Rigidity and conversion do not mix. But don’t be fooled by double-speak.
When Pope Francis once again rebuked hardhearted Catholics in a homily on May 2nd, all I could do was scratch my head. “This causes suffering in the Church,” the Pope said, “the closed hearts, the hearts of stone, the hearts which do not want to be open, do not want to hear, the hearts which only know the language of condemnation.” Referring to “the tenderness of Jesus”, the Pope urged everyone to call for the grace which “softens the rigid hearts of those people who are always closed in the law and condemn all who are outside the law.”
If “this causes suffering in the Church”, we must presume there are a great many such persons in the Church. Yet how many of us have actually met large numbers of believing Catholics who do nothing but condemn others, who have no desire to invite others to repentance so they might enjoy Our Lord’s embrace? I cannot speak for everyone, but the vast majority of Catholics I have ever known who value Christ and the Church seem to me to be driven by a desire to extend the mercy of God to others. They yearn to do this, but they understand that it cannot be done if those others are unwilling to turn to Him and be healed of their own refusal to open their hearts.
In fact, it is the hallmark of our seriously confused yet politically correct culture that all those under its influence must close their hearts against the message of Christ. The culture routinely insists that everyone must call evil good and good evil, which is simply a variant of the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. It seems as if the only people who are to be shunned as “outside the law” are those who insist that truth is liberating.
It was in fact Our Lord who said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). It is primarily those who refuse the truth who experience real hardness of heart—that hardness of heart which leads so rapidly to the condemnation of all who claim there is a difference between right and wrong. Only those whom the truth has set free are condemned by the world as “rigid”, as locked within the law, as lacking in basic human decency, and as incapable of opening themselves to Christ.
If your experience is like mine, you have had ample opportunity to witness this inversion of Christian values. Not content to argue positively for their own desires, those who are captive to desire find it necessary to categorically condemn those who bear witness to the truth that can set them free. Haven’t you met far more people who condemn and ostracize the good, even within the Church, than those who condemn sinners to the point of not wanting to offer them a way home? I certainly have.
Let me put it this way: Haven’t you been far more often scandalized by people like Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who has endorsed a pilgrimage to his cathedral for “the LGBTQ brothers and sisters”? They distribute flyers entitled “LGBT Catholics and Friends” with the slogan “Love includes everyone”—as of course it does, but not without a certain propulsion to the good. Or perhaps like Bishop John Stowe who recently praised New Ways Ministry despite its consistent refusal to take Church teaching into account when dealing with the “LGBTQ” persons whom it professes to serve.
Now, whom do we suppose LGBTQ Catholics and friends are, if not those who actively embrace the “goodness” of the alphabetical lifestyle? Do we expect Cardinal Tobin to preach to them as Our Lord, St. Peter or St. Paul would? Do we expect Bishop Stowe to refuse to employ in his schools those who are committed to what Our Lord opposes, since he dismisses such moral seriousness as “discrimination”?
No believing Catholic I have ever met refuses to love such persons, but Catholics who reject Catholic teaching more or less continually refuse to love. In contrast, real disciples of Christ understand that Our Lord’s call to love demands of them a witness to the truth that can alone set others free. The whole point is to offer others a real chance at beatitude, as Peter did when he implored them to “turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). Real disciples of Christ eschew that counterfeit mercy which is nothing but a refusal to tell the truth. And if they do speak the truth, will they not be condemned as rigid?
Does anyone really believe that it takes a prophetic voice to be “merciful” through the technique of never speaking forthrightly of the sinfulness, hopelessness, and destruction of lives caused by the values the world holds in high regard? A far more prophetic approach was offered a few days ago by Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus. He sent an open letter to the President of Turkey, telling him that he must convert from Islam to Christianity or be damned. “Renounce,” he wrote, “all errors, heresies, and innovations of Islam.” Oops!
Of course, there are probably far better ways to witness to the truth than to write “open letters” to the rich and powerful, which does sound something like a publicity stunt. But it ought to give us pause. Meanwhile, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa (no, I did not make up the name) found himself straining to parse Pope Francis’ advice. The apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said:
The world today is frightened by religious fundamentalism—er, um,especially the Islamic one…. With his visit…Pope Francis is telling the Church…not to be afraid to meet and dialogue with members of the great religions. It is the only way to combat, um, er, fundamentalisms and, er, um, all forms of religious violence. It tells us that, um, er, despite what many think, this is also, er, um, possible with Muslims…um, er, ahem, whew! [Italicized text is, um, er, imaginative.]
In contrast, it is quite interesting to learn that the Christian governor of Indonesia’s Jakarta province has lost his office and been charged with blasphemy for suggesting that Muslims were misusing the Qu’ran to demonstrate that they cannot accept the public authority of non-Muslims. Meanwhile, a member of the Iraqi parliament has noted that 1,500,000 Christians have left Iraq since the US invasion of 2003.
Now, are all deeply-committed Catholics free from sin? I hope not, since that would mean I am not a deeply-committed Catholic. But is it not time to speak honestly about these terms “rigidity” and “fundamentalism”? There are presently two, and I believe only two, large and damnably rigid groups in the modern world: Militant Muslims and secure secularists. That’s it. Both groups are seriously and distinctively opposed to Jesus Christ. If you like, you may call those who understand this somewhat simplistic. But we are not stupid.
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Posted by: DanS -
Jun. 05, 2017 5:43 PM ET USA
Either the Truth will make you free or it won't. I'll side with Jesus on that one. Thanks Jeff!
Posted by: timothy.op -
May. 11, 2017 10:26 PM ET USA
Clear and courageous exposition of the truth, as found in this excellent article, is the reason I continue to support CatholicCulture.org. God bless you.
Posted by: Retired01 -
May. 11, 2017 3:03 PM ET USA
"Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14). Wow, talk about rigidity! Statements like this cause suffering among those looking for the wide road, and there are many in today's Church.
Posted by: MatJohn -
May. 10, 2017 6:38 PM ET USA
The "rigidity" of John Fisher and Thomas Mire would now qualify them to be delisted from the Communion of Saints.
Posted by: nix898049 -
May. 10, 2017 1:50 PM ET USA
Agreed! But I've begun to think of your secure secularists as Secular Extremists. Secularism is its own brand of religion.
Posted by: iprayiam5731 -
May. 10, 2017 11:27 AM ET USA
Do these people not see the irony? "Group X denounced wrongful action and demands change. No! That is not loving. We must denounce Group X for this wrongful action and demand they change. That is love." The pattern of behavior the "rigid" are being accused of practicing, is the EXACT method being employed to generalize and denounce them for it! And the generalizations are an intentional No-True-Scottsman so that when we offer counter points, they can say "no that's not who we're talking about"
Posted by: Lydia B -
May. 10, 2017 9:42 AM ET USA
The rigidity Pope Francis refers to, I believe, is the insistence on conversion. He couches it in terms of "the law" and "pharisaical doctors" but what it really boils down to is that Christians have to be Nice, but we don't have to be radically converted.
Posted by: aprolifer -
May. 09, 2017 9:37 PM ET USA
"the ONLY way to combat...fundamentalisms and ...all forms of religious violence"? Whatever happened to prayer as a means to combat these and other problems?
Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 -
May. 09, 2017 9:15 PM ET USA
Amen, again I say Amen!!
Posted by: feedback -
May. 09, 2017 8:42 PM ET USA
Whenever Pope Francis condemns "rigidity" or "the law" it seems to me that he rebukes specifically Cardinal Burke and those who would not accept the idea of admitting to Holy Communion divorced and civilly re-married Catholics. But I wish he wouldn't speak in ways that disparage the Canon Law and encourage a sort of lawlessness where the fundamental matters of the Catholic Faith would be left up for grabs - at the "mercy" of random clerics. This could lead to a schism.