The good folks at Solidarity Hall have issued their first book, Radically Catholic in the Age of Francis: An Anthology of Visions for the Future. Without meaning to disrespect anybody by leaving their name out, contributors include C.C. Pecknold, Patrick Deneen, Andrew Haines, Thomas Storck, John Medaille, and a fine fellow I happen to know personally, Jack Quirk. Various constraints have prevented me from getting ahold of and reading the volume, though a brief perusal of the Table of Contents reveals a number of interesting entries that no doubt warrant careful attention. With that noted, it does strike me as perplexing to say that we are currently living in “the Age of Francis.” The Holy Father has only been on the throne for two years, that is, just over a quarter of Benedict XVI’s reign and only a fraction of John Paul II’s. If there truly is to be an “Age of Francis” then it has only started to take shape and based on the Pope’s own words concerning abdication, it doesn’t seem like his tenure will be longer than his predecessor’s. On what basis can any Catholic claim that Francis, as opposed to the modern popes who came before, is ushering in a new period in the Church’s life, one that will still be felt a century, even a decade, from now?
It seems that there is always a temptation for people to absolutize the times in which they live. Historical perspective may be easy to gain mentally, but it is difficult to internalize; we seldom feel it. What we do feel, however, is a sense that “now” must be of the highest importance because we happen to be living through it and tomorrow is something we can shape without reservation. And even if we cannot do it on our own, that is as pure individuals, then perhaps there is someone who can, a world-historical figure who embodies greatness, or at least the sort of greatness that fits well with the pace of existence we have set for ourselves. That is who Pope Francis has become, not only to many Catholics who take the Church’s social magisterium seriously, but many more who see this particular pontificate and the “age” accompanying it as a moment of reform—even radical reform—in matters of faith and morals. Just contemplating the dangers of this attitude is dizzying and one has to wonder what effect it will have on the Church after Francis’s pontificate concludes.
This is a topic I have given some thought to before in “A Few Remarks on Papalotry.” Whether or not any of the contributors to Solidarity Hall’s anthology are papaloters is far less important than the fact the volume, and the context in which it has been produced, unwittingly contributes to the ever-present myth that the Catholic Church has entered a “new age” and that being Catholic today, at this moment, can or should in some substantive sense look, feel, smell, etc. different than it did a decade or two ago. But to what end? Yes, the socio-political liberal fusionism that has dominated Catholic life in the West for the better part of the last century has to go, but what will replace it? And why must it be “radical”? Wouldn’t the most prudent step be to ask if we are doing what the Church and her flock have always done, living consistently with the full body of her magisterial teaching while sitting at the feet of the great Doctors who have bequeathed so much which, today, is attended to so seldom? And here I am not only thinking of Ss. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, but Ss. Alphonsus, Bernard, Robert, and John Chrysostom as well—men whose thought was neither novel nor time-bound.
Perhaps that is where we are going. Maybe the path hasn’t been made clear yet. What is clear, however, is that the Church is nowhere near any new “Golden Age” (relatively speaking). The nations of the world freely condone sins crying to Heaven for vengeance and we do nothing. Priests and bishops, even Princes of the Church, offer decrepit worship to God while leaving the faithful inadequately catechized and we busy ourselves with secular politics, craft beer, and Twitter. The mission of the Church to materially benefit people in obvious need is privileged over saving their souls, and the very idea of a revolutionary moral reform centered on the Crib and the Cross isn’t even on the radar. Whatever age this is, may it close quickly.