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Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Pope Francis: Counter-Cultural?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 13, 2013

Please read and reflect on our little story about Pope Francis refusing to allow photo-ops to communicants guilty of public scandal. You may recall that, under different circumstances, this is exactly the issue which both Phil Lawler and I raised when USCCB President Timothy Cardinal Dolan invited both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to the Al Smith dinner last year (see, inter alia, The Al Smith dinner: the cardinal and the tax collector and Surprise, surprise: that photo op). Cardinal Dolan, you may also remember, expressed surprise that anyone would respond negatively to such public appearances.

OK, I have a theory:

Whether or not you “get” how the worldly-wise use such opportunities depends, I believe, on whether you have developed the spiritual capacity to be counter-cultural. I would argue that if a bishop is psychologically reluctant to recognize that, with respect to our cultural elites, he is on the outside looking in, he will persuade himself that his beaming appearances with today’s faithless aristocrats enhance his spiritual authority (as they certainly do not), while their appearances with him do no harm (which they certainly do).

Now Pope Francis has quite obviously developed the spiritual capacity to be counter-cultural. Another critical piece of evidence is the lack in Pope Francis of the extremely common hierarchical disconnect between issues of the left and issues of the right. I mean the disconnect which causes churchmen to constantly stake out Catholic positions on material issues (commonly called “social” issues, that is, the popular issues which involve advocacy for the poor and marginalized), while so often failing to focus on spiritual issues (commonly called “life” issues, that is, the unpopular issues which involve our fundamental orientation toward God and the use of our sexual powers). Of course, when improperly addressed, it is precisely these deep interior issues which destroy society.

On this point, consider Pope Francis’ challenge to religious around the world. Remember, it is precisely this false choice for the values acceptable to the cultural mainstream which has led today’s broken religious orders to ruin. For his part, the Pope has certainly emphasized unjust social structures and the exploitation of the poor. This is an appropriate concern everywhere but particularly, perhaps, in Latin American agriculture, business and politics. But when it comes to a separation of this concern from the heart of the Faith and the imperative of making people spiritually whole, Pope Francis has called all of our culture-dominated religious to account.

In a word, Pope Francis harbors no illusions. Perhaps I am concluding a great deal from a small thing like the Pope’s understanding of photo ops. But my theory says this is one of those small things which reveals an entire spirituality, an awareness of what it really means to be in the world but not of the world. For if this understanding does not really involve so much, why is it that too many of our churchmen still don’t get it?

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Defender - May. 13, 2013 7:32 PM ET USA

    To paraphrase the pope's predecessor, the Church will grow smaller...let's start with the politicians who make a mockery of the Church.

  • Posted by: koinonia - May. 13, 2013 6:41 PM ET USA

    Excellent point. It's not for anyone to judge, but at the same time it's foolish (and certainly not Christian) to deny truth. It appears that many churchmen "do not get it." It also appears that many churchmen are quite content in their "not gettingitness." Pope Francis has been exhorting religious to redirect. As Father said on Ascension Thursday, the angels asked the apostles why they stood looking up. The implication being: There is much to be done; the Spirit is coming- get moving.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - May. 13, 2013 12:34 PM ET USA

    I was just reading a new book on Pope Francis, and he has vast experience with the power-hungry Catholic politicians in Argentina. I can't wait for his first pastoral visit to the US.