Three weeks after the last sound was uttered (more or less) about the Pope's embrace of Kim Davis and full-throated support for all she stands for (psych!), this much more interesting and important thing comes along:
Pope Francis, ending a contentious bishops' meeting on family issues, on Saturday excoriated immovable Church leaders who "bury their heads in the sand" and hide behind rigid doctrine while families suffer.
The pope spoke at the end of a three-week gathering, known as a synod, where the bishops agreed to a qualified opening toward divorcees who have remarried outside the Church but rejected calls for more welcoming language toward homosexuals.
It was the latest in a series of admonitions to bishops by the pontiff, who has stressed since his election in 2013 that the 1.2 billion-member Church should be open to change, side with the poor and rid itself of the pomp and stuffiness that has alienated so many Catholics.
In his final address, the pope appeared to criticize ultra-conservatives, saying Church leaders should confront difficult issues "fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand."
He said the synod had "laid bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church's teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families".
He also decried "conspiracy theories" and the "blinkered viewpoints" of some at the gathering, and said the Church could not transmit its message to new generations "at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible".
There was some dismissal of the Pope's stance in the news recently, some backhanded rejection of his emphasis on pastoralism among the princes of the church. I think, personally, he is exactly right, and it is difficult to argue that people are more important than ideas and institutions.
When Jesus let his disciples pick grain and eat it on the Sabbath, he was rebuked for being a "holy man" who let his followers so flagrantly flout the law. But, as Jesus pointed out, the Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath. For whom was the church made? The princes of the church, or the laity? When the Church follows a liturgy, a leitourgia, they are supposed to be doing "the work of the people". That is what worship is, especially in Roman tradition: the work of the people.
Do the laity of the Church work for the Bishops?
Any insistence on rules and regulations and boundaries as to who is acceptable, are exercises of power. The children of Abraham didn't start out declaring themselves elect and in charge and all others outside the charmed circle unless they could prove they were worthy of admittance. They had a covenant with God, which brought with it privileges and responsibilities. After the Exile the emphasis fell on the responsibilities, but that was because that side had been forgotten, not because God turned nasty and punitive. There isn't even any punishment by God in the Exile; not as explained by the prophets. The children of Abraham abandoned God, but God did not abandon them, and eventually they were returned to Jerusalem. But the promise of Temple worship was not the final promise, and after 70 C.E. came rabbinic Judaism, but the covenant remained.
The insistence on rules and regulations was felt keenly by the first disciples of Christ, and so they painted a one-sided picture of the Jews, making clear the effort behind enforcing rules, at least as perceived by the minority: it draws a line that determines who is in, who is out. But, of course, Christianity has fallen to drawing those lines over and over again in 2 millennia, often deciding who is an acceptable Christian and who, under penalty of law, is not.
And the salvation of the church has always been its pastoral heart.
If the church is all about the Idea, the people suffer. If the church is all about the people, the church and the people suffer. You can't turn from the Idea, but you can't start with the Idea. You have to start with the people, and pastoral awareness keeps you refreshed in the Spirit, which is for the people. The Idea is for us.
God is for the people.
And Hallowe'en is for candy; and democracy is for the majority (mostly). Who don't, it seems, think Kim Davis should keep her job. While only Russ Douthat seems to think the Pope should lose his.
Thus is the circle squared and all aspects of the season included. You're welcome. ;-)