Has the media's disaffection with the Pope started?

Some time ago, I wrote that Pope Francis is on a course to become one of the most hated, reviled modern popes, at least by those who presume to stand in judgement over the moral teachings of the Church. His easy-going style and willingness to make himself vulnerable to the media have allowed certain camps to think that this pontiff is going to change, or at least soften, the Church's position on some of the key obsessions of the modern world. There is an expectation that the Pope is going to get the Church to back off on things like contraception, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, and even (some have speculated) abortion.

Of course, as I've pointed out before, no such change is coming. Not only because it can't come, given the nature of the Church, but also because Pope Francis is of one mind with the Church on all of these things. If Pope Francis has been calling for any change, it's to remind Church leaders, especially bishops, to engage a style of evangelization that shows people the whole picture of God's plan for humanity, including human sexuality, so that the beauty and truth of the Church's teachings on sexuality are made more clear. That's it.

When the Pope made comments, therefore, in support of traditional marriage as a norm at the recent colloquium on the complementarity of men and women, his comments were completely in line with his pontificate so far. At least, to anyone in the Church, that should have been clear. But what about the various media outlets? How have the various news sources been spinning it?

Interestingly enough, there hasn't been much reporting of it, not nearly the amount that was generated over the juicy tidbits that seemed to be coming from the earlier extraordinary synod--tidbits that didn't represent anything except the frank internal discussion that often takes place inside the Church's magisterial body, but that is usually hidden from the public. A quick google search of the words "pope francis complementarity" yielded a page of links, five of which were Catholic sources and five of which were secular news outlets. The next page had a couple more Catholic sources but were mainly blog-o-sphere links.

Of the five secular outlets represented on the first page of results, there are: The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Time Magazine, The Independent, and The Daily Beast. Nothing from most of the bigger, more traditional news outlets (CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, USA Today, New York Times), and nothing from the cyber-age news outlets (Yahoo! News, MSNBC, etc.).

Of those that did have reports with enough readership to show up on Google's front page, here are excerpts from each:

The Washington Post:

A month after convening a major meeting meant to welcome non­traditional families, Pope Francis told a gathering of global religious conservatives Monday that “children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother.”

The Independent:

Francis' comments seem to represent a shift towards placating conservatives in the Church from a Pope who once asked “who am I to judge gay people” and whom Elton John described as “my hero”.

The Washington Times (the only example, among the sampled papers, that successfully avoided editorializing within the article):

Pope Francis said Tuesday that the union of a man and a woman is “at the root of marriage,” dashing hopes among gay rights supporters that he might open the door to acceptance of same-sex unions by the Catholic Church.

Time Magazine:

(Headline:) Pope Francis says Children Have a Right to a Father and a Mother

The statement seems at odds with the Vatican leader's push to make the church more accepting of nontraditional families.

Pope Francis caused quite a stir on Monday with a statement that was criticized as a rolling back of his much lauded attempts to make the Catholic Church more inclusive of the LGBT community.

The Daily Beast link is really to an editorial, and not a report, as seen in the opening statement:

The Vatican’s cheery-sounding ‘complementarity’ symposium’ is really an attack on sex outside of marriage—gay sex, single sex, divorced sex, and all 50 shades of grey in between.

So, there it is: When the Pope proves to be Catholic after all, the story is that he's somehow letting people down, back-pedaling, dashing hopes. The truth is that, while some in the Church may question the prudence of some of his encounters with the media, Pope Francis is as solidly Catholic as any preceding Pope. He has never shown any hint of being anything else.

My annual lament on Christ the King Sunday

Every year, when observing the Solemnity of Christ the King, I can't help feeling just little sadness at the modification of the name of the feast by Pope Pius VI, from "Our Lord Jesus Christ the King" to "Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe." Even though "universe" is the word we use to encompass all of creation, the phrase "of the Universe," gramatically and semantically speaking, is a qualifier on Christ's kingship; whereas the original title proclaimed an unqualified kingship in our Lord.

Constant Prayer to Christ the King

Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, help me always to love and revere You as the King of my heart, mind, and hands.

Perspective on Our Place in the Universe

Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe

The Misdirected Goal of the Friendly Church

It seems to be an ongoing concern among Catholics that they are not "friendly" enough to visitors during Mass. I once heard a talk by a Catholic speaker in which he recounted an incident when he mistakenly entered a Protestant church while traveling. His first realization that he wasn't in a Catholic church came when people around him in the pews actually said "Hello" to him. The implication was "wow, wouldn't it be great if Catholic churches were like this, too?" A number of local churches have launched initiatives to make their church more "visitor friendly," by expanding the scope of ushers' responsibility during the period while people are gathering for Mass. At one of the two parishes I frequent, the Mass is preceded with an invitation to everyone to "stand up and greet those around you."

This movement towards stranger-friendliness is understandably well-intentioned. We are an evangelistic Church. Our founding mission is to "make disciples of all nations." One would think that Christ's commission, at the very least, should drive us to be ever on the look-out for the potential stranger among us when we gather for Mass, so that we can make that stranger feel welcome. That seems to be a natural and appropriate extension of our evangelistic mission.

I disagree, however. I know that most people's reaction will be to think that I'm calling for Catholics to be unfriendly and stand-offish. I'm not calling for that at all; indeed, I think Catholics should, as an expression of what we possess, be the friendliest people that most people encounter in the course of their day. What I'm making a case for, is that the Mass is not the proper forum for this outward-looking friendliness, and gathering for Mass is not the proper context for the specific evangelization of those who are not already counted among the faithful, or at least participating in a program of catechesis.

The reason is that the objective of visitor-friendliness at Mass misplaces the significance of the Mass and of our own participation in the Mass. The key reality that seems to be lost in the "friendly church" movement is that the Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life. This phrase, "source and summit" means several things, all of which indicate that the Mass is not an entry point to the Christian life. Participating in a Mass is not the appropriate vehicle for someone searching for a religious home to "check out" whether they might like becoming Catholic. For those on the outside looking in, the Mass represents a destination, and not the starting point, of a journey towards Catholicism.

The Mass is the source of Christian evangelization in the truest sense. This is shown in the word "Mass" itself. It comes from the word "missa," which means "sending out." It is the root of the words "dismissal" and "mission." For the faithful, the Mass is the ongoing mystical presence of the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Ascension. In other words, the Mass is what makes manifest to the faithful God's insertion of Himself, in the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, into His own creation. From that insertion, and therefore through the Mass itself, God emanates into the rest of the world in the reality of the Church. This is why the Church's evangelic mission must be seen as deriving from the Mass.

If the Mass is the source of the Christian life, then it is equally the summit. Our ultimate destination is a union with God Himself, to become one with the Father through the Son, participating in the very union that exists eternally between the Father and the Son. While the perfection of our union with God must wait until our earthly death, the Mass is a means by which we are imperfectly elevated into that union here on earth. Furthermore, the imperfection of our participation in that union through the Mass is a limit of our fallen nature, and not of the nature of the Mass. The Mass makes present the perfection of the Son's union with the Father, placing us directly in the presence of the eternal Sacrifice of the Lamb.

The Mass also represents the wedding feast of the Bridegroom, which is Christ, with His bride, which is the Church. The wedding represents the final end of our journey towards perfection and union with God. The true wedding feast is already taking place in eternity, where even now, the faithful throughout history are enjoying their reward. This is not a mystery of faith so much as a metaphysical reality that's just difficult to grasp, but there's no "before and after" in eternity---everything just is. Even that which has a beginning in time, like us, has a full presence in eternity. Thus, our participation at Mass is an earthly participation in the eternal Wedding Feast that is the Church Triumphant's union with God.

That the Church has always seen the Mass as a destination of our journey towards the Christian life, and not the starting point of it, is perhaps more clearly seen when considering the habit of the early Church. This is a time when evangelistic zeal was arguably stronger and the rate of conversion to the Church higher than in any other time in history. In the early Church, it quickly became the norm that those who were still undergoing catechesis were removed from the assembly after what is now called the "Liturgy of the Word" (once called the "Mass of the Catechumens") and not permitted to participate in the "Liturgy of the Eucharist" (once known as the "Mass of the Faithful") until they had been fully initiated into the Christian life through Baptism.

To summarize, the Mass is God's emanation of Himself into the world, and because He is our ultimate destination, it is also that towards which He draws everybody that is destined for salvation. Thus, the Mass is that from which the faithful are sent out, and that to which the faithful must ultimately draw the world in our evangelistic mission. The Mass represents the final home of the Christian spirit, rather than the gateway to the Christian life.

Another issue with the idea making it a focus before and during Mass to welcome strangers is that, while a Catholic church should be welcoming, even for Mass, it should be the welcomeness of home. When a Catholic attends Mass at any parish in the world, he should have a sense of being at home. He should feel that he is welcome the same way a person is always welcome in the childhood home of his parents. His sense of welcome derives, not from the specific acts of greeting and friendliness on the part of members of the assembly, but from his sure knowledge of place and expectation. He knows why he is there, as does everybody else, and he knows what is expected of him. The sense of being home that a Catholic feels in any Catholic church should be so complete that words of welcome and greeting from other members of the assembly are mere superficialities. When a Catholic attends Mass at a parish other than his own, his sense of belonging and of home should be so deep, and should derive so completely from the reality of the Mass in which he's about to participate, that it makes as much sense for him welcome them as it does for them to welcome him.

So, what should a non-Catholic see when he comes to Mass? What should he come away with? I certainly don't think it should be a sense of cold-shouldered clanishness. The non-Catholic who observes a Catholic Mass should not get the idea that Catholics are self-absorbed and unfriendly. Rather, I think the observer of a Catholic Mass should be impressed with a strong, unified sense of purpose among the faithful. Everybody there should be of one mind in their directedness towards the Mystery that's unfolding before them. This sense of purpose and unity is best manifested through ritual and solemnity. That's part of the reason that the Church attaches so much importance to ritual, and why a demeanor of solemnity should pervade the Mass.

Someone watching those gathered in the Church, minutes before the start of the Mass, should have a sense of quiet, interior preparation. There should be a sense of anticipation and expectation, a sense that everybody there is waiting for something. The stranger should get the idea that everybody in the church is eagerly anticipating something that they all know and understand, but that is somehow hidden from the uninitiated. This anticipation should have an "eyes forward" sense of watchfulness.

At the end of the Mass, the stranger should be struck with a sense of joyful dismissal. If the faithful understand what the Mass is, and have fully given themselves over to it, then they should be re-entering the world with a joyful surety of mission, and an abundant desire to spread their joy by proclaiming what they just received. Again, the source of this joy would be completely hidden to the outsider unless it's explained to him. The Christian joy does not derive from fellowship with other Christians or with interactions of friendship. Rather, that fellowship and those friendships should derive their own depth and meaning from the very same source of Christian joy, which is the reality of Christ made present to them, even though hidden in the forms of bread and wine.

It is this joy, accompanied by the ability to completely love each person with a love that drives us to invite that person into the life of union with God, that should drive the non-Catholic or the non-Christian to want to join us. We should be projecting such an overwhelming sense of joy and love for each other that the non-Christian wants what we have. This is how we should evangelize.

This is a bigger point than it might seem at first glance. The Mass, if fully understood and properly experienced by the Catholic, would be that to which the Catholic wishes to invite the world. The Mass isn't just a way for Catholics to gather and celebrate together something that's going to be ours in the next world. It's the very thing that will be ours in the next world, given to us in this world. But if our understanding of the Mass doesn't imbue us with this sense of wonder and value in the Mass; if the way we do Mass doesn't reflect this reality of the Mass, as our momentary participation in that final destination to which each of is is called; if we don' really "believe" the Mass, then we really don't have anything to which we would call those we're evangelizing.

One of the nice things about writing for yourself is that, when you want to go on a tangent, you can do so. There's no teacher, professor, or boss to grade you or edit out your tangential comments. This is my tangent. It's short, expressing my view of a problem, but admittedly without offering a solution. Nonetheless, here it is:

The reflection of the reality of the Mass in the rite used by the Roman Rite of the Church was diminished enormously when the current ordinary form of the Mass was promulgated in 1969. The distinction between the two forms of the Mass is well summed up by the statement "The ancient form of the Mass looks like a Work of God; the modern form of the Mass looks like a work of man."

The Vatican II document that called for a liturgical reform proposed education of the faithful concerning the Divine Liturgy, as the primary means of restoring the faithful to a more active participation in the Mass. This call to education was largely ignored, even while many of the elements of the Mass reflective of that to which the faithful needed to be educated were removed. This process has left the Church in a difficult state.

The Mass is supposed to be the supreme expression of everything that we're about in the world; yet it's difficult to detect in the modern form of the Mass any compelling sense of why someone would want to become Christian. While the ancient form of the Mass at least conveyed a sense that it was tapping into some hidden reality, and making present something deeper than its physical appearances; the modern form seems to mask even the assertion that something deeper is going on, than what is visible to the observer.

It is, I am convinced, a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit, and furthermore a proof of the reality that those drawn to the Catholic Church are drawn on more than just a physical and intellectual level, that the Church continues to bring new adult members in, every year. Just think how powerful our evangelism would be if every member of the Church fully understood what the Mass was, and was reminded of that in the way the Mass was performed every week and every day that they attended Mass.