Twenty Sixth Sunday In Ordinary Time
Pope Francis in the U.S.. As I write this on Wednesday morning, September 23, across the room my TV screen is silently showing the live coverage of our Holy Father’s activities in Washington on the morning of his first full day in the U.S.. I hope and pray that by the time you read this on Saturday or Sunday he will have had a fruitful and safe visit to our beloved country.
Many Americans, especially Catholics, are incredibly excited about his visit, and many of our own parishioners will be going out to see him here in Washington and even in Philadelphia at the World Meeting of Families this weekend. But many Americans are not so excited. Some folks who are more “progressive” or “liberal” on moral issues are upset at the Pope because he continues to defend the Church’s ancient and unchangeable teaching on moral issues such as same-sex “marriage” or abortion. Meanwhile, other folks who are more “conservative” are upset because of the Pope’s frequently expressed opinions on topics such as capitalism and climate change.
Sadly, some have gone beyond mere disagreement with the pope, even forcefully expressed, and descended to attacking him and the Church using long discredited anti-Catholic barbs taken from the “Black Legend.” The term “Black Legend” refers to the false stories concocted by virulently anti-Catholic writers in the 16th – 18th centuries to discredit Catholicism. Examples of this are the stories that distort the facts about the Inquisition, the Crusades, debauched popes, etc.. While the actions of Catholic churchmen have not been without fault over the ages, enemies of the Church have always enjoyed twisting historical facts to make some events appear much more sinister than they actually were, even after the lies have been discredited by reputable historians—Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
I guess I’ve come to accept that the Church’s enemies will resort to this level of despicable attack, either out of ignorance or simple malice. But I am surprised that this is now spreading to otherwise intelligent and thoughtful commentators who are usually fair to the Church. For example, last week well-respected columnist George Will, in critiquing some of Pope Francis’ statements, wrote: “The church that thought it was settled science that Galileo was heretical should be attentive to all evidence.” A man who accuses Pope Francis of “neglect[ing] the duty to be as intelligent as one can be” should take his own advice and recall what well-informed people know: the Church did not think Galileo was heretical because of his science.
If you’re going to criticize the Church, or the Pope, you should get your facts straight. But nowadays, things like facts and truth seem less and less important than scoring rhetorical points, and civility and respect in dialogue less important than advancing agendas.
As Catholics we must defend the Church’s doctrines/teachings, and live by them. And we must also love the Holy Father and defend him from all unjust personal attacks, even when we disagree with his opinions and judgments. And we must defend Holy Mother Church from lies and distortions of historical facts.
Galileo. So, let’s talk for a moment about Galileo. I’m not an expert on the case, and the facts of the case are complicated, but not that complicated. Galileo was a Catholic scientist who lived and worked in Italy during early 17th century. He became controversial by teaching that the Earth revolved around the Sun, a proposal that conflicted with the scientific consensus of his day: almost all scientists held that the Sun revolved around the Earth. In those days everyone in Italy was Catholic, so the Church had a more prominent role in day to day life. It was also one of the primary patrons of scientific research and advancement. So it seemed natural enough that certain churchmen (i.e., priests and bishops) would take interest in Galileo’s work and eventually officially demand he prove his theories to the satisfaction of his fellow scientists. Unfortunately, Galileo aggravated the situation by proceeding to make theological arguments for his scientific theory.
In the end, Galileo was punished for a combination of proposing bad theology and teaching scientific theories that he could not prove but which were contradicted by the overwhelming consensus of the scientists of his day. We can argue today about whether he was good theologian or a good scientist, but the theologians and scientists of his day rejected his ideas. (Don’t we do similar things today: e.g., the FDA routinely silences claims about medicines that aren’t proven to the FDA’s satisfaction?) So it is false to say things like “the church …thought it was settled science that Galileo was heretical.” The Church never condemned Galileo’s heliocentrism as heresy.
Moreover, it is false to say, as some do, that Galileo was tortured, or persecuted. It’s true that there were many Church authorities who treated him unfairly—some disliked him, since he could be extremely polemic and insulting, even to his friends. But the fact is he had many powerful friends in the hierarchy trying to help him—including his longtime personal friend, Pope Urban XIII. Furthermore, he had ample opportunity to defend himself and received a fair trial. In the end, his punishment was that he remain silent on his theory and live under house arrest in his own very pleasant home for the rest of his life. No dungeons, no rack, no prisons, no chains.
Later the Church, including Pope St. John Paul II, would express regret for whatbecame known as the “Galileo Affair.” Hopefully we’ve learned from the practical mistakes made. One lesson to learn is to proceed very carefully when science and theology interact. Another is to remember that the consensus of scientists does not always demand some sort of absolute unified moral response of Catholics. Finally, the affair reminds us that no one, not scientists, not liberal or conservative pundits, not cardinals or popes—not even parishioners or parish pastors—are infallible in matters of prudential judgments.
Volunteers. I have repeatedly mentioned how over the last few months several of our more active parishioners have moved away due to retirement or job transfers, and how this has negatively affected our pool of active volunteers. As a result I have been approached by various parish committees about their needs for “new blood.” In particular, we need volunteers for our “Samaritans,” a very dedicated parish group that provides a cooked meal for families dealing with a serious illness or accident. We also need more lectors for Sunday Masses; if you can read reasonably well, are a confirmed and practicing Catholic in good standing, and at least 14 years old, you are probably eligible to read at Mass. Please see the parish website or call the office for contact information.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles