Monday, November 10, 2014

Comfort the Afflicted and Afflict the Comfortable

The phrase "Comfort the Afflicted and Afflict the Comfortable" has been used by a few people over the years.  But, it originated in the fictional Mr. Dooley, created by Finley Peter Dunne, a Chicago journalist and humorist of the late 19th century and early 20th century, apparently in the so called muckraking period of journalism.  When he wrote it, his Mr. Dooley, a southside Irish pub owner was speaking about the self perceived power of the press, and so was a complaint against hypocrisy in contemporary journalism.

Writing as Dooley and mimicking his Irish brogue Dunne opined:
"Th newspaper does ivrything f'r us. It runs th' polis foorce an' th' banks, commands th' milishy, controls th' ligislachure, baptizes th' young, marries th' foolish, comforts th' afflicted, afflicts th' comfortable, buries th' dead an' roasts thim aftherward".
But, in truth there is in our society a noble task of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable and that task is primarily the purview of Christianity, and in particular Catholic Christianity and the Vicar of Christ, our Holy Father the Pope.  In simple terms it is the responsibility of our earthly spiritual father to comfort our afflictions, while at the same time afflicting our comforts, as it is the task of every father to so do for his children.

An important area of comforting and afflicting is in our human sexuality, for it is in our sexuality that our humanness, and our brokenness is often most profoundly encountered.  Pope Paul VI tried to comfort and afflict with his powerful encyclical letter Humanae Vitae.  He did not fail but he was failed by those who were empowered to proclaim the beauty and power of this particular encyclical letter.  Pope John Paul II wrote and presented the Theology of the Body, in a series of 129 short homilies, and this too has largely sat on the shelf.  In turn, Pope Benedict XVI taught with authority and all three of these Holy Fathers were ignored by their children much as happens in homes around the world, and particularly in the western world.  However, unlike in the western culture of the 21st century where many fathers are using helicopter parenting on a perceived needs basis, we have had before us daily, if we so chose, the teachings, affirmations, and guidance of our Holy Fathers through the ages, but have turned our backs on them.

But, such is not the case with our current pope, Pope Francis.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, as with his predecessors he was chosen to be our Papa, a man for this particular time and space.  His charism is that when he speaks people hear what he says and it echoes around the world in moments of internet time.

However, there is an apparent problem in communication, the difference between hearing and listening, and the media, those to whom the fictional Mr. Dooley, tongue in cheek, ascribed the duty of afflicting and comforting are largely to blame.  The truth is that the media has not been ascribed this duty, but has usurped it.

When it comes to matters of morality, particular with sexual morality, the media, in general, has taken upon itself to be the voice of liberalism.  In so doing, they take sound bites translated into English, since our Holy Father speaks in Italian or Portuguese, and create great fiction with them in support of their liberal causes.  Most of what is reported from Our Holy Father is out of context, and translated such that the whole of the content is often lost.

Of course, there is a two way street, and conservative writers look to do the same with the sound bites that catch their fancy.

And so, the comfortable pew sitter, or closet Catholic is left conflicted and afflicted.  For the liberals in the Catholic Church who know that they are right, our Papa is too conservative sometimes, and for the conservatives in our midst, who know they are right, our Papa is too liberal.

A beautiful prayer I say daily goes like this:
Father all Merciful, let those who hear and hear again yet never understand, hear Your Voice this time and understand that it is You, the Holy of Holies; open the eyes of those who see and see, yet never perceive, to see with their eyes this time Your Holy Face and Your Glory, place Your Finger on their heart so that their heart may open and understand Your Faithfulness, I pray and ask you all these things, Righteous Father, so that all the nations be converted and be healed through the Wounds of Your Beloved Son, Jesus Christ; amen;
As Father Gordon MacRae said the other day at These Stone Walls in Pope Francis and the Scandal of Listening, the recent Synod on the Family is a beautiful case in point.  Pope Francis wanted all voices heard, not because they were correct, but because they are the voices of the faithful.  If I cannot speak what I believe to be true, how will I ever understand if, or why I might be in error? So, Pope Francis gathered many voices together so that he and the Church fathers could listen, and listen they did.

I have long considered myself to be a conservative, in matters of politics and faith.  In other words I lean to the right.  It happens that I KNOW that I am right, meaning CORRECT.  However, I know a large number of folks who are liberal in their leaning, and I have discovered that they too KNOW that they are CORRECT.

Consequently, we do not discuss our differences.  Since I write from a conservative perspective I have from time to time offended liberal leaners who I care for, by my dogged conservatism in my writing.  Until recently, I did not perceive this to be a problem since what I wrote was consistent with Church teaching.  In other words I was CORRECT. Get over it.

But, I saw the train approaching and then it hit me.  Though I was hit by the train, I had missed the boat.  I have been afflicting the comfortable, but have not been comforting the afflicted.

It is an oversimplification to say that conservatives afflict the comfortable and that liberals comfort the afflicted, but there is some truth in both statements.  What Our Holy Father is trying to do is to pastorally afflict us where we are comfortable, while simultaneously binding our wounds, as a "field hospital" which was one of his recent analogies.  How often have we gone to a doctor with a particular malady, and left frustrated in the end.  Our doctors, at least in Canada, are so stressed by the demands of the system that they hear what we say, and react to it, rather than listen to us and respond to that.  And so it is in the rest of society.

The media is doing our Pope a great disservice, while serving him and his aims very well.  God wants us to dig deep into our faith or lack thereof, and our Holy Father, armed not with a hammer but with a compass as his tool of choice, per Father Gordon, is charting the course for the Church of today.

The Church of today is the same as the Church of yesterday, and also of tomorrow.  In other words, conservatives do not have to worry that Pope Francis will redefine some long held dogma.  The divorced will not be invited to the communion table without regularizing their situation, nor will homosexuals be married or have their commitments recognized by the Church.  But the Church must love them and invite them in, as it loves every one of us who comes, because their sin, though currently topica,l is in no way greater than yours or mine.

Jesus said that He was "the Way, the Truth and the Life".

Then, he pointed out the Way.  He gave us 2 commandments to live by.  We are to love God with our whole hearts, minds, souls and bodies, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  So, the Way is the way of love. "Love one another as I have loved you."

But, he also is the Truth.  So, the way is love, but love must be complemented by Truth.

If in loving someone you are not really honest with them, then are you really setting an example of love for them?  In Canada, political correctness is in vogue.  It is becoming illegal to tell the truth if it might hurt someone's feelings, which is akin to not telling your child he/she is about to touch the hot stove because they might have hurt feelings.  Hurt feelings sure beat the pain of burnt fingers, so we would not consider it unloving to warn them, possibly in firm tones, of the imminent danger.

But, the problem so often with the Truth, is that we have to differentiate the Truth objectively, rather than subjectively, and also must dispense it with love, so that it is not lost.

In our western society of today, truth has become relative.  "Well, that might be true for you, but for me it is not." This is the curse of relativism that must be fought against, but still in love.

Truth is bounded by natural law, but that is a completely different topic.

Those who have faith in Jesus have available to them the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and one of those is the gift of Wisdom, which should not be confused with knowledge.  Knowledge is not always the truth, but may be on a path to the truth.  Wisdom on the other hand speaks only Truth.

But, Wisdom speaks truth in love.

And where Truth and Love (Way) meet, there is Life.  So, Jesus is the. Way, the Truth, and the Life, and they are inseparable.

As Pornchai Moontri said to Father Gordon, Pope Francis "is the Pope of the lost, my Pope."  Well, he is my Pope too, as in many ways I am every bit as lost as Pornchai, Father Gordon and you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The line that was drawn in the sand does not separate liberal from conservative, it separates those who are for Christ, from those against Him. Prior to being elected pope, Francis supported same-sex sexual unions as long as they were "private", did not include children, and were not called marriage, and thus according to Francis, do not affect society. (See page 117 of the book, On Heaven and Earth, all the various media report, as well as the fact that one cannot support same-sex sexual relationships and remain in communion with Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. In Christ, there is no such relationship as a private relationship as every Catholic recognizes that our Dignity comes from our having been created for communion with God.