Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Another Benedict vs. Francis piece...

Late this evening, I came across a piece on Pope Francis, by John Gehring entitled, "How the Francis effect could rescue the church". Like so many boring pieces written since the election of Pope Francis, Gehring sets out to contrast Benedict and Francis, rather than appreciating them as complimentary. It's a narrow approach and sadly, plays into an all-too-common narrative.

There is no depth in the article, no appreciation for Benedict's rich theological teaching which he bequeathed to the Church. It's rooted in superficial observations about different styles, which are then magnified and manipulated to signify fundamental differences. Here's an excerpt:
As the first Jesuit pope, Francis has taken a vow of poverty. He ditched the silk, fur-trimmed cape favored by Pope Benedict XVI for a simple white cassock. Golden throne? Francis prefers a wooden chair. The red carpet laid out in the Vatican’s Hall of the Throne has been rolled up. 
"The world tells us to seek success, power and money; God tells us to seek humility, service and love,” Francis has tweeted. 
All of these aesthetic changes signify deeper meaning, especially in a church where rituals and images seek to convey transcendent truths. 
The pope’s toned-down style and pastoral touch are also a more fitting brand for a church built on the teachings of an itinerant preacher who in the Gospel says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” 
If the Catholic Church hopes to inspire lapsed Catholics and others to embrace the faith with renewed vigor, it will require a radical return to the essence of Christianity. Gospel means “good news.” A smiling, good-humored pope stands in stark contrast to those dour-faced religious leaders who act as gloomy scolds and spy threats around every corner.
What the hell is Gehring talking about here? The irony is that the Catholic Church, alone among Christian denominations, has never departed from "the essence of Christianity", and that's precisely what sets it apart. A so-called Catholic who doesn't get that basic teaching demonstrates the tragic catechetical lacuna so prevalent among lay Catholics that Pope Benedict so-often lamented and sought to correct. By missing this, Gehring misses the boat completely. The "good news" (Theology 101) has to do with our emancipation from sin, and our adoption as sons of the Father through Christ. Among recent popes, few have taught that better than Benedict.

The anti-climactic tone in the last couple of sentences is stunning. First, Gehring talks about the need for a "radical return to the essence of Christianity". You get the sense that something big is coming. What could this essence be? A loud "thud" results however, when he reveals that that "radical return" and "essence" have to do with a, wait...wait..."smiling, good-humored pope". Really? 

The last sentence is embarrassing, and is obviously intended as a swipe at Benedict. Younger Catholics were/are drawn to Benedict because he helped them rediscover a buried treasure that was the Church's liturgical patrimony. John, if you look at the brilliant papacy of Benedict XVI, and all you see is a "fur-trimmed cape" (it's called a mozzetta, by the way), and a "red carpet" there's not much I can do for you.

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