Will the Real Pharisees Please Stand Up?

It’s always nice when you are set to write on a topic but find yourself with a lack of time to discover that somebody else has already covered the issue. So, thank you C.C. Pecknold for doing the heavy lifting so that I don’t have to. Writing about the troublesome paragraphs of the final report of the synod on the family, Pecknold observes:

Jesuits, in fact, have a reputation for just this kind of casuistry that is so apparent in the ambiguous paragraphs. All signs point to Pope Francis’s interpreting them in the way progressives hope. But I’m on record as being a hopeful conservative with regard to this pope, often reading him against the liberal narrative rather than with it. I am obedient to the Office of Saint Peter, and I love this pope. I pray for him as I pray for my own father. And I trust that the Holy Spirit will guard and protect the pope insofar as God uses him as an instrument of the Church’s unity, as a guardian of the deposit of faith, and as our chief evangelist. But as Saint Paul reminds us, our obedience must be rational (Rom. 12.1–2). And thus far rational obedience impels me to ask the Holy Father questions.

What sort of legalism does the pope have in mind? When the pope condemns the Pharisees, does he realize that they were the ones who were casuistical and loosely legalist in allowing for divorce? Does he know that Christ responded to the Pharisees’ legalism with a radical gospel challenge that renewed the creation of man in grace, and the indissolubility of marriage? Does he see that Kasper’s proposal is itself at one with the Pharisees? Does he really think conservatives are teachers of the law rather than of virtue and truth? Does he really think that progressives wanting to accommodate the Church to liberal values, or comply with secular mores, are the vital source of newness for the Church?

Even if Pecknold’s hopefulness with regards to the Pontiff is a tad naive, the observation about Phariseeism is spot on. Heterodox, dissenting Catholics are the quickest to use the term “Pharisee,” mainly because that’s about the only argument their poor brains can muster. When applied to the issue of civilly divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion, this label is horribly misapplied. Jesus was highly critical of the Pharisees not merely because they were legalistic, but because their legalism in essence became their religion, and they missed the forest for the trees in their approach to faith. If Catholics were in the habit of suggesting that people could not receive Communion if their shirts were not buttoned up to at least the penultimate button, that would be a more apt description of Phariseeism. Insisting that we adhere to the strict words of Jesus quoted in the Gospels with respect to Catholic couples cohabitating in a state of sin is most certainly not a form of Phariseeism. The true Pharisees will be the ones who use the language of the final synod report to permit couples living in this state of sin to receive the Eucharist absent true repentance. Get ready to see just how many camels they will be trying to fit through the eye of the needle.

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  1. I spent the past several decades working at correcting liberal (whatever the client wants) interpretations of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) in entities’ financial reports. The other side consistently cited sentences in the over-written accounting literature to support the nefarious acts. I see that here.
    O, by the way, your byline insults Pharisees.

  2. Very good point made by Peckford that it was the Pharisees who were the defenders of divorce and it was Jesus who issued the clear statement of marriage indissolubility.

    Pope Francis is pretty good at innuendo and name calling of conservatives. He should rewind a few of his comments and listen ever so little more intently. That’s right, Frankie, that’s you being nasty.

    Nice pope, in the judgment of a lot of people. Including myself, much of the time. But he’s only human, with his own peculiar blind spots.

  3. As we all know, the Pharisees were tainted because they pushed man-made law over God’s law. The chastisement from the pope appeared to be clearly aimed at those who adhere to and love the words of God, and His truth as expressed in His Church’s well formed doctrine.
    To conflate the two–(one good one bad ) and chastise only the good, is at best confusion, at worse, a misunderstanding of God’s Church, or even worst, poorly thought out actions of a good shepherd.
    Pray hard for our Pope, that the Holy Spirit will help him to speak with clarity about God’s truth faith. May it thrive under his care.

  4. Good post, Paul Z. It is ironic that the Pharisees whom the Pope decries were the ones who supported the position that he currently maintains. Is an Argentinian Marxist Peronist capable of perceiving irony?
    I have alluded to some of this here at the TAC forum, but not the details (which will go left unsaid). A few years into sobriety 3 decades ago I changed sponsors, and went from one who insisted on Mass and Confession to a weak-kneed liberal progressive because his mesage of mercy seemed so nice and tolerant and non-divisive. That was some 20+ years ago.I then fell in love and married an atheist via a civil instead of religious cermony, having put my faith on the back burner. My sponsor said I was breaking free of my religious straight-jacket. He should have told me to remain chaste. This woman and I had two children. Then in 2005 I had a nervous breakdown of sorts (that’s what happens to alcoholics who don’t go to meetings and don’t stay active in church, but remain dry – they go nuts). So I returned to what had worked in the beginning – my 12 step program, and Mass and Confession. I started to recover again. Two years later this woman, seeing my return to the faith, demanded a divorce. She left me, taking the children with her. It was worse than heroin withdrawals, and believe me that I know all about heroin withdrawals. Of course the first marriage wasn’t valid, and was null. But that ain’t the point. Rather, by having left the Church in apostasy for someone beautiful to the eyes, I had wrecked my life. Yes, late in life I was able to get really married “again” or rather for the first time. But I have no recourse to my children whom I fathered in a null and void relationship. I love and terribly miss my darling little daughter (well, she is a teenager now) and my handsome son. But what I did has resulted in my estrangement from them (it’s a very long story that I won’t explain here), and almost resulted in my loss of sobriety (though I have often wondered if I was just dry during all those years and not really sober).
    So here’s my lesson to everybody: do what 2000 years of Church teaching and the Bible say to do even if it is freaking hard as stone to do, because the alternative is orders of magnitude harder and worse, and the feeling of guilt over the children does not leave.
    As far as I am concerned, Cardinal Kasper and Archbishop Cupich and all their kind can stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. Their freaking theology has almost killed me and left me without my kids.

  5. That’s a timely reminder that too often “mercy” is an exercise in self-congratulation and pity without compassion on the part of the merciful(think of “kind” Xerxes in 300) that you’ve got there Paul.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. I recall a discussion I had with a priest back in February, in which i called Cdl. Kasper a heretic, to which he responded that we must be careful how we label people (without disagreeing with me)

    I am completely justified in what I said, because last month Cdl. Sarah said exactly the same thing. 🙂

  7. Mr. Primavera, I could not agree with you more. Kasper, Marx, Wuerl, Cupich, Danneels, Maradiaga and the rest of them nauseate me.

    Most of the Church hierarchy refuses to teach about the evil of sin and the need for repentance. The Catholic bishops of the US and Canada, among other places, refuse to excommunicate Catholic politicians who support abortion. They refuse to certify that Catholci theologians teach real Catholic theology in so-called Catholic colleges and universities in their dioceses.

    it is not entirely the work of the bishops, but……places such as Quebec, Ireland, Guatemala and honduras (with Brazil not far behind) have seen a meltdown of the Church. These formerly Catholic strongholds have grown indifferent or hostile to the Church.

    This papacy is a disaster. Heretics such as Kasper, who should have been sent to a clostered monastery by John Paul II, travel the world seeking to destroy Catholic doctrine for the sake of continued easy living at the expense of the German taxpayers. Cupich is a buffoon who has no business being a bishop is the Archbishop and soon to be Cardinal of Chicago. The train wreck that is the FFI, the demotion of Cardinal Burke, the petty insults….I have no respect for the current Pope. None. His worldview is pathetic, that of a whining loser, which is to be expected coming from a country with such abundant resources and yet such dysfunction among its citizens.

    Oh, now Pope Francis knows who his “enemies” are – Burke, the African bishops and the Polish Episcopal Conference.

    Next year is another World Youth Day, this time in Krakow, the hometown of Karol Wojtyla, the home of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, St. Maximillian Kolbe and the resting place (Wawel Cathedral) of numerous Polish heroes and saints. The Pope’s words about dialouge with Islam will ring hollow in the resting place of Jan III Sobieski. The Pope’s words about Communists will be found irritating, if not sickening, in the resting place of Josef Pilsudski and the native land of Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko (the Servant of God has cousins in the Pittsburgh area).

    Maybe the trip to Poland will force the Holy Father to open his eyes and ears to what it really means to be Catholic. Given his words and deeds so far in this pontificate, he has little if anything to teach Poland.

  8. T. Shaw, I labor as an accountant.

    In my first professional job was in an office for a company that owned four retail stores that sold expensive designer brand clothes. They did not pay their vendors, their withholding taxes and sometimes even their utilities. The CFO, who screamed at and insulted everybody, collected a check (not a paycheck) each week as a consultant. I quit when I found out that the company owed a combination of back taxes, interest and penalties of $150K.

    My second professional job was at a company in Our Nation’s Capital that had a CEO who flew around the world in the Concorde. One of his officer buddies had a $10K chandelier in his office and bought a watch for a sales award. He wore the watch until it was time to give it away. Every time he went on a business trip there were invoices from country club pro shops. The controller treated the senior auditor like the proverbial red headed step child.

    I took a buyout and left.

    My sons are NOT going to be accountants. The work is tedious, the pay stinks and the responsibility for everything always rests on the poor schmuck who puts together the financial statements, which isn’t management.

  9. I’ve been wondering lately whether, as in the political death of our nation, we get the leaders we deserve, if not seek….if we got a Pope and hierarchy we deserve, if we got a president we deserve. After all, most, or at least I, don’t speak about these matters until the full frontal assault takes place. Obama is not a cause, he’s a symptom; Pope Francis is not a cause, he’s a symptom…..

  10. Let me go with the thought that first occurs to me. The son the father loves, he chastises. I think God loves the United States and he certainly loves His Church. Therefore, we are rightly chastised. It gives me hope, that I too am chastised with various stripes in my old age. Thank you Paul, for telling us a bit of your own journey. We all bear our own burden but few are we who so willingly share it.

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