Evangelii Gaudium: Pope Francis rebukes conservative Catholics (part 3)

Quotes from the papal teaching document “Evangelii Gaudium”, with my commentary.

“New cultures are constantly being born in these vast new expanses where Christians are no longer the customary interpreters or generators of meaning. Instead, they themselves take from these cultures new languages, symbols, messages and paradigms which propose new approaches to life, approaches often in contrast with the Gospel of Jesus.” EG 73

Pope Francis is pointing out that secular society is imbibing Christians with a new culture that proposes the meaning of life and all the aspects of life. As a result, Catholic Christians are becoming secularized. They no longer see the Pope or the Church as their Teacher. The new culture is their teacher. Whatever idea is promoted by the culture, most Catholics accept, including: pre-marital sex, promiscuity, contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, and whatever other ideas are taught by sinful secular society. Catholics need to reevaluate their beliefs and assumptions, and rebuild their very way of thinking with Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone, rather than the majority opinion of society.

[Exodus]
{23:2} You shall not follow the crowd in doing evil. Neither shall you go astray in judgment, by agreeing with the majority opinion, apart from the truth.

[Luke]
{6:22} Blessed shall you be when men will have hated you, and when they will have separated you and reproached you, and thrown out your name as if evil, because of the Son of man.
{6:23} Be glad in that day and exult. For behold, your reward is great in heaven. For these same things their fathers did to the prophets.

“We cannot ignore the fact that in cities human trafficking, the narcotics trade, the abuse and exploitation of minors, the abandonment of the elderly and infirm, and various forms of corruption and criminal activity take place.” EG 75

The Pope is pointing out the many severe problems in modern society, and their conflict with Gospel values. While modern society might condemn these problems with words, the very structures that constitute secular society are partly to blame. A society based on money and hedonism cannot rid itself of grave crimes that are based on those false values.

“The pain and the shame we feel at the sins of some members of the Church, and at our own, must never make us forget how many Christians are giving their lives in love.” EG 76

Pope Francis admits that the members of the Church on earth are sinners. But he emphasizes the good done for the world by the Christian faithful. There is a good balance to that statement.

“Today we are seeing in many pastoral workers, including consecrated men and women, an inordinate concern for their personal freedom and relaxation, which leads them to see their work as a mere appendage to their life, as if it were not part of their very identity.” EG 78

And that is one of the influences that the secular culture has had on members of the Church. It has slowly subtly changed our priorities and value system.

“They end up stifling the joy of mission with a kind of obsession about being like everyone else and possessing what everyone else possesses.” EG 79

The influence of the culture chokes the life out of our efforts for Christ.

[Mark]
{4:3} “Listen. Behold, the sower went out to sow.
{4:4} And while he was sowing, some fell along the way, and the birds of the air came and ate it.
{4:5} Yet truly, others fell upon stony ground, where it did not have much soil. And it rose up quickly, because it had no depth of soil.
{4:6} And when the sun was risen, it was scorched. And because it had no root, it withered away.
{4:7} And some fell among thorns. And the thorns grew up and suffocated it, and it did not produce fruit.
{4:8} And some fell on good soil. And it brought forth fruit that grew up, and increased, and yielded: some thirty, some sixty, and some one hundred.”

Sinful secular society can suffocate Christians, if they permit society to determine their priorities, decide questions of faith and morals, and become their teacher and leader. Instead, we must submit ourselves to the teaching authority of the Pope and the Magisterium. Many Catholics loudly proclaim how devout they are, while treating Pope Francis as if he were their subject, as if they understand the Faith better than him. They speak as if they are able the Pope, to judge and correct all his teachings. They claim a basis for this behavior in their alleged faithfulness to Tradition. But the true source of this self-exaltation is the sinful modern culture, which proposes that each person decide every question of truth for himself.

“It is striking that even some who clearly have solid doctrinal and spiritual convictions frequently fall into a lifestyle which leads to an attachment to financial security, or to a desire for power or human glory at all cost, rather than giving their lives to others in mission.” EG 80

So it is today, among many Catholics. And they don’t accept correction from anyone

“At a time when we most need a missionary dynamism which will bring salt and light to the world, many lay people fear that they may be asked to undertake some apostolic work and they seek to avoid any responsibility that may take away from their free time…. Today’s obsession with immediate results makes it hard for pastoral workers to tolerate anything that smacks of disagreement, possible failure, criticism, the cross.” EG 81, 82

Pope Francis is summarizing some of the problems found in evangelization today, especially in the parishes. the influence of the secular culture is one source of these problems. Another is the sinfulness of people involved in any good project. You have to work with other persons, who often do not behave like Christians, but like workers in a secular business. Secularism permeates the lives of many Christians, even those active in the parishes.

“One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses’.” EG 85

Pope Francis writes in a different style than Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II. Francis writes in a familiar conversational style, whereas Benedict and John Paul wrote in a scholarly pedantic style. I don’t propose that one style is better than the other. But it is an unjust criticism of Pope Francis to denigrate his teaching on the basis of a more approachable writing style. The term ‘sourpusses’ is from the Spanish ‘cara de vinagre’ (a face or expression of vinegar).

[Matthew]
{6:16} And when you fast, do not choose to become gloomy, like the hypocrites. For they alter their faces, so that their fasting may be apparent to men. Amen I say to you, that they have received their reward.

The Pope is saying that we should not have gloomy facial expressions, as an expression of a gloomy soul. We should seek the joy of the Gospel message: love of God and neighbor is a wondrous gift. And there is nothing wrong with using figurative expressions in conveying the Gospel.

{10:16} Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be as prudent as serpents and as simple as doves.

“To be self-enclosed is to taste the bitter poison of immanence [remaining within], and humanity will be worse for every selfish choice we make.” EG 87

The members of the Church must go out into the world, with love, faith, and hope, in order to bring the joy of the Gospel to others. To keep our faith hidden within ourselves is like hiding a plant within a dark room. It cannot survive without light, air, and water for long. It will wither away.

“For just as some people want a purely spiritual Christ, without flesh and without the cross, they also want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off on command. Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others….” EG 88

Pope Francis is referring, in large part, to the internet and social media. We must never allow this type of communication, which is justly used by the Holy See as well as by many of the faithful, to replace entirely the face-to-face encounter with other human persons as a way to spread the Gospel and express the love of God and neighbor.

“Isolation, which is a version of immanentism, can find expression in a false autonomy which has no place for God. But in the realm of religion it can also take the form of a spiritual consumerism tailored to one’s own unhealthy individualism.” EG 89

The definition of immanentism: “the belief that the Deity indwells and operates directly within the universe or nature.” In other words, if your religion is entirely isolated within yourself, you are not worshiping God; you are only worshipping yourself. This is narcissism applied to religion, a spiritual version of 3D printing, in which a religion is produced that is merely an expression of one’s own unhealthy individualism.

I see this tendency in many Catholics, especially when the speak of the Church’s teaching or the Pope’s teaching as if each point should be judged by them to be true or false, based on its agreement or disagreement with their own thinking. They say: “I agree with Pope Francis when he says this, but I disagree with him when he says that.” They have become a god unto themselves, as if their own thoughts determine religious truth. But only the one God is Truth by His very Nature.

[Isaiah]
{55:8} For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways, says the Lord.
{55:9} For just as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so also are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.

“One important challenge is to show that the solution will never be found in fleeing from a personal and committed relationship with God which at the same time commits us to serving others…. And learning to suffer in the embrace of the crucified Jesus whenever we are unjustly attacked or meet with ingratitude, never tiring of our decision to live in fraternity.” EG 91

The love of God always includes the love of neighbor, and the true love of neighbor always includes, at least implicitly, the love of God. But since our neighbors are sinners, we suffer injustice when we attempt to help them, sometimes from others and sometimes from the very people we attempt to serve.

Here is the whole of EG 94:

“This worldliness can be fuelled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings. The other is the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity.”

Gnosticism was an ancient heresy, a perverse version of Christianity based on alleged secret knowledge. The Gnostics despised the body and all material creation. But the Pope is instead referring to modern tendencies toward these types of errors found among some Catholics. On the left, many Catholics have no interest in ritual or liturgy or recited prayer. They have distorted the Faith into experiences and ideas, conditioned heavily by a subjective point of view, not connected to the objective truths of the Gospel taught by the Church.

Prometheus was said to have created man out of clay, and brought him to life with a spark; he is said to have stolen fire from the gods. Pelagius denied original sin and taught an distorted version of free will, independent of grace. So “self-absorbed promethean neo-pelagianism” refers to those Catholics who, in a sense, have stolen the fire of the Catholic Faith, claiming that their explanation of the Faith is the only correct one. It is as if they created man and gave him life, for they speak and act as if they decide what is and is not true on matters of faith and morals. Their version of religion is like that of Pelagius in that they speak as if they were not subject to error in their own understanding, as if they do not have original sin, and as if their free will were not dependent on grace for its true freedom.

On the right, some Catholics are fittingly criticized in this way. They have created their own version of Catholicism and the Mass. They speak as if there were infallible on every question of doctrine and discipline, and as if they have never been touched by original sin or concupiscence, so as to be subject to error in their fallen human minds. These traditionalists do not see the Pope and the Magisterium as their teachers. Instead, they judge every teaching of the Pope, Vatican II, and the Magisterium more generally, to say whether it is true or false. They never admit that their own understanding could be wrong, even when their ideas are contradicted by Second Vatican Council, and every Pope from the time of the Council to the present day, and the body of Bishops dispersed through the world since the Council. They “ultimately trust only in their own powers” of understanding doctrine and of making judgments on matters of discipline. They “feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past,” such as the Latin Mass and the traditionalist approach to Catholicism. They offer a “supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline”, as if they understand Catholicism better than the Pope and the body of Bishops. But this only “leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism”, which presents the ultra-conservative Catholic as if he were better than all other Catholics, better than all other believers, better than all other human persons. This elitism reaches an absurd height in those conservative Catholics who think that they alone are saved, as if no Jew or Muslim or other believer, no Orthodox or Protestant Christian, could be saved without converting to their conservative Catholic point of view.

“In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time.” EG 95

Pope Francis is criticizing those conservative Catholics who are overly concerned with every detail of liturgical form, especially with preserving and promoting one form only of the Latin Mass. They are also preoccupied with presenting doctrine in overly-simplistic and static formulas that allow for no development of doctrine, no variety in explaining and presenting truth, and no ability of the living Magisterium to clarify the true meaning of a dogma or doctrine.

They are concerned to present Catholicism as the preeminent religion on earth, which it is. But in their self-centered zeal, they denigrate all the good in other religions and in their neighbor’s sincerely held beliefs. They base their debasement of other religions on the assertion that those religions contain some errors. All the while, their own understanding of their own religion is full of errors — for they reject the Second Vatican Council and all teachings whatsoever, of any Pope or Bishop or Council, that is contrary to their own simplistic and distorted understanding.

“This way of thinking also feeds the vainglory of those who are content to have a modicum of power and would rather be the general of a defeated army than a mere private in a unit which continues to fight.” EG 96

This happens on the far right in Catholicism. Certain priests and authors have a large following and much influence by exploiting the biases and inordinate desires of traditionalist Catholics. They should be leading these Catholics to accept all the teachings of Vatican II and all the teachings of the modern-day Popes. Instead, they play to a distrust of Vatican II and thereby obtain a role with more power and influence, than if they faithfully encouraged everyone to accept what the Magisterium teaches.

“Some are even no longer content to live as part of the greater Church community but stoke a spirit of exclusivity, creating an ‘inner circle’. Instead of belonging to the whole Church in all its rich variety, they belong to this or that group which thinks itself different or special.” EG 98

Pope Francis is again criticizing the behavior of many conservative Catholics, who use the Latin Mass to create a Church within a Church, an elite group of Catholics who consider themselves to be special, to have a better understanding and practice of the Faith than all others.

“I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church. Because ‘the feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace’ and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures.” EG 103

Pope Francis’ words on the role of women in the Church seems to point toward a couple of possibilities. The Pope might appoint some women as Cardinals. There have been non-ordained male Cardinals in the past, most recently under Pope Pius XII. The Pope might approve of the ordination of women deacons.

“Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded. The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general.” EG 104

Pope Francis says that the priesthood is reserved to males, but he does not say that ordination is reserved to males. His references to the dignity and rights of women, in conjunction with a discussion of ordination, indicates that the Pope may teach that women can be ordained as deacons. I expect this teaching to be issued in 2014, perhaps in association with the 2014 Synod on the family; perhaps sooner, in preparation for that Synod.

In this document, the Pope rebukes conservatives repeatedly, with sharp correction. And so far, they have not taken it to heart. The response of many conservatives has been to agree with whatever they like in his words, and to disagree with whatever they dislike, as if the conservative Catholic subculture were above the Pope. I thought that many conservatives might depart from the Church when given this type of rebuke from the Pope. But they just ignore or ridicule anything the Magisterium teaches that they dislike.

Many of these conservative Catholics have already left the Church, in their hearts and minds, by the sin of heresy, for they reject the infallible teachings of the ordinary and universal Magisterium based on the teachings of Vatican II. Many have already left the Church, in their hearts and minds, by the sin of schism, for they speak and act as if they were above the Pope and the Magisterium, to judge every teaching according to their own minds.

When will they formally depart from the Church? Perhaps not until the Pope takes some action they cannot ignore (as they ignore this document). Perhaps they will depart from the Church when Pope Francis approves of the ordination of women deacons. For they treat their own opinion on this subject, that women can never be ordained at all, as if it were already a dogma.

“Even if it is not always easy to approach young people, progress has been made in two areas: the awareness that the entire community is called to evangelize and educate the young, and the urgent need for the young to exercise greater leadership.” EG 106

Pope Francis is concerned that young people are evangelized by the Church, and that they participate in the evangelization of others.

“Young people call us to renewed and expansive hope, for they represent new directions for humanity and open us up to the future, lest we cling to a nostalgia for structures and customs which are no longer life-giving in today’s world.” EG 108

Pope Francis is criticizing the excessive emphasis among conservative Catholics on past religious forms and customs, and their refusal to accept modifications to liturgical form and discipline adapted to today’s world.

I plan to continue this commentary on Evangelii Gaudium to a total of 8 parts. This post is part 3.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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4 Responses to Evangelii Gaudium: Pope Francis rebukes conservative Catholics (part 3)

  1. Phillip says:

    At this point I’m almost certain that Pope Francis will call a third Vatican Council (Vatican III)

    It’ll result in a new flurry of schismatics groups on the left and the right.

    He’ll excite a great many people when he opens the door to normalized married priests, but liberals will again be furious when Francis maintains a male priesthood, upholds one man to one woman marriage, and continues to oppose abortion and contraception in all its forms.

    Conservatives will be furious when Francis intensifies his teachings on money (particularly the immoral means by which many become rich and stay rich) and as his begins to dismantle much of the pomp and pageantry that as he put it, may be beautiful but no longer serve much purpose.

    There’s also a prevailing snobbish attitude towards Pope Francis. He’s derided on many conservative forums because he doesn’t speak as many languages as John Paul II or doesn’t have the extensive academic career of Benedict XVI or the diplomatic career of Pius XII. Many of them believe that the cardinals made a gutless decision to elect a genial, elderly colleague that would put some nice soundbites and keep the chair warm until someone ‘better’ came along.

    The result will be a bunch of new conspiracy theories in the mold of the Siri Thesies: ie: Francis’ election was invalid, Benedict XVI was forced aside, Cardinal (insert name of any conservative cardinal here) was really elected but forcibly deposed before his name could be announced…all the usual crackpots.

    We’ll see at least a couple of these splinter groups attempt to elect or impose their own popes. Liberals will present their ‘pope’ as the answer to every liberal wish list…gay/female priests…yup, abortion and contraception will no longer be spoken of, and social teaching will become all about why it’s up to us to build heaven on earth.

    Conservatives will install their own ‘pope’ and present him as a Latin mass loving, heretic-excommunicating, gay-hunting fire-and-brimstone pope of yore, you know, the kind the church used to have before the hippies got a hold of it.

    We’re heading for interesting times

  2. Danute says:

    We forget that not we ( conservatives, or liberals, cardinals, priests or non-believers…) determine the future of the Church and of the world, but only God. His is will, that the world will be saved, His Church will prevail against the gates of hell. We only interfere to happen to God’s plan, but nevertheless His Will will be held. Each Pope was elected by St. Spirit and contribute to the fulfillment of God’s plan. Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat!

  3. Sunimal says:

    St.Malachi’s predictions about final Pope as Peter the Romans will become true. “When the good news about the kingdom has been preached all over the world and told to all nations, the end will come”-Matthew 24:14
    Galrbandal Warning is very close ?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Peter the Roman is not a single Pope, nor the final Pope. Peter the Roman is a term representing all the Popes from now on, from the start of the tribulation to its end several hundred years later.

      I think that the Garabandal Warning occurs in 2016.

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