In the movie, Apollo 13, there is a scene shortly after
everything starts going wrong with the space craft where Flight Director Gene
Kranz tells everyone in Mission Control to calm down. He says,
“Let’s approach this thing from a position of status. What do we have that works?”
In recent days there have a been a few opinion pieces in both
the Catholic blogosphere and the secular media highlighting that while Pope
Francis is winning the hearts of many, he has made a lot of the more
conservative Catholics a little nervous if not downright crestfallen. A sentiment or a suspicion seems to exist among
the more orthodox that Francis is giving away the perceived gains that have
been made with past pontiffs, namely Benedict XVI and John Paul II.
Perhaps the genius of Francis is his simple recognition that
in order to right the ship, he might have to focus on what is working versus
what is not. And even that’s not a
really good statement as the ship is righted, but the perception of the
non-believer is that it’s listing. Might
it be that the post-Christian era population is going to be more open to
hearing the Gospel by listening to what the Church is for more than what the
Church is against? It’s a debatable
position to take. A good argument can be
made for stating that the Church militant must rise against many of the social
ills that have infected Western culture.
Not saying anything can certainly be seen by many as passive
assent. There are some huge
problematic issues such as abortion, contraception, gay marriage, and the like
that are non-negotiable for the faith.
That our culture actively defends the right to kill a human being inside
the womb is no small matter and must be addressed; however, the Church cannot
evangelize very effectively if she simply hangs her identity on the opposition
to the culture’s most popular sins. What
is the alternative she brings?
Orthodoxy has its challenges of comfort and
frustration. For a Catholic, there is
comfort in knowing that one practices the one true faith handed down from
generation to generation and that we can trace our lineage all the way back to
Peter, our first Pope. There is
frustration and sadness in seeing all the disunity of thousands of protesting
ecclesial communities who broke away from the Church and then broke away from
themselves. These are good people who
love Christ, but for whatever reason have deviated from the Church Our Lord
established. Naturally, they would
vehemently disagree with that statement and lean more towards that Catholics
are practicing in error and that they have discovered the correct way. And so
the debate goes on, though in truth most Catholics expend little or no energy
trying to convert Protestants. Their
protesting brethren for the most part have been validly baptized, seem to know
Christ, and the rest is very much in God’s hands.
In a similar way, the orthodox believer finds comfort in
that he is practicing the Catholic faith in the way it was intended yet his
brethren have often gone off into the weeds.
The orthodox believer may feel that many in his parish are not even
practicing the same religion. Out of
this frustration orthodox believers tend to cloister into small groups or small
parishes and turn their focus inward.
This can sometimes be a problem as orthodoxy without love leads to the
deadly sin of pride.
Francis seems to be calling the orthodox to come out of the
bunker, but it may not be in the way the believer prefers. He seems to be saying, “Yeah, good on you for
following the rubrics to the letter of the GIRM, but what have you done for the
poor, today?” Or “Yeah, I pray the
rosary a couple of times a day myself, but when was the last time you really
loved your enemy as Christ instructed?”
This author is not making a case against orthodoxy. In point of fact, he desires stricter
adherence to the teachings of the Church and her mission. Nevertheless, orthodoxy in of itself is not a
destination but rather a means by which one demonstrates two vital things, love
of God and love of neighbor.
What do we have that works?
First, we have the Mass.
Regardless of how orthodox or liberal the priest, when he prays the
words of consecration and simple bread and wine through the miracle of
transubstantiation become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, God’s
love for his children gets witnessed.
Eucharist is the greatest miracle that happens every hour of every
day. Now, good luck trying to explain
that to a non-believer, but that’s not the point. More important is we have this tremendous
gift from God from which to draw strength.
Second, we have the other sacraments. Again, explaining the sacramental nature of
the faith is a tall challenge to the non-believer, Protestants, and good many
Catholics who should know better. Yet
these sacraments are additional sources of grace from God that should give us
strength to focus on work at hand.
Third, we have a mission given by Christ, and that mission
“Go therefore and
make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of
the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have
commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matthew (RSV) 28:19-20)
And he said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark (RSV) 16:15)
We have a mission to
preach the Gospel to the world not the choir.
What Francis is demonstrating is the most effective way to preach the
Gospel to the non-believer is not by a dissertation on the rules, but rather by
a more pragmatic expression of love. The
rules are more than important. They are
vital. When we go to Mass, the rubrics
should be followed to the letter. We
should observe all of the holy days. We
should pray as Christ instructed. We
should work for change in our laws that permit many of the social ills
destroying the culture. Ultimately;
however, people will be drawn by our love and they may wonder about the source
of this love because they want not only to receive but to give it
themselves. It is after this
demonstration or expression of love that the door opens to explain that the
love comes from Christ and this is what he said and this is how we worship.
What do we have that
It is our very orthodoxy if it is practiced with
caritas. John Paul II gave us the
philosophy. Benedict XVI gave us the theology. Francis is demonstrating how to apply it in a
very real and personal way. So have
faith my fellow orthodox brethren.
Francis is challenging us to step out of our comfort zone. Let us embrace this as we go out into the
world to share the good news.