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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/16/15

John Allen's Hype About Pope Francis (REVIEW ESSAY)

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In all honesty, I am really looking forward to the public debate that will predictably follow Pope Francis' forthcoming encyclical about the environment, because I think that it could be an important debate. It strikes me that it is fitting for the first pope to choose to be named Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi should also become the first pope to issue an encyclical about the environment.

Historically in American culture, Protestant preachers regularly denounced the pope as the Aint-Christ and the prostitute of Babylon. Perhaps the American critics of the pope's encyclical about the environment will recycle those epithets and apply them to Pope Francis.

For a perceptive study of St. Francis of Assisi, see Eloi Leclerc's book THE CANTICLE OF CREATURES: SYMBOLS OF UNION: A STUDY OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI (1977; orig. French ed., 1970).

But I am getting tired of books like Allen's about Pope Francis becoming a reformer of the Roman Catholic Church. No doubt the terms reformer, reform, and reformation -- and even transformation -- call to mind the Protestant Reformation. So such terms might be good marketing strategies in American culture, in which Protestants collectively still outnumber Roman Catholics. But Pope Francis is not likely to reform the Roman Catholic Church to any significant degree. It's not going to happen. Consider the last half century.

Vatican II initiated certain historical church reforms, some of which are not likely to be reversed. But not all of the reforms initiated by Vatican II have been successfully implemented thus far. As a result, it strikes me as unlikely Pope Francis will be able to successfully implement the reforms that Allen discusses.

For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church has been dominated by paleo-conservative Roman Catholics, many of whom have been involved in the ongoing backlash against Vatican II involving the Latin Mass and certain other matters associated with Vatican II.

However, as a result of Vatican II, a certain number of non-paleo-conservative Roman Catholics emerged, who keeping dreaming of a future Vatican III that will fix all that Vatican II did not fix.

Hope springs eternal in non-paleo-conservatives. After all, in theory, Pope Francis could convene a Third Vatican Council to carry through the reform agenda that Vatican II was not allowed to carry through. But he's not likely to call a Vatican III.

However, in my estimate, nothing is going to fix the Roman Catholic Church, because it has already been consigned to the rubbish heap of history as a result of the bishops' teachings and their scandalous practices in the priest-sex-abuse scandal.

Therefore, I urge practicing Roman Catholics today to leave the church -- to jump ship, as I myself and many other former Catholics have.

In the book A PEOPLE ADRIFT: THE CRISIS OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH (2003), Peter Steinfels suggests that many American Catholics feel that they are adrift on board the ship. So why don't they jump ship and drift in the sea alone by themselves? Well, their religion is respectability, and they do not think it would be consistent with their religion of respectability to jump ship and drift alone by themselves in the sea. After all, there is safety in numbers, even if the ship is adrift.

In my estimate, Roman Catholics and non-Catholic Christians do not need to get out of the sacristy and into the streets. Let them keep their religion of public respectability. In theory, they could keep their religion of public respectability and still take the log from their eye (Mt. 7:3; Lk. 6:42) so that the truth can set them free (Jn. 16:13). In psychological terminology, the process of taking the log from one's eye involves what C. G. Jung refers to as integrating one's shadow.

No doubt Pope Francis has taken the log from his own eye. Evidently, according to Allen (pages 4-5), he began to experience the spirit of truth that can set you free when he was elected to be pope. So Jesuit spirituality occasionally works out well for certain Jesuits.

For an accessible discussion of Jesuit spirituality, see Jesuit Father James Martin's book THE JESUIT GUIDE TO (ALMOST) EVERYTHING: A SPIRITUALITY FOR REAL LIFE (2010).

What Jung refers to as the overall process of psycho-spiritual individuation carries forward and completes in a healthy way the American spirit of individualism. In short, the American spirit of individualism needs to be carried forward in the psycho-spiritual process of individuation.

No doubt the anonymous author of the Gospel According to John experienced the psycho-spiritual process of individuation and creatively expressed that experience by writing the Gospel According to John, using the long-winded character named Jesus to express creatively as well as the anonymous author could how he had experienced the psycho-spiritual process of individuation. I'm taking a hint from the biblical scholar David M. Stanley, S.J., who in effect suggests this way of interpreting the gospel According to John in his book titled "I ENCOUNTERED GOD!": THE SPIRITUAL EXERCISES [OF ST. IGNATIUS LOYOLA] WITH THE GOSPEL OF SAINT JOHN (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1986). On page 273, Stanley sums up his basic argument:

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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