A New Tone

I hadn’t surfed the Patheos conglomerate much the past few months. But when I returned, I did run across token Catholic progressive Max Lindenman’s piece “Darn Tootin’ Pope Francis Is A Liberal.”

Given the amount of punditry expended on those Sunday airplane conversations, it was illuminating. There’s a lot packed into Max’s essay, including a summary of some study on the difference between liberals and conservatives.

But in Haidt’s model for moral reasoning, intuition precedes and can even dominate reason, and according to the intuitive judgment of many, Francis is consciously tweaking the tone of the papacy. On the whole, at least for the time being, the new tone is finding a wildly enthusiastic, even ecstatic response. Chaput’s disgruntled right-wingers in time may come around themselves. As the archbishop observes, “[Francis] will have to care for them, too.” Poor babies, of course Francis will care for them. That’s what liberals are for.

Most people associate the conservative/liberal spectrum with politics and political stances. My sense is that Pope Francis is way beyond that. Many Catholics, too. Some online Catholics are political conservatives, and a number of them seem to have difficulty discerning the “loyal, authoritarian, pure” aspects of the Catechism from the GOP platform. Why would I say that? Just consider how much Catholic e-space is devoted to politics.

I don’t mean to single her out unfairly, but Elizabeth Scalia‘s quick bio presents a certain hierarchy:

At Patheos Catholic, Elizabeth Scalia as The Anchoress writes on her wide variety of interests, blending a sharp wit, a keen eye for politics, and a love of the Church.

Politics ahead of the Church, part of the blend in those “wide” interests, and no explicit mention of Christ. I have no doubt about Liz being a faithful Catholic disciple. But each of us has priorities. In things like this the small descriptions–that admittedly aren’t creeds–set the tone. And it is the tone of Catholicism that seems to be changing with Pope Francis.

I most definitely think Francis is tweaking the tone of Catholic faith. Archbishop Chaput concedes it to the point where it has become a “pastoral care issue” for the Chair of Peter, something more than a piece of fuzz on the carpet under the cathedra, as it were. All of us Catholics should consider it a wake-up call. I feel impelled to reflect what areas of my life and ministry are in need of awakening. Or reform. Including this blog.

It can’t be s surprise to my regular readers that the years 1998-2012 were extremely discouraging on the liturgy front. I saw from the beginnings of the chat-group era a cocky, incurious minority seeking to dismantle fruitful postconciliar renewal. That sensibility has not vanished. Just yesterday I got into a tiff with a contributor on a liturgy site who associated the post-conciliar Eucharist with an orgy. To his credit, he apologized when confronted. But still: it reflects an unhealthy situation for the greater Church. And I have been sucked into the sickness more than once. Such occasions suggest there are times I’m better off in real life and not online.

Suddenly, Catholics who self-identified as “faithful, orthodox, and loyal” are out of step with the tone of the Bishop of Rome. The notes they’ve been singing are a bit discordant. The musical scores they’ve been reading from their choir stalls these past several years don’t match the accompaniment. None of us seem to have the script. So do we keep singing out-of-tune, do we shut up, or do we listen and discern the new line?

Francis is a Luke 15 pope. He’s very much attuned to the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. He’s doing what a father should be doing, according to the brilliant meditation on the Rembrandt painting penned by Henri Nouwen in 1992.

Some of our older brothers and sisters indeed stand off to the side, keeping their hands clasped in front of them. The father bends over. He appears almost feminine. His hands are open, on the lost son’s back, and more in a gesture of laying-hands, rather than a man-to-man embrace. The elder son even has a rod. Is it ready to give a beating?

Max is right: we are getting a new tone. These days I count myself as a very happy liberal, among other pleased liberals. It is irrelevant that no church teaching has changed. I was never looking for that.

The expectation that somehow, the secular press, the NCRep, and I will be disappointed points to a lack of perception in our well-wishers. Bad news doesn’t come around, like the frosting spread on a cake. I very much feel like the chef in the kitchen of the Father’s house. A cloud of sadness has lifted from the premises, and while we’re not sure just who’s going to show up for the feast, we see a smile on the Master’s face for the first time in years.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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2 Responses to A New Tone

  1. John McGrath says:

    The alliance of the Catholic Church and the Republican party, with its anti-poor antics and pro-corporate extremism, is a disgrace. The Acton Institute’s perversion of Catholic social teaching into right wing ideology (Paul Ryan their public face) is particularly noxious.

    If conservative but reasonable Catholics want to be political, they should form their own Center Party, open to all, but based on Catholic teachings on abortion and on government’s obligations to the poor and to a fair distribution of wealth. Catholic Center parties were once common in Europe. The German one could well have stopped Hitler but then the pope, playing political games, made a deal with Hitler behind the center Party’s back. The Austrian one did manage to stop Hitler until its head was assassinated by pro-Hitler people with the cooperation of the left wing party. And then the Cardinal of Vienna told the Austrians to vote for union with Hitler’s Germany.

    The main thing about this pope is that he is signalling that an alliance of the Catholic Church with right wing political parties may be displeasing to the Vatican in the future. The right wing Catholic politicos like Ryan, Ailes (head of Fox News, Gingrinch and Santorum can’t claim the pope as their lap dog any more.

    Not that this pope will encourage an alliance with any political party, even a Catholic Center. These parties were always led by lay people independent of the hierarchy. They took Catholic Social Teaching seriously, offering moderate solutions.

  2. Pingback: WDPFRS* | Catholic Sensibility

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