One way in which Christ brings peace is by conquering fear:
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)
Fear is contrary to peace because one cannot be tranquil as long as one expects to suffer the privation of the good. But the Pascal Mystery removes any cause for fear of any created thing; tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and death itself (cf. Romans 8:35) are no longer fearful because Christ has transformed them by His passion, death, and resurrection into the means by which we are united to His sacrifice and brought to ultimate triumph.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am certain that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)
The mercy that God shows in the Pascal Mystery liberates particularly from the fear of shame, of accusation, of exposure–the fear that the “doxa,” the appearance of goodness that we spin around ourselves, will be exposed for the sham that it is. God has mercy on us because we are weak and miserable, and therefore we glory in our weakness as that which attracts God’s pity: “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10)
I thinking of these things yesterday in connection with the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. Both of them exemplify the peace that comes from the conquest of fear–summi pontifices qui terrena non metuerunt. St. John XXIII is of course famous for never being stressed-out and anxious despite his towering responsibilities: “Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one…Only for today, I will have no fears. ” And one might say that the main theme St. John Paul II’s pontificate was hope: “Non abbiate paura!” His last days were a sort of living exegesis of 2 Corinthians 12:10: “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
Naturally there have been those who have been critical of the canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II, and think that many of the criticisms are connected to this theme of peace/fear/hope. I have argued before that the main challenge that the papacy has faced in the modern world is the crisis of Christian hope brought about by the rise of the ideology of earthly progress. In the case of Pope St. John Paul II there have been two opposite criticisms, both of which have to do with his attitude toward progress; the first is the traditionalist critique that sees him as not opposing the ideology of progress strongly enough, and the other is the leftist critique that sees him as opposing the “progress” of Marxism in central Europe and South America, and abortion rights in the whole world. If you only to read one of the many critical articles and blogposts that have been published in these days, I would recommend one by El Mono Liso, an occasional commentator on this blog. El Mono Liso’s piece has the advantage of combining the traditionalist and the progressive critiques into one:
I come at this hostility from two entirely different angles. The first is of course the left wing one and recognizing JPII’s negative effect on the economic and social life of the West, notably, anti-communism and his stance against reproductive rights. The second is diametrically opposed to this: it is the traditionalist critique that JPII was a horrible liberal, a syncretist who kissed the Koran, etc. Here you could say that I have a multiple personality disorder, but I think these objections have more to do with my respect for both the “traditional” Church and the “liberation theology” Church as the only two options worthy of respect. For me, the canonization of JPII is the canonization of a church of mediocrity, a church that doesn’t know what it wants, that holds irrational and contradictory positions, and barely has a coherent argument for it. [… JPII] was pretty blatant about not requiring Jews to come to Jesus to be saved, Protestants not necessarily needing to convert to Catholicism to be considered part of the Church, etc. etc. None of these latter things have much foundation in Scripture or tradition, but when it came to the birth control pill or abortion, look out world, that is where the fight against relativism made its last stand.
Obviously I disagree with El Mono Liso, but I think that I can see “where he’s coming from.” The apparent irrationality and contradictoriness of the post-Conciliar Church’s positions comes I think from the subtle approach that Vatican II took to the question of progress. As I have argued before, Vatican II had an ambivalent attitude toward progress; it wanted to convert the world by subverting the secular ideology of progress with Christian hope. This approach had some limited successes (e.g. in the movimenti), but in huge swaths of the Church it backfired disastrously–instead of subverting secular ideology Christian hope was itself subverted in many Catholics, leading to a catastrophic internal secularization of the Church.
Now, I think that El Mono Liso exaggerates the differences in St. John Paul’s attitude toward syncretism and such things on the one hand and toward sexual immorality on the other (is Dominus Iesus really less intransigent than Evangelium Vitae?), but there are reasons why things appear thus. On the one hand you had spectacular “progressive” changes in Church discipline, and apparently in Church doctrine (though I would argue that these can be explained away), with regard to things that pertain to the heart of Christianity such as the Sacred Liturgy and the understanding of extra ecclesiam nulla salus, and then on the other hand in a marginal and obscure question of morals such as contraception the Church suddenly decides to make a stand against progress. If one looks closer though I don’t think that there is anything arbitrary about the stand that the Church makes on “reproductive rights.” Sexual “liberation” is one of the key projects of the false Gospel of progress, and it is deeply rooted in the Baconian project of the domination (and thus denial) of nature that is the hard core of that ideology. Insofar as the Church wants to accept the positive aspects of “modern civilization” while rejecting its false, blasphemous core it makes sense that this would be one of the main sticking points.
El Mono Liso thinks that the Church’s stance against “reproductive rights” is arbitrary, and thus “completely gratuitous and mean-spirited.” But is this really true? The ideology of progress, which claims to be so concerned with people’s welfare, and so against trampling on the weak, is the ideology which promotes the murder of innocent unborn persons. Rusty Reno recently wrote a thoughtful peace on how this merciless mercy stems from the replacement of Christian hope with the ideology of progress (I know that quoting Reno has torpedoed this post’s chances of being taken seriously by El Mono Liso, but then those chances were never very high):
Faced with what Rawls describes as “incalculable moral and political evil for civilized life everywhere,” what are we to do? To fail to do what is necessary would seem a dereliction of our duty to humanity. Ought we not to break moral rules in order to save the possibility of morality? If not us, whom? It’s a vexing question, one for which religious belief plays a significant role. Those who believe in God as the providential Lord, overseeing creation and guiding history, will naturally believe that he responds to the “supreme emergency” in his own way and in his own time. Those who don’t believe in God? They can grit their teeth and insist that a moral absolute is a moral absolute. But that’s hard to do without a belief in God as the providential governor of history who eventually rights all wrongs. Rawls identified an alternative, the one that requires moral relativism. In dire circumstances we can set aside moral absolutes. […] I’ve come to see that this describes the moral atmosphere of our times quite well. We each take on the role of commander-in-chief, often invoking the “supreme emergency exemption” to address what we imagine to be dire circumstances in our lives, or the lives of others. For example, a friend recently asked me if I honestly believed that abortion is always immoral. “What if your daughter was fourteen and became pregnant? Would you really refuse to make an exception? Would you really force her to live with the consequences?” The question is typical, reflecting not an insouciant and amoral relativism, but instead an anguished awareness of dire circumstance. Most Americans who support Roe v. Wade see abortion as a personal Hiroshima. The same holds for euthanasia. It’s “tragic,” but “necessary.” We’re to respect life, except when, regrettably, we’re not.
Hence St. John Paul II wrote that our time is more opposed to mercy than any other.
I wrote my post on the papacy and progress before Pope Francis was elected. At the time my hope was that in an increasingly hostile secular world the new pope might abandon the too-subtle strategy of Vatican II and return to something more like the strategy of the Pian age. Pope Francis obviously has not done that. In fact, he is even less hesitant about the Vatican II approach than his immediate predecessor, and of course that is “his call.” Whatever one might think about the prudence of Pope Francis’s approach, it’s basically the same as that taken by the two predecessors that he canonized yesterday.