I am astounded, though, even now, that some who comment on my blog are so anti-Pope Francis. It is an oxymoron to call oneself Catholic and at the same time anti-Pope Francis. This tells me that some who comment on my blog are indeed in schism. Others who are anti-Pope Francis and comment on my blog are at heart Protestants who may have been received into the full communion of the Catholic Church but really did not embrace all that Catholicism is, especially respect for the Magisterium of the Church--the living Magisterium, which is the pope and bishops in union with him.
I'm not speaking of an ultramontane approach to the papacy or to Rome here. I'm not saying one can't critique some aspects of a pope or the papacy in a respectful, charitable way. But I am saying that an honest to God, true Catholic must have respect for the papacy and the pope even if one personally dislikes a pope outright or one or another aspects of his papacy.
Those who seek to restore to the Church the dignity she had prior to Vatican II but in a post-Vatican II sort of way, what I shall call sound-minded orthodox Catholics who love the liturgy because it is the means to a mystical relationship with the Most Holy Trinity, have and or had a golden opportunity to show how true Catholics respect the pope.
Let me explain. Pope Benedict XVI was lambasted by heterodox Catholics in the most vile way and the secular media did the same thing. The two were in cahoots. These progressive Catholics despised Pope Benedict and let their venom out regularly on the more liberal blogs.
But now, and there are those who comment here, we have so-called orthodox, conservative or traditional Catholics do the same to Pope Francis. You would have thought they would have shown the world that they weren't like the progressives and would arise above petty anger and shrill arguments about this pope. But no, they showed themselves to be just like the progressives but with a different ideological bent, but make no mistake, just like the progressives in their vile ugliness.
John Allen has a good article on the similarities between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis when it comes to the environment. Pope Francis is more effective because of his personality but their theologies are the same:
Mythology and media narratives to the contrary, Pope Francis has far more in common with Pope Benedict XVI than whatever separates them. Francis probably could be better understood as “Benedict 2.0,” supplying a warmer and more populist package for the same basic positions espoused by his more cerebral predecessor.
The release on Thursday of Pope Francis’ highly anticipated encyclical letter on the environment, Laudato Si, may well be the latest proof of the point.
First of all, it’s hardly as if embracing the cause of fighting climate change, saving the rainforests, and otherwise protecting the environment is somehow a break with Benedict. On the contrary, Benedict was famously the pope who installed solar panels atop a Vatican audience hall and signed an agreement to make the Vatican Europe’s first carbon-neutral state in order to back up his strong ecological concerns.
In a speech to the German parliament in 2011 – a speech, by the way, that probably meant more to the German pontiff than most he delivered during his eight-year reign – Benedict said the rise of Germany’s Green movement in the 1970s was “a cry for fresh air, a cry that cannot be ignored or put aside.”
Yet Benedict also tried to paint a distinctly Catholic shade of green in the way he approached environmental questions, and Francis recently provided a hint he’s thinking the same way.
In brief comments to reporters aboard the papal plane returning from last Saturday’s trip to Bosnia, Francis said his forthcoming environmental encyclical will deal, among other topics, with relativism, which he described as a “cancer of society.” (In the same breath, Francis also called consumerism a “cancer.”)
It might seem odd for Francis to use an environmental tract to bring up a debate over moral philosophy, but that’s where understanding the mind of Benedict XVI helps.
For Benedict, secular environmentalism is the most promising route for recovery of a strong sense of “natural law,” meaning the idea that right and wrong, truth and falsehood, are real qualities which exist in nature, and which human beings can discover using their reason and conscience.
Many Catholic thinkers, prominently including Benedict XVI, worry that natural law has been supplanted in the popular mind either by relativism or by positivism, the idea that moral rules are imposed by human authority and thus more akin to the speed limit than to gravity – something invented, instead of being given in nature.
Benedict believes that environmentalism is leading people back to the idea of natural law, because it proves that limits on what human beings can do without paying a price aren’t just arbitrary but absolutely, objectively real.
“Everyone can see today that … we can’t simply do whatever we want with this earth that has been entrusted to us, we have to respect the inner laws of creation, of this earth, if we want to survive,” Benedict said in 2007.
His comments on relativism last Saturday indicate Francis is likely to make a similar point, treating environmentalism not just as an important social cause, but also a moral teaching moment.
One could go on cataloguing the links between Francis and Benedict. This week, for instance, Francis devoted one of his morning homilies to insisting that Christians must not “weaken or water down” their identity, warning against the influence of “modern Gnostics” and an “insipid religion of just prayers and ideas.”
Through the history of salvation, Francis said, God has led the Church progressively from “ambiguities” to “certainties.” Close your eyes, and you easily could have believed you were hearing Benedict XVI.
In most of the ways that matter, what’s changed from Benedict to Francis isn’t the lyrics but the music. Instead of Wagner, people today seem to hear a saucy Latin rhythm when the pope speaks, often making the message easier to take.
Last week, for example, Francis met the bishops of Puerto Rico in the Vatican, presenting them with a speech blasting gay marriage and “gender theory” in exactly the same terms Benedict XVI would have used. Francis did it, however, while inviting the bishops to join him for lunch, joking that “a little wine will loosen the tongue and you can tell me the truth.”
The real difference between the two pontiffs may lie in reach and effectiveness, not content. Francis has succeeded in convincing a wide swath of people, especially those outside the Church, that he values their experiences and cares about their perspectives. That impression makes them more inclined to view his take on things with sympathy rather than skepticism.
Warmth, in other words, isn’t just about packaging and tone. It also translates into power, meaning the ability to shape opinion and to win hearts and minds where others have failed.
Laudato Si seems destined to be the latest chapter in this bond between Benedict and Francis, with the key question being whether Francis’ more enchanting presentation once again allows his “2.0” version of the message to pack a greater punch.
My final comments: Just as Pope Francis and Pope Benedict are on the same page when it comes to the environment, so too, it is now appearing, that Pope Francis and Pope Benedict are on the same page as it concerns the liturgy as proven by the choice of Pope Francis for the new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, African Cardinal Robert Sarah.
I've said all along and having personally witnessed it at the Vatican, that the liturgies of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict are almost identical except for one or two things. The choir under Pope Francis has improved in quality. Pope Francis prefers a simpler, less ostentatious approach to the liturgy in vestments mostly or in anything that calls attention to the pope in the liturgy.
Let's face it, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, Pope Benedict loved the Baroque in vestments. But the Baroque in Roman vestments does have a small group of admirers and a larger, larger group that find it distasteful.
Pope Francis vestments are semi-modern, but tasteful, austere and lack ornateness. His vestments are improving with time and certainly under the tutelage of Msgr. Guido Marini.
I suspect, too, that Pope Francis has a great respect for Msgr. Guido Marini and has learned from him a great deal about papal liturgies. I suspect too that Pope Francis for the most part respected what Cardinal Ratzinger and later Pope Benedict tried to do with the liturgy in restoring dignity to it worldwide.
There was real fear that the other Marini, Archbishop Marini would be named the prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship. Rather, we got a Ratzinger Cardinal who is even more like Ratzinger than Ratzinger ever was.
There is a paradox here and the symbols of Pope Francis speak very loudly for those who can read and hear his symbols!
Finally, I believe that Pope Francis is a genius. He wants to be inclusive in a purified Catholic way. He wants to make Catholicism attractive to outsiders, secularists, non-believers, to draw them in and then allow God's grace to do the rest. He trusts in God's grace.
He wants to pull the progressives, the heterodox in too, but he wants God's grace to purify them too. He trusts in God's grace.
As for the so-called traditionalists? He's separating the sheep from the wolves. And God's grace will do the purifying. You can read some of what the wolves think in the comments on my blog.
God bless Pope Francis! Long live the Pope! Viva il Papa!