Written by Hilary White
Well, sure… yes of course, the radical secularization of Europe is bad, but not as bad as being a gnostic-pelagian!…and failing to “accompany” sinners to help them “gradually” give up their sins… maybe… some day…
So says Pope Francis in his carefully prepared dialogue with the Polish bishops during World Youth Day.
The Vatican has released the official transcript (whether it has been doctored at the last moment no one has yet said) of his friendly, scripted public chat in the cathedral of Krakow, July 27th.
Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski of Łodź got the ball rolling with the concern of all the remaining believers in Europe: dechristianization:
“Holy Father, it seems that the faithful of the Catholic Church, and more generally all Christians in Western Europe, increasingly find themselves a minority in the midst of a modern, godless, liberal culture. In Poland, we are witnessing a profound clash, an enormous struggle, between faith in God on the one hand, and on the other a way of thinking and acting as if God did not exist.”
Oh yes, assuredly, the pope believes that the total dechristianization of Europe and the increasing isolation of believers in a sea of aggressively secularized hostility is bad…
But! “While it is powerful, there are also clear indications of religiosity, of a reawakening of the religious sense. This too can be dangerous,” the pope said.
Specifically, we are to look out for “gnosticism”. Of course, by this the pope doesn’t mean what the Church has always meant by the theological heresy by that name. So it won’t do much good to look up the definition: “The doctrine of salvation by knowledge…”
“Whereas Judaism and Christianity … hold that the soul attains its proper end by obedience of mind and will to the Supreme Power, i.e. by faith and works, it is markedly peculiar to Gnosticism that it places the salvation of the soul merely in the possession of a quasi-intuitive knowledge of the mysteries of the universe and of magic formulae indicative of that knowledge.”
No, these days words don’t mean things, and the pope gets to make up theology as he goes along, including the definitions. Instead of the old definition, we have Francis warning us that “we have also the other danger, that of a gnostic spiritualization… a subjective spirituality, without Christ.”
With the bishops in attendance no doubt scratching their heads, the pope helpfully muddifies, saying, “For me the bigger problem with secularization is dechristianization: removing Christ, removing the Son. I pray, I feel … and that is all. This is gnosticism.”
Not one to leave alone the opportunity to get a dig in at his favourite targets, Francis adds, “There is another heresy fashionable nowadays, pelagianism,” but for the moment his issue is “gnosticism” which leads us “to find” a Christ-less God… or something.
“To find God without Christ. God but not Christ, people but not Church. Why? Because the Church is a Mother, who gives you life, and Christ is our older brother, the Son of the Father, completely oriented to the Father, who reveals the Father’s name. A Church of orphans: today’s gnosticism, inasmuch as it is a dechristianization, lacking Christ, leads to a Church, or better, to Christians, becoming a people of orphans. We have to make our people see this.”
While you’re sorting out that little gem, Francis offers us the solution: “closeness”. Closeness to Christ? you ask, hopefully. Maybe in the Sacraments?
Oh, ha ha… no, of course not.
“What would I advise? I would say – but I believe it is in the Gospel, where there is precisely the Lord’s own teaching – closeness. Today we, the Lord’s servants – bishops, priests, consecrated persons and committed laypeople – need to be close to God’s people.
“Without closeness, there are only disembodied words. Let us think – I like to reflect on this – of the two pillars of the Gospel. What are the two pillars of the Gospel? The Beatitudes and Matthew 25, the “criteria” on which all of us will be judged. Concreteness, closeness, touching, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.”
Actually, I’ve read the Bible a few times, and I don’t remember Our Lord saying very much about “closeness” or “touching”. Just to check, I did a quick little search of the entire Gospel of Matthew looking for the search term “closeness”. I was helpfully told by the Bible Hub search engine: “Oops! It looks like we couldn’t find any matching ‘closeness’. Try refining your search terms. We may have found what you are looking for in another section!” I decided to give a pass to searching for “touching” and “concreteness”.
Is it really so much to ask that the pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth, use words in the way that the Church, the Bible, the saints, the doctors and all the other popes – and the Oxford English Dictionary – use words? Is there some reason that every time the pope talks we all have to just sit there staring at him while we work out what he could possibly mean?
His apologists will surely remonstrate with me: “He was speaking metaphorically! He was speaking pastorally, in language people can understand.” Apparently they mean some other people, people other than Catholics or people who know what words mean. Or, more generally, as a concept, people who know that words are supposed to have meaning. Who know that making up your own meaning for words defeats the purpose of using them to communicate.
But in fact, there is a perfectly sound reason Francis refuses to use words the way normal people use them. Here’s a funny little side-note for the papal apologists – if there still are any – to chew over. It’s the exchange between Alice and Humpty-Dumpty in which the latter explains very precisely and succinctly what Pope Francis is doing:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master, that’s all.”
We know that it’s a fool’s game to try to figure out what Pope Francis Bergoglio “means” when he uses terms like “gnostic” or “pelagian” or all the other terms he throws out. In fact, for every word he uses, he “means” the same thing: “I am master.”
Perhaps forgetting the original question, Francis continues, talking about “to touch” and “closeness” in the person of those “who left everything to spend their lives in hospitals and schools, with children and with the sick…”
Having mentioned the “spiritual works of mercy” as a part of this “closeness” and “to touch” solution, Francis moves on to redefine them. Traditional Catholics will know – as 50 years ago all Catholics knew – that the Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy are: “To instruct the ignorant. To counsel the doubtful. To admonish sinners. To bear wrongs patiently. To forgive offences willingly. To comfort the afflicted. To pray for the living and the dead.”
But not any more. In the New Franciscan Dispensation, the new generalized “works of mercy [are]: to touch, to teach, to console, to ‘waste time’.”
What does this mean?
Francis helps us understand by relating a story he just thought up about a man who had gone to confession “with a certain apprehension, because he had been sent away several times before: ‘No, no, go away’.” Because in Pope Francis’ mind, people are “sent away” from Confession all the time. Happens all the time, right? Because priests are “little monsters,” apparently.
Oh, wait…I think I get it. We see perhaps a hint: the man was “sent away” because he was not actually eligible for absolution. Why would that be, I wonder?
But this time, the story has a happy ending because “the priest listened to him, explained the man’s situation, and told him: ‘But you keep praying. God loves you. I will give you my blessing. Do you promise to come back?’ This priest ‘wasted time’ in order to draw that man towards the sacraments. That is what closeness means.”
Allow me to help translate this, using complete sentences. “The man” had been “sent away” by wicked priests who had no time to “waste” on the man who had come to Confession with no intention of changing his, err… ‘lifestyle choices,’ but who still wanted to talk to a priest about things. This one priest was the good guy, and “wasted time” by counseling him, asking him to pray, by “accompanying” him and not admonishing him to … well, let’s face it… stop sinning. Instead he gave the man “a blessing” – even though he was effectively “blessing” his decision to remain in his sins. But somehow, this behaviour magically helped to “draw that man towards the sacraments…” because “closeness”!
See? It’s easy.
This is the Francidian, and Kasperite, fantasy that was expressed again and again by Francis’ close collaborators at the Synods: “accompanying” sinners who could remain in their sins, would “gradually” convince them, through the sheer magical power of your overpowering niceness, to eventually repent… Maybe… Some day. Any minute now…As long as they don’t find it too “difficult” to change, mind you.
Someone in the Vatican journalism business mentioned to me that the pope in his visit to Poland never once mentioned his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetizia. He was surprised by this because Francis had apparently pledged in the preamble to the visit that he would “bring” that contested document to the apparently recalcitrant Polish bishops. My friend speculated that maybe the bishops had told His Holiness that their assessment of the document was not yet complete and that it might have been premature to promote it.
But perhaps my friend was only searching for the times the pope mentioned the document by name. It seems to me that nearly every word out of his mouth was about that document and the programme it expounded.
Well, that and the need to bring violent Islamic invaders into Poland, of course.
Anyway… what was the question again? Oh yes! The aggressive secularization of Europe. So, I’ve answered that, right? Eh? No?
“That is how I would respond to the question. There are no easy answers, but we have to get our hands dirty. If we wait for the doorbell to ring, or for people to knock on the door… No, we have to go out and seek, like the shepherd who goes out to seek the lost sheep. Anyway, that’s what I think…”
Right. Thanks for the help, Holy Father.
Go ahead and read the rest. You’ll learn that Pope Francis didn’t come up with the idea of the mercy of God, himself – apparently St. John Paul II talked about it too, and so did Bl. Pope Paul VI. And that “It is a process.”
Oh, and that “accompanying” has to go along with catechesis to combat religious illiteracy.
“[C]atechesis is needed, lifelong catechesis, a catechesis that not only imparts ideas but accompanies people on their journey. Accompaniment is one of the most important attitudes, being ready to accompany people’s growth in faith.”
Good to know.