The perfect role model of faith is a sinner who has faith, not a non-sinner who has faith. It is not the perfectly moral person who is our role model for this side of eternity. It is the imperfectly moral, struggling, sinning and repenting and sinning again person who, while in the midst of all that, still has faith.

We should not so quickly judge our Christian leaders, saints, paragons of one sort or another, based finally on objective moral standards which can be so easily be faked and turned to pride and pharisaical haughtiness. And we should not judge each other so quickly for the same reasons. Rather, we should look for faith which, ironically, shows itself most often in response to moral failings than successes.

Humbleness arises from the realization that being sure of faith in oneself is, at best, a difficult and long project, and a near impossibility to be sure of in others. Abraham, sinner though he was, is the father of our faith; King David, sinner though he was, was a man after God’s own heart; St. Peter, denier of Christ himself, was martyred finally for his love of our Savior. We should remind ourselves that faith is a miracle, and act accordingly.

The perfect role model of faith is, in the end, the one who truly has faith — and it takes time to know who that is, often until the end of their lives.

Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio.
Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio.

Keep in mind that faith is related, but still something different, than the moral life or the devout life. Some may be very good at being moral examples, living exemplary lives of good conduct and right living. And they are examples of holiness. Hopefully they also have faith. But it is the one who, when faced with their own moral failings or profound sufferings, still cling to God — “Where would we go, you have the words of eternal life.” “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (The Gospel of St. Luke 6:36)

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“The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt van Rijn, oil on canvas, c. 1668, in the Hermitage

We will soon enter the Year of Mercy. For some Christians the word “mercy” elicits deep concerns. I find Christians tend to fear mercy for at least three reasons:

  1. We fear mercy because we feel the “world” will get the wrong message and find in mercy the permission to sin. The problem here is that the world has already found the permission to sin, even believes it needs none. It may be true that some define mercy as mere acceptance and thus want “mercy” without repentance, but growing (sometimes slowly and painfully) in one’s understanding of mercy is part of the journey of faith and a risk that Christians must be willing to take. None of us come to Christ fully formed, free of sin, having fully repented, ready now for the mercy that we no longer need. Who of us is not still learning about the great mercy offered to us? The world already has the wrong message. Mercy is a key part of the right message. Offering mercy is integral to the Christian life.
  2. We fear mercy because we fear the Church will crumble if we let mercy too quickly out of the bag. This is related to fear #1. We fear people will get the wrong idea about sin if we offer mercy, even Christians will get the wrong idea, and next thing you know the Church is filled with folks reveling in their mercy by glorifying sin (or reveling in their sin by glorifying mercy). This comes from seeing mercy as analogous to no-strings-attached freedom. But that, of course, is not true. Mercy is love’s response to sin. Mercy, by definition, takes into account sin, acknowledges it, calls it out. But mercy also, and in spite of sin, extends the hand, welcomes the sinner. Mercy requires faith, which is to say offering mercy begins with trusting God. The truth is, the Church will crumble if we don’t offer mercy. Lack of mercy points to lack of trusting God. Perhaps we fear offering mercy because we believe we understand mercy more than we do.
  3. We fear mercy because we demand justice (meted out on others). Justice is a good thing. We look to God to bring about justice. But if all we have is justice then we’re all sunk — the upstanding deacon is just as sunk as the suspected gay choir leader, as is the marxist activist, as is the little old lady praying her rosary, as is the pope himself. None of us wants justice if it includes ourselves. But we fear mercy if it means that others will not get the justice we know they deserve. We are desperate for justice in this world. Sin makes us hate others, and demanding justice can too easily be the blessing we bestow on our own hate. What we must recognize is that we, all of us, are still desperate for mercy for ourselves — and not merely at an emotional level, for without mercy there is no salvation. The saints have all known this.

Consider these stories:

  • The Pharisee and tax collector: Who shows mercy? Who does not? God shows mercy. The Pharisee does not.
  • The prodigal son: Who shows mercy? Who does not? The father shows mercy. The eldest son does not.
  • The woman caught in adultery: Who shows mercy? Who does not? Christ shows mercy. The Pharisees do not.

Will we show mercy? Showing mercy requires faith in God. Do we trust in faith, in God’s mercy, in God’s sovereignty? Are we willing to let God fight our battles?

God will fight our battles. That is the story of the Old Testament, reiterated in the new. We claim faith, hope, love… and God fights our battles. Remember faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Let God have the big picture as well as the small, let Him fight the battles, and let us show mercy — for God will also show mercy.

Mercy is love’s response to sin. God is love. We are His children.

Here is a great talk given by Bishop Robert Barron on the family.

I like just everything about this talk. Among many interesting and profound things he says, and he says a lot, I found one thing that really jumped out at me at 47:15. He says that if the “great figures of Vatican II” (Henri de Lubac, Romano Guardini, Joseph Ratzinger, Hans Urs von Balthasar) could see that today 75 percent of Catholics do not go to mass regularly they would view their project (Vatican II and all that it anticipated and was meant to accomplish) as a failure. Bishop Barron says Vatican II was meant to revive the Church, in essence to bring more life into the Church. He seems to be saying, however, the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction.

The possible implication is that if all had happened as they thought it would, then our church buildings would be bursting on Sundays, and filled with many faithful throughout the week. It would have been the Catholic Church that defined the idea of Evangelical, and taken that spirit to the world. Instead Catholics left the Church for the Evangelicalism of the Protestants, or just stopped going to Church altogether. This was happening prior to the council, but it exploded since then. The Catholic Church was run over by the steamroller of late modernity and many Catholics were happy to be run over.

I do not think Vatican II caused any of this in the way that some claim, but it played a part. Exactly how is debatable, but one thing seems certain, though the great figures of  the council were noble in their desires, they thought the Church wanted one thing (get closer to God) when, in fact, it wanted something else (push God away, at least away from their sexuality, definitions of marriage, contraception, etc.). They thought Catholics in large part wanted more freedom to be fully alive in Christ, but what Catholics wanted was freedom from the strictures of the Church (from the perceived tyranny of tradition, the un-coolness of the old, from the barriers that demarcated the Catholic subculture from the popular world). In other words they thought Catholics were interested in becoming more Catholic when, in fact, they wanted to become culturally, socially, even theologically Protestant.

I would like to hear more from Bishop Barron on his thoughts about this. Was Vatican II a failure? What would the great figures of Vatican II say?

Just to be clear, Bishop Barron has a generally very positive view of Vatican II. You get a good picture of his understanding here:

…but I’m curious.

Could it be, however/also, that we have too short and too impatient a timeline for a post-council Church revival to rise and flourish? Do reformations take longer? 40 years in the desert, generations dying off? I am increasingly inclined to see the changes brought by the council may still be in their early stages — and that they are leading towards a deeper understanding and celebration of the mysteries of faith, including the depth of tradition, etc. Sometimes one has to move away for a while before returning in order to appreciate one’s homeland. If this is true, then all the troubles that have flowed from the time of Vatican II may actually be step one in the council’s success.

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There are a number of Church history timelines out there if you want to find them. They all support one argument or another. Of the ones I’ve found (via Google image searching) most seem designed to demonstrate how the more or less connected Eastern Orthodox churches are somehow, truly, the one, consistently intact, non-apostate church, by showing that both the Catholic Church and all the Protestant churches are apostate deviations from Eastern Orthodoxy. I don’t find these timelines or arguments very convincing (though I flirted with becoming Eastern Orthodox before entering the Catholic Church).

Very few timelines I’ve seen are about the histories of Protestant churches from a Protestant perspective for obvious reasons — pick any one and they don’t go back very far, and are rife with so many splits as to make one’s head spin. See this previous post for examples. Rampant disunity and proneness to division makes the Protestant churches visually impossible to establish their continuity with the Apostles (and opens the door to questions most Protestants would like to imagine don’t actually exist or are not important). Better to avoid that embarrassing visual altogether. Anyway, Protestants put their emphasis on other things.

Yet, we get clearly from scripture that Jesus, with His apostles, founded a Church; that that Church is both mystical and visible, is marked by unity, is full of sacraments, and Hell will not prevail against it. Thus we should expect to find a clear line through history that we can call the Church. Given that all human beings are sinners, and that the Church is made up of sinners, then we should also expect an imperfect Church, prone to struggles, run through with sin, and teaming with problems — perhaps even its own periodic “dark ages” and times of great distress. But we should also see the work of the Holy Spirit, working on the hearts of the Church’s members, guiding the Church through the struggles, chastising it, correcting it, disciplining it, but keeping the thread of continuity always visible. If we are willing to entertain such an idea, it doesn’t take long to discover the Catholic Church is the best choice for being that church. All others, except to some degree the Eastern Orthodox churches, pale in comparison.

But it’s not all that easy to find a timeline of Church history from a Catholic perspective. Perhaps that’s because Catholics don’t feel they need to create such a thing.

However, here’s a decent one showing the continuity of the Catholic Church as compared to various Protestant divisions:

Timeline of Catholic Church
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If the visual of this timeline means anything, then we see the Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodists grouped on one side, and all the rest on the other — which implies more or less deviation from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church — depending on which side one is on. Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodists — the diagram seems to say — are closer to the Catholic Church than those on the right. This is the traditional Catholic perspective, though it has changed in recent years as generally only Evangelicals, Baptists, and some Reformed maintained traditional moral positions (mainly on sexual, gender, and life issues) and the mainline churches have deviated substantially.

My own history began in one of those Baptist strands on the right. I knew nothing about anything of Church history, and especially Baptist history. If Blessed John Henry Newman is right, that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant, then it’s no wonder Protestants (especially of the radical reformation) don’t want to know anything about their church histories — it’s too much of a threat to their way of life. I got the impression that our church had sprung directly from the pages of scripture, which allowed us to blithely disregard most all of Christian history from the death of St. John to the present day. Nearly everything I heard about the history of the Church could have been boiled down to a handful of repeated (and easily refuted) tropes about the Reformation and “those Catholics,” accepted with knowing nods, and never questioned. That was my experience. Of course, we never asked any knowledgeable Catholics about anything.

Now we live at a time when questions of doctrine and dogma, Church history and practice, and the deep divisions among the faithful are shrugged off as being uninteresting. So much of Christian experience seems to reflect our broader societies values (beliefs are only personal and must remain so, faith is private, and choosing a church is more like choosing a new favorite restaurant) that people can’t see any purpose in asking if there is such a thing as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

While growing up Protestant, naturally I was told church history was unimportant — only Jesus and the Bible were important. But if the Church is the bride of Christ, then history matters — like your own history. You are a continuity of God’s grace in your life, and so is the Church. What is particularly troubling with this timeline is that it shows that Christians have been practicing separating (one could say divorcing) from each other for a very long time. As they say, practice makes perfect. What has this done to our souls? How has this spirit invaded our culture at all levels?

We read in John chapter 17, Jesus prayed:

“And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one…”

Did Christ intend that they, and we, actually be one — implying visible as well as mystical unity? Can we really, over the long term, have the mystical and not the visible? Can we be divided in practice, in doctrine, in life, and still be okay that somewhere, somehow, we’re all unified in Christ? Like the hardness of heart Christ speaks of when he discusses divorce, is the Church in time and space, in hearts and in actions, an example to the world of the hardness of ours hearts? I think so. This is a profound problem.

Chrism-Mass-in-Westminster-Cathedral-procession-at-the-beginning
Chrism Mass in Westminster Cathedral, procession at the beginning.

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I have come to believe that once one cares at all about the continuity of the Church down through the ages, it then becomes clear all arrows point to the Catholic Church as the one founded by Christ. For all of its problems, and its crazy history, it remains. If one cannot imagine becoming Catholic, then it’s best to forget everything about Church history, grab one’s Bible, and just claim Jesus as Lord. Right? To many this sounds like a good plan, but that very perspective is at the heart of that crazy timeline of disunity, with Christians splitting from each other, with every man a pope, creating havoc among the faithful, and shaming Christ before the world. There is something profoundly broken and wrong-headed about the “me and Jesus” mindset as the foundation for being the Church. There is something profoundly broken and wrong-headed about betting on sola scriptura. The evidence is everywhere.

This timeline shows that Christians have grotesquely failed in unity. Given human nature, original sin, and the incessant work of the Devil, this is no surprise. I have written about this before, but I believe the spirit at the core of the Reformation was the spirit of disunity (shored up by theological arguments that sound a lot like excuses), and that spirit has thrived down the centuries until today, and has affected all of modern culture — we are a culture of divorce on all fronts (we are constantly separating ourselves from others, reveling in our disunity, fighting against those “idiots,” and finding ever new ways to stay apart). But Christians should know that in and through Christ all those distinctions fade, and our human excuses disappear. Non-denominationalism (not caring about denominations any more) has not solved this issue. Evangelicalism has not solved the issue — though it embodies some good things. Cool churches in school gyms have not solved the issue. Gathering “outside” mainstream Christian culture in some small, radical biblicism enclave has not solved the issue. Social media, and our ability to be “connected,” has not solved this issue. Unity in Christ is hard enough, why then seek it and flaunt it?

Because I know that at the individual level there are many, many Christians who passionately love Christ, I have hope for a coming unity once again. That unity will, and must, be both of the heart and visible; of faith and structure; of the mystical Church and the church down the street. May we humbly follow Christ and be “one” again.


Post Script: Most Christians, as far as I can tell, could not care less about these things. This is true for both Protestants and Catholics. There is a happy cluelessness, a shrug and a “who cares?” or “I don’t see how that matters” attitude. I care, in part, because I was Protestant and converted to Catholicism. I had to wrestle with a lot of issues and claims raised by both “sides.” I was drawn by the Holy Spirit to wrestle with these things. I learned that history matters. It can teach us a lot. We each hold many assumptions and presuppositions, and those all have a history to them. I believe these are critical issues because I believe that truth matters, scripture matters, and what & who one has faith in matters. I don’t want to hold dear verses like John 3:16 …reveling in the love of God and feeling great, and forget that the Church, which was established by Christ, is also the body of Christ and the bride of Christ — something visible, living, breathing, acting, unified, in the world, reflecting Christ, and connected year over year through tradition, scripture, and structure. We believe in Christ by being a part of His Body. Belief is not about feelings only, or even mostly. One has to choose.

I have to care, make wise judgements, and then choose. I cannot not care. I cannot not choose.

My heart breaks.

“Villagers said some were praying in the name of Jesus, others said some were praying the Lord’s Prayer, and others said some of them lifted their heads to commend their spirits to Jesus,” the ministry director told Christian Aid Mission. “One of the women looked up and seemed to be almost smiling as she said, ‘Jesus!'”

She saw Jesus like St. Stephen saw Heaven open up before he was stoned to death.

Killed. Hung on crosses. Men, women, and children. Tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus. The Devil working through his worshippers.

But not forever. Lord come.

Story and brutal details here.

Deliver me from my enemies, O my God,
protect me from those who rise up against me,
deliver me from those who work evil,
and save me from bloodthirsty men.

(from Psalm 59)

Oh Lord, where are you? Be their refuge.

Pilate might have been the first evangelist. We read in the Gospel of Saint John:

So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Gol′gotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. The chief priests of the Jews then said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” (John 19:17-22)

It is certainly unlikely Pilate actually believed Jesus was King of the Jews, but here he is declaring that truth in the three primary languages of that time, as though it is being proclaimed to the whole world — for everyone then and there, though that number was relatively small, and then for the world down through the ages, and against the objections of those who thought they were only putting to death a troublemaker, Pilate officially stated: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. He was, unintentionally so, an evangelist proclaiming Christ the King.

He was the first to publicly do so. Strange, ironic, but beautiful in a way. God is always surprising.

king of the jews

There are others who unintentionally proclaim the truth of God’s offer of salvation.

I live in Oregon, just an hour north of Roseburg where the terrible shootings recently took place at Umpqua Community College. The murder of nine people and the wounding nine others shocked the world. In one of those ghastly and ironic twists of fate, the shooter also became an evangelist of sorts.

How can this be?!

While holding the gun to each person’s head, the murderer asked one specific question: “Are you a Christian?” If the victim answered “yes,” he replied “Good, because you’re a Christian, you are going to see God in just about one second.” And then he killed them. One after another. Are you a Christian? Yes.

If you are a Christian you are going to see God. This profound and powerful truth does not diminish the nearly unspeakable tragedy and massive waves of sorrow the killer has caused. And yet, consider this: In our age of global social and mass media, news of this event has gone around the world countless times. The entire world has beheld, even if only through description, the martyrdom of these brave witnesses to the unchanging truth of Christ.

Millions upon millions of people read the words: “Good, because you’re a Christian, you are going to see God in just about one second.”

Millions upon millions of people heard that in an ordinary, small town community, regular people said yes. They said yes with a gun to their heads. Tears come my eyes while typing this.

That angry, religion hating, God hating, lonely, self-pitying, gun fetishizing, nazi infatuated young man got his name in the news, but he also unintentionally declared the beauty of the Gospel — if you are a Christian then you will see God. Oh that it had never happened. Lord help us to understand. But God be praised for His love. They carried their crosses all the way. Not dead, but eternally alive. May their souls flourish forever in the loving embrace of their Heavenly Father.

The 2nd-century Church Father Tertullian wrote: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” We owe so much to so many.

Lately I’ve blogged about tradition in the Church and the Mass specifically. I find the question of music particularly interesting. I have been longing for a traditional Latin Mass to be readily available in my town. But I have to say that I’ve truly been loving the Mass at our local church lately. The church is packed, the music is beautiful, the homilies are generally good, and the mood is solemn and lively — plus lots of kids. It’s a Novus Ordo Mass (I can’t say I really know exactly what that means), with occasional Latin at times, and the Prayer to Saint Michael at the end of each Mass.

I leave with feelings of joy. I love when my family is with me too.

I can live with this. Truly I can live with any valid Mass. I love the Real Presence. I love the Eucharist. I don’t get caught up in the debates some traditionalists do — seems pointless to me. Anyway, I am loving Mass lately (in fact, I always have since entering the Church).

It’s not about me. I know.

606px-Le_Grand_Saint_Michel,_by_Raffaello_Sanzio,_from_C2RMF_retouched

I’ve also become fascinated with Saint Michael. What an amazing saint.

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An irate Bishop Nicholas slaps troublesome priest Arius across the face at the First Council of Nicaea

Some brief, and probably uneducated personal thoughts on the Synod on the Family, but first…

…and with humility…

There is a lot of discussion and vitriol flying around these days about the family and the Church. It bothers me. Two frequently narrow-minded religio-political groups — Liberals and Conservatives — have been squaring off over questions of divorce and remarriage and the receiving of the Eucharist — and other important matters of marriage, sex, faith, and the Church. I say narrow-minded because Christ is neither liberal or conservative, and neither is the Church. As Christians we know this. At one time or another I have been in both camps (I still am I guess). Nonetheless, I wonder…

Could all this hullabaloo over these tendentious and tender issues be God’s way (perhaps by way of Pope Francis) of calling the Church to account? The Church, frequently in the actions of its members (but not in its dogma), in recent decades (maybe longer), has again and again turned away from the foundational teachings on family and sexuality. Catholics do whatever they want it seems. This is well documented. There’s a lot of interest from all “sides” in the synod and its outcome for these very reasons. What this all means and where it will lead I cannot really say — and a lot of smarter people than I have much to say about these things anyway.

The conservatives, who are people of good will, and who are worried the liberals will get their way (there’s a lot of worry going around), should at least realize the “battle” was lost a long time ago — at least on a cultural/historical level, for God, of course, has lost nothing — and they have also been part of the problem. They may be “conserving” dogma, but some concept of a past culture is probably not worth conserving in some significant sense, at least in terms of a past “golden age” of Catholicism — though I could be wrong. We live in this culture, we are culture, culture is a living, moving thing. I sense many feel the conservatives are only interested in a kind of old-fashioned mono-culture — whether this is actually true I cannot say. However, bulwarks can seem like too much Soviet architecture, and it didn’t take long for many, even good-willed Catholics (or their children), to abandon the conservative project. How did the project “lose” so quickly and so completely? I suggest the Church’s presentation of its core teachings on sexuality and marriage for the past 150 years or so has taken too much for granted, was content too much with externals, and was not sufficiently evangelical in its approach or its language, did not bring Christ first, etc. If your average Catholic cannot articulate the Church’s understanding (and I mean understanding, not merely a recitation of the “rules”) on these issues what does that say? I believe this has caused untold suffering. I could be wrong.

Bishops should bring Christ to others first. Some do. Perhaps most do, I can’t really say. But the world needs Christ and the world seems to say the Church only brings them rules and dry theological presentations of human passions. (This synod could end up being another example of this. Let’s pray it isn’t.) I get that the world rejects Christ too, but shouldn’t it be more clear the world is actually rejecting Christ and not the Church — if that’s the case? It’s complicated, but let’s not accept easy excuses.

And the liberals, who are also people of good will, should realize they are just as much a part of the problem of causing great suffering amongst the faithful as everyone else. Tenderness and mercy is good, truly very good, but they go inextricably together with truth as well. (The same could be said to conservatives.) It’s not a 50/50 proposition — trying to find a nice balance between truth and mercy, between hard reality and tender compassion. It’s a 100/100 proposition — total truth and reality along with total mercy and compassion. (Again, one could say the same to conservatives.) We cannot turn away from our human nature, from the way we are designed, and not suffer. We cannot reject God’s natural will for our lives and not suffer. [Side note: If you are a Christian then you believe God exists and is your creator. Meditate on that.] But we are all at fault, for the real problem of our society, as it has been with every society before us, is our deep and profound brokenness. We must not let our pride prevent us from seeing this. I raise my hand as a guilty offender; I am broken and prideful.

Bishops should not hide the truth from anyone, thinking that truth is too difficult to handle right now — for that person. Bishops who refuse to bring truth, keeping it hidden, are snakes. Gentle smiles and soft hugs don’t make for genuine healing if there is not also truth in those hugs and smiles. Our souls are desperate for love and truth. Tenderness without calling for repentance is a hollow emotion. I can’t say I know any bishop who does this, but I can imagine. Oh that every prince of the Church were an icon of Christ!

And I am constantly confused on these issues. It is easy for me to say, “Who am I to judge.” (Only I do judge all the time and without mercy.) I am forever figuring out how to make good and right judgements, to see clearly, to know what is true. I pray for wisdom. There are people of all stripes whom I love — and love all too poorly. We’re all carrying heavy packs on this pilgrimage. I pray we are going the same way. Pray for me, a stumbling and wayward sinner.

Consider: It is better that we are prodigal sons who eventually find salvation than older brothers and end up in Hell. Think about it.

I do believe that Christ is calling us all to Him — every one of us. We are not being called first or foremost to dogma or to rules or to tradition — even if those things are good. Honestly, I love dogma, but… We are being called to Christ. To Him alone. We must risk that, and let others have the freedom to risk that as well. We do not come to Christ if not in freedom. That includes everyone, not just you or me.

Unless we solve the problem of our brokenness, of this principle of sin within us, we cannot find true joy — and we cannot solve it. We just can’t. Only in Christ can we find the answer to our soul’s longing. That is the gospel, that is the good news. Only by His blood, by His love, in His resurrection, and through His mediation do we have hope and reality of salvation, of our own resurrection. Only by the grace of God do we live. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. Neither “side”, separately or together, has the capacity to contain the radicality of the good news of Christ.

Be neither liberal or conservative, be a radical follower of Jesus Christ. This may mean being open to an encounter with Him — I’m sure it does. Is it not true that we mostly encounter Christ through encountering other people? Are you willing to take that chance? I hope I am — fear and trembling folks, fear and trembling.

I see in Pope Francis a man who brings the evangelism of encounter, and the world is crying out YES! Sadly I read and hear a number of catholics behaving like some of those baddies in the Gospel accounts — they grumble, they worry, they don’t see that their fear is blazoned on their sleeves. There is the constant parsing of the Pope’s every word, fretting over every action, and more grumbling that he is too confusing, sending the wrong message (“What will they think?!” “They’re bound to take that in the wrong direction!!” “Look who he’s meeting with, he’s sending the wrong message, doesn’t he see that?!!”). I get it, the Pope is sometimes confusing to many people — though I have yet to find him so. Some Catholics, sadly quite a lot, are saying the vilest things about the Pope. I think the Pharisees said the same things about Christ. Can’t you just hear it: “He is muddled and confused, and confusing others. Did he really say that?! My God, save us. He is leading us to schism. He wants schism. Just like a Jesuit to play a devil’s game. He’s not a real Pope. Pray for his death.” (Death?!! Yes, some “Catholics” have even said they want him dead. Can you imagine?) I’m not defending anyone, not even the Pope. His naysayers may prove to be right. I just wonder if something is happening (that’s not really the right word, not a strong enough word) according to God’s plan that is calling the Church, and its leaders to account — and in the process bringing about a renewal of sorts (perhaps a re-formation?). So the tensions are good. They point to something meaningful going on. Usually only in suffering do we gain wisdom. Only through struggle do we find the truth.

Anyway, I love this Pope. I don’t expect perfection from any man, but I do find in him a kind of icon of Christ to the world, and not just in his office, but in his words, actions, and person. Think about that. If true, what do our reactions to him say about us? We should examine our hearts if we find him displeasing. Again, I’m not defending the Pope. I could be blind.

So finally, about the synod… I suppose all this is my way of saying I sometimes (secretly) hope the Synod on the Family becomes a big, knock down, drag out fight. I hope true colors fly, and the truth emerges from the smoke. It seems about time the bishops wipe the genial smiles off their faces and they point some fingers and throw some zucchettos — maybe even overturn some tables. Of course I want them to behave with all the of the virtues in full force (love, courage, etc.). They should act always in love — sometimes not being nice is the loving thing to do; sometimes it means to stop hiding their true feelings and ideas under thick theological speak and formalisms. The Pope said to “speak clearly.” More importantly, if there is a crisis, then act like it’s a crisis. This is not, should not be, a political fight. It is a fight for the Church, for the Bride to be ready and perfect and lovely for the Groom when He returns. May Christ be glorified — and decorum be damned, if necessary.

Not to tell anyone what to do, but pray if you care.