All posts tagged: Pope Francis

Reading the News as a Spiritual Exercise

We know there is a problem with the way we disseminate, consume, and respond to the news. We also generally share some sense of where the problem lies. It has something to do with a complex interaction of factors like the structure of digital media, the industries that support those technologies, and our cultural, economic, and political climate. Somehow those factors both foster and are fostered by trends such as narrowing echo chambers, a fractured accountability to diverse publics, comments that fail to respect and engage others, decreasing attention spans, and the exhaustion and despair that fester before the parade of emergencies that counts our days and disciplines our emotions like a liturgical calendar. Something is wrong with how we pursue the truth together in a digital society. Reasonable suggestions for how to address this problem generally come in two flavors. The first approach emphasizes the structure of our news technologies and the corporations that develop and profit from them. We must fix Google, Facebook, and Twitter through legislation and consumer pressure. The second approach …

A Defense of Ultramontanism Contra Gallicanism

The term “ultramontanism” has seen a bit of a resurgence in recent Catholic conversations as a pejorative used by both traditional and progressive Catholics. In so doing, both sides align themselves with doctrinal heterodoxy. Brian Flanagan has recently published a brief study of the term in the National Catholic Reporter, noting the return of the term in “First Things, The New York Times, and the Catholic blogosphere and Twitter.”  Like those involved with the term in Catholic journalism and social media, Flanagan too misunderstands the Church’s teaching on ultramontanism. The extension of the term has shifted in recent years. During the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, it was used against traditionally-minded Catholics (those who lauded Pope Benedict’s words, actions, and even shoes) by those who would self-identify as progressive. Today, traditionally-minded Catholics use the term against the progressive or liberal members of the Church who treat interviews with Pope Francis as infallible. In short, a perceived shift between the academic-conservative papacy of Benedict and the pastoral-collegial papacy of Francis has effected a shift regarding who …

A Theological Critique of Economic Modernity’s Myths

Pope Francis frequently speaks of our irresponsible use of goods, the violence in our hearts, unchecked human activity, and how our current models of growth, of production and consumption are unsustainable. He tells us early in Laudato Si’ that the deterioration of nature goes hand in hand with deterioration of the culture, and that both share a cause: “Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless” (§6). He echoes St. John Paul II, who writes in Centesimus Annus: “Indeed, what is the origin of all the evils to which Rerum Novarum wished to respond, if not a kind of freedom which, in the area of economic and social activity, cuts itself off from the truth about man?” (§4). Similarly, Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, is structured around the belief that love must be firmly based on the truth about the human person (§1-10). Each Pontiff is concerned with a misunderstanding of what it means to …

What Did Pope Francis Mean to Say with His Strange Abuse Crisis Letter?

I was received into the Roman Catholic Church exactly one calendar year before Pope Francis published his letter in response to the most recent paroxysm over the Church’s sexual abuse scandal and its cover up.[1] I have been a Christian my entire life, at once nurtured in the Gospel message that “the Kingdom of God is at hand” and recurrently disappointed by the faithlessness and callous immorality of Christians. About a decade of appropriating the Catholic intellectual tradition finally folded me into the Roman flock (though marrying a Latina Catholic from Texas played a role as well). The small boat of Pietist Evangelicalism in which I was raised welcomed philosophy and theological speculation, but the broader Evangelical sea by which it was tossed contained an aged Leviathan of anti-intellectualism. Along the way, I learned from Catholic thinkers about intellectual persistence, hermeneutical charity, patience of judgment, and how to distinguish reflections that are exciting in implication from those that are reliable in their conclusions. In light of recent revelations and accusations, I have felt a terrible …

A Case for Change: Reform and Church Teaching

Among the most intriguing figures in the ancient Greek world are the two pre-Socratic philosophers, Heraclitus and Parmenides. Heraclitus’s famous saying about the impossibility of stepping into the same river twice encapsulates one of his central teachings: The world is always fluctuating and the only constant is change itself. Parmenides, on the other hand, envisioned a world which was equally extreme, though in the opposite respect. For Parmenides, change is impossible. As his disciple Zeno argued, we may imagine ourselves to observe many things—arrows, tortoises, and athletes—undergoing changes. However, reason is more reliable than observation, Parmenides held, and change, which requires things to “pop” spontaneously in and out of existence, is eminently unreasonable. If it is new, where was it before? If it was there before, how is it new? As bizarre as these outlooks sound, they left an immense impression on the Western world that would follow. The most illustrious ancient Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, each grappled with Parmenides and the possibility of change in their own unique ways. Plato famously distinguished between …

The Unsung Russian Forerunner of the Death Penalty’s Demise in Catholic Teaching

In Pope Francis’s amendment to the Catechism’s §2267, we see a sense of progressive development applied to the Church in the world. That we should only now fully realize “in the light of the Gospel” that the death penalty is inadmissible is likely to elicit concern from those wary of novelty. Pope Francis’s letter to the bishops concerning this change points out that this language should be no surprise, since similar things were said on the subject by Pope Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, as well as by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 2008 in its document The Bible and Morality: In the course of history and of the development of civilization, the Church too, meditating on the Scriptures, has refined her moral stance on the death penalty and on war, which is now becoming more and more absolute. Underlying this stance, which may seem radical, is the same anthropological basis, the fundamental dignity of the human person, created in the image of God (Bible and Morality: The Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct, …

Can Catholicism’s Truth Be Known Beyond Its Walls?

Reflecting on the role of Christians in today’s American society, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln writes, “We know what it looks like when the Church forgets her holiness: Daily discipleship gives way to rote weekly churchgoing. Tough demands of the Gospel are ignored. Prayer, fasting, and penance are bypassed. Christ’s holy Church becomes indistinguishable from the world.”[1] In this brief statement, Conley summarizes what I take to be one of the central claims of Rod Dreher’s recent book, The Benedict Option. Pace those who associate him with a religious “self-separatism,”[2] the “option” proposes not a self-separatism, but a series of practices, habits, and distinctive cultural rituals that seek to provide a solution to the social fragmentation both within and outside of the boundaries of the Church, due to acedia and a rejection of the sacred.[3] Without wading into the merits of the specific arguments and narratives proposed in his important work, I will follow the lead of Nathaniel Peters, who argues that, if the Benedict Option is to succeed, it “needs to be guided by …

Resetting the Synod

Antagonisms are what we most frequently and efficiently pass on to young people. We teach them to do what we do and to become what we model. Ideals and hopes are diverted this way or that, to this side or that side, so it seems as if the only imperative is to establish oneself, one’s faction, in opposition to others. We are so deft at these maneuvers that we almost cannot help ourselves; we do it instinctively, somewhat naturally. Surprisingly yet predictably, this same old formational screenplay is playing itself out during the preparation for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on “young people, the faith and vocational discernment.” Ironically, antagonism and its animating spirit, the hermeneutics of suspicion, are what young people tend to despise most of all. Yet, these things are precisely what we in the Church are preparing them to assume through what we do and what we model. When the final document from the Vatican’s pre-synod meeting of 300 young people was released at the end of March, the accusatory tweets and …

Recent Reports on Sino-Vatican Negotiations Raise Many Complicated Questions

In recent months Catholics in China had anticipated the upcoming February 1 implementation of the government’s new, stricter regulations on religion with a sense of foreboding, viewing them as the regime’s attempt to achieve two goals with regard to China’s divided Catholic Church: 1) to greatly increase its already strong control over the “official” (government-recognized) church, and 2) to eradicate the activities of the “unofficial” or underground church though fines and prohibiting their gatherings (presumably stopping them by force, whereas they had previously often turned a blind eye), with the goal of eliminating it altogether by forcing it to amalgamate with the official church. I should note at the outset that virtually everything in China is complicated, and government policies are not uniformly applied and enforced the same way in all circumstances throughout the country. Understanding these events requires some background which is beyond the scope of this article, but I have provided elsewhere.[1] Simply hearing that an “underground Church” still exists in China naturally raises questions for Catholics in the West: what is it …

Salvation Cannot Occur in Isolation

One of the most striking aspects of Pope Francis’s ministry is his constant insistence that “the Church must step outside herself,” and foster a “culture of encounter” with others.[1] The essential insight of this mission is the recognition that others “all have something in common with us: they are images of God, they are children of God.”[2] Pope Francis’s theological focus on dialogue and encounter presents a hermeneutic for interpreting and realizing the vision of the Church set out by the Second Vatican Council. In this regard, he is indebted to the theologians who preceded and shaped the Council, especially those who emphasized a return to the early Christian sources, a movement known as Ressourcement. Although he rarely utilizes direct quotations, Pope Francis’s words reflect the language and ethos of the ressourcement theologians. In particular, several key concepts and themes from the work of Henri de Lubac, a fellow Jesuit and explicitly recognized as a significant influence by Pope Francis, consistently reoccur in the pope’s theology.[3] According to de Lubac, humanity’s vocation is essentially communal. …