Against Comfort

Msgr Charles Pope is getting some attention for his essay against “comfort Catholicism.”

There is a growing consternation among some Catholics that the Church, at least in her leadership, is living in the past. It seems there is no awareness that we are at war and that Catholics need to be summoned to sobriety, increasing separation from the wider culture, courageous witness and increasing martyrdom.

He tags the 70’s, but I have to wonder if he’s mis-aimed and might really be railing against the 50’s. What constitutes life in the past? Full parishes with active spiritual and social life? The so-called beige Catholicism of the 70’s? The heady days of St John Paul II when vibrant young priests were going to be ordained by the score? The targeting of children by sex predators, women religious by the CDF, blogging dissenters by the faithful remnant? It seems like everybody has a golden age in mind and dark days to lament. My own sense is that no generation is really so great that squalor can’t be found, nor so impoverished that gems can’t be uncovered.

My main problem with calling for the hounds of war is that too many Catholics are already girded for battle. Battle against other believers who choose not to march in lockstep with them.

My friend Charles has posted a link on this facebook. My second objection to the whole meme here is a bit of wisdom I hear in the Anima Christi. Whenever I pray the line, “Within your wounds hide me,” I silently add “not mine” between the third and fourth words.

The point of Church as field hospital is not as a place to retreat for us to lick our wounds. The point is to welcome those who are wounded, even those outside the flock. Our modern culture certainly has victims outside of organized Catholic conservadoxy. What if we thought about binding other people’s wounds rather than our own. For a change.

Msgr Pope is a well-intentioned priest, to be sure. He writes of being counter-cultural. But the anger and war imagery is exactly how so many levels of our culture operate today. The hate on the internet. Tattletales and gossips getting other Catholics fired. Building walls. The desire to imprison our demons: political candidates, gays, feminists, immigrants, CEOs. It’s all part of an angry vector when people feel powerless. But being without power is often a good thing when we have faith.

War? Why bother going to war when we can go to work?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to Against Comfort

  1. Liam says:

    Indeed. Egoism can take a crusade as a shroud.

  2. nassauny says:

    Today, August 25, is the feast of King Louis IX of France, after whom a metropolis in Missouri was named. At Holy Name parish, near Prospect Park, Brooklyn, the will celebrate this saintly monarch with a solemn high Mass at 7 p.m. I wonder if it is the wars against Muslims or the delights of Crusading or the authoritarian leadership of kings that attracts trads to Louis IX.

    • Katherine says:

      I suspect that Louis’s personal piety, and his interest in and devotion to the liturgy (well documented by the lay nobleman who wrote his biography and shown by some of Louis’s own building projects, like the lovely Ste Chapelle in Paris) have more to do with it. Have you read Jean de Joinville’s Life of Louis? It is readily available in English translation; he was a loyal but not uncritical friend.

    • Liam says:

      Historical context reset:

      Most medieval kings couldn’t get away with being as authoritarian as early modern kings. Western and central European monarchies in much of the Middle Ages were, in varying degrees, what we would more collegial than authoritarian. They were intensely hierarchical, but the king’s word was not law as such. Kings had to consult – a lot. There were expectations about being consulted by kings. Kings who got too big for their britches often found themselves on the wrong side of their aristocracies, churches and/or people (the most common way for kings to get out of this was to triangulate with the common people against the nobles and/or the church). There are many examples of kings who endured periods of excommunication and/or interdict.

      (The Great Famine of the 1310s – virtually forgetten today, but it laid the foundation for demographic crisis in 14th century Europe – and successive Black Death pandemics of the mid- to -late 14th century was immensely destabilizing to almost all of the dynastic lines of Europe (not that many kings died therefrom, but many of their closer collateral family lines were shorn or stunted, and there is an immense cluster of much more distant leaps of succession – virtually no historians bother to mention this from a meta view, but it becomes gobsmacking if you put all the dynastic families into a generational spreadsheet display and show the linkages….), and from that destabilization came a countereffort to reassert authority that eventually became early modern ideologies of secular monarchical power.)

      The DNA in Western culture for what we Americans call checks and balances arose from this deep cultural pool.

      American Catholics often misunderstand the papacy as an early modern authoritarian monarchy. While the papacy has certainly tried to get closer to that model over the centuries, it has failed in many respects (though it has succeeded in some, too). Even Pope Innocent III would have been jealous of the claims and effective powers of some early modern secular kings.

      • Katherine says:

        Liam, I agree completely about the less authoritarian nature of medieval monarchy. And I would argue that church authority was very similar in its workings; not for nothing were some of the most sophisticated representative structures of the time developed by medieval religious communities.

        I had not thought about that destabilizing effect from losses in royal families — have you actually done/seen the kind of spreadsheet you describe? In some areas, the counter effort comes a good bit later, of course.

        I think the papacy was never particularly successful as a modern authoritarian monarchy. By the time that model really kicked in, between the Protestant Reformation and the political situation in Europe, popes exercised far less actual control than people assume.

        The modern sense of the papacy (including that of US Catholics) was shaped by the aftermath of the French Revolution, in which the papacy’s temporal power was undermined while its spiritual authority was revived, not least by the need for local churches to pay more attention to their solidarity as part of a world-wide body in the face of growing political indifference or, in some places tangible hostility. The popes who established the US hierarchy both spent time as prisoners of Napoleon; Pius VII at least survived the experience to bask in a renewed respect.

        To bring this tangent back to within earshot of the original topic — Msgr Pope’s essay — in a lot of places, ‘comfort Catholicism’ had a tough time of it in the late 18th and 19th century, and revived attention to (and exercise of) papal authority was part of the reaction of Catholics to those circumstances.

      • Liam says:

        Katherine, I created one many years ago. When I highlighted rows of generationally associated events (dynastic lines being vertically highlighted in their own color associations), and then zoomed out (so far that you couldn’t read anything), that’s when I really saw it.

      • Liam says:

        And yes, it’s the monastic – specifically Benedictine (but also what became known canons regular, given the eponym “Augustinian” on quite a lag…): the wise and prudent abbot knows that he has to eat his own cooking, so he consults before imposing, lest he regret the harvest of what he sows. I love the further twist the Dominicans did in terms of consultation: having the youngest/newest speak first (so that they would not be as readily silenced by the pronouncements of their elders).

  3. Needed correction, TF. I didn’t “share” that article on FB. A personal friend, a zealous sort, tagged it to me. He had elsewhere publicly shared his animus towards a local bishop, for which I gently chided him away from that sort of scandal. I think his posting of the Pope piece was his response to that. Don’t make me cry “Uncle” no more, please!” ;-)

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