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A Leaven In The World… Confusion, Straw Men Mar Papal Document

April 16, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK

Pope Francis gets high marks in his latest apostolic exhortation on personal holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate (GE), for defending solid teaching on at least one embattled doctrinal truth: “Jesus wanted us to conclude by asking the Father to ‘deliver us from evil.’ That final word does not refer to evil in the abstract; a more exact translation would be ‘the evil one.’ It indicates a personal being who assails us” (GE, n. 160).
The Devil is real, he affirms, and he is the “evil one.” If we are to be holy we must steadfastly renounce him, his works, and his empty promises as affirmed at our Baptism.
There is also solid material here of a practical nature which helps the “middle class” of holiness, as Pope Francis here coins it, “The Saints Next Door,” to grow in sanctity. He writes:
“I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbors, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness’” (GE, n. 7).
A heartwarming and pastoral tone is evident here, that of a loving spiritual father who tends and cares for his children along the path of life’s journey to eternity. We certainly cannot have too much of this kind of encouragement in the often toxic environment in which we find ourselves.
In a bow to more traditional terminology for our daily battle to live faithfully, he uses the phrase “the Church militant.” This more combative characterization of Catholic life has come itself under attack in recent years, as a misguided emphasis on ecumenism and false irenicism has led some to dismiss the real warfare evident in the Martyrology. Many witnesses in our own day are shedding their blood for the faith. If this is not a real war that requires “soldiers” for the Lord, then what is?
Pope Francis also sounds once again Vatican II’s universal call to holiness: “We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves” (GE, n. 14).
There was, however, a discordant tone which provoked dissension among the faithful and contrasting reactions to the text in the media.
Francis X. Rocca’s April 9 headline in The Wall Street Journal showed the result of an equivocation: “Pope says fighting abortion and poverty are ‘equally sacred’ causes.” The pro-abortion crowd jumped on this and retweeted with abandon. Thus, an excuse to resurrect the “seamless garment” approach to life issues. The grave matter of murder which is abortion becomes thereby muted by admixture with something not proscribed by divine law: the advocacy for immigration, for example, including the illegal variety.
The first problem presented by this is that the Church does not require her faithful to break the law. Certainly not as a requirement for holiness.
And therein lies the rub. Why does Pope Francis say this? We know that the Christian work of welcoming the stranger has its undoubted place and remains a high priority for the Pope. But not in all cases and not without discernment. The Church must cooperate with the civil authorities and there is an overlap in this area between the two.
It is right that the Pope teaches that the lives of the poor are equally as sacred as those of unborn children. It’s true. But some carefully chosen filler words can result in confusing apples and oranges.
Purely prudential issues like immigration, about which we can legitimately differ in the Church, remain fundamentally different from life and death issues like abortion. I’m not sure that using an apostolic exhortation, especially one on holiness, is the right context for floating papal prudential preferences.
Personal holiness, the stated purpose of the exhortation, does not depend upon agreeing with the Pope on prudential matters. The Pope’s personal holiness does depend, however, on preaching consistently and with clarity the moral teachings of Christ. These cannot be set aside for anyone.
Abortion is one of the moral issues covered by the divine command “Thou shalt not kill.” Insisting or implying that those who are pro-life but who may disagree with him on immigration issues are wrong is out of bounds. Or should be. The papal scolding of those who disagree with him on merely prudential matters continues to set a disappointing and unworthy tone that we never saw in John Paul II or Benedict XVI.
The list of the intrinsic goods that are bartered away keeps growing. The constant barrage of confusing messages that hint at equality between merely prudential matters and moral teachings which proscribe intrinsic evil is becoming a drumbeat of this papacy.
Some keep asking: Who are these pro-life people who do not also support those “already born,” to whom the Pope periodically refers? The charge of using “straw men” surfaced, for some with satire, as in a meme tweeted @BruvverEccles: “As a scarecrow I am very upset that Pope Francis is attacking straw men in his latest Apostolic Exhortation,” accompanied by a photo of the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.
“Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm, and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection” (GE, n. 101).
And @bokofittleworth on Twitter reacted to this paragraph: “It’s the mention of the ‘already born’ that’s offensive here. It repeats a grave calumny hurled at heroic pro-lifers by defensive baby killers. Shame on @Pontifex.”
Then there was n. 115, wherein the Pope trains his sights on unwanted voices raised on social networks like those I have quoted here from Twitter. Perhaps more on that some other time.
For many years, some of us sought from our Popes what was never theirs to give. We must obey the Pope in matters of faith and morals, as from our “sweet Christ on Earth,” as St. Catherine affectionately and loyally called Peter’s Successor. But this does not amount to replacing with the human what only the divine Lord can do.
This is a bad time for papolatry because, for the first time in living memory, to side reflexively with the Vicar of the Church in all things can conflict with basic teachings. I recommend you read the exhortation but with constant reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Thank you for reading and praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

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