The tweet reproduced here is an example of the attitude which I think is wrong, unhelpful, and strikes at the unity of the Body of Christ. Jesus prayed that we be one in Him, one with the Father. Unity is not a liberal concept, however much ultra-liberals rant on and on about “divisive” pundits not agreeing with their heresy. Instead, unity speaks to the ONE, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, to the univocality of the faith, as Cardinal Siri repeated so very often in his great volume, Gethsemane. The Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome and therefore the Successor of Peter, is the anointed of the Lord, a great sign of unity as established by the Divine Son of God. When the anointed of the Lord is mocked just for the sake of mockery, as seems to be the case here, do not I and all faithful Catholics take offense? To defend a brilliantly faithful homily of the Supreme Pontiff is not to worship the Pope. It is to be Catholic.
On 5 February 2016, Pope Francis gave a homily at Santa Marta in which he spoke of Saint John the Baptist’s doubts about Jesus being the kind of Messiah he had thought he had been proclaiming. It’s a topic I’ve preached on many times myself. Those who mock Pope Francis about this somehow seem to forget ever so conveniently that Saint John had two difficult moments with Jesus as the Messiah, the first at the baptism of Jesus, the second when John was soon to have his own throat cut, sgozzato as Pope Francis puts it. “Forgetting” these difficult moments, one of which is brought up at length by Pope Francis, seems to me to be patently malicious, desirous only that everyone take up a sede-vacantist attitude of the greatest bitterness and mendacity. It seems to be dishonest on every level. So, let’s examine these two moments in the life of Saint John.
John protests his lack of understanding, his “doubts”, if you will, about innocent Jesus coming down to participate in his baptism which was unto the remission of sin. Everyone confessed their sins publicly as they went under the waters of the Jordan, which represented the Red Sea. During the exodus, the only ones to drown were those who had enslaved them. The idea with John’s baptism was that this symbolic drowning represented the fact that they, even worse than the Egyptians, had been enslaving each other in sin. They deserved to drown a thousand times more than any Egyptian. The baptism of John was an occasion in which, with the grace of God, to have a humble and contrite heart, and thus the remission of sin.
The purpose of sinless Jesus undergoing this baptism was to say to His Heavenly Father: “Treat me as the worst of sinners, as if I had enslaved all others in sin, from Adam until the last man is conceived.” And then, of course, He would be baptized in His own blood on our behalf: “Father, forgive them!”
The image is so stark that even John is shocked into making protestations. But he, as the greatest of the prophets, comes to understand Jesus as the Suffering Servant with just a word from Jesus about the fulfillment of righteousness, of Jesus having the right in His own justice to have mercy on us, He standing in our stead, the innocent for the guilty. John baptized him. I dare say that not a one of us would have understood so readily, but would have fallen into mocking the very Son of God. Not Saint John.
Nevertheless, when we who have been conceived in original sin, as was John, are going through a difficulty, it is hard to see the entire forest of premises to an argument because of the few trees right in front of us, against which we are hitting our heads. John plainly sees the malice of those of Herod’s family and the fickleness of Herod himself. John knows it is but a matter of time before his throat is slit. This hard truth staring him in the face could ever so easily distract him from clear thought about the Suffering Servant. Was He not to be the one to take on all such things for us? Were we to have to continue to suffer such things? I dare say that not a one of us would have understood Jesus’ response, indeed, reprimand, so very readily as did John.
Jesus, after citing the proofs of His messiahship, says: “Blessed is the one who is not scandalized in me.” John, greatly consoled, dies as the greatest prophet. This reprimand, if you will, refers back to the baptism, and confirms and extends the scope of Jesus’ response to John at that time. Not only was Jesus as the Suffering Servant a fulfillment of all righteousness, but John’s own suffering with Jesus as the members of a body with the head of the body the very perfection of the fulfillment of that righteousness. As the Master, so the disciple. When Jesus reaches out His heel to crush the head of the serpent, He is reaching out our heels with His, and we are likewise crushed as is He. Jesus did die, and when He lays down His life for us, He is also laying down our lives with His.
And this is the very point of Pope Francis’ homily, that John is privileged to be one with Jesus in the suffering of Jesus. John will prepare the way with his death, and Jesus will follow with the death which conquers death itself. This is beautiful. This is traditional. This is the faith, the Tradition, which has been believed, quod semper quod ubique quod ab omnibus, as Saint Vincent de Lerins put it.
Some say that these difficult moments for John were impossible (though the Gospel recounts them) for the reason that John was sanctified in the womb. They speak as if to found a new heresy that the forgiveness of the original sin in the womb of his mother somehow meant that John had not been conceived in original sin and had never suffered the weaknesses it brings in its wake. This is simply a heresy. This is to insult John, who, as any other of the great saints of Holy Mother Church, was trained up to holiness in the very midst of such weaknesses. This is also to insult Jesus, who is our Savior, not someone who confirms a sanctity we already have apart from Him.
Just to say, eternity is forever. The loss of souls would be the greatest insult to both John and Jesus. Is that what is desired with such bitter mockery of the Holy Father?
Friend, you have said that you feel that you are taking crazy pills. Are you? I ask you that in all sincerity. Where is it that you are going? What are really doing in life? Are you really serving the Divine Son of the Immaculate Conception? Have no doubt, He is coming to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire, His fiery mercy, the keys to which are held by the Successor of Peter. But we can reject that mercy just as it is possible to reject the Petrine Ministry. To mock the Holy Father just to do it seems to me to be an attempt to keep people from making use of that power of the keys, to keep them from going to Confession. Putting such a stumbling block before people seems to me to be a great evil.
Having said all that, I’m still sick after my trip to Rome. I’m going back to bed. I just felt so indignant that Jesus, Saint John and the Bishop of Rome were being insulted that I had to say something. The insults against them fall on me. Isn’t that the case of every Catholic worthy of the name?