Attempting to exude the gravitas of well-intentioned resignation, our pontiff, who just appeared for the second time on the cover of Rolling Stone, is now sighing all over the Internet that the vocations crisis may just force him to ask some viri probati (married viri probati, mind you) to step up to the sacred plate. After all, seminaries these days are as empty as St. Peter’s Square. What is a Supreme Pontiff supposed to do?
Never mind that Pope Francis’ own yes-man from Malta has finally stated openly what, until now, has remained menacingly implied pretty much everywhere during these long post-Vatican II decades: namely, that any young man who feels truly called to become an alterChristus in the unlimited service of God is very welcome not to let the door hit him on his way out. But for purposes of mainstream consideration, all we are supposed to talk about is the fact that there aren’t enough priests, which leaves a serious-minded and good-hearted shepherd like Pope Francis between a rock and a hard place. Even the Holy Spirit would have to admit (wouldn’t He?) that desperate times call for desperate measures.
So right here, right now, my friends, we are getting our first real peek into the place where Amoris Laetitia’s Chapter 8 is leading us. Cross over into that milk-and-honeyless wasteland, and it is not only the divorced-and-remarried-without-benefit-of-an-annulment who will be required by reality to bend “the Rules” according to the dictates of their own situation. Everyone else is going to be constrained as well, up to and including the Holy Father himself.
That these intractable circumstances have been ushered into existence by the selfsame parties who are now claiming to be “forced” into taking drastic action upon noble acknowledgment of the complex concreteness of their own limitations (or is it the limiting concreteness of their own complexities? I can never remember) is quite beside the point. The fact remains that something has to be done, and who can wrestle with the facts? Even Francis the First, reputedly quite ready to take on any mere angel, turns the white in the cassock before the face of the relentless and inexorable “Mother Earth” of Laudato Si' fame (and who is this “Mother Earth” if not, as opposed to the Faith, the facts; the natural realm, ideologically insulated from anything beyond “her own” reach). Still, let us pause on the very brink of the Amoris abyss to wonder why the “something that has to be done” always turns out to be--mirabile dictu! --exactly what the Noble Acknowledgers have been itching to accomplish all along.
Magda Denes (a sociologist who, according to her own unabashed personal declaration, was actually in support of the “right to choose,” so called) wrote an intellectually honest 70s-era study of the inner workings of an American abortion clinic, entitled In Necessity and Sorrow, which is why you’ve probably never heard of it.
Like the photos of the martyrdom of Miguel Pro which Plutarcho Elias Calles initially ordered both snapped and distributed in order to discourage resistance to his regime, but then had to outlaw when they ended up inspiring Catholic conviction instead; or the purloined books on the subject which Pope Bergoglio professed to want studied at the “Synod(s) on the Family,” only not in Tradition’s relentless light where the missing volumes firmly situated; like these examples, the investigation of Magda Denes into the sacrament of the secularists was eagerly anticipated by the anti-life lobby, but then aggressively ignored and pretty effectively kept out of the limelight.
Denes, you see, had made the mistake of telling it like it is--of bringing to light, as best she could, a dark, alternate universe wherein the perky sloganeering of the Planned Parenthood protesters gives way to a predatory jungle of manipulative exploitation, and the Superwomen of Sangerianism start to sound as pathetic as the world-conquering National Socialists whining that “the Fuhrer made me do it,” once corralled into Nuremberg’s reckoning docks. In other words, Denes describes her well-documented discovery that the abortion industry is in fact dedicated to convincing people to embrace the concrete complexity of their limited . . . whatever.
The pattern becomes unmistakable. Whenever a frightened young mother considers the possibility of bravely carrying her unplanned pregnancy to term, a paid abortion “counselor” is at her elbow to point out that, despite how touching such aspirations admittedly are, the cold, hard facts have to be faced in the end. One woman is deemed too young; another, too old. One hasn’t enough money; another, so much money that it would be mad to place in jeopardy her promising career. One doesn’t see motherhood in her future at all; another wants to become the mother of many, just not right now.
And so it goes. The only constant in the heartbreaking scenario which Denes describes over and over again is this: doing one’s best within the limited complexities of concreteness does seem to machete one’s options down to manageable numbers. Interestingly, the mothers who do end up aborting later attest not to their personal overmastery of all else (as per feminist mythology), but precisely to their paradoxical inability to see beyond what they perceive, or are ingenuously assisted in perceiving, as the restrictions imposed upon them by the exigencies of their immediate circumstances. They don’t want to abort, these women insist; they wish they didn’t have to abort; they acknowledge that carrying to term is, of course, the ideal thing to do; but they abort anyway because it is the best they can do. And so aborting becomes, in a certain attenuated sense, a good or even possibly heroic thing. Black is white; no is yes; two plus two is five; fair is foul; and we end up attributing to Jesus Christ Himself exactly the opposite of that which we had previously held to be what He quite incontrovertibly did assert.
The abortionists themselves seem to be playing by the same set of rules. They’re not in it primarily for the money, they will tell you, even while raking in filthy lucre beyond all reasonable expectation. They’re there for the sake of the very women whom they are exploitatively overcharging. It isn’t good that these women find themselves in their unfortunate condition, but what can the abortionist do about it, except help them out? Tearing innocent unborn children limb from limb, or chemically poisoning them to death, is all that can be done and, while the abortionists in many ways express regret at having to do it, they nevertheless realistically recognize that somebody has to, so it might as well be them. Hence the title, In Necessity and Sorrow.
It was another investigator, Robert Jay Lifton, who, to my knowledge, first coined a term to cover this phenomenon; he called it, “claiming the ordeal of sacrifice.” The population extensively interviewed by him likewise exhibits subscription to the selfsame mentality. One of Lifton’s interviewees, in fact, summed up his entire mission and that of his fellows as: “We lived and acted within the limits of the possible.” Lifton’s book is entitled, prosaically enough, The Nazi Doctors.
It will, no doubt, be objected at this stage that giving Holy Communion to the improperly disposed, or ordaining to the priesthood a number of good-but-already-married men is hardly comparable to the killing of millions of innocent people. What is comparable and even identical, however, is the metaphysical calculation behind them all. Is not the Internet already swarming with supposedly “Catholic” calls to heed Pope Francis about the possible ordination of the viri probati,because otherwise the “needs” of the faithful just aren’t going to be met? Like the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony just before it, now the Latin priesthood itself is to be betrayed “in necessity and sorrow.” Banished entirely from this discussion, as from the discussion of how many pesky people poor old “Mother Earth” can reasonably be expected to hold, is any consideration of the unflinching obedience due to an infinitely good, infinitely powerful God who can be trusted both to know what is best, and to bring it about.
And exactly who, by the way, are these viri probati going to be? If God-fearing single men are unceremoniously being shown the seminary door, why should we expect God-fearing married men to be able to make it through formation, either? Probati means proven; but proven in what? Proven in their adherence to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith, one would hope; and yet, doesn’t this very phrase--“proven faithfulness” --seem to bite on a bad tooth? Doesn’t it ring a bell?
Of course it does; we have, in fact, been hearing it constantly in the context of the larger Amoris Laetitia debate all along, for it is precisely the “proven faithful” among the chronically adulterous who are supposed to be admitted to the sacraments, while those who attempt to receive the Holy Eucharist with their sins forgiven and with a firm purpose of amendment are derided as double-lived hypocrites, quite worse than atheists, even. Will the viri probati, in a similar way, turn out to be “proven” not in their loyalty to Jesus Christ, but rather to the Pope to whom they owe their gratitude for permitting their ordination in the first place--like the members of the hierarchy who recently offered their bizarre “vote of confidence” not to God Almighty, but specifically to the former Bishop of Buenos Aires?
And as for the bending of “the Rules” by the logic of Footnote 351, who’s to say how far it will go? Only this far today, perhaps, which will permit the papal apologists of every stripe to proclaim, plausibly or otherwise, that what is being said or done at this very moment technically fails to constitute an imputable overreach. Then again, in "Chapter8Land" where everyone not only may but actually must move ever “forward,” there’s always tomorrow. Conveniently, what we currently call today will lapse into yesterday, and as everyone knows, attitudes once antiquated no longer need to be taken into account. Apparently, something about Time being greater than Space comes into play here, but be that as it may; the Noble Acknowledgers never stop short of the fulfillment of their own agenda. As C. S. Lewis observes in The Great Divorce, “There are only two kinds of people; those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘thy will be done.’”
Still, the great thing about Amoris’ Chapter8Land is that nobody can be forced to go there in the first place. Every human being has been given by God inviolable and personal freedom, and there simply is no such thing as a circumstance in which we cannot, through the Mediatrix of all Graces, conform ourselves ever more closely to the will of Almighty God. Our Mother is Mary Immaculate, and not the “Earth,” no matter what anyone says. We belong not to this world, and certainly not to Chapter8Land, but to the Kingdom of which She alone remains the Queen.
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