Friday, April 20, 2007

Our remarkable pope(s)

I neglected to wish our holy father a happy birthday on Monday; but I am pretty sure he wasn't bothered by my neglect. (It is true someone in Rome occasionally reads my blog; I had assumed it was my brother priests from this diocese, but then again...?!?)

And I am really sorry I didn't remember to offer Mass in thanksgiving for his election, on Thursday; I would have, except I had Mass at a nursing home, so I didn't consult the Ordo, where I usually see such reminders.

Anyway, I write this post as a consequence of reading this article by George Weigel, to which The Catholic Report led me.

Weigel made a point that was striking to me: Pope Benedict "has established himself as a master teacher for the world...." What is striking is that anyone, especially Weigel, would offer such an emphasis in the wake of John Paul the Great, as he (and many of us) call Benedict's predecessor. My point is, weren't we just calling JPII the great teacher, the great theologian? And didn't everyone say, of Benedict, "how can he follow that?"

Thus, we have an astonishing thing: the bookish, shy, quiet, Benedict--who supposedly could never measure up to his predecessor in stature or appeal--is outdrawing the media-star in attendance at general audiences! Did any of Benedict's staunchest fans, before his election, predict any such outcome?

It brings to mind a point I've made many times: we have been blessed in our recent popes.

I know many who would be critical of Pope Paul VI, and though I don't fault my betters too easily, I do scratch my head at some of his judgments--but his bright, shining moment was clearly Humanae Vitae, whose prophetic qualities emerge line by line, writ large upon the events of our time.

Many are critical of Blessed John XXIII, but his legacy stands or falls with the Second Vatican Council; my basic disposition is to be confident in the hand of Providence, which we can't see because we're silly little mortals; and that leads to me to expect that, in time to come, the fruit of that Council will ripen and nourish many.

Of Pius XII, I will say this: it is becoming clearer to many that this was a great, noble and heroic man, hated by the people you most want to be hated by: the Nazis and then the Soviets and Communists -- and it was the latter who authored the smear that is now falling apart. His predecessor, Pius XI, was very much in sync with Pius XII's antagonism to the Nazis and athiest communists; Benedict XV is not a star, but he was a wise voice for peace in the idiotic First World War; yet another prophet those smart people, unfettered by dark, irrational religion, ignored to their terrible cost.

Before them? Pope St. Pius X, who played a decisive role in many matters, in several ways anticipating the liturgical renewal of our times, advanced in turn by Pus XII, and which I suspect will only really come to fruit several decades from now. Before him, Leo XIII, who midwifed the Church's Social Teaching. Before him, Pius IX, the scourge of liberalism--and you can mock him all you like--but here again is a man who may show himself more prophetic--and decisive--in decades to come, if he hasn't already. It's far too late to claim liberalism and its child, modernism, were happy, sunny, innocent movements that the old meanies in Rome slapped down and scapegoated.

And then we come back to John Paul the Great, and Benedict the Surprising.

Many like to say the Church lacks credibility, and they cite "bad popes."

I'd say, that's a very poor argument to make nowadays.

The run of popes for the last 150 years (no offense to those prior, but I don't know much of them) is either a remarkable stretch of way-above-average performance--or if it isn't that much off the norm, then perhaps the "bad popes" refrain is vastly overplayed. (Consider: it got its legs in a huge way in the mass-printed polemics of the Reformation...but that's another story...)


Anonymous said...

I agree that the Popes have been remarkable. It's always easy to look for the negative and some people do that all the time. The good that the Popes have done far outweigh the bad.

You have a great blog, Father. Keep up the good work. And thanks for letting us post anonymously as some of us have to do for good reasons unlike another blogger who says hateful things and doesn't want to handle thorny issues.

Unknown said...

Pio Nono is probably weaker than you give him credit. The response of the popes to the Italian state up through the 1920s is pretty unfortunate. Peter D'Agostino is good on this. The 18C is generally seen as one of the weakest by even the most pro-papal historians. The Roman families basically took over the seat and oversaw one of the largest declines in Catholic faith in much of Europe that to some degree was worse than Europe's current problems. The difference is that Europe had a massive peasant class that hid the degree to which urban Catholics across Europe were abandoning the faith in droves. The French Revolution and Napoleon scared a lot of Europeans, especially the Germans back toward the church. Anyway, agree on Benedict's power as a teacher.

Puff the Magic Dragon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

I found several of Pope John Paul II's writings to be brilliant and incisive. I'm not convinced by the comment by a teacher of mutual acquaintance that his writing is "wordy." John Paul simply wrote in a style that examined several perspectives.

As to comparing the impact of these two men, I can only suggest that Pope John Paul had it all. He was extremely gifted in every priestly charism. Pope Benedict's greatest gifts, by contrast, are primarily academic and liturgical. Since I have been deeply impressed by his writing as well, I do not wish to even attempt to compare them in this vein.

beez said...

I have a great love of John Paul the Great. The USCCB's vocation video Fishers of Men has a great quote describing JP:

"He was the face of the priesthood for a generation, and what a beautiful face it truly was."

However, my recoversion to the faith (and my subsequent discernment of a vocation that has me soon submitting my application for formation) is definitely a Benedict XVI conversion.

I think John Paul was an awesome pope (and like you, Fr. Fox, I think "the Great" is a valid appellation). However, while John Paul was a gregarious and open pope, Benedict's willingness to alienate some for the sake of truth, appeals to me. Perhaps JPII was the same way, but his warmth with just about everyone belied that fact.

Still, as I think about these two recent Popes, as well as saints like Therese of Liseiux and Bl. Theresa of Calcutta, I think of one thing:

We Catholics have our own "rock stars," but our rock stars are actually good role models as well.

God Bless Pope Benedict XVI. May he have many more years as our shepherd.

Unknown said...

Pope Pius X is often denigrated unfairly. In his "History of the Popes 1830-1914", Professor Owen Chadwick said of him (p.362):
"These acts of Pius X amounted to a revolution in worshipping practices. Historians, in hindsight, if asked what act of which Pope did most to affect the Church since 1800, would put their finger on [the] change of 1905-6: the encouragement of frequent, even daily communion, and the receiving of it by children."

There are a number of close parallels between Saint Pope Pius X and Pope John Paul II: their unexpected election; their qualitites as pastors; their great popularity and the contemporary recognition of them as great holy men of faith; their reforms in sacramental practice; their reforms of canon law and the Cathechism; their good natures.