Imagine that Jesus was a great physician who came to set up a hospital in which everyone who came would find healing. After He set it up and got it going, He commissioned certain disciples to act as divine doctors and continue the work.
The work was so successful that these hospitals started springing up around the globe, despite the sometimes furious and violent opposition of local witch doctors and shamans. People from all over were finding neither empty promises, nor rejection but simple joy and healing at the hands of these divinely appointed doctors, who prescribed the medicine the Master had given with fidelity and grace.
Over time, though, divisions arose. Some hospitals broke off, claiming that the true medicine had been tainted. These hospitals denounced the original work as a fraud and an offense. Soon enough, new hospitals broke off even from the new hospitals, with each claiming it had the original healing medicine. The world was treated to the shabby spectacle of a multitude of competing hospitals all denouncing each other in the name of the same Founding Physician, Jesus.
After the divisions and disputes, a lot of the doctors decided they were too smart to believe in the prescriptions of their Founder. They adopted a therapeutic culture while apologizing for the old culture of faith. Ordinary people found they weren’t receiving much healing anymore – and when they got a little it was rarely with much joy. The more the hospitals tried to get to be more like the rest of the world, the weaker their healing power became. Many former patients began trying new hospitals…some used crystals, others used chants. Oddities that had long ago been used and discarded because they did not avail and made things worse were tried anew in search of the healing and joy that had been lost. The new/old nostrums were a type of poison that gave a brief thrill before eating away at men’s hearts and souls. Things got worse as, even amidst plenty, people tried to hide the agony of their quiet desperation.
There grew up two major camps among the doctors at all the old hospitals. The first camp, which had fully signed on to the therapeutic culture that brought on so much misery, prided themselves on their compassion. Confronted with so much agony, they prescribed the very same things that brought it on in the first place, claiming the sick needed a little relief – and never mind about later. The second had stood, even though ineffectively, against the innovations that had brought things to this pass. But they had lost what was at the heart of the original medicine. They rarely roused themselves to do anything more than berate the sick for being sick.
So while some prescribe what makes people sick in the first place and the others berate the sick for being sick, the question is, who is doing the healing? You may be doing work, but if it is not healing work, it is not the Lord’s work.
Who is doing the healing? This is the situation the faith finds itself in as the Extraordinary Synod on the Family commences. It is a beginning, not an end – and has pitted Bishop against Bishop while stoking antagonisms throughout the world; a world that knows it is in crisis, that it is wounded and bleeding, even as it does not know from whence the damage comes. So wounded partisans lash out at forces they cannot see, desperately wanting someone to stop the pain – or at least to wound those they perceive as their antagonists. Who will do the healing?
I have welcomed the intense pastoral approach of Pope Francis, shaking up a Church administration and bureaucracy that had become insular and elitist, protecting sinecures and guarding perquisites rather than living witness. Pope Francis made it clear from the start he expected the shepherds of Christ’s Church to be marked with the smell of the sheep – and if they really wanted to hold sway in his councils, they had best quit living like petty satraps and start living like servants and witnesses.
Yet as he has shaken up old abuses, it worries me that, early on, he has fallen prey to that destructor of reformers; a penchant to replace old abuses with equal and opposite new abuses. I have gently made it clear here that the new Archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich, worries me sick. No doubt, he came to the Pope’s attention because of his reputation for pastoral inclusiveness. But it is not pastoral to wage battle and treat with near-open contempt those who have the temerity to take the words of Christ and the Magisterium seriously. To actively try to shut down pro-life sentiment or to dilute it as equal to non-Magisterial teaching is not just or merciful. I have stated that I, too, get annoyed with the harsh, uncharitable rhetoric of some rigid traditionalists. But I cannot understand why that demands that a shepherd should try to suppress traditionalists by taking away their ability to celebrate ancient Latin Rites in liturgy, as Cupich did in his first posting in South Dakota. His history of visceral hostility to any traditional expression of Catholic faith is not a pastoral virtue – and assigning him to Chicago does not open new avenues of charity; it just shuffles the deck of who will be oppressed and marginalized. I fervently hope that Cupich will be a surprise. But Chicago is one of the five or so Archdioceses in America that determine the direction of the whole Church in America. It should not have gone to one who would have to be a surprise to actually support the Magisterium and the faith.
Worse yet, I worry that the new mechanisms for assignments Pope Francis has put in place are defective. The stories I read of Bishops being disciplined or investigated all seem to come with orthodox sees. It is all too common in a political situation for hostile contenders to seize pretexts for attacking their opponents which mask the real agenda involved. When every Bishop disciplined, demoted or publicly investigated is noted for his orthodoxy, that is almost a sure sign that the political settling of scores is the animating spirit, not hierarchical reform.
So I suspect that progressives are using this moment to try to bury their orthodox opponents, to actively attack, undermine and then oppress them when enough power is amassed. But the new oppressors have forgotten something. Pope Francis, himself, was oppressed by his own Jesuit order – sent to teach high school in obscurity in punishment for his orthodoxy. He would have remained there except for having come to the attention of Pope St. John Paul, who plucked him from obscurity and consecrated him Bishop. It would be peculiar, indeed, if the Pope himself were now on a witch hunt to weed out the orthodox among the Bishops, imitating his corrosive superiors from a few decades back rather than the sainted Pope who rescued him. If that were Francis’ intention, the appointments of some seriously orthodox Bishops to high-profile spots would be incoherent. Yet that is what he has done, most notably appointing the orthodox Cardinal George Pell as Prefect of the newly formed Secretariat for the Economy. No, I think Pope Francis is exactly what he seems; a good-hearted holy man who genuinely wants to emphasize pastoral outreach as this Storm rises. He is no dummy, either. Woe unto those who have presumed to use his good nature to try to settle old scores. Within a year or so, I suspect they are liable to find themselves assigned to Antarctica if they don’t repent of their cynical gamesmanship.
And now we have the synod, where all these currents, subcurrents and undercurrents have risen to the surface. Because insufficient fidelity to the words of Christ produced so much misery over the last few generations, Cardinal Walter Kasper proposes this be remedied with even more of the same – while blasting away the Magisterium and instructions of Christ – that is, defined doctrine, in the process. Oh, I know, like an American politician, he gives complicated explanations for why he is not actually proposing what he is proposing right before your very eyes. However well-intended he might be, I now understand why Pope Emeritus Benedict spent over three decades smacking down Kasper’s corrosive sophistry. Meanwhile, Cardinal Raymond Burke insists on leaving everything as it is. I have long admired Cardinal Burke. He is on a short list of Bishops I have prayed for by name every day for over a decade. Perhaps he is over-reacting to a perceived threat against the doctrine of the Church. But for the life of me, it sure looks like Kasper is prescribing more of the same narcotic that brought this terrible sickness on – in the name of compassion, while Burke is content to berate the sick for being sick. So who is doing the healing?
No doctrinal definitions will come out of this synod. No matter how noxious any recommendations might be, they do not even become formal recommendations until after another synod a year from now. Even there, no doctrinal definitions will be set. Rather; formal recommendations will be sent to the Pope for ultimate disposition. This synod is useful in separating the sheep from the goats. I rather think this meeting simply is drawing out those who are loud but not particularly serious for all the world to see – and perhaps, more importantly, to show the Pope what is in the hearts of those who surround him.
Meantime, it is not just drawing out clerics who have become worldly in their judgment. It is drawing out those laymen who are determined that the Church shall be in their image or they shall supplement the attacks from without on her by mounting subversive attacks from within. Three quick examples:
First, the execrably apostate Dr. Kelly Bowring, a man who had done some good work a few years back, has used this opportunity to circulate a provocative video, challenging the Pope to answer or be declared an antichrist. This would be more impressive had Bowring not become a devout follower of the apostate seer, Maria Divine Mercy, before she was exposed as a complete and utter cynical fraud. Before Francis was elected, Bowring was already vested in believing the next Pope would be an antichrist. He is just trying to protect his errant investment rather than renounce his error.
Second, and sadly, on his feast day, a dying prophecy attributed to St. Francis of Assisi made the rounds. I will not print the whole thing here, just the portion that has got those with itching ears in a tizzy. It says: “…At the time of this tribulation a man, not canonically elected, will be raised to the Pontificate, who, by his cunning, will endeavour to draw many into error and death.”
This is being used by those who desperately want to make Pope Francis into an anti-pope. Just a few problems with it:
– St. Francis did leave a dying testament. He wrote it out. This is not it.
– This did not appear for the first time until written in a book about St. Francis by one R. Washbourne in 1882, some 700 years after St. Francis had died. There is no earlier citation for this “prophecy” and NO contemporaneous attestation. It is almost certainly a legend made up after the fact.
– But, say defenders of the book, it received the imprimatur, so it must be true. Incorrect. The imprimatur does not guarantee the authenticity of everything in a book or even its doctrinal integrity. An imprimatur is simply a permission to publish with an assurance that the examining authority did not find anything contrary to faith and morals in it. If a man were not canonically elected, but treated as a pope, those who followed him would be in error. This “prophecy” does not say a Pope would infallibly teach error, but that a non-canonically elected antipope would teach error and gain followers. There is nothing doctrinally unsound in that, whether the actual “prophecy” is authentic or not.
– In the times of St. Catherine of Sienna there were, indeed, two claimants to the papacy and legitimate confusion as to which had been properly elected. Though we had a similar situation centuries later, we do not have that situation now. Even if this “prophecy” were true, it could not apply to Pope Francis because he was canonically elected. There is NO doubt on that point, despite the fevered wishes of those like Bowring.
– St. Francis was not given to making prophecies about the future. Rather, he occasionally had visions that applied to his time and how to rebuild the faith of the Church by gathering men who would be obedient to their superiors and serve the faithful. This would have been wildly uncharacteristic for him.
– If St. Francis had actually made that striking prophecy, someone ought to have noticed it in the 700 years between when he died and when Washbourne wrote it. No notes or attributions are made in the book (yes, I downloaded a copy to study the scholarship from an historian’s standpoint). It is just an assertion made by the author. At best, it can be traced back to tales told at the University of Cologne in the mid-1800’s, but we have to rely on the author’s word for that, too. In short, this prophecy has NO historical provenance except the word of R. Washbourne 700 years after St. Francis died.
Finally, a video from the Easter Vigil at the Vatican has made the rounds of the internet, supposedly showing that Pope Francis is praying to satan – and has even dedicated a chapel to the devil. It would be bad enough if this were the usual work of the tiny enclave of anti-Catholic bigots on the far fevered fringes of Christianity, but some Catholics have gotten themselves all worked up over it.
In English, Lucifer (with a capital L) is only used as a proper name – a name exclusively reserved for the devil. In Latin, lucifer (with a small L) is a common word. It means morning star – and sometimes light-bringer. So any time you praise the beauty of the morning star, you are simply saying the English word for “lucifer.” Are you praising satan when you admire the morning star?
To support the tale of the Pope’s supposed devotion to the satan, the claim is usually accompanied by a video of a Latin hymn being sung in procession, in which the word “lucifer” can clearly be distinguished. I suppose this could be alarming for those who are both unlettered and unable or unwilling to do an iota’s worth of research. The line, “Tu verus mundi lucifer,” meaning, “You are the true morning star,” is directed towards Christ and is sung with the lighting of the Paschal Candle at every Easter Vigil Mass at the Vatican going back into time immemorial. Now I suppose the ancient Romans, had they known we were going to adopt their word for morning star and apply it exclusively to the devil once there actually was an English language, could have been good enough to make up a new word. Or maybe we could have been decent enough to give satan the nickname “Morningstar” and left the poor dead Latin language alone. In which case, we might have called a morning star by the Latin word, “lucifer” without all the breathless vapors. Who knows, if we actually wanted to learn something before starting to denounce someone, we might have learned that the name, lucifer, was used with intentional irony to describe satan’s glorious state before the fall and just how far he fell – or that in formal theological documents, lucifer is always used to refer to satan before the fall. But I suppose that would not be near as much fun as giving it the DaVinci Code treatment. Woe to those more interested in showing how clever they are than living fidelity.
Please excuse me if I get a bit sarcastic in all this. I was shown long ago the discord that would reign in the run-up to full-scale chaos. Even so, I am still sometimes shocked at how eager so may are to go running off into apostasy – or to be scared out of their wits, so as to turn loose of Christ and go chasing after their own phantasms.
So let me reiterate three things:
1) Francis is the man chosen to captain this ship through the Storm. I loved Benedict and his clear, penetrating theological insight and clarity. But it long troubled me that he did not much resemble, in behavior or temperament, the Pope of the Storm I had been shown. Pope Francis IS that man. And lest I had any doubt when he arrived on the scene, Our Lady, herself, told me in the mid 90s that the “Old World will be re-evangelized from the New World.” Pope Francis is the beginning of the fulfillment of that prophecy.
2) The shaking that comes grows both outside and inside the Church. It always had to be such. Christ is using His great winnowing fan right now, to separate the wheat from the chaff. Do not let it surprise you that the chaff is flying all over the place, clouding things up and causing men to choke and cough at the density of it. When things get difficult, I always go back to what I call ‘first things.’ These are the most basic commands to keep us from capsizing. It is Christ, Himself, who says we will find safety in the shelter of the ship which is the Church. He does not say the ship will not be rocked and tossed – only that it will not capsize. When you get yourself into a frenzy of worry over whether the Church will capsize, you are not doubting the capacity of the men Christ has put over it, but the promise of Christ, Himself, to preserve it. So make your assessments with sobriety – and without constantly searching for reasons to jump overboard. Outside the ship, there are only the wind and waves of the Storm – and you will not make it on your own, however angry you may get at the crew.
3) The important thing as we watch the pillars that have supported this venerable culture crumble before our very eyes is neither to panic nor to attack. Simply keep your post faithfully. Neither assaults from the left nor assaults from the right will prevail against Christ’s Church. It is good that they should come out in the open now, both to reveal the deceivers and to demonstrate that it is by Christ’s power, not man’s, that His Church endures. Keep to your post, acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around you. Do this well and you answer the question of who will do the healing. Through your fidelity to Christ in doing the little He has given you well, you will do the healing.