It is axiomatic in physics that opposite charges attract one another and like charges repel. If a human analog were in operation, then one would expect the extreme left wing and the extreme right wing in the Church to be hopelessly in love. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the disdain approaches rabid levels between the two. As is so often the case, the laws of nature are very much in force, though the appearance may suggest otherwise.
It isn’t that the extreme left and extreme right of the Catholic Church are different. It is the case that they are exactly alike. They are characterized by deep suspicion, hostility, anger, resentment, paranoia, disrespect for authority unless it reflects the image they behold in the mirror, arrogant usurpation of papal authority and prerogative, and a closed-mindedness that would make a jihadi proud.
It seems that the underlying spiritual and psychological pathology is exactly the same and that the outward manifestation is simply a preferred script: hyper-liberal or hyper-conservative— both of which are anarchy in drag.
Pride on parade.
Enter Pope Francis, who succeeds a Pope Benedict reviled on the left and even in the center for his reaching out to the SSPX, allowing priests to say mass in latin without seeking permission, and creating personal prelatures for Anglicans swimming the Tiber. For many on the extreme right, not even that was enough. Now comes the Jesuit pope from impoverished South America, giving voice to the social justice issues also espoused by Pope John Paul II, who moved the South-American clergy away from the Marxist liberation theology to a more centrist approach, condemning the excesses of capitalism and socialism in the process. Where John Paul was ignored on this, Francis has indicated that he will not be.
Many in the middle to right-of-center were so enthused by John Paul’s head-on clash with the culture of death that they tolerated his admonitions regarding social justice issues championed by the left. When Francis said that issues of homosexuality, abortion, fornication, etc… need not be mentioned all the time, pro-lifers became apoplectic. Those further to the right became near suicidal, and sales of Prozac jumped 30%.
When the pope then declared in his interview with the atheist, Scalfari, that youth unemployment and the loneliness of the elderly were the biggest issues facing the Church today, Americans who are right-of-center were stunned, then outraged, then disgusted. He obviously doesn’t get the issues here in the Northern Hemisphere, they say. There may be some truth in that.
However, the virulence of the reaction to Francis indicates what I have long maintained; The plight of the Church below the equator remains largely beyond the care or concern of most in the decadent north. So, how does one discern this pope’s perspective? Could it be that there is an ascending order of priorities, and that Francis has tapped into something causal that we cannot see here in America? Is there an underlying pathology that gives rise to the culture of death, a pathology we may not have considered before? That so many here on the right would respond so vehemently to the pope’s prism of social justice ought to be chilling upon reflection.
Perhaps the scriptures speak to these questions. Isaiah 58 comes to mind:
1 Cry out full-throated and unsparingly, lift up your voice like a trumpet blast; Tell my people their wickedness, and the house of Jacob their sins.
2 They seek me day after day, and desire to know my ways, Like a nation that has done what is just and not abandoned the law of their God; They ask me to declare what is due them, pleased to gain access to God.
3 “Why do we fast, and you do not see it? afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?” Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers.
4 Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw. Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high!
5 Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
6 This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke;
7 Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am! If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
10 If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
11 Then the LORD will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land. He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails.
12 The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up; “Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you, “Restorer of ruined homesteads.”
13 If you hold back your foot on the sabbath from following your own pursuits on my holy day; If you call the sabbath a delight, and the LORD’S holy day honorable; If you honor it by not following your ways, seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice–
14 Then you shall delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will nourish you with the heritage of Jacob, your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
This pope is a dangerous man, moreso than John Paul II. Whereas John Paul emerged from behind the Iron Curtain and cheered us with his efforts to bring down communism and his work at the restoration of traditional morality, Francis emerges from a different sort of tyranny. He brings with him a different set of challenges. For those of us who are married, pro-life, anti-culture of death, he is going to rattle our cage. What we are doing is not enough if it doesn’t involve the corporal works of mercy.
Enter the Rabbi.
Jesus spoke often of the corporal works of mercy, and tells us in Matthew 25 that we will be judged according to how well we saw Him in the least of our brothers. He tells us through John the Apostle that we cannot love the God whom we cannot see if we do not love the brother whom we can see.
He also assured His Apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would lead THEM to all truth. It is vital to check who Jesus’ audience was when He spoke. It was at the Ascension that He gave the Apostles the power to forgive and to bind sin. It was at that same moment when He assured them of the Holy Spirit leading them to all truth. Now the question is whether we believe that the Holy Spirit guided the election of Francis.
That is a very big question indeed. I believe that the Holy Spirit blew through that conclave in a mighty way.
In denouncing Francis, we risk committing idolatry by placing such a premium on the portion of the Gospel we excel at following that we are willing to disparage the one whom Jesus has chosen as His Vicar on earth. Pride has created more spiritual idolators, worshipers of their own predilections, than the IRS and golf combined have created liars.
In dangerous and uncertain times we do especially well to avoid the pride so manifest on the extreme wings of the Church and allow ourselves to be led to all truth through the mechanism established by God Himself. The Summae are not the Summit.
I have no doubt that Francis will take us even higher, if we have the courage and humility to follow.
John Michael Talbot wrote a beautiful and powerful adaptation of Is. 58/Matt 25