Friday, January 3, 2014

Papal Game Changers for 2014?

When it comes to my topics of interest, I have to say that I really enjoy much if not most of what Catholic News Service posts on its YouTube channel. Today's little predictions for the Church in 2014, however, would be the exception. The brief video is one gratuitous affirmation following another. Two CUA academicians gush about the great prospects for the Church in 2014, indicating from their perspective what I would call game changers in the Church for 2014. I don't know where they are coming from or what they mean. It's like so-called media projections about a Francis-effect, in England and in Italy, which nobody seems to be able to document.

The other day during an exchange with a group here in Ukraine, after fielding a basic question about Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, I turned privately to the priest who was acting as my interpreter and simply asked him what his thoughts were on the document. He told me quite frankly that he hadn't read it. No doubt I was the only one in the room who had read it. Then again, why should they have read it? How many people read papal documents anyway? For how many of those people who do does reading mean more than skimming them? What are my two people from CUA in the CNS video claiming? What are life's game changers anyway? How much of what I read stays with me, changes me or makes me grow?

Thinking only about papal documents that have had an impact on my life, I'd have to say no more than two: Humanae vitae, published by Pope Paul VI, when I was only 18. I found the document reasonable and the negative reactions of people around me confounding. The document came into its own for me ten years later at a conference, where the keynote speaker (a moral theologian, a Catholic layman, as I remember) very simply confessed how wrong he had been to protest ten years prior and about how important the encyclical was for him both as a husband and a family man, as well as a moral theologian. He made the document for me and encouraged me to seek a firmer grasp of its import through additional study and reflection. That I would say is a game changer.

The other document is Pope Benedict XVI's Summorum Pontificum and its associated pieces, together with the great Ratzinger book The Spirit of the Liturgy.

But game changers for the body Catholic, well, I'm more than skeptical, CUA or no CUA. A news report, a discussion by Raymond Aroyo with some great guest on the World Over, even a Word on Fire video with Father Robert Barron, can help get the gist of something, but if I don't read it myself, if I don't grapple with the text or with some idea therein, how can it possibly make any sort of difference in my life? I've been enriched by much I have read, but the enrichment, the moving or the transforming has generally remained on the subtle or cumulative side. The "aha's" and the "wow's" of a really profound sort have been few and far between. How much of our Catholic world will have occasion to take up a copy of Evangelii gaudium, let alone read past page 25? No, I simply have a credibility issue with Catholic News Service on this video. It is not so much a matter of not being totally serious as it is of painting a picture of the power of the word stripped from circumstance, which is ultimately what allows that word to catch fire and refine.

Humanae vitae was a game changer for me, but obviously not for a world still very much contraceptive in its mentality, despite the havoc we see that such disregard for God's law has brought upon our planet. Pope Benedict's eloquent invitation to be open to the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the one Roman Rite of the Liturgy has been out there since long before Summorum Pontificum in 2007 and yet priests and bishops hunch their backs and turn away from his wisdom. To talk enthusiastically about game changers is in some way to ignore Christ's sober invitation to His followers to enter by the narrow gate.

Needless to say, we hope and pray that the figure of Pope Francis will draw many to conversion, draw fallen-aways home to the Catholic Church and promote the cause of Christian unity. I guess being practically an old man from the upper Midwest, I can't say as euphoria of the type: slain in the spirit, jump and shout praise devotionalism, or even East Coast hard sell makes any points with me. I just found out, not that it is a secret, that Cardinal Dolan has a media consultant. Maybe I'm naive to think that spin-doctors have nothing to offer to the Gospel message. But one by one or people by people, I guess I'd like to see something as simple as Truth, Beauty and Goodness turn heads toward Christ. I'm not so sure I'll get to experience another game changer in 2014. I can count two for 63+ years of life. Maybe I'll need to wait a few more years for a third.

Lorenzo Scupoli's famous book carried around by greats like St. Francis de Sales is entitle "Spiritual Combat" and I guess that is what is required of us. No doubt I need to get on the stick and stop waiting for another game changer.


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