Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The dangerous game of fantasy ship-jumping

I've seen this sort of thing a lot lately.  No, I'm not going to post links; if you've seen these posts, too, you know where they are, and if you haven't, then there's not reason to trouble yourself by reading them.

I'm speaking of blog posts by Catholic bloggers in which the blogger writes something to the effect that he (or she) has just about had it with Pope Francis's bad habit of speaking out loud, or some such thing. The writer will hasten to say that he or she understands that people are just misunderstanding the pope, for the most part, but...but...but...

The writer then usually goes into some kind of rant in which Vatican II, guitar Masses, bad catechesis, stained-glass windows that look like the toddlers were throwing Jell-o(tm) at the walls, nuns in polyester, banners in felt, the scandal of the priest facing the people when he's talking to God, and all those [blankety] women on the altar reading or EMHC-ing or otherwise inserting themselves into the liturgy all get mixed up together. All of this then gets tied back to Pope Francis's "cute" habit of speaking off the papal cuff, with a few dire mutterings about what he's really up to, by which point the writer has worked himself or herself up to admitting that very little more of this and he (or she) will Jump Ship.

The problem with playing the game of Fantasy Ship-Jumping is that when the ship you are jumping from is the Barque of Peter, you usually don't end up on a better ship.  You may end up on a raft.  You may end up on some grandly-named Log of Inclusion. You may even end up on what looks like an authentic seventeeth-century galleon complete with carved mahogany and brass trim, only nobody actually knows how to sail it and in any case the sailors are still arguing about whether it's even possible, with today's fabrics, to re-create authentic sails, which means that the ship is going nowhere (which is okay, because the captain's chair is empty).

And those are the best-case scenarios.  You may decide that the water is an illusion. You may think you can swim just fine on your own, even though you don't actually believe in following all those quaint and silly rules about swimming.  You may re-define drowning as success, or stake out a lonely kingdom on a sand bar.

Some of the writers I'm referring to really do appear to be in a state of serious spiritual crisis.  They really do seem to think that any day now Pope Francis will create "Catholic divorce" or otherwise undermine the clear teachings of the Church in such a way that those who love her will have no choice but to leave her.  Or they think that Pope Francis is just counting the hours until he can suppress the Extraordinary Form and cut off all those who assist at it from the liturgy they love.  Or they think, worst of all, that he really is some kind of closet Marxist who will sow class envy among the faithful and call it good.

The problem with all of that is that it is not a sober analysis of where we are today in the Church; it's conspiracy theory thinking raised to an extreme level by the easily panicked or the liturgically wounded (and I mean no disrespect by that term).  The pope is not going to change Catholic teaching on the insolubility of marriage.  He may have had a rather bad experience with the Latin Mass crowd in Argentina, but he clearly doesn't plan to suppress the Extraordinary Form--though it also must be admitted that he does not plan to suppress the Ordinary Form, either (and neither did Pope Emeritus Benedict), which is frustrating to a small, reactionary subset of Extraordinary Form attendees.  And his repeated statements of concern for the poor and a desire for their relief are more like the sayings of Christ than of Marx; it is a small scandal that in this wealthy nation so few of us have even read, let alone pondered, the Church's vast historical wealth of social teachings which say much the same sort of thing, and which do not see unbridled capitalism as an end in itself.

If anything, what concerns me about the dangerous game of Fantasy Ship-Jumping is that people who play it are often already disaffected with the Church in some way or another, and are just looking for that signal, that sign, that clear indication that things have gone too far to be fixed and that they may abandon the Barque of Peter in good conscience. That is a spiritually dangerous place to be, and one that calls for prayer and concern on the part of their brothers and sisters in Christ.


Larry Denninger said...

I was going to write about this, too. You were much more charitable than I was planning to be.

Unknown said...

Thank you for posting this. Let's resolve to pray that those who are in distress about these issues may receive the grace to remain faithful children of Christ's Church and our Pope.