Some ‘Splaining

On fb, my friend Joyce referenced this Amy Welborn essay, “Against Popesplaining.” If you go, warning: it’s long.

I was struck by the liturgical bit referencing:

… a Vatican website that used to feature the liturgical season on its splash page, but has not done so much since 2013.

Perhaps you see this as a positive development. Guess what again. It’s not.

I fail to see how this current mania helps address Protestant concerns that Catholicism holds the Pope up above Jesus and Biblical faith.

My guess is that five years ago “Lent 2011” was put there not by B16, but by an employee a few rungs down the ladder. And likewise, the “a-liturgical” emphasis on the homilies, chats, and activities of Pope Francis is likely at the initiative of a different underling. Or perhaps it’s all about search functions on the Vatican pages and the webmaster there is just delivering what people are looking for.

I suppose one could scold the millions of surfers to .va and tell them to look for Jesus instead. It might be what many people should do. But it’s more likely that scoldy elder siblings don’t catch the ear of seekers today.

My recollection is that we had just as much confusion about the pope five years ago. Holocaust-deniers, Islam, LCWR, Dominus Jesus, and all sorts of stuff. I remember one or two fanpages for our pope emeritus. This one, even before the election of 2005.

Students of religious movements and even students of sociology and mass psychology could predict it:  When you strip principles away, personalities and emotional connections step in to fill the vacuum.

Is this a real principle? I seem to recall some of the early reactions to Jesus. They wanted to make him king. They wanted to throw him over a cliff. I’m puzzled to think of what principles we Catholics have lost over the years? A sense of right and wrong about managing sex offenders? Investigating our own, giving no opportunity to respond to accusers? Encouraging tattletales?

Frankly, I think some people are just misguided. Jesus is too far away, so they go to Mary. Or Mary seems far off, so there’s a local priest or guru. I remember a lot of people in the last decade who built up substantial followings in places like the Vortex or the Sabine Farm.

I admire Amy Welborn as a writer, but this piece mystifies me. I don’t think she’s totally thought it through, or held up her conservative Catholic allies to the same scrutiny as what the internet wayback machine can give us.

Speaking for myself, I don’t feel I have to look over my shoulder to the Vatican and worry if the institution has my back or if I’m the next target of investigation. I understand the mission is about evangelization and discipleship. I’m not convinced I have to correct every misstep of thought or attitude, even among popesplainers. I didn’t think that way a decade ago when some Catholic e-outfits branded me a heretic or worse. I’d like to think I haven’t changed that much–it’s just that the sun is shining a little brighter these days. But maybe those who know me see it differently. What do you think?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to Some ‘Splaining

  1. Katherine says:

    Off-topic, I admit, but given how often you have used the ‘older brother’ as a reproach, I thought you might find this interesting:
    http://darwincatholic.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-older-brother.html

    • Liam says:

      Which made me think of my parents’ favorite movie about parenthood, “Parenthood”, and especially this scene, as my 90+ year old parents still had (my father still has) a semi-dependent special needs child in her 60s and they remained as concerned for each of their 6 children as always – here’s the great scene of a father seeking, for the first time, the advice of his responsible but anxious elder son about how to deal with the wastrel younger son:

      (Vulgar but appropriate language)/

  2. Todd says:

    I think DC’s take is absolutely a good one. Especially if he sees himself in that role in his family, in the Church, or however and is able to encounter the Lord Jesus in a more profound way because of it. The thing about Jesus’ parables: they invite deeper reflection on the part of the disciple–they are not so simple as to allow easy pegging of either characters or the believer who finds herself or himself in them.

    Henri Nouwen, in his famous reflection on the Rembrandt painting, recounts how he had been each of the three in his life. I suppose I find I lack patience with the elder siblings of the Church for two reasons: I dislike that part of myself the most, or perhaps prefer to distance myself from my fruitless experiences there (hence my geographical drift from my city of origin). And also that so many Catholics seem stuck in the role of disapproval. I find I don’t need to add to it.

  3. FrMichael says:

    I read Amy’s post was expecting a substandard piece, based on your comments. Far from it! It was very well written.

    There was a lot of confusion stemming in Benedict’s time: the butler did it, Williamson’s anti-Antisemitism, curial cardinals not following the good example of the quiet Benedict and lording over lesser beings. What we did not have, with the possible exception of the Regensburg address, were wild things coming out of a pope’s mouth.

    At my parish, we call the pope our crazy uncle. It seems to be an apt description. Somewhat boorish, opens his mouth and inserts foot quite a bit, coupled with occasional witty insights that make people laugh and think. It’s something new in a pope, we probably haven’t had this personality type since the days of the corrupt popes.

    I personally think the bad outweighs the good with this papacy and we’ll be cleaning up the mess for several years after it ends, but I will abide until a more holier type reassumes the Chair of Peter. But if Francis can clean up the rot in the Roman Curia I’ll consider it a successful papacy.

  4. M.Z. says:

    It is amazing what being away from the blogosphere for 4 years does. Like almost all Catholics, papal news is rare and mostly entertaining. It seems people are most disappointed that Francis can’t be used as a reliable cudgle against their opponents. It isn’t like this stuff wasn’t disgusting when it was directed at Mahony. There are just people trying to get over their slight embarrassment when they do it to Francis.

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