Yes & no

“I am double-minded, actually.” The expression is among my favourites in Delhi English. It is not as easily translatable into standard mid-Atlantic as might first appear. It does not mean, for instance, “I cannot make up my mind between two irreconcilables.” Indeed, it has nothing to do with making up one’s mind, for it describes an enduring philosophical position. And anyway, the Indian mind is almost incapable of self-contradiction. It moves too quickly for that.

If, from my frankly barbaric and alien distance, I can grasp the true meaning, it would be something like: “You are trying to reduce a both/and proposition to an either/or, and I am on to you.” Now, add to that some sportive and humorous Punjabi self-deprecation, which makes Indians of the north and west more lovable than any other people in the world, except of course Italians.

I am double-minded, actually, about our current pope, and equally about his critics. By now, we Traddies all know the rap. He is playing to the gallery: using street-media language in a reckless way, to make the sort of statements that will appeal to the masses, arguably at the expense of the Mass. He’s a showman who, by abbreviating “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” to “Blessed are the poor,” is letting the liberation theologists back in the pantry door. He says, “Who am I to judge?” when that is exactly what he is paid for. He seems to be appointing the very sort of people we thought we’d finally seen the back of; and generally encouraging, whether or not by intention, the happy-slappies everywhere. Having rightly condemned the phenomenon of “airport bishops,” making casual sound-bite pronouncements on the fly, he is too often being one.

Let us be more pointed. A man who plays to the gallery — speaking in applause lines to an audience easily pleased — may appear to be soliciting praise for himself. And the voluble praise he is actually receiving, from various rather worldly sources, is vitiated by deprecation of his predecessors, and mockery of faithful Catholics. I’ve seen enough at first hand to know the people he most pleases are not well-disposed to received Catholic teaching. In particular, Benedict XVI is frequently held up to invidious comparison. The pope cannot intend this; but should study cause and effect.

I am myself a Johnny-come-lately, of only ten years’ standing in the Church, but all my adult life I’ve had friends who were battle-axe Catholics, enduring with our Lord the humiliations to Him and to them that were imposed after Vatican II, through liturgical “reforms” that desecrated the Mass. For those with some culture and literary refinement, the awkward and illiterate translations of the ICEL committees made attendance at Mass in English exceptionally painful. Many, many were driven out of the Church, as the integrity and continuity of the Roman tradition appeared to have been compromised. But many others grimly watched it out, refusing to leave the Desolate City. Through decades, those seeking permission to sing the Old Mass, endured further humiliations from unsympathetic bishops, who looked upon their most faithful as rebels to the bureaucratic order, and upon jackasses with their clowns and guitars as the vanguard of fashion.

An outsider can only begin to imagine the joy that was felt, when Benedict published “motu proprio” his Summorum Pontificum in 2007 — freeing priests around the world to sing the Old Mass wherever it was wanted, and putting it on a par with the post-Vatican II vernacular — “two usages of the one Roman rite.” The notion that the usus antiquior was wanted only by geriatrics suffering nostalgia can be easily dismissed. After half-a-century most of those who could remember it as the norm were dead, anyway; it is actually the younger and the spiritually hungrier who thirst for restoration of reverence in the Mass, and for the recovery of the long and very deep musical, poetical, and artistic traditions which once held all the Roman peoples together.

The new pope’s off-the-cuff remarks to the effect that this thirst is a kind of idolatry, struck a savage blow against a wound yet unhealed. His prompt action to forbid the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate from singing the Old Mass — some eight hundred denied for the alleged extreme traditionalism of perhaps six members — set a precedent for actually rolling back what Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum had unambiguously promised.

Yet what the new pope is doing, in addressing the outside world, is to my mind actually a good thing. If he has the charisma — in the old sense — let him go out and sell. The Church is in the business of the salvation of souls, and not a club for the elect; and Christ is not King of a religious denomination, but in Eternity. His message is to every man and woman born, and if Pope Francis has the gift to communicate His message to people otherwise unable to hear, he is doing the work of Heaven. Christ himself sent off his Apostles to the ends of the earth; and the task of evangelism was never restricted to them. Every Catholic carries it as a duty, to spread the Word.

Moreover, the pope is quite right that this should not consist of proselytizing, in the narrowest sense. There is a place for apologetic argument, and of course for catechizing those who come to us. There is a place for compelling language and gesture, directed personally to those whom we love. But banter and argument will never win over souls prejudiced from the start against the Church and her teachings. It is the power of prayer and holiness, instead — in more worldly terms, the power of example — which alone can break through. And here I think Pope Francis is exemplary; and the spontaneous way in which he sets his examples is thrilling, at least to me. There can be no possible question of his sincerity and earnestness, as a player upon the public stage. Moreover, he is joyful: a very sure sign of Christian integrity. He loves, and he wants to tear down obstacles.

One focused point I want to make about this pope. It seems to me he understands that gallery he is addressing, in a rather subtle way. He knows the issue is faith, not belief, and he knows this at a specific wavelength. He knows that people are troubled. He knows, as they often do not in their own self-understanding, that they fear God in their hearts. He knows that, behind outward show of empty pride, they are seeking forgiveness. He has actually been pointing, not first to the Mass, but first to the Confessional. I don’t think my traditionalist friends have given him their hearing on this.

So I am doubly double-minded.

There is an inside and an outside to the Church in this world. Conceive this as a Gothic cathedral, in which the two are communicating by light. The world is outside, but inside the Host. The spaces are communicating, but not interchangeable. The whole narrative of the creation and the salvation is arrayed in the statuary of the outside; on the inside the line of sight is conducted towards the altar. The teaching and “belief” of Christianity are subsumed in the mystery of the Cross. As in the ancient Temple at Jerusalem, and its orientation towards the Holy of Holies, our universe enfolds, turning from the large outside into smaller and smaller spaces. We are looking from the expansive finitude of this world, as if towards and through the eye of a needle, to an infinitude beyond. We are looking from our mortality into immortality.

Too much from the outside came inside after Vatican II. Too little inside has gone out again. It was not simply the Old Latin Mass that needed to be restored, but as Pope Benedict plainly said, the very reverence to the sanctuary it taught by its example. The New Mass itself needed reforming by juxtaposition with the Old, and the “reform of the reform” of the New he set in motion has indeed been bearing fruit.

There is no room inside for a gallery to play to; the homily itself is not meant to preach like that, but rather to explain in the simplest possible terms. Exhortation belongs to the commotion outside; we, the people who have come to participate in the Sacrifice of the Mass, no longer need to be exhorted. The pope, to this way of presenting the matter, has a two-fold rôle, in his evangelical part addressing the world, in his priestly part defending that altar. This is not an either/or proposition. Outside, he must turn to the people; inside, he must turn, with us, towards our Lord.