Lest you think I am a groupie of Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith, I promise you I'm not, and I feel I have to say that as I draw your attention to another of his articles in the Catholic Herald. I just find that he writes an awful lot of sense.
Fr. Lucie-Smith's most recent offering is his reaction to a piece in The Guardian in which Pope Francis is praised at the expense of Pope Benedict. Nothing new there, I hear you say. A certain group of people have been bashing Pope Benedict since the election of Pope Francis and using the new Pontiff and his personal way of adapting the Papacy to his own lifestyle as a means to expose Benedict as some sort of Renaissance Prince incarnate. Well The Guardian fuels this view in its article, and Fr. Lucie-Smith takes exception to it.
Here is the offending paragraph: "Not that his (Francis's) position on abortion, or homosexuality, or women priests, differs substantially from Benedict XVI. He remains socially conservative. But the mood music is altogether different and not just because of his personal charm and the decision to eschew all the fancy ecclesiastical haberdashery and grand palaces. Pope Francis has regularly excoriated economic injustice and the global inequalities created by unrestrained capitalism. And his message on Syria has been unusually direct in opposing the prospect of US intervention. On Saturday he told a congregation praying for peace in the Middle East: "Violence and war lead only to death, they speak of death! Violence and war are the language of death!""
Fr. Lucie-Smith takes exception to the remarks concerning the Pope's vestments and the Pope's being socially conservative which he calls "two basic errors of misunderstanding", errors that are widespread both inside and outside the Church. The first is typical. People seem to equate dressing in vestments as somehow not being humble, simple or even authentically Christian. Dress tidily as a priest or bishop and you're told you're distancing yourself from "the people". It seems for a priest or bishop that the only way of being authentically Christian, in the eyes of some, is to dress in dirty clothes and wear only a dirty, unironed alb with a rainbow stole hanging off you to one side. Scruffiness is not a sign of authenticity - indeed it can be a sign of other things. Wearing the clothes of one's office does not offend humility, simplicity or Christianity. As Fr. Lucie-Smith points out, Jesus wore good clothes - his seamless garment was an expensive piece of apparel for the time, so much so the soldiers had to gamble to see who got it.
The second error is that which brands Christian moral teaching as somehow regressive and secular trends as progressive. As Fr. Lucie-Smith correctly points out it is the secular morality which is regressive, dragging sentient and rational human beings back into an unthinking and primitive approach to life, sexuality and society. The ancient Spartans used to dump their new-born children if they thought they were not healthy or fit enough for Spartan society - the living baby was thrown down into a cavern. Other ancient societies left their disabled children out for wild animals to kill and eat. Modern secularists have a procedure where such children are not even born but are torn apart in the womb and then the remains are dumped. And this procedure is defended by denying basic scientific and medical facts about the existence of a individual human being in the womb. Nothing progressive about that. Nor is there progress in the idea that we can be sexually irresponsible and do what we like as long as it is between consent adults (and what is consent anyway?). The current epidemic of STDs and HIV/AIDS is a good indication that perhaps that approach to sexuality is not healthy, rational or "safe".
Modern men and women may not like to hear this: but we are not progressive. We have wandered back to the Stone Age when it comes to morality and life. Just because we are technologically advanced does not mean that we are morally advanced, we are not. We have just thrown off responsibility, respect for life and reason and now pride ourselves as being beyond it. We had better read a little history - for other civilisations did that too and they came to a bad end. Our modern society could be heading for one too. Human society cannot exist in a moral vacuum for too long .
And as regards the Pope's humility: a few months ago Pope Francis was praised for eschewing the Papal cars and deciding to use a Ford Focus, it was a sign of his humility. A friend of mine who worked in Vatican for a few years during Benedict's pontificate commented on this by pointing out that Benedict didn't even know the make of the car he was in - he was just told to get into it and he did. That's humility too.
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