They just don’t get it, do they? But then, how could they? St. Paul, writing nearly 2000 years ago to Christians in Corinth might just as easily have been writing to Pope Benedict these days, reassuring him – and us – that regardless of the media and political hullabaloo over what he has been saying to the world at large, he is on the right and true path.
Now, the Spirit we have received is not the spirit of the world but God’s own Spirit, so that we may understand the lavish gifts God has given us. And these are what we speak of, not in the terms learnt from human philosophy, but in terms learnt from the Spirit, fitting spiritual language to spiritual things.
The natural person has no room for the gifts of God’s Spirit; to him they are folly; he cannot recognize them, because their value can be assessed only in the Spirit. The spiritual person, on the other hand, can assess the value of everything, and that person’s value cannot be assessed by anybody else. For: who has ever known the mind of the Lord? Who has ever been his adviser? *[Is 40:13] But we are those who have the mind of Christ.
What an extraordinary Pope this is, surely one of the “lavish gifts God has given us” for this day and age.
Did the so-called “guardians” of this world really think he was going to tailor his teaching to the standards of the world, to their “wise” analysis and judgments as to what is needed to keep our planet healthy and happy? And do his so-called friends and allies – who are all jumping up and down in frustration at what they see as his lack of public relations savvy – really think that he is naively putting his foot in it. They want him to restrict himself to soft words and to tailor his actions so that no one is offended.
A British ecclesiastic has expressed the opinion in the aftermath of the recent African visit that that the Pope is being badly advised and that the Vatican’s communication strategy must improve. This all reminds us of the management consultants who were supposedly called in to advise Jesus about the team of apostles he was building around him. Eleven of the twelve originals were rejected on what seemed like very logical and sensible grounds. Only one was found to be suitable for the job. That was Judas Iscariot – sensible, level-headed and very practical.
This Pope speaks the truth to the world and the world finds it hard to take. To try to justify themselves and to try to ensure that people will not hear what he is really saying and doing they cloud his words and actions in gross misrepresentation or else hold them up to ridicule and condemnation for flying in the face of their judgment. They generally do both. According to radical, stone-throwing, failed revolutionary Marxist from the pseudo student revolution of 1968, Daniel-Cohen-Bendit, now a respectable pillar of the liberal European establishment, the Pope’s view on this matter bring him close to “pre-meditated murder”.
There is no doubt but that people have been offended by the truth spoken by Pope Benedict. But there is equally no doubt that offence has been taken rather than given. He has expressed regret that this has happened and is clearly sorry that this should be the case. However, he has not retracted one word or reversed one action because all his words and actions have been true. Take three instances.
What about the Regensburg address – called “infamous” by some? He quoted a view expressed over 600 years ago and asked a few pertinent questions about the nature of Islam. He did not even assent to the view quoted. He spoke the truth and offered Islam an opportunity to respond with faith and reason. He did not get much of either but the questions are still awaiting a coherent answer.
He lifted the excommunication imposed on the illicitly consecrated bishops who followed Marcel Lefebvre into schism from the Catholic Church. One of them happens to be an idiot – maybe even a dangerous idiot since he denies the holocaust. But apart from the fact that his excommunication had nothing whatsoever to do with his idiotic denial of the facts of history, being an idiot – even being a dangerous idiot – has never been nor will ever be a reason for excommunication. Excommunication brings with it the prospect of eternal damnation, a very serious thing. To expect the Pope, the vicar of the Good Shepherd here on earth, to leave it in place when the original reasons for its imposition were no longer in play is not even dangerous idiocy; it betrays a grossly inept sense of justice.
And finally, the latest – his honest and true answer to a journalist who put a question to him in a plane on his way to Africa: the propagation of condom use in Africa actually ”increases the problem” of AIDS. Of course it does – as it increases a great many other problems across the face of the globe which are the source of so much human misery: abortion, divorce, family disintegration, promiscuity, teenage pregnancy – for which the world in its “wisdom” thinks condoms are a solution.
Time Magazine in its headline on this story described the Pope’s remarks as an example of “Candor over P.R.” We might read that as “truth before spin”. What is important is that people hear and understand the truth. Being all things to all men is not an end in itself. As enunciated by St. Paul it was, as I recall, so that he might help all to their salvation. The admiration of the world is not what the Pope needs nor wants. If some of his hearers draw back and no longer go about with him this cannot deter him from speaking the truth. Surely all this must remind us of the discourse on the Eucharist recounted in St. John’s gospel?
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.”
But he wasn’t finished – he got into deeper water:
I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Now one might think he would have a little more P.R. savvy and tone down the message since it was clearly causing trouble. But no, on he goes.
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day….As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.
This was clearly too much for many of those listening – and he knew it
Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.
That was it, and he was not even sure if there was anyone left among his followers for he had to ask the twelve: “Do you also wish to go away?” But they were OK, for the moment anyway. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
It all sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Two thousand years later the choice is still the same.