The Pope’s visit to America confirms what I long knew—the media and the politicians don’t understand the meaning of religion, treating it as one more political viewpoint. It also confirmed what I long suspected but hoped was actually false—that a large portion of American Catholics view religion in the same sense as the media and politicians. The result of this mindset is that the average person praises or laments what the Pope says or does in light of his or her political convictions and not on the basis of the Christian faith.
St. Paul wrote about this way of thinking in his letter to the Philippians:
17 Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us. 18 For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.” Their minds are occupied with earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. (Philippians 3:17-21)
Our calling as Christians supersedes our preferences in politics. Politics necessarily involves earthly things. Our faith involves approaching this world according to the bigger picture of what God calls us to do with the fact of our life after death always kept firmly in mind. So, to judge the Pope’s words and actions by political preference is to pervert the Christian message, committing sacrilege according to the sense of treating holy things as profane.
Unfortunately, America is very dualistic. We think things are either liberal or conservative and create a logical error called denying the antecedent. That error works as follows:
- The Pope is conservative or liberal.
- Not conservative.
- Therefore liberal.
When the Pope meets with the President, meets with Congress, meets with the Little Sisters of the Poor, meets with a former student (who happens to be actively homosexual), meets with Kim Davis—these things are all given a political meaning, even though the Pope intended no such thing by them. Then they take offense by the fact that the Pope did not use his addresses to condemn the President or Congress.
But, since the Pope did not intend a political message, the people who wanted one with him endorsing their position got angry when he took a stand against their position. People who hate Kim Davis were angry that he did not denounce her. People who support her were angry that he didn’t tell supporters of “same sex marriage” to literally go to hell.
Essentially they wanted him to be something he had no intention of being, and got disappointed because he didn’t satisfy their desire to see their foes "put in their place.” The thing is, Jesus didn’t set out to put people in their place. He came to call them to repentance. It was only with the self-righteous, the ones who behaved in a hypocritical manner, that he ended up "putting them in their place."
The Pope isn’t Jesus, of course. (With the anti-Catholics out there who think we do believe that, it unfortunately has to be said). But he is following the example Our Lord gave for us to follow. He’s essentially offering Our Lord’s mercy to the sinners. When we want the Pope to praise us and denounce the sinners we despise, we behave as hypocrites—and it was the hypocrites that Our Lord openly denounced.
I think that in trying to play “Capture the Flag” with the Pope, people assumed that if he would only “say more” about topic X, other people would go along. Really? Why should it be any different under Pope Francis than it was under his predecessors. Blessed Paul VI on contraception, St. John Paul II on a whole raft of issues. likewise Benedict XVI. They’ve been speaking out since 1963 on sexual issues, economic issues, life issues and so on. There’s been no variation in message. Sollicitudo rei Socialis and Caritas in Veritate say the same thing as Evangelic Gaudium—they all draw on Paul VI and Populorum Progressio (and Sollicitudo rei Socialis #34 mirrors Laudato Si).Despite this fact, people haven’t changed. The pro-abortion politicians have been this way throughout the past four pontificates. The people who think social justice is a code word for “socialism” still think so. If the Pope has so much influence over sinners that he can change them with a word, then why haven’t they been changed already?
No, America is out of control and missing the point. They think the Papal message is political policy and if the Pope says something similar, it is assumed that the Pope validated their entire platform. If the Pope said something in opposition, he’s a foreigner who should stick to religion and “stay out of politics.” (It’s hypocritical—basically a case of “It’s OK if he agrees with me, bad if he doesn’t.”) Catholics missing the point and out of control are making things worse. We’re called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. If we’re acting as worldly and partisan as everyone else, we are failing to share the Gospel with the world.
American Catholics who think of themselves as orthodox need to get back in control and get the point. Otherwise, they are causing great harm in their dissent and disobedience while patting themselves on the back for being “faithful."