down, then stop paying so much attention to the news. That said, some of you who are tough and well-balanced – not likely to fly off the nearest window ledge at the mention of turmoil in the Church – should know what is being said. On the one side there is the rah rah rah from the catholic libs who think that Pope Francis is the 7th Apparition of Vishnu (whom I believe they may prefer to worship rather than the true King of Fearful Majesty) and those who are boo boo boo Pope Francis is bringing on the eruption of Mount Doom.
I am trying to take the longer view. I remind myself that each pontificate is a parenthesis in the long history of the Church and of our Salvation. This parenthesis will close one day and another will open.
I advocate the long-term view.
Pontificates are parentheses. Some are short, some are long. Some are important, some are not. God opens them and closes them according to a plan we cannot see.
At The Catholic Thing Fr. C. John McCloskey has much the same view about what’s up in the Church these days:
I am a Church historian, and received a doctorate in this discipline from a pontifical university. I bring this up because of the great controversies in the media around the world surrounding the recent meeting of the bishops in Rome for the Synod on the Family, which happily has now ended without any change in traditional Catholic teachings.
This did not surprise me at all, and should not surprise any Catholic, for the simple reason that the teachings of the Church that are considered dogma cannot be changed by anyone, including the Holy Father. Let us not forget that the Church always has the help of the Holy Spirit, as Christ promised, and will continue to have it until the end of time. We should remain certain of that, because it is the truth. And, resting in that truth, we should not be surprised at any time to witness the unfaithful misinterpretations of those who consider themselves Catholics, but whose interest is in trying to confuse the faithful, as if the Church were man-made rather than God-made.
The reality is that the Church will always be under attack and has been from the beginning, whether those attacks take the form of controversies or of physical attacks on Christians who then become “martyrs” (meaning witnesses) of the truth.
It’s especially at times like these that we should not let passing troubles disturb us, but find confidence in the record of how the Holy Spirit has preserved the Faith in ages like ours – and even worse.
Read the rest there.
While I emphasized the long view forward with regard to Church’s histories of turmoils and challenges from within and without, that the present chaos will eventually resolve, Fr. McCloskey emphasized the long view backward to give us perspective about how the Holy Spirit has maintained the Church through thick and thin.
Both approaches remind us that we are not just isolated in the “now”. The Church is not just of the present moment. There is a long past that teaches us who we are and points towards where we are moving, the eschatological dimension, our ultimate goal.
It is easy to get worked up about things that are going on in our day, because current events distract us from the larger picture, past and future. Not every pontificate (parenthesis) or event, such as a synod or council, are equally important in the large scheme that God has for the Church.
“Not every valid council in the history of the Church has been a fruitful one; in the last analysis, may of them have been a waste of time. Despite all the good to be found in the texts it produced, the last word about the historical value of Vatican Council II has yet to be spoken.” In Principles of Catholic Theology: building Stones for a Fundamental Theology. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987, p. 378.
There are councils and synods and pontificates (parentheses) which, frankly, didn’t help us much one way or another and others which were, frankly, pretty awful.
But we went forward.
And today, who thinks of Lateran V? Who thinks of Urban VII (+1590), whose reign was 13 days. He seems to have been a beautiful soul! Check his story in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Not to take away anything from his holiness or preparation, malaria made him into a mere placeholder, a blip, before the pontificate of Gregory XIV (about whom I’ll bet you know nothing about … he was consecrated by St. Charles Borromeo and was a friend of St. Philip Neri). He was Pope for less than a year and managed to get a few things done.
Frankly, in the long run, Vatican II will not be held as being all that important in the Church’s history. It caused a ruckus – for us – but… what did it define? To my mind, Vatican II is relatively insignificant compared to certain other Councils, such as Nicea I, Constantinople I, Ephesus, Chalcedon and Trent, to name just a few.
Vatican II? Blip.
Without a historical perspective, it’s easy to get drunk on the ephemera of current events, the stuff that seems so very important because it’s close to us.
Fr. McCloskey, at the end of his piece, recommends a couple of accessible books to help people put things in perspective. He recommends… Don’t Know Much About Catholic History: From the Catacombs to the Reformation by Diane Moczar and The Church Under Attack?, by the same. I have not read those, but I trust his choice.
And as far as Vatican II is concerned, don’t be bamboozled by the Bologna school of thought. At least try for another interpretation and perspective, keeping in mind Benedict XVI’s amazing address to the Roman Curia before Christmas 2005 (one of the most important moments of his parenthesis/pontificate). Try, for example, Wiltgern’s The Rhine Flows Into The Tiber and Marchetto’s The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: A Counterpoint for the History of the Council.
Some of you might have your own suggestions.