Friday, September 25, 2015

The Pope Francis Universal Translator

The secular press and media are having a field day spinning and extrapolating what Pope Francis’ words mean and imply. Politicians and pundits alike pontificate as if they were biblical scholars doing exegesis on passages from scripture. Opinionated commentators posing as journalists dissect and scrutinize every papal utterance as if they were all of the same weight and importance. Curiously, Jesus’ opponents did the very same thing. They took his words and deeds OUT OF CONTEXT. This is what is happening now with Pope Francis.

Just as the words of Sacred Scripture must be taken in CONTEXT in order to be correctly interpreted and understood, likewise, the same must be applied to the Vicar of Christ on earth. The Bishop of Rome is the supreme head of the Catholic Church. As Pope, he has full, supreme, immediate, and universal authority. He is infallible, however, only on matters of faith and morals. Supremacy and infallibility are different aspects of the Petrine ministry often misunderstood as being the same thing. They are distinct yet still interrelated. As Pope, the Holy Father is supreme pastor, which means he enjoys full primacy. There is no authority other than God higher than papal authority. No ecumenical council can overrule him. This is a juridical component as opposed to his infallibility that is a teaching or didactic aspect. The trifold munera (offices) of Christ’s ministry as Priest, Prophet and King are continued in the sanctifying, teaching and governing offices of the Church. The Roman Pontiff possesses supremacy in all of them. He is the supreme teacher on matters of doctrine; he is the high priest in matters liturgical; he is the supreme leader of the church in governing the universal church. Infallibility resides in his teaching or magisterial authority only. Nevertheless, since he possesses supreme authority in governance and in sacred worship, while non-infallible, it is still absolute. In other words, the Pope’s prudential judgments are not protected by divine intervention. Historically, some popes have made imprudent decisions while a few even made bad or immoral choices. The overwhelming majority, Deo gratias, have made reasonable and sensible judgments.

Pope St. John Paul the Great spoke as a philosopher and with a theatrical flavor. Much like Archbishop Fulton Sheen who took full advantage of the television when he had his weekly program, JP2 used both content (what he said) and context (where he said it). He was conscious of the scene and backdrop. He utilized the stage at every World Youth Day and at every international papal visit. His words and his gestures (like kissing the ground the first time he visited a country) spoke volumes. His words were deliberate and well thought out.

Pope Emeritus Benedict spoke as a gentile professor of theology. Unlike his predecessor, he was no actor, so his sense of theater was not the same. He was a scholar, like JP2, but he used the world as a classroom to teach, discuss and dialogue with his pupils. At times, one could feel like a high school freshman in chemistry class being taught by Albert Einstein, yet, very quickly, we learned that B16 wanted nothing less than to enlighten all his students with the same light of faith he himself found essential and fascinating.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, speaks and acts like a pastor. More like a parish priest than a diocesan bishop, in fact. He preaches unrehearsed sermons and speaks in colloquial vernacular that his flock immediately knows he is speaking to them about issues of a spiritual nature. Whereas Pope Benedict would give erudite theological explanations, Pope Francis gives mini-sermonettes and ferverinos often given by a parish priest at a weekday Mass. DE GUSTIBUS NON DISPUTANDUM EST.

Each pope has his own style and flavor of the papacy. It is unfair to compare JP2 with B16 and both with F1. Pope Benedict wore red shoes. So what. They were gifts. Pope John Paul wore red shoes and a red cape as well. Big deal. Pope Francis chooses to wear old comfortable shoes. Who cares? Just as each pope has his own taste of music, his own favorite sports team and his own favorite cuisine, likewise, each has his own opinion on economics, politics and science. Obviously, his prudential judgments on the latter warrant our attention and consideration (while the latter are purely personal), nonetheless, they are not exercises of papal infallibility.

When these distinctions are not made and when the secular media compare apples with oranges, you get non sequitur fallacies that would give any logician a migraine. If Pope Francis wanted, he could amend the Catechism, which would then be part of the Ordinary Magisterium. So far, he has chosen not to do so. Homilies, sermons and impromptu talks do not have the same weight as encyclicals, apostolic exhortations and constitutions, et al. Particular scientific, political and economic theories are similarly not the same and do not carry the same magisterial authority as do general moral principles and doctrinal tenets and canonical decrees.

The Pope has every right as an individual to express his personal opinions even though the faithful are not obliged to give them the assent of faith. As supreme head of the church and as the mouth of the Magisterium, he has every right, duty and obligation to comment on any issue or topic that might have an impact on Catholic faith and morals. You and I may disagree with non-infallible teachings but we cannot merely ignore, discount or casually repudiate them at first glance. We owe the Successor of Saint Peter a prayerful and intelligent deliberation of his position instead of dismissing without proper consideration.

Ecology, economics and politics do impact human life and each has moral implications. Subsidiarity, however, requires that those who have expertise in these areas and those at the local level first, have legitimate claim to the first word. Enunciating moral principles and dogmatic facts are the purview of spiritual leaders and shepherds, of whom the Pope is first and foremost. Applying those general principles to specific instances and particular cases is the responsibility of every person with a well formed conscience AFTER he or she has heard all the facts and pondered all the arguments.

One can licitly dispute the existence or the effect and response to global warming just as one can have a reasonable debate on the merits of democratic-republic vs constitutional monarchy, or whether the best from or governance is parliamentary or presidential. Catholics can also differ on big government or little; on the primacy of federalism or states’ rights. They can register democrat, republican or independent. What the clergy must and ought to do (be they popes, bishops, priests or deacons) is identify moral principles and issues that transcend opinion. A legitimate political or economic system must respect the Natural Moral Law and abide by the principles of justice. When it does not happen or when it seems that there may be breach, then the religious authorities have a duty to inform the electorate and those in power.

As a pastor, I often hear parishioners say “well Father So-and-so said this” or “he did it this way.” Leaders are often compares to their predecessors and we should be able to learn from their (and our own) mistakes. Opinion and style are personal choices particular to the individual. Hence, if the pastor wears a cassock or a clergy shirt with a white tab; whether he drives a fiat, a buick or a Honda; whether he wears tie shoes or loafers, French cuffs or button; none of these matter as long as he teaches the truth, celebrates the sacraments validly and reverently, and treats his people with pastoral love and mercy.

The papacy does not enjoy divine inspiration as does the revealed word of Sacred Scripture. It does have the charism of infallibility on matters of faith and morals and Holy Mother Church as a whole has the charism of indefectibility. Either we believe and trust in those or we do not. The former is orthodoxy, the latter is dissent. On prudential judgment matters, we can agree to disagree yet we must also submit to those in authority over us in areas where they have proper jurisdiction.

Pope Francis is no threat. He is the Successor of Saint Peter and he is the visible head of the Catholic Church. I must give an assent of faith to all infallible papal decrees and give respect and consideration to his opinions, views and prudential judgments. Just as we may not have agreed with everything our dad said and did, we still were required to obey (as far as possible) and respect and honor him. No less should be given to Our Holy Father, either.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Ora pro eo - PRAY FOR HIM


BRUCE JENNER (alias Caitlyn) is in desperate need of our prayers. Pathetically, there are some who uncharitably and sarcastically lampoon his recent 'transgendering' and on the opposite end of the spectrum there are some who not just tolerate and condone, but they also praise and admire him for what he has done.  Making fun of the situation does not help. It is a very serious matter and our society and culture must recognize that. It is also a serious mental illness in need of treatment. Bruce is biologically a man. He is male no matter how he has transformed his appearance. Genetically, Bruce has XY chromosomes. Only males have XY chromosomes. Females have XX chromosomes. Bruce was born a man, raised a man, and lived as a man for all his life. His delusion that he is a woman or that he is female is a psychosis, it is not reality.

Recently, there appeared on Face Book and other social media the phenomenon of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. It is a condition where healthy men and women believe (erroneously) that they need an amputation. Medically speaking, their limbs are completely healthy. There is no reason to amputate, however, people suffering from BDD insist their limbs are alien (not theirs) and must be removed. Only a quack doctor would remove a healthy limb and he or she would be guilty of malpractice and lose their license. Treatment for BDD is not surgery, but psychological counseling.

Likewise, Bruce Jenner needs therapy. He is in need of counseling. He does not need surgery, operations or hormone shots. Instead of laughing at him or worse yet, in pretending this is normal and acceptable behavior, society and the media need to HELP him get better. HE needs to accept himself as he is and who he is. 

Who is he hurting? Himself and others who may have the same disorder. Society's acceptance will lead to others following in his footsteps. What would happen if a celebrity announced that they are part animal and part human? What if that person sought medical procedures to transform their body to look like a dog, a cat or an ape? Appearance alone does not make something what it is. Aristotle proved that logically when he distinguished and differentiated accidents (appearance) from substance. Gender is a major part of who we are. It is not the only component but it is a major one. While male and female are equal in the eyes of God spiritually and metaphysically, each gender has its own unique characteristics. They complement one another. That is why marriage is restricted to one man and one woman. Men have friends who also men and they can love other men, too (paternal, filial, fraternal) but men can only marry women and vice versa. Likewise, being a man or being a woman is a constitutive part of your identity. The soul has no gender for it is spiritual, however, man is not just a soul imprisoned in a body. He is a necessary union of body and soul. Matter and form. Hylomorphic. This is why we believe in the resurrection of the body on the Last Day at the End of the World. Our souls will be forever reunited with our bodies. Men will get their male bodies back and women will get their female bodies back. The difference is that they will be glorified. Jesus rose from the dead and His physical body remained male.  He did not become asexual nor a hermaphrodite. The Virgin Mary had her female body assumed into heaven united with her immortal soul.

It is disconcerting that celebrities, the news media, social media and many others are acting as if this were just a personal choice Bruce Jenner made and we have to support him. Yes, support him by encouraging him to get help, mental help. Operations and drugs cannot change what nature has already decided. Those who are confused about their gender or who dislike the gender they have are not in the same category as someone who changes their hair color or who wears different colored eye contacts. Gender is important as is our human nature. In fact, gender is part of our human nature. A human being is either a man or a woman. Not both and not neither.

Rather than cheers or jeers, Bruce needs PRAYERS. We need to tell our youth that this was a bad choice and it is not a valid nor good choice, anymore than it would be a good decision to have a healthy limb amputated. We should have empathy and sympathy for Bruce but toleration and endorsement is not the solution. He needs spiritual as well as mental help.  PRAYER is what HE needs. His family needs prayer. There will always be those who say "live and let live." If someone cuts and mutilates himself, that is not healthy behavior. Gender mutilation is no different. It is not funny nor is it none of our business.  We are our brother's (and sister's) keeper. We must offer help and treatment to those tormented souls who falsely believe they are the wrong gender. Condoning and sensationalizing this problem is not for the common good. Do we as a society not encourage the alcoholic or drug addict to seek helpful treatment? Why would abusing your gender not be the same? 

This is not biased, prejudiced or hateful. This is being Christian that we pray for each other's recovery from our illnesses. It is not Christian to humiliate Bruce through unkind lampooning but it is Christian to hope and pray that he will get better, not that society will just look the other way. Bruce, like all human beings, is made in the image and likeness of God. He deserves the same respect afforded all human beings. His imprudent and his bad decisions and choices, however, do not de facto warrant our approval or toleration if they threaten the common good of others or if they harm him. Less snickering and more praying are in order.

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