Stones Keep Rolling

“The Cover” is several days old but the commentary on it continues to roll out. After a few days, perhaps said commentary becomes a little more thoughtful and nuanced. From Twitter, I was alerted to Lincoln’s Bishop James Conley’s piece in First ThingsWorth reading, I’d say.

Bishop Conley sees pop culture as important. Therefore the RS piece, cover and essay, is important. “Troubling” too, according to the author.

I didn’t find the piece as troubling. In the pop culture world, ADHD rules. One week it’s the pope. The next Renee and Bruno and the Chili Peppers spice up Supe XLVIII. For those of us who fall under the banner of Christian faith, there is no next week. Jesus Christ is yesterday, today, and the future. Our human “culture” of the Church exists to point to Christ, like Mary in an icon. Like the wood of the cross. Like the empty tomb.

I get that Bishop Conley and other Catholics are bitterly stung by the unfair treatment of Pope Benedict. And the analytical point that under his watch, the curia ran wild like mudslides off Latin American hurricane coasts. Was it his doing? Hardly. As a pope, was it his responsibility? Surely. The man was an aged academic, looking to retirement, and seemingly without the needed energy to wield a pastor’s crook. Does that make him a bad man? Hardly. Was he the wrong choice for 2013? Pope Benedict clearly agreed with you if you answered affirmatively.

The Benedict papacy continues to fascinate. He was only the second pope of the internet age. He had a devoted following prior to being pope. No other man had the pre-papacy fandom: clubs, internet sites, shirts, coffee mugs, backed by a volume of published writings.

Joseph Ratzinger a shy, retiring academic? He was certainly comfortable in the world of publishing. He wasn’t entirely an inhabitant of a book-lined study in some dusty seminary office.

Bishop Conley’s point:

But what matters most is that Rolling Stone and its collaborators are working to hijack the papacy of a loyal, though often unconventional, son of the Church.

The reason is simple. Sexual and social libertines have little interest in discrediting Christianity. They’re far more interested in refashioning it—in claiming Christ, and his vicar, as their supporters. The secularist social agenda is more palatable to impressionable young people if it complements, rather than competes with, the residual Christianity of their families. The enemy has no interest in eradicating Christianity if he can sublimate it to his own purposes.

And yet, I’m not so sure it’s this easy. The enemy seems quite adaptable, and we’ve been done great harm from within, from those who have “faithfully” claimed Christ as savior. They’ve also claimed sex. Money. Power. Secrecy. Doubt. Financial settlements and bankruptcy and sell-offs.

My sense is we can safely listen to the “sexual and social libertines” to get a sense of their direction–like Jesus did. But not follow them. Nor follow those who criticize us for the company we keep. Pope Francis’ unconventionality is also not new to the papacy. Pope John Paul II spoke of casting into the deep waters. The current Holy Father urges people to the boundaries. That’s where we should go.

Working with young people, I suspect that most of them will find the tone and content of Pope Francis much more resonant than the drug paraphernalia ads in RS. And for those not, perhaps a nudge has already touched their lives.

Bishop Conley suggests Catholics get to work in their own media loci. I certainly agree. The message, as it always has, remains Christ. And anyone open to the Spirit can preach Christ wherever we find ourselves. And not only can we preach the Savior, but we are duty-bound as baptized persons to do so. Will we make mistakes? Certainly. But Bishop Conley is unfazed by the risks:

(W)e take risks because we trust in the eternal victory of Jesus Christ.

Postmodern profiling by Rolling Stone should be taken seriously. But far more serious is our mandate to live charitably, joyfully, and boldly in discipleship of Jesus Christ. And the potential of living that mandate is limitless.

Some more:

Pop culture is important, and powerful. The sign value of Pope Francis’ pontificate is immense. And liable to misinterpretation. But our task is to wed sign and substance. To use the new-found fascination of the world for the Holy Father for the quiet, personal conversations which lead to conversion. To use piqued curiosity to speak, from the heart of a disciple, to suffering souls.

This is quite right. Most of us Catholics will disagree over nitpicky details of Marc Binelli’s article. He had time to talk to a lot more people, and maybe he tried. Who knows? The real point is that at some point soon, the focus on the debate must fade and the real work must be engaged. The Super Bowl is over. The postgame is over. Mr Binelli’s article was last week. Who’s up for today and tomorrow?

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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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