September 25, 2021 Column Father De Celles

Pope Francis. His Holiness has always been a source of some confusion to me. This is particularly true in the way he sometimes speaks of others. Some of the more notable examples include: on November 29, 2014, when speaking about seminarians, he said, “We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the people of God.” And in December of 2016 when he said, “people have a tendency towards the sickness of coprophagia” [coprophagia: the practice of eating feces]. And in February of 2019 he said, “Those who spend their lives accusing, accusing, and accusing are …the friends, cousins and relatives of the devil.”

            This just doesn’t seem very pope-like to me.

            And so I was again terribly confused when I read that the Pope had recently told a group of Jesuits: “There is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope…I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil.” The media immediately identified this “large Catholic television channel” as EWTN, although I must say I am not sure when EWTN has ever spoken “ill of the pope.”

            In any case, this is not the kind of language we normally expect from a pope, even when speaking about his critics. I can’t remember any of his immediate predecessors using this kind of language to describe their critics.

And it’s even more confusing because he says he personally deserves attacks and insults, but then seems to identify himself, perhaps as Pope, with “the church.” So, I’m confused about what he thinks are attacks against him personally, and attacks against him as pope.

            It sometimes seems that any comments that are made that are in any way critical of what Pope Francis says or thinks, even when he makes off the cuff comments like this, are “doing the work of the devil,” or even “feces eaters.”

            So, to be clear, I do not intend herein to be “speaking ill of the pope.” I’m just confused. And confused to the depth of my soul by such seemingly uncharitable words spoken about by our chief shepherd on earth about his sheep. It seems so contrary to Pope Francis’s often quoted remonstration that shepherds should live “with the smell of the sheep.” It does not seem to fit with his insistence on “accompaniment,” “encounter” and “reaching out those who live in the peripheries.”

And I’m concerned, especially for my flock. Over the last few years many of you have told me of your own similar confusion. And confusion when it comes to the pope can lead to disheartenment, anger and even a loss of faith.

I’ve encountered this particularly with confusion caused by Pope Francis’ recent harsh language and treatment toward those who favor the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Especially since this harshness came in an official, and not personal, decree of the Pope.

Perhaps sometimes Pope Francis says things he shouldn’t say, perhaps sometimes he is wrong, even cruel. When we recognize this, or even speak to each other about it, I don’t think that means we are doing “the work of the devil.” But we must not let our critique get out of hand, or turn into hatred, bitterness, or even personal condemnation of the person who is Pope Francis. And we must not let it discourage our faith and hope in the Catholic Church. We know that there have been popes in the past who have done foolish and even terrible things: popes who had mistresses, illegitimate children, or done bizarre things. So if we have a pope who is sometimes confusing, or even unkind, it should not shock us.

Sometimes when I think of Pope Francis I think of my Dad. My Dad was a very good man, great in some ways. And a great Catholic. But sometimes he and I disagreed, and sometimes he said offensive things, and sometimes he was flat wrong. But I still loved him and respected him as my father, and his errors never led me to lose faith in fatherhood in general. And his fatherhood never led me to ignore his faults, but to pray for his dealing with those faults. And praying that I would be a better son, which does not imply being sycophantic, but being the son God wanted me to be to my father—a son in truth and in love.

God bless Pope Francis!

Our Lady of Ransom. Friday September 24th was the Memorial of Our Lady of Ransom. This memorial isn’t listed in the “General Liturgical Calendar,” but it is still on the official sanctoral [“saint”] calendar of the Church. So because of St. Raymond’s intimate connection with this feast, we celebrated it with a special evening Mass.

Many of the newcomers to our parish don’t know much about this devotion, so… During the 13th century, Muslim pirates from northern Africa would regularly raid and capture ships from Christian countries and then hold the captured Christians for ransom, forced conversion, and/or for the slave trade.

So on the evening August 1, 1218, the Blessed Mother appeared separately to three very different men in Barcelona, Spain: to St. Peter Nolasco, the son of a wealthy Spanish merchant and veteran of various battles against the “Moors” (Muslims) occupying much of southern Spain; to King James I of Aragon; and to our own beloved patron St. Raymond of Peñafort, who was Peter’s confessor. Our Lady told each of them that St. Peter was to found a religious order that would dedicate itself to the ransom of Christian captives of Muslims. The members of this new order would take a vow to offer themselves personally/bodily, when necessary, as ransom or as security for the freedom of their fellow Christians. St. Peter obeyed  Our Lady, and with the political and financial support of the King and under the wise guidance of St. Raymond, the order was founded and proceeded in its mission. In the year 1290 the order was officially named the “Order of the Virgin Mary of Mercy of the Redemption of Captives,” so that Our Lady of Ransom is also sometimes called “Our Lady of Mercy,” and the order is commonly called “the Mercedarians.”

            After all of the Masses on the 24th we also vested and instituted participants with the Scapular of Our Lady of Ransom. The scapular is white with the shield of red and gold and red cross of the Mercedarians. The indulgences attached to the scapular include a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions (i.e. detachment to sin of any kind, perform the work or prayer for which the indulgence is granted, and fulfill the three conditions of sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and praying for the intentions of the Pope). The indulgence is available on the day of enrollment and on the following Mercedarian feasts: St. Peter Armengol (April 27), St. Peter Nolasco (May 6), St. Raymond Nonnatus (August 31), St. Mary de Cervellione (September 19), Our Lady of Mercy (September 24), St. Serapion (November 14), and St. Peter Pascual (December 6).

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles