Gibson Sums The Unsettling

Fifty-plus comments and counting, David Gibson has the biggest commentariat splash I’ve seen at RNS with his summation of the Catholic Right’s unease with the Francis papacy.

He quoted Katrina Fernandez:

How can I love a Pope who doesn’t even want to be Pope?

And I thought this summed up a good chunk of the opposition, though I’m not sure the Patheos blogger intended it that way.

If I didn’t go to the link, maybe I would consider Ms Fernandez’s unease with the pope who resigned. Pope Francis, in contrast, accepted and embraces the office to which he was chosen. He just seems skittish about the title. Which isn’t really a title at all. “Pope” is just a form of papa, father.

Then I was wondering if the sentiment was more along the lines of, “How can I love a Pope who doesn’t want to be my kind of Pope?” And that is a very good question indeed.

That was my question in 2005. But I was prepared to wait and see.

For individuals on the Catholic Right, this is hardly the most serious challenge to the public witness of their faith and the accompanying inner spirit they bring to their Catholicism. Joseph Ratzinger wasn’t my choice for Bishop of Rome. But more serious challenges to my faith abounded during the B16 years: my wife’s illnesses, my daughter’s loss of faith in a trusted priest, a part-time chaplaincy in a children’s psychiatric hospital, the death of my older brother, a personal bankruptcy, not to mention the definite onset of middle age (a little thinner on top and a little thicker in the middle).

In other words, I don’t spend a lot of time on the pope, like him, loathe him, or in between.

But what I can do is spend time bringing challenges small and large to my prayer life. Maybe this is difficult for many on the Catholic Right, who seem to identify with secular politics more so than I or my confreres on the Left. 2008 was a hard year for political conservatives, Americans at any rate. And if people saw 19 April 2005 as a cause for political jubilation, they will certainly be hard-pressed to see 2013 as anything but another black year. A non-republican in the White House. A non-traditionalist in an apartment that’s not the papal apartment.

The Bishop of Rome sure has become very important for a lot of Americans, even Catholics. The key with this, I suppose, is to discern what it tells each of us about what we hold dear, what inspires and drives us, and what unsettles us. Face this fearlessly, and we’ll get the honest truth. Then we move on from there. There’s a Jesuit on the Chair of Peter now. He would tell you something Ignatian to help you. That’s the route I’m inclined to take.

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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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17 Responses to Gibson Sums The Unsettling

  1. Charles says:

    Thank you, Todd! Anthony should post your article here instead of Gibson. Plus, kudos for getting Kat’s context into the misappropriated quote.
    And….that you would offer as how reflection through Ratzinger’s tenure was of benefit to you personally, magnifico.
    Love ya, Bro.

  2. I recall reading Katrina’s post when it went up, although I am not typically a reader of her blog. I find that her tone, along with many of her Patheos compatriots is one of disdain for all things other than their way of understanding of what it is to be Church.

    Pieces like this remind me of what Anne Lamott has in one of her books. This is not the exact quote, but essentially she says something to the effect of that we successfully model God in our own image when it turns out that He hates the same people that we do. This applies to people on either side of the ideological divide.

    • Liam says:

      Rod Dreher had a memorable caption in his cross-post of that blog entry of hers: “Hey, Mister, Throw Me Some Brocade” (understand that Rod is from the land of Mardi Gras…). It was not a personal mocking, but the humor is recursive if you know Rod’s predilictions, so it had some more weight to it than other reactions to that blogger’s entry.

    • Jim McCrea says:

      I think that this is it:

      “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Anne Lamott

  3. Dear Fran, points well taken. That said, Todd reminds us frequently of that sort of blogger’s gnosticism being endemic along all points of the “politcal-ecclesial” spectrum. Our friends Chris O’Grady, Bill de Haas, Gerard Flynn and good ol’ boy Fr. Allan bend that directon quite frequently.
    I’m not an apologist for Kat; but having kept up with her for many years, I think she represents a “boots on the ground” catholic conservatism (with a heavy life’s load) in a similar manner as does Fr. Jack Feehily does from the clerical POV.
    BTW, great job subbing for Todd.

    • Thanks for the good words Charles – I am grateful. It was quite an honor to have the keys to this particular car for the week!

      In regard to the issue at hand, I must say, after I hit enter, I thought about my desire to be charitable and how often I am otherwise. True enough about the “boots on the ground” bit, but what worries me – and again, from either end of the spectrum, is the reluctance for any of us to consider moving our boots. And this is what I think that Pope Francis asks us to do, move those boots. I have as much trouble with this as anyone…

  4. FrMichael says:

    I had never read Ms. Fernandez until I followed the link you provided. I get the gist of her argument and agree that she’s not speaking simply for herself (as the comments show), but I don’t think hers is a universal lament on the Right. As the conservative pastor of a conservative parish, I find universal esteem on the ground here. As a parish priest, I was accustomed to taking the thought of JP2 and B16 and translating it into more colloquial English in my homilies and catechesis. I find Francis makes life easy, all I have to do is translate from Spanish or use the English translations provided at the Vatican website.

    “Maybe this is difficult for many on the Catholic Right, who seem to identify with secular politics more so than I or my confreres on the Left.”

    There is no greater concentration of lefty bumper stickers in my area than the parking lot of the chancery. Even the local colleges and junior colleges can’t compete. So I dissent from your characterization.

    • Fr. Michael, you say something that cheers me, yet at the same time is a challenge to me:
      “As the conservative pastor of a conservative parish, I find universal esteem on the ground here.”

      While I am very glad to hear of the esteem, when I read “conservative pastor of a conservative parish” I find myself troubled. I would feel equally troubled if I read “liberal pastor of a liberal parish,” FWIW.

      My issue with these words are that once we use them to further qualify ourselves, we become less Catholic. It starts with who is defining whom – if we call ourselves conservative or liberal, intentionally or not, such language signals distance, separation, or even elevation of one’s own POV. If we are referring to others, intentionally or not, the words can denigrate, and again, separate the many members of the Body of Christ.

      My question for you and for others is this- why must we use these qualifiers? Is there any benefit, any reason?

      That is the gift of Pope Francis, if you ask me – he is neither.

  5. Charles says:

    “…what worries me – and again, from either end of the spectrum, is the reluctance for any of us to consider moving our boots. And this is what I think that Pope Francis asks us to do, move those boots.”
    Nice amplification fzom my metaphoric description, Fran. There’s not, nor really could there be (?), any disagreement with HHF’s exhortations from ant ty quarter. I don’t know if you or Todd would agree with the tact that I’ve taken through my pilgrimage- I tend to wander, zigzag, walk crooked, and weave as I follow His Way, and that seems to sometime cause consternation among colleagues and peers that presume or insist His Way tows along their lines of demarcation. I take succor in that some of us who don’t walk “their” straight and narrow nonetheless sometimes prove to be the ones who work hardest to “make His pathway straight,” even if by crossing others’ lines.
    That may not be all that cogent, but I think you’ll get my drift.

    • Charles, I really like what you say about the zigzag and crooked walk and weave. That is so true in my experience as well. It is His Way that we follow, and somehow that seems like a Way that is hard to classify in our small terms.

  6. FrMichael says:

    Fran, since the post contained reference to the Catholic Left and the Catholic Right and I was responding to a specific assertion about the Catholic Right from Todd, I don’t find my use of the term “conservative Catholic” inappropriate. I have neither received one complaint nor one implied criticism of this pope from any parishioner since he assumed office other than the flap about the gay priest remark on the airplane. I actually formed my homily the following Sunday based on the Pope’s impromptu press conference and what little grumbling there was died away. And this at a parish where I can preach about same sex marriage, contraception, and abortion and not receive one complaint from the parishioners. Just establishing this parish’s bona fides as a conservative community.

    And believe me, this is a very “in your face” type of place where people aren’t afraid to speak their minds if they’re angry. The priests get pointed suggestions about how to do our jobs and feedback on how to improve our homilies all the time. Not a typical California parish at all where being “nice” is the norm. It’s actually a refreshing change not to have to read the tea leaves to find out how folks are doing.

    • Fr Michael, forgive me please if it sounded otherwise, I was not challenging you, simply posing what challenged me. And I tried to affirm my positive thoughts at the beginning of the third paragraph of my comment.

      If I can be more clear about what is at the heart of my own discomfort with the terms, allow me to point to today’s first reading, about the “stiff-necked people.” I think that whatever God has in store for us will require ALL of us to change. And our collective progressive/liberal/orthodox/conservative/anythingelse faith will be equally challenged in that, showing us all as the stiff necked of today.

      I hope that helps clarify my point.

  7. Charles says:

    Fr, Michael, as a lifelong Californian, in which portion of our waningly great state doth your parish sit? (ie. Central Valley, LA/OC/Rvsde, SF/Ea.Bay, etc.) I’m in Diocese of Fresno.

  8. FrMichael says:

    Charles, I’m somewhat incognito, starting with my moniker which refers to my confirmation, not baptismal name. I am to the north of you, in the Province of San Francisco. Won’t say what diocese.

  9. Well, your parish sounds vital and healthy in terms of interaction, somewhat of a rarity in my seldom traveled visits to Masses in our state. (I don’t take many busmen’s holidays.) Thanks.

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