Monday, July 15, 2013

Pope Francis and the mystery of the world's recognition of truth

So now that the Italian edition of Vanity Fair has named Pope Francis "Man of the Year"; Elton John has declared that "Francis is a miracle of humility in an era of vanity"; and Kathryn Jean Lopez, in her article "Franciscum Revolution" in the National Review has stated that what the world sees in Pope Francis "is the love of Christ made manifest," what are we to make of this? It all seems a bit over-the-top, does it not?

It might be tempting to believe that "the Gospel" is reducible to something so easily recognizable, so simple, that even the secular entertainment industry could recognize it through gestures of sacrifice and kindness, and their "ring of truth."

The Gospels, after all, do have passages that seem to suggest something like this -- that others should be able to discern the identity of Christians by their love and good works and glorify the Father:
  • "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Mt 5:16)
  • "By this all men will know what you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (Jn 13:35)
Yet again, there are some hard passages to reconcile with leaping too readily to the conclusion that the "world" comes by such powers of perception easily:
  • "The world cannot accept [Christ], because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you." (Jn 14:17)
  • "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." (Jn 15:19)
Let us be honest about the spiritual profundity of this question. It is true that there are gestures of self-sacrifice -- St. Maximilian Kolbe's willingness to take the place of a condemned prisoner at Auschwitz comes to mind -- that clearly do point beyond themselves to deeper truths about the way things actually are in the world -- what Aslan calls the "deep magic" of the universe. Yet we know from St. Paul's discourse in the opening chapter of Romans that the availability of true knowledge to the Gentiles cannot be equated automatically with their appropriation of that knowledge. There is such a thing as duplicity of mind and repression of truth, and, as the Prophet Jeremiah says: "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer 17:9).

Faith is a supernatural gift, and nothing short of God's grace can generate it within the human heart. Therefore, while feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and self-sacrifice are essential elements in the life to which Christians are called by their Lord, these are nothing without the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity. This is why, in the final analysis, prayer is more important than mere activism. Counter-intuitively, it is the most heavenly-minded that are often the most earthly good. Not Vladamir Lenin, but Mother Teresa.

[Hat tip to JM]


Michael F. said...

It seems to me that Pope Francis (and the way he has been covered by the media) has provided a unique moment of grace for many, a unique moment that has lowered the obstacles many experience to considering the rest of the truth of the Gospel.

It remains to be seen what these individuals will ultimately do with that moment. It's another crossroads...will they follow the sign or will they bypass it and continue on their way?

Changing metaphors, depending upon the individual, it may also be another seed planted, waiting for the right conditions to sprout.

We should be re-doubling our prayers that this moment, this seed bears lasting fruit. If it doesn't, it will be our loss and possibly also a source of judgment upon those who ultimately rejected it.

RFGA, Ph.D. said...

Let's see if we can parse the sodomite crooner's "compliment."

'Francis is not like his predecessor and all those other self-aggrandizing pontiffs who wore fancy vestments and spend most of their time muttering inanities in gaudy cathedrals, the funds for the building and maintenance of which ought to have been spent on the poor. No, the current pope is a working class hero, like Jesus himself, on the front lines of the battle against poverty, eschewing all that vague talk about saving souls. He's also secretly sympathetic to our cause, though understandably unwilling to publicly come out in favor of it for fear of offending all those other repressed, hateful Catholic meanies.'

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Immanentism is in the saddle and Miss Elton is waving her handkerchief at it.

I really fail to see the magic that others see but when I see the world praising the Pope I smell trouble for, to me at least, that would have been like hearing The Sanhedrin singing, "For He's a Jolly Good Fella" or watching the Pharisees and The Scribes doing the wave after Jesus said, This day is fulfilled scripture in your ear

JFM said...

Very helpful summation of some strange times. This is another perspective which levels me out, if just a bit...