“…the Gospel — I believe you understand me — is an ‘unbalanced’ doctrine.”
– Pope Francis, May 10 address to diocesan assembly in Rome.
Pope Francis believes we understand him, but his faith in this respect is hardly justified, for there has never been a pope who has said more, and said it with less clarity, than the present one. There has grown up around Francis a cottage industry of interpreters who try to make sense of his daily vagaries and obscurities.
Part of the difficulty in understanding Francis arises from his lack of candor and his coded terminology. It also arises from the assumption that he is Catholic. This makes his attacks upon traditional Church teaching and upon the faithful who follow it somewhat mystifying. Were he not the Pope, were his words taken at face value, there would be far less confusion about his meaning.
His recent outburst is in many respects in line with one of his principal themes: that doctrine ought not to be clearly defined and discipline ought not to be strictly followed. Francis is the champion of the “God of surprises.” This curious deity has contempt for all that is orderly and rooted in principle. He revels in chaos and contradiction, which are taken to be signs of vibrant spiritual life.
If such is the case, then the Pope’s recent sermon was exceptionally vibrant. In a brief span of time, Francis said we must embrace “imbalance,” whatever that may signify, he accused the apostles of “clericalism,” and said those who would make the Gospel into “wisdom” and “doctrine” were guilty of “ideological colonialism.” (Colonialism is racism, in the current lexicon of the Left, so it fatally taints whatever it touches.)
Francis ended his sermon with a rousing call to disorderly conduct: “We need the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit gives the table a kick, knocks it over and starts from scratch.”
One might ask, what is “scratch”? And what was on the table that was overturned? And what precisely the Holy Spirit starts from scratch to do? To begin to do anything one must have a goal in mind and a practical plan for reaching it. One cannot move about aimlessly, knocking over tables and expect to create anything except a great mess. But, of course, we must remember that Francis likes messes and encouraged young people to “make a mess” during one of his visits to South America.
Were we to engage in the pastime of trying to make Francis’s effusions appear orthodox, we might say in this instance that he is warning us against becoming too attached to a particular order of things, in a worldly sense. But he goes further and insists that even order in a spiritual sense is wrong. He urges us to embrace imbalance in all its forms – among the young, the elderly, families, children, the city – and bases his exhortation on the Sermon on the Mount: “Take the beatitudes: they deserve the Nobel Prize for imbalance!”
Francis does not pause to explain this strange assertion, but moves breezily on to an attack upon the apostles who “had fallen into the clericalism of right thinking and a desire for order and balance.” They were guilty of this “clericalism,” according to Francis, because they counseled that the crowd be sent away to where they might obtain food in the usual way. Poor apostles! Francis does not pause to explain his accusation but proceeds to his main target.
“This is the illusion of the balance of ‘Church’ people,” Francis says. And here we have the key to his erratic homily: “Church people,” in Francis’s mind, are those who adhere to the immemorial teaching of the Church on sex and marriage and the sacraments. Such benighted souls seek “balance,” which is Francis’s new synonym for defined doctrine. They fail to embrace “imbalance” in its many forms, meaning people living in immoral relationships, such as the divorced and remarried, fornicators, sodomites, etc.
Were Francis to say as much plainly, rather than wrap his meaning in clumsy circumlocution, he could be easily understood by anyone. But then he would be speaking blatant heresy. And he wants to give his defenders enough room to perform their gymnastic hermeneutics. But Francis is becoming increasingly reckless, and even so-called “conservative” Catholics are being forced to abandon the claim that he is merely misunderstood.
It should be obvious to all but the most deliberately obtuse that Francis is focused on overturning the Church’s teaching that anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery, that persistent public adulterers cannot receive Holy Communion, that sex outside sacramental marriage is a sin, that sodomy is a sin, and that homosexual orientation is intrinsically disordered. In other words, the Pope wants to jettison the laws of the Church on marriage and overturn the entire corpus of teaching on sexual morality.
On his way to doing this, he is prepared to kick over any table that gets in his way. But it is Francis’s swinging foot, not the Holy Spirit, that is creating disorder so that Francis can begin, not from scratch, but from a definite plan to align Church teaching with the sexual license espoused by the Left.
There is nothing imbalanced in anything that is holy. The Pope caricatures order (the “balance of ‘Church’ people”) as necessarily opposed to holiness and the teaching of the Gospel. He portrays order or balance as inimical to the life of the spirit. But order is only spiritually deadening when it is pursued for selfish ends: for control of society and individuals for purposes that are not rooted in the love of God and His law.
God is the God of order, and His justice is the ultimate balance. Chaos is the condition in which evil thrives. The narrative of the Bible is one that keeps retelling the same story: turning away from God destroys order in society and in individual lives. The result is always misery. It is only when people return to God that life becomes ordered again to its holy purpose: our sanctification.
Francis attempts to present “imbalance” as willed by the Holy Spirit. All attempts by man to organize society and his personal life according to reason and Church teaching then become opposed to the Holy Spirit. But imbalance is a precarious condition that always precedes a fall. It can only lead to collapse. And Francis appears to want a collapse of doctrinal certitude on sex and marriage. Thus, he tries to enlist us in his contempt for “Church people” and their “illusion of balance.”
It makes no sense at all to predicate his contempt for “Church people” on the beatitudes, which is likely why the Pope merely makes an assertion without any support, as though what he is saying were plain and beyond dispute. Why are the beatitudes imbalanced, and extravagantly so, to the point of winning a “Nobel Prize for imbalance”? Francis never explains. This is but one more instance of the Pope strong-arming Scripture and forcing it into compliance with whatever the so-called God of Surprises (Francis’s own opinions) wants to impress upon the faithful.
All of nature seeks balance. And human nature strives consciously for equilibrium. Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the Heaven.” The world and all that is in it unfolds according to the plan of Providence. No one can start from “scratch,” for all that we see is given to us and we must find our way to union with God within the given order of creation. This is why we are here.
Francis’s project of kicking over tables finds its provenance in the desire of all revolutionaries to destroy the existing order so that they can impose their own rule in its place. There is nothing profound or spiritual in what Francis proposes. He is just a garden-variety liberal, deeply committed to the program of the Left. And the Left regards Catholicism as an obstacle. That obstacle has been largely swept aside since Vatican II, but nothing must be left standing. Francis appears to be conducting a final search-and-destroy mission. He is the mop-up man for the revolution.
A stir has been created by an open letter to the world’s Catholic bishops which cites seven heresies of Pope Francis and asks that the bishops collectively confront the Pope. It has been signed by many respectable theologians who cannot be dismissed as Traditionalists or “Fatimites”. The letter has been attacked by some “conservative” commentators, but it has drawn support from many quarters. What it will not draw is a direct response from the temporizing bishops or an answer from the stonewalling Pope.
We are on our own for the present and, perhaps, for some time into the future. We can only try to maintain our balance, in the face of the Pope’s disdain and insults. And we can take heart from the beautifully balanced beatitude: “Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew, 5:10)