Welcome to the United Church of Social Work

Cupich_2About a year ago, I suggested that a Franciscan pontificate of five years or more would produce a new wave of seminarians that are best understood as wannabe Peace Corp volunteers, community organizers and social workers.

While it’s too soon to say “I told you so,” there are any number of reasons to believe that this particular prediction remains well on track.

On January 22nd, Commonweal Magazine published an interview of Archbishop Blasé Cupich, the man sometimes called, “the American Bergoglio;” a title that Cupich appears to consider reasonably accurate.

In fact, it may even be the case that he considers it more accurate to say that Pope Francis is an “Argentinian Cupich.”

Speaking to Grant Gallicho of Commonweal, Cupich said:

People ask me whether I like what the pope is saying. I say, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been saying this for forty years as a priest.’ I’m moving along on the crest of the wave that he has created. That’s to my advantage, because there is a new enthusiasm, an awareness of what it means to be church … the Holy Father is opening us to look at how the church can be of service to the world.

Cupich, just like his Roman counterpart, speaks as if the Catholic Church just recently figured out how to serve mankind, and for the record, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the mission that Jesus gave to His Church.

When questioned about the Church’s atrophying condition, or what Gallicho called the “leaner times” through which we are currently living, with bankrupt dioceses and parish closings so commonplace as to scarcely even be considered newsworthy, Cupich articulated his vision for the Church moving forward:

The way to [reverse the trend] is not by saying, “You’re not going to Mass and so there’s a problem.” Rather, we can say, “We have an opportunity to better society and to better the common good. We work for the poor. Come and work for the poor with us.”

Understand that when Cupich speaks of this new “awareness of what it means to be church” that he and Francis share in common, he speaks not of the Holy Catholic Church that was charged by Christ with the mission of baptizing and teaching the nations; rather, he speaks of a new church altogether, an earthbound institution that calls all men to engage in little more than social work.

Making it clear that this is indeed the mind of the pope as well, Cupich offered:

Pope Francis recently met with the Pope St. John XXIII Community, which was created in the 1960s to address the problem of young people who were alienated from the church. What this group did was to say to them, “We’re not going to bug you about church attendance. But here are the poor. Let’s work for those who are disabled.” This has been a public association of the faithful for almost fifty years. Pope Francis celebrated their work.

MaradiagaNaturally, this new “awareness” of church demands a new awareness of priesthood.

In a recently penned essay, Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, the man hand-chosen by Pope Francis to head up his Council of Cardinal Advisors, reflected on his, and most certainly the pope’s, vision of the priesthood.

Cardinal Rodríguez begins, as modernists and protestants are so often wont to do, by misappropriating Sacred Scripture in order to paint a desired image:

“The Parable of the Good Samaritan, which is the parable of the true practice of mercy and fraternal love (Luke 10: 25-37) … The priest was not a brother of the Jew and neither was the Levite, the Samaritan was.”

From here, Rodríguez uses the hardheartedness of the priest in this parable as a springboard for subtly recasting the function of the Catholic priest in such way as to relegate the sacraments to a secondary status:

It is not just Christ’s pain and his passion that redeem, it is not just the cross that saves us: his pain, his passion and his cross have redeeming power because of Love. It is then Christ’s crucified Love that gives back meaning to human existence and elevates it to the dignity from which sin deprived it and that Jesus’ decision, dying for love in the cross, recovered.
If the world experienced how big God’s love and salvation initiative are, all temples would be filled with people asking for the holy sacraments of Confession, Baptism, Anointing of the Sick and Eucharist. Priests would not be able to handle such a need for absolution, blessing or communion since entire multitudes —convinced of that infinite love of God, origin of salvation—, would understand that truth and life have a name: Jesus. And his name is Love.

Yes, the priest in this twisted little scenario is acknowledged as he who absolves, blesses and gives Holy Communion, but the cardinal has his presbyteral priorities exactly backwards.

He elaborates:

Indeed, the mission, the mercy and the service to the poor and to all brothers as a human and missionary experience must be a place of discovery of God, of greater knowledge of the face of God.

The mission that Jesus gave to His Church was, in a manner of speaking, one of carrying God to the people; i.e., to impart the Divine life to fallen man via baptism while exercising the authority to teach in His name everything whatsoever that He commanded (cf Matthew 28:16-20).

The popes of tradition understood well that the mission of making and forming Christians is the very mechanism by which humankind is empowered to form a truly just society.

Pope Leo XIII, for instance, wrote:

Neither must it be supposed that the solicitude of the Church is so preoccupied with the spiritual concerns of her children as to neglect their temporal and earthly interests. Her desire is that the poor, for example, should rise above poverty and wretchedness, and better their condition in life; and for this she makes a strong endeavor. By the fact that she calls men to virtue and forms them to its practice she promotes this in no slight degree. Christian morality, when adequately and completely practiced, leads of itself to temporal prosperity, for it merits the blessing of that God who is the source of all blessings; it powerfully restrains the greed of possession and the thirst for pleasure-twin plagues, which too often make a man who is void of self-restraint miserable in the midst of abundance;(23) it makes men supply for the lack of means through economy, teaching them to be content with frugal living, and further, keeping them out of the reach of those vices which devour not small incomes merely, but large fortunes, and dissipate many a goodly inheritance. (Rerum Novarum 28)

In so writing, Pope Leo XIII shed great light on the sacred hierarchy’s role in meeting the temporal needs of the poor; namely, it is in calling all men to virtue and laboring toward their sanctification that the Church (in a unique way via the ministry of her priests), creates the conditions for justice.

The version of mission proposed by the Captains of Newchurch is quite the opposite.

Theirs is a church charged with discovering God in the poor, and be not confused; their focus is not the spiritual welfare of the spiritually poor, but rather are they focused on the temporal realities of those who dwell on the so-called “periphery.”

NB: Recall Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s pre-conclave speech to the College of Cardinals wherein he stated:

Thinking of the next Pope: He must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother, who gains life from ‘the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.’  

The well-formed Catholic understands that the Church – she to whom the Lord entrusted all that is necessary for salvation – does not so much “gain life” through her evangelizing efforts; rather she gives life to a world darkened by sin and error.

Removing all doubt as to the focus of the Newchurch mission, Cardinal Rodríguez concluded his essay by saying:

Since certainly, the privileged “place” in which Christ’s Mercy becomes incarnate and becomes practice is in the love for the brothers and sisters, and in the preferential love for the poor and the suffering. The temporal reality that summarizes all the incarnations of the mystic, all the realism of the Christian spirit, and that gathers all the demands of the practice of the faith and love, is the brother, is the poor.

It doesn’t require a particularly astute observer to recognize the glaring omission in Cardinal Rodríguez’s flimsy treatise on the Lord’s “salvation initiative;” it’s the Resurrection.

This Christological lacuna is precisely what led Cardinal Rodríguez to say in his well-publicized speech given at University of Dallas in October of 2013:

The hierarchy has no purpose in itself and for itself, but only in reference and subordination to the community. The function of the hierarchy is redefined in reference to Jesus as Suffering Servant, not as “Pantocrator” (lord and emperor of this world); only from the perspective of someone crucified by the powers of this world it is possible to found, and to explain, the authority of the Church. The hierarchy is a mi nistry (diakonia = service) that requires lowering ourselves to the condition of servants. To take that place (the place of weakness and poverty) is her own, her very own responsibility.

You see, for the likes of Archbishop Cupich, Cardinal Rodríguez, and the pope they both admire so very much, the priesthood is not configured to Christ the King, risen from the dead and gloriously reigning over the powers of this world; rather, they seem to imagine a priesthood configured exclusively to the humanity of the Nazarene who is destined to be crucified in his priests all over again, even as they toil in service to the temporal needs of the poor.

As such, mark my words, if the reign of Pope Francis lasts for just a few more years, that wave of tradition-minded seminarians who answered the call to the priesthood of Jesus Christ during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI will soon be outnumbered by men (and a disproportionate number of soft bellied men at that) answering the invitation to little more than a life of glorified social work.


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