(Note: when I saw how long this post was, I decided to insert some sub-heads. Other than correcting a couple of grammar and spelling errors, it's otherwise unchanged.--MEF)
Sizing up, fearing, and using, Pope Francis
In the past week, everyone has been trying to size up our new holy father, and draw instant conclusions--good or bad--about him, from relatively slender information.
On the one hand, we have some tradition-minded folks who are apoplectic; they are certain he spells doom for any number of things they care about, and all this based on a few cues in how he has handled himself, what he has chosen to wear or not wear, either on his first appearance, or since then.
Meanwhile, we have folks of a more "progressive" bent who are doing similar things. They are latching onto the most slender sorts of "evidence," in order to say he'll undo some teaching or undertake some dramatic initiative.
And, of course, one might notice that when "progressives" crow, traditionalists cringe, and vice-versa. Each one serves to feed the other's reactions.
Folks! Stop and consider that there's some agendas being pursued here!
On the traditionalist side--and I emphasize, it's some, not all (a lot of traditionalist folks are pushing back hard; they are offended, rightly, by any sign of disrespect for the pope, and they are sensible enough to know how foolish some of these reactions are)--I believe there's as much agenda-serving as on the "progressive" side. But because that's where we're finding wailing and gnashing, a lot of that isn't about an agenda, but being fooled by those who have an agenda. What might that be?
Well, there are those who want to ride the hobby horse of Vatican II is awful and irredeemable, and thus anything associated with it. Such folks play Pope Francis against Pope Benedict--conveniently forgetting that Pope Benedict was not hostile to Vatican II, but wanted to correct the wrong approaches to it. While Pope Benedict loved the older Mass, he did not reject the reforming impulse of the Council; instead, he argued that the implementation of the "reform" took an unhealthy direction.
By conveniently leaving that out, folks on the trad-side are serving their own agenda--not Pope Benedict's. And I feel very certain Pope Benedict does not want people using him as a stick to beat his successor. So stop it!
This isn't about Pope Francis
There's more I could say about that, but I'd like to turn to the other side, because I think this is going to be much more prominent in the days ahead: the agenda from the "progressive" side.
Have you noticed how Pope Francis has taken a simpler approach to his vesture, in Mass, as well as outside? Well, the progressives sure have. And many of them are crowing about it. They are using Pope Francis as a stick with which to beat Pope Benedict.
You can read on the National (so-called) Catholic Reporter site, as well as sites like PrayTell, all about it. How happy they are that Pope Francis is not choosing the vesture that Pope Benedict did. So the fact that he chose to preach from the pulpit at his installation Mass (rather from the chair), and without his miter, is being celebrated as a "revolution" by folks who think this way.
Well, first, let me be very clear. I don't intend to offer the pope advice on this subject. To the extent I indicate my preferences, that doesn't mean the holy father has to listen to anything I say. I am not Pope Francis. He has his reasons for making the choices he does, and I respect that. Were I in his shoes--thank heaven I am not!--I might well do precisely what he's doing.
Even if I wouldn't do it as he does, that doesn't mean he's wrong, or doing anything wrong. There are things that are legitimate choices, and when my brother priests zig, while I zag, I can feel differently, and say so, without that being "criticism." This is the sort of thing we sometimes talk about, and we all understand this.
Because, the thing is, I'm not worked about this. I am not losing sleep because the holy father gave his homily standing. I trust him and have confidence in him.
No, my reaction is not to him or his choices, but to those on the progressive side who are choosing to use Pope Francis for their own ends. With their objectives, wrapped in misleading packaging, I certainly do take issue. Everything I'm saying on this is aimed at them.
Did you know? Gold vestments make Jesus cry
Here's one of the things our friends on the progressive side always, always, always say: they are for empowering the laity. Isn't that right? And they also say they want more choices, more flexiblity, especially in the liturgy; I can't imagine anyone leaning progressive using the word "rigid" in a positive way.
So let's examine what some (I emphasize, some) progressives are doing with the few cues Pope Francis has given them.
They're arguing that elegant, precious vestments, sacred vessels, and other liturgical appointments are "fussy," and somehow offend Jesus. They get in the way of true worship, using them is against the poor, and using them impedes worship on the part of the faithful; they are distracting. They claim that when a deacon, priest, cardinal, bishop, pope, chooses these various items, and maintains these various traditions, they are clearly self-referential. I.e., no other interpretation is allowed.
Hold on now. What gives these folks the right to dictate what these things mean for everyone?
Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that these negative meanings, are felt by those who object? In other words, all their objections boil down to this: "we don't like those things"?
Understand, I'm not dismissing their objections entirely. I take them at their word. They find these things a negative. Fine. And so, when Pope Francis takes off his miter, that makes you happy. I'm glad, sincerely.
But consider that other people feel differently. Why be so contemptuous of what is meaningful to them--and then expect others to take your feelings seriously?
I don't use the term "contemptuous" lightly. The fact is, that a number of folks, who are more progressive, do heap scorn and contempt on aspects of our tradition, that are valuable and meaningful to others. I'm sorry to say I know of priests who are openly and visibly contemptuous of the form of the Mass that prevailed for most of the Church's life. Not preferring it is one thing; thinking there were needed changes, fine; but to express hatred and contempt? How can anyone justify that?
Further, too many of this mindset aren't content to avoid these aspects of the tradition themselves. They seek to deny them to anyone.
How else to explain the resistance to even a modest amount of Latin to be used in the Mass--even though Vatican II intended Latin to stay part of the Mass? Vatican II created an option for some--repeat, some use of the vernacular language. At no time did Vatican II decree that Latin be banished or treated like parsley on the plate.
Do these progressives care that other people like Latin? No, they don't. Banish it.
How to explain the rapid destruction of artwork and adornment of churches? Why did beautiful, substantial altar rails have to ripped out? Why were beautiful altars smashed? Why destroy artwork that, even if it wasn't "the best," was part of the lives and faith of so many people?
No, it isn't in Vatican II
If you say Vatican II, quote the paragraph. I'll donate $100 to Catholic Relief Services--I'll post a scan of the check on this site--when someone cites where Vatican II said to do these things. Why did what was undeniably meaningful to so many of the faithful have to be, not only removed, but destroyed? And if you say, what does it matter now? I answer: because there are a lot of the faithful who are still wounded by that, decades later. And it was an injustice, and the lapse of time doesn't change the need to right a wrong. And if you don't understand how damaging that was, you don't understand a major dynamic at work in the church today. And this was a harm commited against the laity, who pays for it all. Funny how seldom so-called advocates of the rights of the laity not only don't care about this, but aided and abetted this wrong.
How do we explain the similar banishment of the older form of the Mass entirely? When Pope John Paul II gave permission for some celebration of the older Mass, this was resisted and bemoaned. Why? What happened to more choices? Why be so "rigid"? When Pope Benedict took it further, the hue and cry was loud and long--and don't kid yourselves, many so-called "progressives" would love to see that rolled back.
The irony is, the desire for the older form of the Mass--and for that matter, lots of traditional things--is largely driven by the laity. What happened to respecting the laity and empowering them? Only when they want the right things, apparently.
The Church has a treasury of art, music and liturgy, we call tradition. It's deep and broad and rich. And every ounce of it is belongs to each and every Catholic, past, present and future. No one should have to explain why they like it or want to enjoy it.
Yet there are folks--again, who describe themselves as progressive, and claim they are on the side of the laity--who insist on locking away large portions of this treasury, denying these things to those among the faithful who want it. The excuse? Oh, no one but nut-jobs even care about these things.
Well, the last few years, as these things have found their way back, and been well received by many of the faithful, contradicts that, doesn't it?
But what about those who like simpler liturgy?
Now, a pause here to consider an objection.
Some will say, but a lot of the laity don't like these things. What about them?
I am for respecting them, too. I'm not denigrating their feelings. More to the point, their desires are not being frustrated.
If you favor a Mass with no Latin (even though Vatican II did not call for that--look it up), can you honestly claim you are denied this? If I offered a dollar to my readers for every Mass they attended in one weeks' time, that included no Latin, I'd face a big payout, wouldn't I? Same with those who say they favor churches that are simple, and vestments that aren't "old fashioned," etc.
If and when the day comes that such things are as rare, and hard to find, as Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form--and, then, there is talk about suppressing such things altogether (as happened with the older forms)--then I think it will be reasonable to say the simpler-is-better approach is being mistreated.
And, this is a side point, but a point of clarification: I'm not even arguing for the Extraordinary Form. I'm with Pope Benedict; while I see its value and beauty, I also see the wisdom of what the Council called for. Like him, I think the implementation of reform miscarried, and needs to be renewed--not abandoned. I simply cite the Extraordinary Form--the older Mass--as a symbol of what I'm talking about at one of the spectrum.
What I'm calling out is simply this: those who say they're progressive--who say they are for the rights of the laity, and for choices and broadness--who then insist on imposing their preferences on everyone else. I don't see anything "progessive" about that, hence the quote-marks.
The hard truth is that those who scorn what others find meaningful, mock and insult it, deserve another title: elitist. And, where the shoe fits, "clericalist."