Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ordinary Catholics "Dead"

In his homily on Tuesday, the Pope warned Catholics that it was not enough to attend Mass, avoid sin, pray, be married in the Church and keep up appearances. They might even be in a "state of grace," but they were dead without a life in the Holy Spirit leading them forward.

"Feeling spiritually comfortable is a state of sin," the Pope said. (Did you catch that "being married in the Church" seems to be downgraded here to not that big of a deal, not to mention the Mass?)

The Bear agrees that we should feel the "spurs" of the Spirit, and that even when we "kick against them," as did St. Paul, it is a sign of life.

And yet, is it not a contradiction to say one is in a state of grace, and also dead? In a state of grace, and also living in sin? Isn't the definition of being out of a state of grace spiritual death?

The message contains some good, but it is also confusing, as with nearly everything Pope Francis says. Moreover, it does not seem particularly Catholic. The Bear hasn't listened to enough of Pope Francis' discussions of the sacraments to form a definite opinion, but based on this, what would one make of his opinion of the Mass?

Keeping up appearances isn't enough, but it's not a bad start. Add to that making use of the sacraments, having a prayer life and avoiding sin, and you're well on your way, or so it seems to the Bear.

As for the Holy Spirit, how many Catholics in a thousand are being taught how to listen for the Holy Spirit's promptings, let alone live the kind of Spirit-filled life the Pope is demanding? What does the Pope even mean? Translated into the language of Bears, then back into English, it goes something like this:

The external practices like going to Mass; the marks of respectability, such as being married in the Church; and even an interior disposition to please God and remain in a state of grace do not mean very much. They make you pleased with yourself, keep others from gossiping about you, and, perhaps, point you in the right direction. But you cannot then stand still. You must walk forward, and you must have a personal relationship with Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, or you are just dead.

We're not used to be challenged like this. One wonders if the Pope would be happier if we waved our arms about more. (Can demonstrations of emotional fervor be another way of "keeping up appearances?") To be fair to the Pope, Catholicism has been viewed as a sort of "check off" religion, where one does certain things, and (sometimes more importantly) doesn't do others, then calls it a day. The Bear believes that is what the Pope is speaking against here. Is that fair?

No doubt, he would put traditionalists into the "Dead Christian" pile.

But is that a fair assessment of what we would call "good" Catholics, and what the Pope would call "dead" Catholics? Or is he making unclear demands, perhaps based upon cultural differences? Can you be obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit without external displays of emotion? The Bear prays "Come Holy Spirit..." every time he picks up a Bible to read. Is it less sincere for being a traditional prayer, less effective for the lack of arm waving?

Unfortunately, without clarity and a positive message, this comes across more of a carping damnation of how 99% of Catholics live out their religion in simplicity and faith than an inspiring exhortation.


  1. I read the Holy Father's speech in it's entirety. I've tried to make a point of doing that when some blogger (not you btw) trumpets that the pope sez "insert absurdity here..."

    He was writing this in context with this weeks first readings from Revelations and the 7 spirits condemnation/smackdown of the cities of Asia. So, I can see the whole "you think your saved but your not because in fact you are lukewarm or hard hearted..." point Francis was trying to make.

    I am rather prone to pick apart all of his words and look for the negative.

    So, fwiw, I didn't take this as so much as a knock against Mass or Marriage as against comfort. For a very long time, I ask God to show me what I should be doing more (or less) of in my life to love Him more. Invariably, He shows me and I usually don't like what He has to show me.

    For me, the Popes words are just poor and leave me open to wonder what he means. I felt the same way when I read AB Cupich comment about "cutting out the rhetoric that keeps young people from the Church". He doesnt say what that "rhetoric" is that needs to be cut out. Like Francis comments, we're left to wonder. Maybe that is the point? Make us think? Dunno....

  2. You are right to go to the words of the Pope. And, truthfully, I, too, am conditioned to think the worst of what I hear. I think there is blame on both sides for that.

    Benedictine oblates are required to seek the will of God in their daily lives. I'm still trying to figure out what that is. And yes, it is never an attaboy. It is the thing that runs exactly contrary to my own wishes.

    I really did try to be charitable, and I agree in principle that one might have the appearance of being alive, but really be dead -- that would be the Church in Sardis from Revelation. I can't say that I'm comfortable with the looseness of language and putting some very important and good things in a category that I hear as nice, but not core Catholicism.

    But while I think this is a bit odd, I am willing to take on board what I can salvage from the typical Franciscan muddle. It would have been helpful had there been some instruction to go along with the condemnation (much harder) so I could have gone, "Aha! So that's what he means about the Holy Spirit."

    (And the "walking" trope is really getting on my nerves after all this time, but that's my problem.)

    Thanks for a great comment.

  3. The Pope said:

    "They might even be in a "state of grace," but they were dead without a life in the Holy Spirit"

    Who is he to judge...something just doesn't ring true here for me. Reminds me back in the late 60s & 70s when the priests would tell us "Don't think you're better because you give up something for Lent." etc. We DIDN'T think we were better, we were always striving, striving, striving! Now, the Pope criticizes those who are in the state of grace?! God forbid we TRY to imitate Christ...sheesh, I have to try to imitate SOMEbody!!

    1. Imitate Pope Francis. Why do you think we have the kabuki theater? But you put your prose finger on the thing that really puzzled me. Being in a state of grace used to be kind of a big deal.

  4. I will take a try at this here on your blog. I made some points at Timman's.

    Yes, he may be swiping at and mocking traditionalist pieties. And, you know, we should really not be complacent or arrogant in our faith just b/c we do these pieties. They are all fine and good. The question is have these activities transformed our souls?

    I also think of so many saints' writings in which they all do these traditional pieties. Think how many saints insisted that they were unworthy. We dare to think we are very worthy today. Such an attitude of self-unworthiness is contrary to our world of self-esteem.

    So, instead of inspiring us to have these activities and the Holy Spirit stir our souls for Jesus, it seems that the Holy Father PRESUMES that we all are complacent or lukewarm in our faith. He presumes to read our souls and judges them lacking. Yet, when it comes down to it, is it really in keeping with our Catholic faith to have an attitude of self-righteousness b/c we "do all the right things"? There but for the Grace of God, go I, I hear in many circles. I am grateful that I have been restored to the One True Faith. Not all of my relatives have been. I pray for them in charity, not in condescension.

    Do not compare ourselves to progressives and dissenters, or those outside the faith. We must look at our own relationship with God and our own souls and see that things are right.

    But. yes, Francis may have said it better.

    That's just my thought, but I get where you and Timman may be coming from.

    1. It is hard to know what is going on inside people's hearts. I do not recognize the decent, complacent checklist Catholic the Pope seems to be talking about. Not in me, nor in the people I know. Once again there's that disconnect, as when he talks about economics and imagines plutocrats complete with top hat and monocle hunting the poor with golden bullets from zeppelins.

      Perhaps soon he will give us some POSITIVE instruction on how to listen for the Holy Spirit, and what he means. I honestly don't know if he's talking about some charismatic thing or what. May God help our Holy Father communicate better. Amen.

  5. I also commented over at Timman's, so will try to avoid too much vain repetition here.

    Reading this in the most charitable way possible, the Holy Father is admonishing "cultural" Catholics: those who attend Mass weekly and receive Communion, maybe send their kids to a Catholic school, but otherwise live lives indistinguishable from their unbelieving neighbours. Those who prefer their homilies unchallenging, their Masses casual, who believe that more or less everyone is saved, who don't know what they don't know, and don't care to exert any effort to find out.

    I spent two disheartening, penitential years on our local Catholic high school's governing council (at the end of which we transferred our sons to the public system), and this mentality was predominant among administrators, teachers, and parents. The experience was so disillusioning, the lukewarmness and complacency so suffocating, that I became the very stereotype of the Angry Rad Trad on several occasions. (A Novus Ordo-attending, recently baptised former atheist Rad Trad, but still.)

    In truth, these would be the neo-Pelagians the pope is looking for, in their belief that salvation is a matter of being a generally good person.

    The well-catechized orthodox and trads, on the other hand, are often the least comfortable Catholics out there, as Long-Skirts points out. They depend on Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium because they're acutely aware of how feeble and insufficient their own efforts are, and they tend to work out their salvation in fear and trembling. Does their zeal sometimes cause them to grow cold in charity? Sure.

    Does this seem like a reasonable reading of the Holy Father? I'm not saying that's his intention (in fact, I'm reasonably sure it isn't, going on past homilies), but do we have any reason to believe he was calling out trads this time?

    1. No, nor was that my main point. (I'm not quite the rad trad as others).

      I just think it is an odd, discouraging and incomplete message subject to misinterpretation and strangely disconnected with Catholic tradition and thought. Catholics come to God in a very specific way that they believe God intended. It involves sacraments, as much asceticism as reasonable for us in the world, the fight against sin and the desire to be in a state of grace.

      If you've got these things going for you (especially the last) it is very unlikely that you are "dead." Rather, this is the precise way Catholicism works and why would you want to put those on one side, and some unspecified "walking" in the Holy Spirit on the other?

      I could see a warning to those who may go to Mass every week, but that's all, except maybe confession once during Lent. No prayer life, no worries about being in a state of grace, etc. In fact, if any group needs this warning, it is those people.

      But then to add to that being in a state of grace? Praying and avoiding sin? It seems to me these are people who have a lively enough faith, and need the wine of encouragement, not the astringent of correction. I just found that jarring. And I still want to know what the Pope means when he says I'm DEAD if I don't do something in particular with the Holy Spirit (then not explain himself). That's kind of a big thing to leave out, don't you think?

    2. We're on the same page, but I evidently didn't express myself very well. It's not that I thought you were off-base in your comments; rather, I finally encountered a papal homily where I could kinda sorta identify a real existing Catholic type (that is, the lukewarm, poorly catechized, complacent worldling Catholic), and I thought I'd run with that ball as a thought experiment.

      But as you point out, it doesn't get too far. The Holy Father seems to begin calling out this familiar type, but almost immediately adds on a bunch of genuinely pious practices that don't fit with the type. So we're no clearer than before.

      And I don't think we should be too quick to excuse the Holy Father's comments about spiritual comfort, because they just don't make any sense in the context. Do you know when I was most spiritually comfortable? When I was an atheist. My unbelieving friends and relatives seem very spiritually comfortable indeed. Those lukewarm Catholics I've encountered often seem very pleased with themselves.

      Faithful Catholics, on the other hand? Well, there's a reason Catholic Guilt is a thing. Conversion, for my wife and I, has meant assuming a large invisible burden of spiritual discomfort. Read the lives of the saints and realize how far you fall short! Ponder the words of Christ about the narrow gate and shudder for your family and friends! Observe the beautiful piety of fellow Catholics and feel like a pretender! Fail to live up to Matthew 25 and wonder if you might be one of the goats! Leave the confessional worrying about the sins you are unaware of!

      (Yes, I am a little prone to scrupulosity.)

      I'm not complaining--and God forbid I should be seen as boasting!--but I use myself as an example because I don't know anyone else's interior life. Observing other Catholics, though, it seems apparent that, contrary to the pope's stereotypes, faithful Catholics are among the least spiritually comfortable people on earth. I'm sure there are exceptions.

      I think the most likely explanation is that the pope is an inveterate score-settler, carrying around decades of accumulated dislikes and resentments that he feels obliged to address. When he finds (as he often does) that one of the day's readings can be fashioned into a rhetorical weapon against his invisible adversaries, he works it in, with little to no regard for whether today's accusations and labels have any logical connection to previous ones.

    3. No, I didn't take any criticism. I think your right on the money with this comment. As the "guide" of these little discussions I just have to discipline myself. Every time the Emperor goes for a nude stroll I don't want to feel I must yawn and say "Emperor... he's still naked." At some point -- and I am not trying to sound like Michael Voris -- the law of diminishing returns takes over, if not the risk of damage to people's faith kicks in. And we lose sight of the healthy Church. I would rather be a doctor instead of a pathologist. Whether my resolution stands or not, that's another question.

      Great comments lately!

  6. In all my years of many different parishes, I've noticed that many times, The Holy Spirit tells to tell people what they want to hear.


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