Sunday, December 1, 2013

For The First Sunday Of Advent

A number of Gentle Readers have written to ask what I think of Pope Francis’s recent encyclical that appears to condemn capitalism. How, the questions run, does the pope’s authority pertain to the denial of human freedom as expressed in our productive and commercial activities? After all, he’s infallible, isn’t he? Doesn’t his proclamation on such matters bind Catholics as firmly as any statement about abortion?

The short answer: It doesn’t.

The long answer: The pope’s authority is theological, not temporal. He cannot create new obligations upon mortal men; neither can he remove a sin from the catalogue established by the Commandments. If it were otherwise, he could contravene the explicit dictates of Jesus Himself.

Even if the disputed translation of Francis’s words from Spanish to English should prove to be accurate, and he really does mean to condemn capitalism root and branch, there is no Divine authority in such a statement. Popes will occasionally orate on temporal matters, but in doing so they shed the authority conferred by the apostolic succession. Should this one have taken up cudgels against human enterprise and the free market, his words bear no greater weight than mine.

Be not afraid.

Nevertheless, with the Holy Father’s seeming approval behind them, some priests will prattle about the “injustice” of a market economy. In a way that’s nothing new; it’s what some of them do and have always done. But a priest who does so is betraying his parishioners by perverting his office: the conservation and promulgation of the teachings of Christ as they are expressed in the four Gospels. It is no more forgivable for having a papal emission behind it than if it were utterly isolated from all else.

The politicization of Catholicism in America has done great harm to both the country and the Church. Many lifelong Catholics have departed their congregations because of the displacement of faith by politics. Concerned Catholics who want to make a difference in the fortunes of the Church should take a hand in the effort to rein in such clerics. It’s a more strenuous undertaking than making out a check for the repaving of the church parking lot, but it’s far more important.

By the way, I’m fine. I just needed a day to cope with other concerns.

Today begins a fresh liturgical year for Catholics worldwide. In today’s case, it also renews the three-year liturgical cycle by which we proceed through the Gospels and the associated readings in the Old and New Testaments. But most pertinent in the near term, it opens the season of preparation and anticipation for the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Redeemer of Man, which we commemorate on Christmas Day.

It’s always struck me as just a little odd that the Mass, designed to commemorate the Last Supper, should change so little for the Advent season. The Last Supper, of course, was the precursor to the Passion: the darkest period of Christ’s mission among us. That, too, is part of the liturgical year, of course. All the same, by a surface reflection it seems just a bit “out of season” for the period during which we await His Nativity.

Perhaps not. The entirety of the story of Jesus is with us at all times. Surely He knew the fate that awaited His mortal body. Though He was not born exclusively to die, that terrible event was required to prepare for the Resurrection: the capstone of Christian belief. No part of His life story could take precedence over that.

Yes, we celebrate the glory of His birth...but had He not suffered and died to open the gates of heaven to fallen Man, His claim to be the Son of God would not have been confirmed beyond all doubt. History would have treated Him as one more in the series of prophets come to tell us to mend our ways. His Passion and Resurrection must remain in our thoughts even in this joyous season.

May God bless and keep you all.

1 comment:

Weetabix said...

Interesting that previous Popes have issued encyclicals condemning socialism and communism.

I haven't read this encyclical, but I wonder if it's not condemning some of the strong arm tactic of capitalism as opposed to the free market itself. Not saying it does or doesn't. But I'll want to read it. It's pretty easy for people to read what they want to see into encyclicals.