1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Francis Moment

First Things' R.R. Reno's disdain for Pope Francis is palpable in articles too many to cite. I suppose that what Reno most hates about Francis is what I love best.  Through his papacy Pope Francis lives out the Liberty of a Christian. He's giving the conception of "counting the cost" of following Jesus a new connotation, a new twist. 

Some believe that following Jesus means putting on a public face that does not give undue scandal. This was exemplified for me by some Protestant friends I knew in northeastern Colorado who would travel to the big city in order to have a "Denver Margarita." They knew and believed that alcohol was OK in moderation, but they didn't want to scandalize people who thought alcohol the root of all evil. I only half-jokingly suggested that I was scandalized by their duplicity!

Pope Francis refuses to count the cost in the sense of a politician counting the cost or my friends above. Like the mythical Aslan, he's not necessarily safe but he's good. Safe in our day means predictable, controllable. The freedom that Frances exudes is an opportunity for us to all judge for ourselves. He's calling into question the whole cult of experts. In other words "professional Catholics" like R.R. Reno.

Gatekeepers are neither required nor wanted. This is Francis' genius. He neither requests nor needs permission from you or me to be Pope. He is authentic in this sense: being true to Christ and to himself. 

To my mind he simply building upon the firm foundation set down by Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. These two were the Great Clarifiers. An analogy: Just as the Second Vatican Council had both dogmatic and pastoral constitutions, so too this small "t" trinity of popes contain both but Francis simply highlights the pastoral. 

When's the doctrines are laid out, it's time to begin living them. What we see in Francis is that there is no "orthodox" or "politically correct" way of living out orthodoxy. Doctrine is not a straitjacket, but it enlarges the soul.  

 Francis' unwillingness to countenance the power of sound bites is not a lack of prudence on his part. It is rather in in an invitation to go beyond the sound bite culture to begin listening once again to the voice of Christ.  The message of Francis to the Catholic intelligentsia may just be talk less, live more.  

All of this takes us back to that "right-winger" Paul VI and what he said about teachers versus witnesses. Our world is filled with so called experts bearing witness to their egos but little else.  No matter how clever it's just not all that attractive. Pope Francis is both a teacher and a witness in exactly the right time and place.

"B" movie, "A" content: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

G.K. Chesterton was of course right when observed (I think it was in What's Wrong with the World?) that "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing poorly." Some films are not exemplary in terms of production values, acting, and all the other goodies but they did some things well.

Today's example:

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World was surprisingly warm and gentle for a film dealing with the moral catastrophe that precedes the extinction of the human race. It is a bit surreal when amid the debauchery and mayhem, much goes on as usual. For example, when the unlikely yet strangely likable couple, Dodge (Steve Carell) and Penny (Kiera Knightley) get a bite to eat at the local "Friendsies" restaurant, the staff is warmer than ever and intoxicants flow freely, but no one seems all that concerned about the impending crack of doom. Alas, death (thankfully) is not the point of the film. The point is living life. Not living life at the level of an abstraction but with immediacy with what and who is front of you. Yes, it is a bit creepy when the inevitable relationship that grows between Dodge and Penny does flourish, but it also rings true and somehow right. Dodge gives up the quest for finding his high school sweetheart when he realizes he's chasing an illusion. Penny for all her flaws is real. She is present. The film is not a "realistic" end of the world set-piece, nor is it a romantic comedy. It is more appropriately a meditation on living morally and humanely while everything else comes crashing down.

Chesterton noted that what was wrong with the world was himself, thus pointing to the fact of Original Sin. He surely would have appreciated the paradox that what is wrong with the world is also what is so, so right with the world: human beings.