Saul attacking David, Guercino (1591-1666)
Regarding my article on The Anti-Mercy, someone felt that I was not critical enough of Pope Francis. “Confusion is not from God,” they wrote. No, confusion is not from God. But God can use confusion to sift and purify His Church. I think this is precisely what is happening at this hour. Francis’ pontificate is bringing into full light those clergymen and laymen who seemed as though waiting in the wings to promote a heterodox version of Catholic teaching (cf. When the Weeds Begin to Head). But it is also bringing to light those who have been bound up in legalism hiding behind a wall of orthodoxy. It is revealing those whose faith is genuinely in Christ, and those whose faith is in themselves; those who are humble and loyal, and those who aren’t.
So how do we approach this “Pope of surprises”, who seems to startle nearly everyone these days? The following was published on January 22nd, 2016 and has been updated today… The answer, most certainly, is not with the irreverent and crude criticism that has become a staple of this generation. Here, David’s example is most relevant…
IN today’s Mass readings (liturgical texts here), King Saul was enraged with jealousy by all the admiration that was being given to David rather than to him. Despite all promises to the contrary, Saul began hunting David in order to kill him.
When he came to the sheepfolds along the way, he found a cave, which he entered to relieve himself. David and his men were occupying the inmost recesses of the cave. David’s servants said to him, “This is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘I will deliver your enemy into your grasp; do with him as you see fit.'”
So David “moved up and stealthily cut off an end of Saul’s mantle.” David didn’t kill, strike, or threaten the one intent on taking his life; he merely cut off a piece of his mantle. But then we read:
Afterward, however, David regretted that he had cut off an end of Saul’s mantle. He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, as to lay a hand on him, for he is the LORD’s anointed.” With these words David restrained his men and would not permit them to attack Saul.
David is filled with regret, not because he particularly admires Saul, but because he knows that Saul was anointed by the prophet Samuel, under God’s direction, to be king. And even though David was tempted to strike God’s anointed, he humbled himself before the Lord’ choice, before God’s anointed one.
When Saul looked back, David bowed to the ground in homage and [said]… “I had some thought of killing you, but I took pity on you instead. I decided, ‘I will not raise a hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’s anointed and a father to me.’
HONOR THY FATHER AND MOTHER
The word “pope” is Italian for “papa”, or “father.” The Pope is essentially a father to the family of God. Jesus desired Peter to become the first “papa” of the Church when He gave him the “keys of the kingdom”, the power to “bind and loose”, and declared that he would be “rock” (see The Chair of Rock). In Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus was drawing directly from the imagery of Isaiah 22 when Eliakim was set over the Davidic kingdom:
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open. I will fix him as a peg in a firm place, a seat of honor for his ancestral house. (Isaiah 22:21-23)
This is all to say that Papa Francesco is, objectively and with certainty, God’s “anointed one.” Those who question the validity of his election are making a strange case. Not a single Cardinal, including the bold, courageous, and fully orthodox African contingent, has even suggested that the papal election was invalid. And neither has Pope Emeritus Benedict hinted that he was forced from the Chair of Peter, and in fact, scolded those who persist with such nonsense (see Barquing up the Wrong Tree):
There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry. The only condition for the validity of my resignation is the complete freedom of my decision. Speculations regarding its validity are simply absurd… [My] last and final job [is] to support [Pope Francis’] pontificate with prayer. —POPE EMERITUS BENEDICT XVI, Vatican City, Feb. 26th, 2014; Zenit.org
So whether one likes Francis’ personality, style, mannerisms, direction, silence, boldness, weaknesses, strengths, hair style, lack of hair, accent, choices, commentary, disciplinary decisions, appointments, honorary award recipients and the like, does not matter: he is God’s anointed one. Whether he is a good pope, bad pope, scandalous leader, brave leader, wise man or a fool makes no difference—just as it made no difference to David, in the final analysis, that Saul was not upright. Francis has been validly elected as the 266th Pope, in succession to St. Peter, and is therefore God’s anointed one, the “rock” on which Jesus Christ continues to build His Church. The question then is not “What is the Pope doing?” but “What is Jesus doing?”cf. Jesus, the Wise Builder
It is not a question of being ‘pro-’ Pope Francis or ‘contra-’ Pope Francis. It is a question of defending the Catholic faith, and that means defending the Office of Peter to which the Pope has succeeded. —Cardinal Raymond Burke, The Catholic World Report, January 22, 2018
And has it not been thus throughout the history of the Church that the Pope, the successor of Peter, has been at once Petra and Skandalon—both the rock of God and a stumbling block? —POPE BENEDICT XIV, from Das neue Volk Gottes, p. 80ff
As such, the office of Peter and the one who holds it, deserves the appropriate honor. But also our prayers and patience for the man who occupies that seat, because he is fully capable of sin and mistakes like the rest of us. We need to avoid a kind of papalotry that canonizes the Holy Father and raises every word and opinion of his to canonical status. The balance comes through a solid faith in Jesus.
It is a matter of respect. Your biological father may be an alcoholic. You don’t need to honor his behavior; but he is still your father, and therefore, his position deserves proper respect. This is not to say that one must remain subject to abuse or an abusive situation but rather to honor one’s father in the best way possible, whether it is through prayer, forgiveness, and even speaking the truth in love. At Judgment, he will have to account for his actions—and you, for your words.
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matt 12:36)
Thus, it is grievous to read how some Catholics have not only torn a piece from the mantle of the Holy Father’s dignity, but have callously thrust their pointed tongues into his reputation. Here, I am not speaking of those who have validly questioned or gently criticized the Pope’s often colloquial approach to dogmatic questions, or the prudence of cheerleading for the “global warming” alarmists, or the ambiguity of Amoris Laetitia. Rather, I am speaking of those who insist that Francis is a Communist, a closet Modernist, a liberal impostor, a sneaky Freemason and a plotter of the ultimate ruin of Catholicism. Of those who derisively call him “Bergoglio” instead of his proper title. Of those who report almost solely on the controversial and sensational. Of those who endlessly speculate that the Pope is going to change doctrine when he has explicitly said he cannot, cf. The Five Corrections and has, in fact, reinforced it, cf. Pope Francis On… or that he will introduce pastoral practices that effectively undermine doctrine when he has explicitly chastised those who are caving into…
…[this] temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness, that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.” —POPE FRANCIS, Catholic News Agency, October 18th, 2014
Cardinal Müller (previously of the CDF) has vocally criticized bishops who have given Amoris Laetitia a heterodox interpretation. But he has also stated that the Argentinian bishops’ interpretation—which Pope Francis recently said is correct—is still within the realm of orthodoxy in more rare “concrete” circumstances. cf. Vatican Insider, January 1, 2018 That is to say that Francis has not changed Sacred Tradition (nor can he), even if the ambiguity stemming from his pontificate has created a storm of confusion, and even if this “pastoral directive” does not stand the test. Indeed, Müller’s recent comments are likewise under fire now too.
He appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles, that they might be with him… He appointed… Judas Iscariot who betrayed him. (Today’s Gospel)
Then again, why did Pope Francis appoint “conservatives” as well? Cardinal Müller arguably held the second most powerful position in the Church as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and has been replaced by Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, an appointee to various positions in the Vatican by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Cardinal Erdo, who has a strong and public devotion to Mary, was appointed Relator General during the Synod of the Family. Cardinal Pell along with the orthodox Canadian, Cardinal Thomas Collins, were appointed overseers to clean up the corruption of the Vatican Bank. And Cardinal Burke has been re-appointed to the Apostolic Signatura, the Church’s highest court.
But none of this has stopped the “hermeneutic of suspicion” that has emerged casting every papal action and word into a dubious light, or cherry-picking and reporting on only the more controversial actions of Francis while almost completely ignoring the often moving and sometimes blunt statements of Francis that truly bolster and defend the Catholic Faith. It has resulted in what theologian Peter Bannister describes as the “intensifying anti-Papal backlash and the unprecedented severity of its language.” “Pope Francis, the hermeneutic of conspiracy and the ‘Three F’s’”, Peter Bannister, First Things, January 21st, 2016 I would go so far as to say it is calumny in some cases, such as with one reader who asked me, “are you now convinced Bergoglio is an impostor, or do you need more time?” My response:
I will not raise a hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’s anointed and a father to me.
HOW TO HONOR GOD’S ANOINTED ONE
Every time the media spins another controversial (and often misleading) headline about Pope Francis (including, sad to say, Catholic media), I get a mailbag full of letters asking if I saw it, what do I think, what should we do, etc.
This writing apostolate has now spanned three pontificates. Regardless of who is sitting in the Chair of Peter, I have consistently repeated what has been the long-standing Tradition and teaching of the Catholic Church, the edict of the Scriptures, cf. Heb 13:17 and the wisdom of the Saints: that we are to remain in communion with our bishops and the Holy Father, the rock on which the Church is built—for He is God’s anointed one. Yes, I can hear St. Ambrose shouting: “Where Peter is, there is the Church!” And that includes all those infamous, corrupt, and worldly popes. Who can argue with Ambrose when, 2000 years later, the Church and the deposit of faith remain fully intact, even if they have been assaulted at different times by the “smoke of satan”? It seems the personal foibles of the popes does not overwhelm Jesus or His ability to build His Church.
So it does not matter whether I think Francis or Benedict or John Paul II are good or bad popes. What matters is that I listen for the Voice of the Good Shepherd in theirs, for Jesus said to the Apostles, and thus their successors:
Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me. (Luke 10:16)
First, the proper approach to the papacy is one of meekness and humility, of listening, reflection, and self-examination. It is to take the Apostolic Exhortations and Letters that the popes write, and listen for Christ’s directives in them.
Opus Dei Father Robert Gahl, an associate professor of moral philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, warned against using a “hermeneutic of suspicion” that concludes that the Pope “commits heresy several times each day” and instead urged “a charitable hermeneutic of continuity” by reading Francis “in light of the Tradition.” —www.ncregister.com, Feb 15th, 2019
So many people write me saying, “But Francis is confusing people!” But who exactly is confused? 98% of the confusion out there is really bad and skewed journalism by people who are reporters, not theologians. So many are confused because they read headlines, not homilies; extracts, not exhortations. What is necessary is to sit at the feet of the Lord, take a deep breath, close one’s mouth, and listen. And that takes a little time, effort, reading, and above all, prayer. For in prayer, you will find a precious and rare commodity these days: wisdom. For Wisdom will teach you how to respond and react in this treacherous times, most especially when the shepherds aren’t shepherding very well.
This is not to say that there is not genuine confusion and even heretical interpretations at this hour. Oh yes! It seems as though a false church is rising! There now exists opposing and contrary interpretations of Amoris Laetitia between some bishops’ conferences, which is astonishing if not sorrowful. This simply can’t be. The hallmark of Catholicism is its universality and unity. Nonetheless, in previous centuries, there were also times when vast portions of the Church fell into heresy and division over certain doctrines. Even in our times, Pope Paul VI was almost alone when it came to his authoritative and beautiful document on contraception, Humanae Vitae.
Second, since when did assuming the worst of someone become acceptable? Here, the lack of immersion in the spirituality of the Saints is beginning to show in this generation. That spirituality, lived so vividly in France, Spain, Italy and elsewhere that moved the Saints to bear the faults of others with patience, to overlook their weaknesses, and instead, use those occasions to reflect on their own poverty. A spirituality that, upon seeing another stumbling, these holy souls would offer sacrifices and prayers for their fallen brothers, if not a gentle correction. A spirituality that trusted and surrendered completely to Jesus even when the hierarchy was in disarray. A spirituality that, in a word, lived, assimilated, and shone with the Gospel. It was St. Teresa of Avila who said, “Let nothing trouble you.” For Christ did not say, “Peter, build my Church,” but rather, “Peter, you are rock, and on this rock I will build my Church.” It is Christ building, so let nothing trouble you (see Jesus, the Wise Builder).
Third, what if the Pope undertakes certain actions, even “pastoral” actions, that are scandalous? It wouldn’t be the first time. No, the first time was when Peter denied Christ. The second time was when Peter behaved one way with the Jews, and another with the Gentiles. And so Paul, “when [he] saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel,” corrected him. cf. Gal 2:11, 14 Now, if Pope Francis were to adopt a pastoral practice that in effect undermines doctrine—and several theologians feel that he has—it does not give us a license to suddenly blast the Holy Father with crude language. Rather, it would be another painful “Peter & Paul” moment for the Body of Christ. For Pope Francis is first and foremost your brother in Christ and mine. His welfare and salvation are not only important too, but Jesus taught us to make the welfare of others even more important than our own.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. (John 13:14)
Fourth, if you are afraid that “following Pope Francis” could lead you into the Great Deception, you are already deceived to a certain degree. For one, if the Pope is the “false prophet” of the Book of Revelation as some allege, then Christ has contradicted himself: Peter is not rock, and the gates of hell have prevailed against the faithful. It is also of no little significance that nearly every authentic, approved, or credible apparition of Our Blessed Mother in the past century has called the faithful to pray for and remain in communion with the Holy Father. The approved apparition of Fatima, for instance, included a vision where the Pope is martyred for the faith—not destroying it. Would Our Lady lead us into a trap?
No, if you are worried about being deceived, then recall St. Paul’s antidote to the apostasy, to the Antichrist, and the “deceiving power” that God will send upon those “who have not accepted the love of truth”: cf. 2 Thess 2:1-10
…stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours. (2 Thess 2:15)
Most of you own a Catechism. If not, get one. There is no confusion there. Hold the Bible in your right hand and the Catechism in your left, and get on with living these truths. Do you feel the Pope or bishops are confusing your family and friends? Then be the voice of clarity. After all, Pope Francis explicitly encouraged us to read and know the Catechism, so use it. I know what I need to do, despite any flaws, shortcomings, and failures of the Pope. He has not said a single word that prevents me from living the truth to the fullest, proclaiming the truth to the fullest, and becoming a saint to the fullest (and taking as many souls with me as I can). All the theorizing, suspicions, assumptions, guessing, predictions, conspiracies and forecasting are a waste of time—an utterly cunning, deceptive and successful distraction that is keeping otherwise well-meaning Christians from actually living the Gospel and being light to the world.
When I met Pope Benedict several years ago, I shook his hand, looked him in the eye and said, “I am an evangelist from Canada, and I am happy to serve you.” cf. A Day of Grace I was happy to serve him because I knew, without a doubt, that the office of Peter is there to serve the Church, who is to serve Christ—and that Peter was God’s anointed one.
Have mercy on me, O God; have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. In the shadow of your wings I take refuge, till harm pass by. (Today’s Psalm)
“…no one can excuse himself, saying: ‘ I do not rebel against the holy Church, but only against the sins of evil pastors.’ Such a man, lifting his mind against his leader and blinded by self-love, does not see the truth, though indeed he really sees it well enough, but pretends not to, in order to deaden the sting of conscience. For he sees that, in truth, he is persecuting the Blood, and not Its servants. The insult is done to Me, just as the reverence was My due.” To whom did He leave the keys of this Blood? To the glorious Apostle Peter, and to all his successors who are or shall be till the Day of Judgment, all of them having the same authority which Peter had, which is not diminished by any defect of their own. —St. Catherine of Siena, from the Book of Dialogues
They, therefore, walk in the path of dangerous error who believe that they can accept Christ as the Head of the Church, while not adhering loyally to His Vicar on earth. —POPE PIUS XII, Mystici Corporis Christi (On the Mystical Body of Christ), June 29, 1943; n. 41; vatican.va
Thank you, and bless you!
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|↑1||cf. Jesus, the Wise Builder|
|↑2||This is not to say that one must remain subject to abuse or an abusive situation but rather to honor one’s father in the best way possible, whether it is through prayer, forgiveness, and even speaking the truth in love.|
|↑3||cf. The Five Corrections|
|↑4||cf. Pope Francis On…|
|↑5||cf. Vatican Insider, January 1, 2018|
|↑6||cf. The Dipping Dish|
|↑7||“Pope Francis, the hermeneutic of conspiracy and the ‘Three F’s’”, Peter Bannister, First Things, January 21st, 2016|
|↑8||cf. Heb 13:17|
|↑9||cf. Gal 2:11, 14|
|↑10||cf. 2 Thess 2:1-10|
|↑11||cf. A Day of Grace|