October 02, 2015

Extremism in Defense of Sanity is No Vice

Interesting comments by First Things editor R. Reno on the pope in America magazine:
“I think one feature of his papacy is rhetorical extremism; his gestures, like not living in the papal palace, are extreme. I don’t associate poverty with the Society of Jesus anymore, but I do associate extremism—a certain pushing of one’s charism to the limit—with it. And I do see that very strongly in this papacy. I think that’s one reason it has a kind of force to it. Also, the extremism is sometimes dangerous and unworkable. Jesuits go notoriously to the line and sometimes over it.

I think we see this experimental quality in Francis. A lot of the things he says and does are kind of about testing limits. That’s so Society of Jesus. When he was first elected, I knew nothing about his reputation, but I knew he was a Jesuit and one of my friends asked: “What do you think?” I said: “Strap on your seatbelt.” And my friend asked: “Why?” I said: “Because he’s a Jesuit.” That extremism is a strength and a weakness of the Society. And I think his papacy has great strength, but also great weaknesses.

But on this particular visit, I don’t think it came through. I think it was a very cautious visit. The fact he had to speak in English limited his ability to ad-lib any bold gestures. And I regret he allowed himself to be controlled by the security apparatus. The visit’s not yet over, but I had hoped he would have basically given the finger to the Secret Service and walked down the streets of New York. I think his disregard for the security apparatus is an important gesture in a global system where the Davos elite increasingly live in a bubble—insulated from everything and everybody else. And I think it’s a powerful witness on his part to refuse that bubble.”

One problem is the problem with Jesuits. Jesuits are clerical commandos, clerical Green Berets. And one of the temptations Jesuits have is that they want to turn everybody into a Jesuit when the fact is that the church needs ordinary soldiers—the church needs cooks, camp commandants, and priests who keep the parish running and aren’t on the peripheries. And I fear that all his language about being on the periphery demoralizes people who do the day-to-day work of keeping the church running.

The second problem is more something he’s inherited. He’s really the first pope who came of age in the era of and immediately after the Second Vatican Council. The church since the Council has had a fragmented, disordered language and mind. He is not a synthetic, systematic thinker. Instead, he’s a poet of the faith, I would say, rather than a philosopher of the faith. So he often manifests this kind of fragmentation and lack of coherence in the life of the church. In that sense, the weakness is that he’s a mirror of the church in its own fragmented mind in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.

2 comments:

Tom said...

An extreme poet, even a Jesuit, for a pope is really only a problem if we expect the pope to tell us what to do, rather than remind us what to do.

TS said...

A koan-like thought.