Pope Francis: Rad Trad

What is he doing?

By Mark Connolly, MTS

"Church business is messy." "It's messy because it's Real."

“Church business is messy.”
“It’s messy because it’s Real.”

The latest offering from Pope Francis has caused a great deal of commentary and hand-wringing. Valiant attempts have been made to contextualize his writings and his off the cuff comments so as to protect the faithful and assure we are not scandalized.

In general, large numbers of faithful Catholics don’t seem to know what to make of this pope. Beginning with his reported comments on a church “obsessed with abortion and contraception” to his reported comments that “people in irregular marriages can receive the Eucharist”, he has befuddled the orthodox faithful and enamored the likes of the Huffington Post and the New York Times as they herald the arrival of a pope who “gets it.”

It seems we need some kind of key to understanding what he is saying. But, he has given us the key. Pope Francis has invited the priests to “live with the smell of sheep.” This is not some sanctimonious platitude. And remember, the laity also share in the priestly office of Christ. We should take this idea to heart in our personal lives as we live the apostolate of the laity, as we bring Christ to the world. It is only when doctrine and dogma interact with the sick and the filthy that the glory and majesty of the Church as the body of Christ is realized. This is the beginning of understanding the true nature of “being pastoral.”

You can read about fishing, watch Youtube videos, research rods and reels and lures. But until you, with your bare hands, put bait on a hook, reel in a fish, gut it, and cook it, you don’t know anything concrete about fishing. Ditto for doctrine and dogma.

It is in the Real, with real humans, not idealized theoretical humans but real humans, that we encounter the face of God.

We have arguably had a Golden Age of papal theology. Pope St. John the XXIII, Pope Paul the VI, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict the XVI. The depth and breadth of their writings and theological insights will be studied for centuries. Admittedly, some of the writing is tough going, initially. When I first started to read Cardinal Ratzinger, I found it very tough going. But so was riding a bike, skating, skiing, and walking, for that matter. With time and practice, with exposure to the context and the vocabulary, the writing becomes beautiful. Today, for me, Ratzinger/Benedict’s writing reads like a crystal bell on a cool crisp morning – clean and lucid with a piercing light.

But, it can be difficult to discuss his thoughts with someone not exposed to him. Ever watch Curling on the Olympics? If you don’t know what it is, so much background information must be provided before we can begin to talk about it in any meaningful way. And I’ve only watched. Imagine talking with someone that actually competed. Probably both sides would have trouble staying interested in the conversation.

On the other hand, everyone is talking about whatever Pope Francis writes or says. There is more dialog going on today, interfaith dialog if you will, than I have ever witnessed. And, thanks to the above mentioned popes, Vatican II, Mother Angelica and EWTN, there are more people properly catechized and able to explain Church teaching today than in quite some time.

My point? We have 2000 years of insight into the human condition, and majestic documents describing how the Church should minister to the world. 2000 years ago, the same was true with the Hebrews. There were teachers of the Law and the Prophets. Steeped in knowledge and theory, their hands were clean.

Jesus called some of them white-washed tombs.

Consider this paradox – Jesus seemed to flout the law – “working” on the Sabbath, hanging out with lepers, dining with dirty hands. Yet he said he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. At one point he states that not one jot, not one tittle will be changed. The writing used in the Old Testament used little marks, tiny marks, called jots and tittles, as part of the letters. What difference can they make? I will give you an example from Spanish. Ano mean “anus.” Año means “year.” If you are translating “Teacher of the year” into Spanish, that little mark, that jot, if you will, completely changes the meaning of the phrase.

How do we reconcile statements like “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27) with “not one jot or one tittle” (Mt 5:18)?

Jesus states he is not changing but rather fulfilling the law. But what did he do? He invited people to understand the intent of the law, the overarching goal of the law. Mere adherence to the law, offering “holocausts of bullocks” meant nothing without the “contrite heart” that renders the sacrifice meaningful and efficacious. (cf Ps 51:15-17; Micah 6:6-8; Mk 12: 28-34; Heb 10:5-9).

The Law was intended to keep man in right relationship with God. The very practice of the Day of Atonement demonstrated that it was understood that complete faithfulness to God was unattainable by mortal man. Under the Law there were both punishments and remedies, both a carrot and a stick. But, a danger is to focus on the carrot and on the stick instead of the reason behind them both. Thus we have in one form of the Act of Contrition,

“Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love.”

Deserving of all my love. Think about that. And what does it mean concretely in the world? When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he added that the second is like the first, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:39) And how do you do that? How do you give God all your love? By getting your hands dirty.

Pope Francis has people talking. People are asking questions, seeking undertanding. It is messy, it is smelly. But people are talking about what Francis says in ways that they just didn’t about what Benedict said.

So, what is Pope Francis doing? He’s fishing. How radical. How traditional.


Posted in Encyclicals, Ends and Means, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Pope Francis, Reconciliation, Theology | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Participation In God’s Being in Man Caves

header 2As we build to a discussion of Indulgences, we first discuss Participation.

So, give a listen to Participation

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Mercy Me

header 2Another Podcast – From Donmark Productions. Learn about Mercy!


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Reign Drops

rainfall on woman

My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass. – DT 32:2 KJV

My first thought at seeing the WordPress daily prompt Drop was of the scene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ where the drop of water falls from the sky as Jesus dies on the cross.

My second thought was of a review of the Passion written by someone that is puzzled by “the Jesus question”, wherein the question is more or less posed, “How long are people going to believe this crap?”  The author notes that a giant drop of water descends and splashes to the ground next to the cross, apparently God’s reaction to the atrocity below. Why is God sad, since this was his plan all along?

Of course this was not God’s reaction – it was part of Mel Gibson’s artistic license – but if I were going to interpret that, it would be a little simpler, and maybe more mystical. That was Creation’s reaction. Paul notes that Creation is groaning in Romans 8. What was that drop in that context? A tear of joy. Gibson got it exactly right when he shows Satan screaming in panic and frustration at the moment Jesus dies. The Crucifixion is the moment of triumph. Because there was no internet back then, we didn’t get the news until Easter Sunday.

But I want to focus on the Agony in the Garden. If this is all God’s plan, and Jesus is a willing participant, then why the agony?

I am working on a book on the Mysteries of the Rosary, and am currently working on the Sorrowful Mysteries. Here are some thoughts.

What are the implications of being fully God and fully Man? Especially a man not born with Original Sin? Someone who would have been akin to Adam in the Garden, a person whose human body and human soul were in absolute harmony? Bear in mind that in Greek thought, the soul is simply the animating michelangelos-david-florenceprinciple. What’s the difference between a marble statue of David, and David? David was once alive. There is no animating principle in the marble statue.  And once the animating principle left David’s body, the material of his body was inanimate. It is the animating principle that is responsible for any living creature to be classified as living. The animating principle, the soul, gives the otherwise inanimate material its form, its motive power, etc. The animating principle governs the growth and development of the living being in the most foundational way, by giving it life. And by keeping it alive moment to moment.

Returning to the Agony in the Garden. Luke, the physician, tells us that Jesus sweat great drops like blood. There is a medical condition, rare though it be, called hematohidrosisand which can be caused by several factors, including severe stress. In this condition, people have blood tinged sweat. In extreme cases, there is significant amounts of blood.

Imagine for a moment that you are a fully integrated human being with no part of you in conflict with any other part. Everything works in harmony, your diet, the amount of exercise you take, your ability to give attention, all one cohesive whole. When you feel joy, you feel all of it, no part of you distracted by some nagging thought, or physical discomfort. When you feel pain, you feel all of it, every bit of it, because that is how the body is designed. When you are sad, say at the death of Lazarus, you weep even if you are God, even if you plan to bring him back to life. Complete integrity, completely in the moment. Soul and body, material and immaterial, in perfect harmony.

Of the many emotions that we see Jesus having in the Gospel stories, worry is not one of them. He wasn’t worried in the garden of Gesthemane (the garden of the oil press…), he was in agony. Not the same thing. Worry is false, agony is real. Jesus, being fully alive, would have been in complete harmony with the real.

Imagine, if you can, being that fully alive, and knowing, fully and completely, the plight of all of humanity. Imagine willingly uniting yourself to the plight of all humanity. Of feeling, knowing. Perfect empathy. Perfect compassion, which means to suffer with so, yes, perfect suffering.

Could it be any other way than for Jesus to be in agony, united as he is in our humanity? And yet, he began his public ministry saying the the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. His saving sacrifice would serve to make Heaven accessible to all of us. Those drops of sweat, those drops of compassion and mercy – they are Reign Drops.


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Cigars, Mysteries, Regular Guys

My partner and I in exploring post RCIA mysteries of the faith have decided to have a podcast. I think it was Chesterton who said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

In that spirit, please take a listen

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Objective, Tango (Apologies to Shakira)

I object. I, object.


Objection 1: Tango is not meant for three, so sayeth Shakira. Response to Objection 1: Except in the case of the Trinity.

Objection 1: Tango is not meant for three, so sayeth Shakira.
Response to Objection 1: Except in the case of the Trinity.

(CARROLLTON, TX – Cradle of Civilization) Do you object to objective reality? What is your objection?

Once upon a time, in a strange land removed from today more by ideology than distance and time, nuns taught their students to diagram sentences. They were also teaching logic and an ancient coherent world view. Of course we were blissfully unaware of such lofty ends.

The object of the sentence was the recipient of an action. John hit the ball. The ball is the object, John is the subject. It looks like this:


In a language like English, sentence order matters. “Ball hit John” is different from “John hit ball.” This is not the case in Latin, which is a highly inflected language. What that means is that the words change in some way to indicate who is doing what. So, you could write Ball hit John, and because of the stem changes in the words, it could mean John hit the ball. You can put ball first, and John near the end and have the same meaning in English, but you need to add several words. The ball was hit by John. It looks like this:

ball hit john

The point is there is an initiator of an action and a recipient of the action, and different languages have different methods for making this apparent.

In the age of People and Self magazines, it seems that in the USA people want and prefer to be the subject, that is the initiator of the actions, and therefore see the world as the object which should be the recipient of our actions. This world can include other people, and when we say we objectify something it means we see it as something that exists for our benefit. The idea that we exist for someone else’s benefit is not considered to be a healthy world view. And, this has given rise to “rights talk” and an overemphasis on “my rights” and the duties the world has toward us so as not to infringe on our rights.

This is why people tend to dislike terms like “duty” and “obligation.” Somewhere inside people see this as meaning they are the objects, the passive recipients.

Yet, we are the recipients in this universe. We received existence. We are the passive recipients of God’s love. Passive in that we simply received existence. We didn’t ask for it (obviously, right?) This free gift implies a duty. A duty to know and acknowledge the source of our existence. A duty to participate fully in His existence.

And this means that our rights flow from our duties. Because we have a duty to take care of our families, we have the right to earn a living. Because we have a duty to give all the glory to God, we have a right to Church.

In our interactions with others, we sometimes give, sometimes receive. It takes two to tango, as they say. Yet our objective is a Trinitarian Tango – active participation in the Gift we have received. You, me, God. Arrange the words however you want; God is the Subject.


Daily Post: Object



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What’s In A Name?

Do we name things because they exist,
or do things exist because we name them?


(CARROLLTON, Texas – Cradle of Civilization) I have changed the name of this blog from “The Spiritual Advocate” to “Truth vs Reality.” Some of the ontological musings behind this change can be found in the “About” page. My hope is that the idea of truth in opposition to reality strikes the reader as odd.

Can truth be in opposition to reality? Or perhaps more fundamentally, is there a relationship between truth and reality? I believe there is a necessary relationship – but I have often heard the statement that “Perception is reality.” Is that a true statement?

Somehow this idea has gained some currency in the world, and given rise to corollary statements such as, “That’s my truth.” And this is a problem.

For a period of time I had a job that centered on truth. My job was to investigate a loss and find out what happened and who did the theft. Here is some detail on a sadly typical interview.

A quantity of merchandise went missing, and three people had access. The preliminary investigation eliminated two as suspects. I met with the third and laid out all the facts and asked why he had stolen the merchandise.* He told me, “I just don’t see it that way.” And what he meant was that he didn’t define what he had done as theft.

His self-defense: He might have eventually paid for it, so I could not call it stealing. And since I couldn’t call it stealing, then I couldn’t hold him accountable, since (by now he asserted) he was planning to pay for it when he got paid on Friday.

Now for those that might think, “maybe he was going to pay for it, you harsh S.O.B.” consider this. I almost never caught someone the first time they “intended to pay later.” Consequently, I always began with the suspicion that there was more theft to be found. And in this particular case, there was over a thousand dollars worth of stuff across a six month period that he was planning on purchasing someday.

How did I get that information? By treating everything he said as the truth, and just asking questions based on “his truth.”

His story began to fall apart. The collapse was the result of two things. First, he forgot things he had told me earlier. The reason he forgot things he had “swore on a stack of Bibles” were true only minutes earlier is precisely because it was a lie, and he was losing track of his constructed “reality”.

Second, contradictions began to manifest forcing him to change his story. As soon as he changed his story, it was over. Why? Because the stolen item is not caught in some kind of quantum superposition like Schrödinger’s cat. It was either stolen, or it was not, it could not be both. The contradictions required that the item be both, in itself a contradiction.

When caught in the contradiction he chose a different tack: “What, are you calling me a liar?” In polite conversation, people would normally respond to that with, “Oh, no, I wouldn’t call you a liar.” Which is odd. We live in a society where it is considered more rude to call someone a liar, than it is to lie. Think about that.

My response was, “Yes, I am calling you a liar because you are lying to me.” The guy was first stunned, then insulted. He could not believe that I called him a liar. And why is that? Because, in his mind, I couldn’t call him a liar unless I could prove that he was lying.

Think about that for a minute. He knew he was lying. But, as long as he felt I could not prove it, I had no right to call him that, even though he knew he was lying.

How is that even possible? It’s only possible if perception is reality.

And that is a consequence of believing that Truth can be in opposition to Reality. It turns people into liars. Because when deciding to lie, the first person you lie to is yourself by pretending that things aren’t as they are.

*If there are only three people with access to something, and it comes up missing, someone took it. If they took it without paying for it, that is the definition of theft. Our world is not that mysterious.
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