Who do people say I am?
Previous posts have referred to the precarious relationship between the papacy and the media. In recent days other social media sites have recorded what they perceive to be a rapid decline in those attending papal audiences. On the one hand, the so-called liberal media, ascribe this development to the Holy Father's decline in popularity following the comments made by the Holy Father on his visit to Chile. Likewise, the conservative media attribute this decline in numbers to what is said to be the very significant doctrinal confusion which the Holy Father has created and his seeming willingness to lay aside the established teachings of the Church. In support, these same reporters point to Amoris Laetitia and the ensuing dubium correspondence. What these factions have in common, is the fact that they each, in their own way, seek to communicate their displeasure with the person of the Holy Father; a displeasure which itself rests upon the notion that Pope Francis is not acting as they consider he should. Both cite the conduct or inaction of the Roman Curia in support of their position. One might be forgiven for thinking these views and the force of their expression represent a recent development; an opportunity created by the advent of social media. This would be wrong.
Blessed Paul VI, cruelly labelled "L 'Amletismo" (Hamlet) on account of his alleged indecision, was himself the subject of such attacks. Whilst Pope John XIII is hailed as the author of Vatican II, it was Pope Paul VI who faced the invidious task of implementing and overseeing the work of The Council. Those closest to him have remarked that for him, the Petrine office brought solitude and isolation. Always seeking to persuade, never to demand, he was all too aware of the burden and responsibility he carried. Yet such was the level of hostility towards his last encyclical (Humanae Vitae) that he issued no other thereafter. In a pontificate which lasted from 1963-1978, he was more than aware of the problems in society and the direction in which they were headed. In his 1967 encyclical Populorum Progresso, he rather prophetically observed:
"11. In such troubled times some people are strongly tempted by the alluring but deceitful promises of would-be saviors. Who does not see the concomitant dangers: public upheavals, civil insurrection, the drift toward totalitarian ideologies?
These are the realities of the question under study here, and their gravity must surely be apparent to everyone"
It may be said that Blessed Paul VI was simply referring to concerns of social order external to the Church. There is a superficial attraction to this interpretation. However, it assumes that the Paul VI had chosen to dispel from his mind completely, the dogmatic constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium. Pronounced three years before Populorum Progresso, the Constitution defined the complex reality of the Church. Almost 20 years later, St John Paul II promulgated within the Code of Canon Law, norms to regulate this reality; doing so in terms which affirm notions of membership, participation, rights and responsibilities.
Within the novus ordo, Thursday 22 February 2018 marks the feast of the "Chair of St Peter". A feast of martydom. The gospel reading assigned to the feast (Matthew 16:13-19) not surprisingly rests on a dialogue between Christ and his disciples."Who do people say I am?", asks Jesus. In response, prompted by the Holy Spirit, Simon declares the divinity of Jesus. In return, he is affirmed by Christ as Petrus, the rock upon which the Church is to be founded. The exchange admits of no ambiguity of meaning or purpose. Christ's affirmation of Peter was not founded upon his good works, his popularity (or lack of it) amongst Jesus' followers, any docility of character, or, any desire or capacity to please. No. His nomination was the product of his recognition of the person of Christ as the Son of God. Of equal importance is the fact that having received this affirmation from Christ himself, Peter was not liberated from his own human weakness. It was the same Peter who sought to persuade Jesus not to return to Jerusalem, resorted to physical violence at the time of Jesus' arrest, and denied Christ, not once but three times. Yet, the words spoken by Christ remained unaltered. As we approach the forthcoming feast, it is worth remembering two important matters. First, Blessed Paul VI, derided and scorned in his life time, is on his way to canonisation. It is said that by a wonderful irony, the principal miracles relied upon in support of his cause relate to the miraculous cures of unborn children. The greatest source of his unpopularity in this world, being so graphically reversed by supernatural intervention. Second, the obseqium to which the Holy Father is entitled is not dependent upon the popularity he enjoys, but the office he occupies. Informed dialogue within the Church is important. So too is the ability to listen and reflect upon the views of others.