The Readings for the Feast of Sts Simon and Jude, Apostles
Estis cives sanctorum, et domestici Dei, superaedificati super fundamentum apostolorum, et prophetarum, ipso summo angulari lapide Christo Jesu : Liberavit me Dominus ab omni opere malo : et salvum faciet in regnum suum caeleste, cui gloria in saecula saeculorum. Amen. You are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.
On all feasts of the Apostles we celebrate the unity of the Church around Christ, and the living continuity we have with the Apostolic Church in the unity, today, of all the Bishops around the Pope: where Peter is, there is the Church. I’m a new convert and I tend to get a little Rah Rah about Francis. When St John Paul II died, I cried. Our Orthodox Parish went to the Catholic Basilica in Asheville as a group (at our Priest’s suggestion) and prayed for his soul’s ease. When Benedict XVI was elected and later liberated the usage of the Latin Mass, I nearly became Catholic. I followed “reform of the reform” blogs. Then one day (as the Cardinals were meeting) I found myself thinking what if the new Pope was named “Francis”? And I got verklempt, living in San Francisco. My entire office was livestreaming the Papal Election. When the name Francis was announced, we all gasped.
Although I’ve been aware of Popes since Paul VI, Francis is – in a way I can’t explain – my Pope. I love Benedict, and I sorry to have missed the young John Paul, but I became Catholic under this Pope.
One of the things that has been driving me bonkers lately is watching American Lay Catholics pull away from the Pope – this Pope. My Pope. The German Liberal bishops don’t bother me. The conservative African and Asian Bishops, the liberal ones from Latin America and all the American Bishops are with the Pope. But American Laity are pulling away. Why?
Underneath issues of theology – even when the Pope speaks clearly – I think it’s politics, by which I mean the American Culture wars that have been driving us batty for 50 years. Follow along on this Twitter thread, which starts with Fulton J Sheen and includes the Tweeter’s own meditations. (I’m not sure where one ends and the other begins.) In the beginnings of the culture wars, when American Catholics were – largely – white, middle-class folks in fedoras, union men with good jobs, and wealthy foreigners, the idea was to fit in. Catholics excelled at fitting in. Kennedy basically sold us all down the river by saying “Elect me and I won’t be Catholic.” He literally said exactly the reverse of what he should have said. American Catholics became convinced that to be “a good Catholic” was to be “a good American”: Patriotic, Successful, Boring.
The decades leading up to the Second Vatican Council were very prosperous – and spiritually dead. Fulton Sheen points out that “the youth” are leaving the Church because the Church was just an aspect of “The Good Life” and they discovered they could have “The Good Life” without it. Getting rid of all their parents’ markers of culture was more of the same: and so the church doubled down. (This is not in Sheen.) The Church became what the kids said it was.
Cardinal Spellman turning kids into their draft boards for the Vietnam War and using his priests to sniff out peace activists. Turning Catholics over to federal investigators… the Church caved in completely to the Political Culture. Some churches still bear these marks, having in them American flags near the altar and (usually) a Papal Flag as well. The Holy Name Society and the Knights of Columbus both bear the marks of this: requiring the Pledge of Allegiance and other shows of patriotism out of place in a religious organization, but largely harmless. But middle class, successful, boring, patriotic Catholicism became identified with what would be known as a “right-wing” position and, increasingly, a partisan one.
Then came the Vatican Council and the left fought back. And, it must be honestly stated, they did a lot of damage, they espoused not just harmless political positions, but sometimes openly anti-Catholic ones: communism, socialism, liberalized moral laws, etc. The war of Boomers against their parents Cultural Catholicism remained partisan, still had no depth, and was only just a Catholicism of a Different Culture. Hippies winning instead of squares. Clergy making bad choices to be relevant to the kids. Two guitars and a flute, felt banners, hand-holding, happy clappy, Kum-by-yahlicism.
And so now… we have people trying to reassert the tradition: the Latin Mass returns, the reform of the reform grows, the Tradening taking root and throwing far out the Modening Crowd. But confusing the perennial tradition of the Church with the conservative politics of the 50s. The Mods fight back with the policies of the Liberated 70s – and insist they need their felt banners for social justice.
Into this madness wade the hierarchs – some having taken sides in the political wars and others having the spiritual health of the church in mind.
The truth comes out when the Pope does something “anti-American”. But this is not a partisan issue for it comes from both the left and the right. If the Pope speaks of the Environment or Economy, the right gets upset. If the Pope speaks of sexual morality or tradition, the left gets upset. Both claim the Pope should stick to religion and not talk about these things… by which they mean the Pope should be more like Kennedy and leave us alone.
Catholics who have political axes to grind take over media outlets and talk schism. Raymond Arroyo is as dangerous as James Martin. Social media (including blogs and podcasts) become tools of wanks marshaling a vortex to spew political agendas. With the left in control of many publishing houses, the right gets TV and Radio, and both urge us to diss the Pope. The social media generate fake news because it covers up the real issue: our economic policies and environmental practices are unjust. But to fix them would make life in America a lot less opulent. So this is bad. Our passions and consumption – sex, food, greed – are all out of line. But scandal keeps us looking at the sins of others instead of our own sins.
We had this issue in the Orthodox Church: mostly converts (but also some troublemakers from “the Old Country”) who were certain they were more correct than their bishops. We called them “Byzantine Rite Baptists”. They could walk quite far from the faith in their “purity”, becoming Congregationalists in all but name. It’s good to see this is another way in which Catholics and Orthodox are alike in America.
Look: you can walk away from Pope Francis if you want – even because of politics – but that makes you a Protestant. You’re more like Henry VIII than Luther, granted: so you can still have Mass and robes and stuff, but you’re still Protestant.
Please support my writing on Patreon.