Thursday, December 12, 2013

Person of the Year

So Pope Francis has been named Time Magazine's "Person of the Year." Considering who some of the previous honorees have been and who some of this year's runners up were, it may seem a somewhat ambiguous honor. Still an honor is an honor, and good publicity for the Church is to be welcomed. Only two previous popes have been honored with this accolade of celebrity - Blessed John XXIII in 1962 and Blessed John Paul II in 1994. Surely, the Pope appreciates (as should we) not just the perils but also the possibilities that accompany his current celebrity status. History is not always encouraging on this score, but certainly popularity can also attract interest and generate real receptivity to serious substance. Certainly the unprecedented attention being paid to his recent Post-Synodal Exhortation offers reason to hope that that may be happening and that the world may be really paying attention to the substance of the Pope's message.

Of course, not all the attention has been positive. Writing in Millennial, an online journal and blog that features the insights of Catholic millennials on the pressing issues of our time, Robert Christian has analyzed the growing backlash against the Pope on the American political right. Such "free market absolutists," as he calls them, "are right to recognize the fundamental incompatibility of economic libertarianism and the pope’s vision." The pope, Christian suggests, "is a threat to their delusions and designs - to their imagined vision of what America was, distorted vision of what it is, and disturbing vision of what it should be." (See
In the end, this conflict between competing visions of the American dream reprises the conflict that has been at the heart of modernity between competing visions of human well-being. Economic libertarianism and its political correlates (once known as "liberalism") have been challenging the supports on which society rests (and in extreme cases even the concept of society itself) for centuries. And in the process they have unleashed a complementary social and moral  libertarianism that has become a governing paradigm on the Left - leaving little room for a vision of society and human well-being which is both more socially cohesive and morally challenging.
Political extremism of any sort - right or left - is problematic in a society. It is an interesting contemporary phenomenon how so many sincerely religious people have come to embrace a socio-economic agenda that seems to coexist so uncomfortably with the tradition and teachings of the Church.  Perhaps the present popularity of the Vicar of Christ and the attendant publicity are a providential invitation to us politically polarized Americans to step back and recognize the incompatibility of such a partisan agenda with the mission of the Church 

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