I had retweeted my friend Fr. Blake’s tweet.
I don’t see this continuous criticism from our beloved Holy Father as Christlike, I find it painful and destrucitve of faith and unity, and contrary to the action of the Holy Spirit’s action in the Church. https://t.co/o7sXt4tIBV
— fr. raymond blake (@raylblake) September 11, 2019
I agree with Fr. Blake. Francis has a mean streak. I get that. Francis is a human being. He’s going to have bad days. Francis’ labeling of people who love the Church’s Tradition as rigid, and the suggestion that there is something psychologically wrong with them is just plain mean. I have in my mind’s eye the episode of him mocking an altar boy who had his hands together, as he was taught, or gossiping derisively about a priest getting a cassock and Roman hat at Euroclero after having inveighed against gossiping many times. How about his drubbing of the Cardinals and Bishops of the Roman Curia as a Christmas gift a few years ago? Francis scoffed at a spiritual bouquet people offered him. He ridiculed people in Chile who were horrified by a bishop who covered up child abuse.
These are not massive ecclesial decisions (like abandoning Catholics in China or wiping out the John Paul II Institute or refusing to answer officially submitted dubia or avoding transparency and alacrity in investigating a pernicious ex-cardinal), but they are signals.
Drop a stone on a someone’s head from but a short distance and it stings, but it doesn’t do lasting harm. When a stone is dropped from a great height, it does a lot of damage. Someone you barely know might make mean remark and you brush it off. But if Father does it at the parish? Ouch. And if it is the POPE?
Long-time Vatican newsie for Reuters, Phil Pullella took Fr. Blake’s comment too far and got too far out over his skiis. Phil dragged me into it because of my retweet. I’ll bet other people retweeted Fr. Blake, but Phil only picked on me. Interesting, no?
Phil, in response to Fr. Blake (and to me, apparently), tweeted:
Ah, but doesn’t the Church teach that it is precisely the action of the Holy Spirit that guides the cardinals who elect a pope. So, are Father Blake @rayblake and Father Z @fatherz saying that the Holy Spirit was sleeping on the job in 2013.? https://t.co/XyF8mbPJ6u
— Philip Pullella (@PhilipPullella) September 12, 2019
First, the Holy Spirit doesn’t sleep. As I wrote elsewhere today, the RUACH is still blowing through the Church.
Acknowledging that Phil was just using a figure of speech, we move on.
The Holy Spirit might offer guidance to Electors who, with their mouths at least, say they want guidance, but that doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit is “acting on”, actually guiding all the Electors in a conclave.
The Electors can vote according to many motivations, some holy, some not so holy, some guided by the Holy Spirit, some guided by another not-so-holy spirit.
John XII (+964). This Pope gave land to his mistress, had people killed, and was in turn murdered by a man who caught him in flagrante with his wife. The Holy Spirit guided the electors in this election, right?
Not so much, you say?
How about Urban VI (+1389)? This predecessor of Francis didn’t just have harsh words for priests. He had cardinals who conspired against him tortured and then lamented that he didn’t hear enough screaming. They played for keeps back in the day.
Clearly chosen by the Holy Spirit!
And there’s Alexander VI, Borgia, (+1503). Chosen by the Holy Spirit? Are you suuuuuure?
Entering the modern conclave the Cardinal Electors pray, inter alia:
“Ecclesia universa, nobis in oratione communi coniuncta, gratiam Spiritus Sancti instanter exorat, ut dignus Pastor universi gregis Christi a nobis eligatur…. The whole church, joined to us in common prayer, earnestly prays for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that a worthy Shepherd of the whole flock of Christ be elected by us.”
The Holy Spirit inspires, but the men are free to choose.. and they do.
Once upon a time, Card. Ratzinger was was interviewed by a Bavarian TV network. He was asked:
INTERVIEWER: Your Eminence, you are very familiar with church history and know well what has happened in papal elections…. Do you really believe that the Holy Spirit plays a role in the election of the pope?
RATZINGER: I would not say so in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the pope, because there are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit would obviously not have picked. I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.”
In the case of Alexander VI, a real piece of work in his personal life, we might see what Ratzinger was talking about. The role of the Holy Spirit is to protect the Church from disaster.
If you look at A6’s legislation and other documents, if you stroll through the Bullarium Romanum for his pontificate, you will find that he never put his foot wrong in doctrine. Moreover, on his deathbed he made a good confession and received the last sacraments in the state of grace, which every time it happens is surely helped by the Holy Spirit. We want sinners to convert, right? And big sinners are the cause of greater rejoicing, right? Perhaps Alex 6 was chosen by the Holy Spirit so that his death could be emulated by his inept or wicked successors? So that they knew that it was possible, in the end, to repent? Augustine of Hippo, commenting on the washing of the feet of the Apostles, made the point that Christ was teaching them – certainly Peter the most – that they were going to get their feet dirty in the service of the Lord. They were going to get the world’s muck on themselves. Thus, He taught them that they had to stick to Him to be able to carry out their work in the world.
Or maybe the electors of Alexander VI just blew off the Holy Spirit and acted from more worldly motives.
Enough. Having a Church is messy and running one, in the best of times, is like entering the fog of war.
The Holy Spirit didn’t write “Bergoglio” on the ballots any more than He wrote “Sarto” or “Wojtyla” or “Borgia” for that matter. The Holy Spirit did not guide the hands of the Electors in automatic writing any more than He did with the Evangelists or Paul or the Old Testament writers. He offered graces. We are all free to accept or reject God’s offers.
There’s no certainty that the Holy Spirit truly guided the majority in the election of any Pope. We can only go by the facts on the ground. It might be more probable that He did in one case or pretty obvious in another that He didn’t. Is the pontificate a disaster? That might be a clue. Would it have been an even worse disaster had this or that Pope not been elected? How can we know that? The Holy Spirit can, but we can’t. Did a pontificate usher in reform and result in greater holiness among the Church’s members? That might be a clue.
What happened under the pontificate? That might be a starting point. Do we want to lift that rock and look?
You might object that “It’s too early to tell! We need years, even after a pontificate, to tell!”
Sometimes it really is too early to tell. Sometimes it isn’t. Which is it with this pontificate? Do you know? I don’t.
The Church is indefectible till the end. The Holy Spirit will make sure that no Pope can hurt the Church too much. That’s about all we can say.
Some people think that we get the priests and bishops that we deserve or that we need for correction or for punishment or purification or reform.
I firmly believe that God raises up saints for different needs and different times by offering certain people extraordinary graces.
Does God actively raise up people or events to afflict the Church, knowing that they will do evil, for the sake of correction and the increase of grace and eventual good and glory? Correptio et gratia?
Only God knows how that works in actuality.
We had a little confusion about God’s active and permission will a while back in this pontificate with Francis’ remarks about God willing a diversity of religions – impossible in view of His positive will, possible only in view of His permissive will.
What was the Holy Spirit’s role in 2013? What’s at work in the election of any Pope?
I’m going with Ratzinger on this one. How about you, Mr. Pullella?