Monday, October 7, 2013

God And The Pope

The secular world has been predicting the end of Catholicism for a long time. Some might date such predictions back centuries and maybe even back into the middle ages. Still when all the mainline protestant churches caved in on contraception, on abortion, on divorce, on homosexuality, etc. then it seemed like a safe bet the Catholic church would follow suit eventually. It didn't. It has held to its traditional doctrines despite the public opinion even among Catholics.

Why has that happened? It is not because we are so smart. It is by grace. God protects the Catholic church from error because He promised to do so. Other churches enjoy no such protection so they are vulnerable to cultural forces. Catholics are not completely immune to them but they can't damage the core teachings of the church. The key is that this is a God thing and not some property of us as Catholics.

So what happens when Pope Francis makes some statements about this or that? People panic. Why? Because they don't get that it is a God thing and not a human thing. They really worry about the secular predictions of the church inevitably succumbing to cultural pressure.  But if it was God protecting the church through the past few decades and centuries and millennia then why would God stop protecting the church now? It does not make a lot of sense.

One thing was that the conservative wing of the church had its own inevitability narrative. That is that the conservatives would gain in church political power over time and the liberals would go down in humiliating defeat. That seemed to be coming true over the last decade or two. Now it is all in doubt. So what? God's presence in the church does not depend on this one political faction.

It comes down to pride. We cannot boast in ourselves but we can boast in Christ. So we can be proud to be Catholic because that is a God thing. We don't earn it. It is a gift. But when we are proud to be a member of this group within the church that is saving the church from ... well ... the rest of the church. That gives us problems. When God shows us that He does not view things quite that way then we get confused.

So what is God doing? I don't know but I have a guess. There is an old saying that only Nixon can go to China. That is the most anti-communist politician can get away with negotiating with the communists. The same might be said for more conservative doctrines. I think Pope Benedict was useless as a teacher to progressive Catholics. He was just written off as a conservative and  no matter how good his arguments were they were never seriously interacted with by liberals.

Pope Francis might change that. He might put a better face on traditional Catholicism that can get secular people both inside and outside the church to reconsider the Catholic position. How many will do that? Hard to know. In other mainline churches there were not that many. Maybe he will do better. The truth is that often God makes big effort even when few or even zero people respond. He keeps sending messengers. He is not ready to give up on those people.

So far step one is working. Liberals are falling in love with Pope Francis. But do they love him enough to accept any teaching from him? That will be seen over time. They certainly love to point out stuff he says that they agree with. The question is will they rethink their position when he says something they disagree with? That is when it gets hard. I suspect most will balk at that point but even if a few are drawn into the fullness of the faith it will be worth it. At the very least it should be fun. The man is just such a joy to read about.

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