December 13, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — By now, Catholics are used to it: Pope Francis speaks plainly, openly, and sometimes … yes, indeed, rudely. But then there are times when you just ask yourself: What is he trying to achieve?
The Jesuit on the Chair of Peter regularly keeps journalists on their toes when he steps onto an airplane, for they – anybody for that matter – wait in suspense for whatever is going to come out of the Pope’s mouth during the in-flight press conferences. Because the words of Pope Francis are often thoughtless and rash at best, or abrasive and rude at worst, he leaves it to others to clean up the media mess afterward. At the same time, secular media imbue him with a sacrosanct infallibility so that phrases like “Who am I to judge?” or the Church is a “field hospital” become slogans of the liberal press mill are repeated ad nauseam readily applying the principle: “Sixty-two thousand four hundred repetitions make one truth,” from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
But what does the Pope achieve with some of his stories? This question came again to mind while listening to the daily homily at the Domus Sanctae Martae on Friday, December 9.
In the homily, Pope Francis tells a story repeating the words “rigid” and “worldly” from his Little Book of Insults.
The story goes like this:
About rigidity and worldliness, it was some time ago that an elderly monsignor of the curia came to me, who works, a normal man, a good man, in love with Jesus – and he told me that he had gone to buy a couple of shirts at Euroclero [the clerical clothing store] and saw a young fellow — he thinks he had not more than 25 years, or a young priest or about to become a priest — before the mirror, with a cape, large, wide, velvet, with a silver chain. He then took the Saturno [wide-brimmed clerical headgear], he put it on and looked himself over. A rigid and worldly one. And that priest – he is wise, that monsignor, very wise — was able to overcome the pain, with a line of healthy humor and added: ‘And it is said that the Church does not allow women priests!’ Thus, does the work that the priest does when he becomes a functionary ends in the ridiculous, always.
Outrage! A young priest – under 25 – with a cape and a hat in a shop for clerical dress.
Who are the two people in question: One is an old, working, normal man who loves Jesus and speaks to the Pope; the other is a young, maybe newly ordained, rigid, worldly priest on a shopping trip. The enemy or Feindbild (“image of the enemy”) is clear: an effeminate young man, probably handsome, busy with worldly affairs like a dandy from an Oscar Wilde novel. Undoubtedly, he must have come into Rome for a shopping trip as a break and indulges in an aesthetic pleasure that only the dolce vita of Rome has to offer. He is rich (velvet!), careless, mundane, superficial, lazy, and vain …
On the other hand, we have the old monsignor. Seemingly he has stable work in Rome, he is old, good, pious, and wise. He checks in with the Pope out of allegiance and obedience and has just a “normal” conversation with the Successor of Peter, talking about his last visit to the prison and how to include refugees into his parish.
Is that really what we are dealing with in the Church – and more importantly in her relation to the in the world – today?
Reality looks very different: young priests who chose to wear traditional dress (which is what the story suggests) do so as a battle uniform. That is right: they are at war. They are at war with a society that hates anything traditional, anything old for that matter – the old is the enemy. They are at war with their secular friends who ridicule them for wearing that “priestly dress.” They are at war with liberal Catholics who want to make the Church serve the world – a true worldliness – in her morality, her structure, and her teaching. They are at war with a fashion industry which chooses either immorality or decadence, mostly both, as a principle for fashion today. They are at war with the flocks of priests who wear jeans and shirts. Why do they to choose to be at war? Because Christ was at war. He was at war with enemies of the good, the true, and the beautiful. Had Christ not owned a cape so precious that even well-paid Roman soldiers did not want to cut it in half?
On the other hand, now some old priests choose to wear jeans and T-shirt? To give the world a good example? To become like the world? No. To escape that ridicule that the world prepares for those who dare to stick out. Will they be approached on the street by carefree faithful asking for a blessing of rosaries or even to hear confession? Doubtful. Yet this is an experience countless seminarians and priests share in Rome.
What makes that old monsignor good? Is he good because he works? Works as what? Is the work of the young priest or religious less valuable because he is young? The monsignor is a “normal” man? What is that? Normal according to the standards of modern society? Modern as in entrenched in mindless modern ideology? Does he defend gender theory? Does he defend false feminism? Does he succumb to the “tyranny of relativism” that has befallen our Western world? Is this story by a Curia-Clerk who provides counsel to Cardinals and bishops making decisions that will impacts thousands or millions of lives all over the globe truly fueled by “healthy humor”? Is the monsignor’s way the only possible way of life in the Church? Is she that narrow?
And honestly, in the worst-case scenario – if all that the monsignor thought about the young priest were true – can the monsignor not “cut him some slack”? If he truly had wisdom, he would know that the young priest will suffer for what he wears anyway and that will be his “cross.”
Contrary to the monsignor’s opinion, the Church of Tradition is attractive. Why is that? Because she is the stumbling block that the Gospel mentions (Cf. 1 Cor 8) the unmoved rock on which the waves of the Zeitgeist break in vain. Thousands of young men are attracted to more “traditional” ways of doing things, of a clear priestly identity, of a priestly vocation that expresses itself in outwardly visible signs, in a referent liturgy without abuses, and in a Church that is the Rock – because she knows that she will win over the world. The Latin Mass is crowded with young families and many children. Children who will be educated in the faith too.
They are attracted because they want to give God all and the best. As St. Francis of Assisi said: “The chalices, corporals, appointments of the altar, and everything that pertains to the sacrifice must be of precious material. And if the most holy Body of the Lord is very poorly reserved in any place, it should be placed in a precious location.” He knew how to give God the best and greatest and most precious things that man has to offer. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam is even the resounding motto of the Jesuit Order.
At the same time, how often do we overhear people (believers and unbelievers alike) look around Vatican museums and ask snidely, “Why the Church does not sell all of this and give the money to the poor?” In an ironic way, Oscar Wilde’s words receive new relevance: “The people today know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
The young man’s clothing is chosen for its beauty. And is beauty not in itself a way to God? How often and how intensely has Hans Urs von Balthasar emphasized that the via pulchritudinis, the way of beauty, has primacy as a way to God – especially for the simple people and not for the rich! Do beautiful images and materials not also help our prayer life? Also, does Pope Francis ever make fun of the Eastern Catholic priest who wears a headdress and much larger cassocks than in the West?
But ultimately one question stands out most: Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned the “terrorism of words,” the “divisive act,” and that which is “destroying the Church from within”… what is that you say? Gossip. Why does Pope Francis include the gossip of an old disillusioned, complacent, fixated, and – to use Pope Francis’s own term — rigid old man in his homily as a teaching of truth for the Church?
As for the monsignor, if he cannot distinguish between a cultured and well-manned exterior from an effeminate fixation, then that may well tell volumes …
Yet another question arises in the heart of many Catholics: Why would our Father do this? Is this a paternal correction that we need? Have we children been that naughty? And what will happen when the world attacks us? Will we find sanctuary and support in him?