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Thinking it through: Francis on “false human securities”

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 30, 2024

In a recent talk to seminarians in Burgos, Spain, Pope Francis emphasized the need for future priests to adopt “the attitude of surrender, so that the only emptiness is made in our heart in order to welcome God and our brethren…freeing us from false human securities.” The Pope pointed out that “to have God in us fills us with peace, a peace we can communicate…and in this way you will fill with your light the fields that seem barren, replenishing them with hope.”

This is certainly good advice, but there are true and false ways of putting it into practice. For there is always a danger of offering others a purely human affirmation and a purely human peace by telling them what they want to hear. By contrast, the fundamental announcement which underlies all of Christianity requires a twofold response: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). This essential message demands two things from all who hear it: The recognition that we are sinners, and so we must repent; and the recognition that only Christ saves, and so we must believe.

Unfortunately, with rare exceptions, it has been a consistent pattern in the current pontificate to emphasize the good things which our dominant culture already recognizes as good (concern for the environment, fraternity among peoples, affirmation of the other, etc.), while downplaying the goods which the dominant culture abhors (such as privileging the truth, rejecting cultural falsehoods, and understanding the common good in terms of the natural law). This requires neither faith nor repentance but merely self-interest, and so it is self-defeating. If we align ourselves as much as possible with the values of the dominant culture, we preach an easy Gospel in order to form a community which accepts the Church as long as it demands no moral conversion. Again, such an approach is self-defeating.

On this model, the Church disappears as soon as she is rendered irrelevant by approving the dominant culture’s sins. It is only by a willingness to be countercultural that we discover what it means to choose Christ over the world, and so to form communities animated by the Spirit of Christ—communities that make a difference to our relationship with God, communities that inspire the interior sacrifice of conversion by which we separate ourselves from the world, by which we live and move and have our being elsewhere. Unfortunately, the great weakness of the current pontificate is that, with few exceptions, when it comes down to specific cases Pope Francis tends to see Catholicism as a way of blurring significant moral differences in favor of undifferentiated affirmation. This is one of the biggest reasons the Church remains in such confusion today.

Under Pope Francis, the insistence on counter-cultural truths often appears to be characterized as a deadly rigidity. One of the happy partial exceptions is the Pope’s consistent opposition to gender ideology. But even here it is a significant problem that Francis fails to see the affirmation of homosexuality as one more form of that same ideology. As Phil Lawler has pointed out more than once, it is exceedingly odd that Francis not only insists on blessings for homosexual couples but has installed as Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith a theologian who cannot answer the question of why the Catechism describes homosexual inclinations as intrinsically disordered. Without an answer to this question, it is far more difficult to complain about the more radical forms of gender ideology.1

This is, of course, an issue which now deeply divides those who claim the Catholic name. As recently as last week, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo reminded the world that “The Church in Africa is united in communion” against the Vatican declaration Fiducia supplicans. “This is the reason why we shall no longer talk about Fiducia supplicans…. It has been buried.” Other regions are not so uniform, but there is division everywhere. And this is also a division between largely culture-bound Catholics and those who (in this respect like Church in Africa) are willing to give up false human securities for security in Christ.2

Deceptive security

The refusal to speak of the fundamental immorality of homosexuality (evident from both the natural law and Divine Revelation) is just one example of the wholesale retreat into “false human securities” which seems to repeatedly afflict the current pontificate. What is required instead is that we seek our security in a sacrificial abandonment to Christ: Repent and believe the Gospel! It is not enough to be on the band wagon for human fraternity and sound ecology, for not only does our Father in Heaven value these things in accordance with His own wisdom, but the dominant culture of the West currently pays lip service to both of them, even if it often honors them in the breach. The indelible mark of the Christian—that is, the strongest evidence of the sacramental mark on the Christian soul—is indeed the abandonment of false human securities in favor of the security we find in Christ to proclaim all the aspects of the Gospel which the world currently rejects.

Everything else is lip service: “If you know these things,” says Jesus Christ, “blessed are you if you do them” (Jn 13:17), and “blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Mt 5:11). Which kinds of affirmations—those that mimic the world or those that contradict it—merit these blessings? Which stance means we are free of “false human securities”?

Sometimes we cling directly to the false human securities of our own sins. But anyone who has sincerely sought spiritual growth in Christ has learned that the very greatest impediment is our tendency to reject the good because the world labels it as a false human security. Immense numbers of Catholics down through history have clung to genuinely false human securities initially because the world taught them that the true Christian securities were as false as pipe dreams. Thus have they significantly reshaped the Gospel in each and every age to fit the values of what we refer to as the dominant culture. It is only genuine conversion which loosens these fatal ties that bind. This was as true in the first, the fifth, the ninth, the thirteenth, and the seventeenth centuries as it is in the twenty-first. Catholics who care enough to leave the world behind (whether literally or in terms of their convictions) have always been criticized by many others, even within the Church.

One of the great measures of holiness is found in the ability to be spiritually counter-cultural—counter-cultural, that is, with good cheer and without being a mere crank. For the grumpy counter-cultural Christian lives by human distemper rather than by grace; and the crank prizes his oddities far above his Faith. Both suffer severe self-referential distortions, but so do all those who are on the opposite tack, those who preach Christ with a one-sided emphasis on the features of the dominant culture which are coincidentally aligned with a recognizable form of natural goodness. But it is impossible for anyone to live in total denial of reality, and since every human person (as a natural being) will inescapably value some natural goods, we can distinguish between accidental and intentional discipleship only by considering what are regarded as the false teachings of the Church in each particular age.

For the dominant group in the world always says: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (Jn 6:60)

True discipleship

Of course, we must extract the apparent Christian from his native Christian environment to be sure of the difference. For example, many a Catholic espouses sound morality while he or she is part of a true Christian community—whether the family, the parish, his workplace, or the region in which he lives. It is another thing not to change one’s stripes as one’s cultural circumstances change—on going off to college, for example, or on moving to a less Christian geographical location; on being employed in a new company, or simply on experiencing a shift in one’s own local culture. In exactly the same way, it is possible for a seminarian to remain both firm and fervent in a sound seminary community, or even to quietly accommodate himself to an unsound community, but then to take advantage of the greater independence of parish life to impress his own response to the Spirit—or lack thereof—on the community he serves, for better or for worse.

As Pope Francis told the seminarians of Burgos, “To have God in us fills us with peace, a peace we can communicate, that we can bring to all peoples, the cities, that we can wish for every place. And in this way you will fill with your light the fields that seem barren, replenishing them with hope.” But this cannot happen through the affirmation of moral evil and the condemnation of a genuinely moral inflexibility. This cannot happen even by praising the good things that everybody praises, when our culture inadvertently promotes something good; or by basing our morality on an alleged scientific consensus, or on the claimed good intentions of our politicians and celebrities, or on what “everybody knows” to be true. Nor can it happen by embracing broad concepts that each person is capable of defining in a different way. We might as well claim great virtue for our support of whatever we may happen to call “the common good”.

As the current pontificate so often seems to forget, there is little or no Christian credibility in stumping for the cultural consensus—as if, for example, only those governments which profess the platitudes of modern liberalism can be good governments. What we see Pope Francis do in very rare cases—such as his consistent opposition to gender ideology—is what we must all do in most cases when choosing what it is important for us to teach, to emphasize, to support with our sacrifices. By the nature of grace itself, a good deal of this must be counter-cultural. It is not enough, for example, to feed the hungry when feeding the hungry is honored and praised—though of course one ought not to refrain from any good purely to avoid praise. But it is necessary also to foster unpopular goods. It is necessary, in other words, to be a witness to the good, for “witness” is the original meaning of “martyr”, and unless the good we do meets some degree of resistance our essential goodness is never challenged. Nor is it tested. Nor is it proved.

Let us take Francis in this case at his word; let us forget all his previous harping against a “rigidity” which may sometimes be another name for the power of the Holy Spirit; let us witness to Christ unflinchingly in all things, and especially in those things for which our dominant culture will exact a price. Let us truly repent and believe the gospel!

How else will we avoid self-deception? As Our Lord said in another place, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross” (Mt 16:24). The true Christian cannot avoid the cross, nor can he expect it to be so light that it does not chafe. Nor does the cross bend; it does not conform itself to our preferences. Therefore, if it does not hurt at times, or if nobody mocks us for carrying it, we should hear the words of Christ ringing in our ears: “Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets!” (Lk 6:26)

1 It is worth noting that the inability to recognize the immorality of both homosexuality and gender change is rooted in the deep failure, so characteristic of our culture, to grasp the fundamental blessing of human fertility as rooted in the differences between men and women, and their union in the life-long commitment to marriage and a stable family life—all of which are essential and privileged personal moral commitments for a healthy society. Pope Paul VI, in Humanae vitae, had already in 1968 recognized the immense spiritual, moral and social consequences of separating the exercise of our sexuality from procreation.

2 One might argue that the Africans are simply mirroring their own locally dominant culture in this respect, and this may be true to some extent. But their culture has been resisting immense ideological and financial pressure from the West for decades on this issue, which is more than we in the West can say for ourselves. When we speak of Africa as possessing a more vibrant culture than the West right now, what we mean is precisely what the word “vibrant” means: That is, full of life.

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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  • Posted by: mary_conces3421 - Apr. 30, 2024 9:21 PM ET USA

    Very well put, as usual. I was especially glad that you pointed out the connection between trans-genderism & homosexuality. I have often seen strong disapprobation of the destructive treatments of the former followed by something like: good therapy usually shows that the troubled child is “only” homosexual, implying that everything is then OK; no further help is needed.