Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Upside down

Today I read about a NYT poll on Catholics' Views on Pope Benedict XVI and the Church. There is an accompanying article U.S. Catholics in Poll See a Church Out of Touch. Some bloggers see this as something bad (because Catholics are against Church teaching) others see it as "good" (that the Church isn't bending to conform to society). I see encouraging signs in this poll that I haven't seen anyone mention, however. Here they are. Note that this article takes the position that the glass is half full, so your mileage may vary.

If you look at the answers on what people thought of Pope Benedict XVI they are overall positive. Only 9% of people reported an unfavorable opinion of him (vs. 40% favorable and about half neutral). That's despite eight years of media (including and especially the NY Times) making false claims about his knowledge of and role in the sex abuse scandals. It speaks very well of Pope Benedict's ability to unite the flock and reach people even if they disagreed with him on a number of issues.

Only 12% thought the Pope had a negative influence on the Church (vs. 26% positive and about half neutral). That's despite his efforts to bring the ever popular "Vatican II" crowd back to sanity (i.e. his hermeneutic of continuity). Again this speaks to the ability of truth, spoken in love to reach people. While the Pope did not shy away from controversial issues, he never let the issue define his position but brought everything back to the love of Christ.

People think their priests and nuns are more like them than their bishops or the Pope. This is as it should be for several reasons. First off, you can't pick your Pope or bishop, but you can shop around for a parish priest who agrees with you. Secondly, you actually hear what your priest says, versus the bishops and Pope, who's words are either ignored or filtered through a hostile main stream media (when's the last time most people actually read an encyclical, or even visited their diocesan or Vatican web site to see the words are leaders are speaking?). So the results should not be discouraging.

58% of Catholics are following the Pope's resignation story closely. This is a tremendous opportunity for the Church to reach out and try to educate the world on what the real issue is about - the salvation of souls - as Dr. Gregory Popcak relates in “And the Gates of the NY Times Shall Not Prevail Against It.” (well worth reading).

Asked if they cared about the new Pope, 29% said "a great deal" (vs 7% "not at all" and the majority cared to some degree). Most respondents said they didn't care what part of the world the Pope came from - good for them! 37% thought the next Pope should be at least as conservative as Pope Benedict (18% wanted more a more conservative Pope) vs. 54% who wanted a more liberal Pope. I really though this would go more liberal than that. A 2:3 split isn't bad for someone whose teachings are 100% faithful to Christ's.

And then the whole thing went off the rails when they got into issues of dogma. But the point I bring away from this is that even for those who are against Church teaching, the issue is one of catechesis, not one of disengagement. There was a time when I thought the Church was just behind the times, and things like contraception were morally OK, and would someday be recognized as such when they Church caught up with technology.

I now realize what a fool I was because I learned. I learned that the Church exists not to follow us, but to follow Christ. I learned that the Pope doesn't make the rules, Christ does, and short of Him coming down and saying "ordain women", the Pope has no authority to change that teaching. The Pope's role is to teach with Christ's authority on Earth. If everybody on Earth decided that Christ's teachings were wrong, it would make everybody on Earth wrong - the teaching would not change.

The world, in its arrogance, expects that if they put economic pressure on the Church, or political pressure on the Church, she can be persuaded to change her stance to conform to it. History paints a different story. From the apostles onward Catholics have always been willing to die rather than change their views. That is what it means to be truly Catholic. The question is, will the world relent, or are we facing another wave of martyrdom? Signs point to the latter. If so, I pray I will have the strength to go cheerfully.

I can't help but consider the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who spent his life trying to educate, and in the end, gladly gave it up for the sake of the Gospel. It is said that while he and his fellow prisoners at Auschwitz were being executed by starvation for three weeks, he lead them in hymns of praise to God, until his voice was the only one left, and he was murdered by lethal injection. It is a gruesome tale, but one worth reading, because it ends in heaven. St. Kolbe ora pro nobis.

[I usually try to pick "clever" titles for this post, and don't explain them, but I thought some of the things I intended were obscure enough I would write about it. "Upside down" refers to my seeing an upside in an article that was intended to be a "downer" for the Church. It also refers to the way the respondents to the poll see the Church (as having policy driven from the mass of Catholics in the world rather than having policy defined by God). It refers to the way we try to take what is most high and bring it down to our level. Lastly, it refers to the martyrdom of St. peter, the first Pope, who when the world demanded that he change accepted death on a cross upside down.]


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