Some years ago, a friend of mine who is doing the work of a Catholic evangelist in Asia was chatting with me about Pope Francis’s vision of evangelization. This was around the time of the Synod on the Family and the many fake cries of “confusion” and “scandal” that the Greatest Catholics of All Time were shrieking at him, not because he is confusing, but because they hate him and don’t want to listen to the challenge of the gospel.
Among the many falsehoods told about Francis by this sect of enemies of Holy Church is the claim that because he avoids proselytizing (that is, the attempt to impose the gospel by force and abuse), he therefore opposes evangelization and just wants to be cozy with the world. By this, these Reactionaries–who hate evangelization with a passion and who labor to drive seekers away from the Church while driving most of its members out of it–really mean that Francis does not go around beating up weak people, shaming struggling sinners, and tying up heavy burdens for men’s backs while not lifting a finger to help them. He does not, as they do, make converts who are twice the children of hell that they themselves are. He seeks disciples of Jesus, not cowed slaves.
Francis seeks to bear witness to the least of these and to present the merciful face of Christ, not the wrathful face of Pharisaic damnation that is the ugly sight Reactionaries offer as they call Amazonian Catholics damned pagans and spit on their veneration of Our Lady of the Amazon, or shriek that wearing a mask in consideration of the vulnerable is unbearable oppression, or lie that using a vaccine makes you a babykiller.
My friend and I were struck at the time that, of all people, Elton John (who had ten years before called for the worldwide destruction of the Catholic Church) had recently remarked that he would be open to having a conversation with Francis. For my friend, who actually practices evangelization, this was win, just as pagans on the Areopagus wanting to hear more from Paul was a win, just as Samaritans wanting to hear more from the apostles was a win. But for the Greatest Catholics of All Time, it was an indictment. Francis attracted tax collectors and singers in his orbit. What further evidence was needed? If this man were a prophet, we would not allow such people to touch him and render him ritually impure.
I have mentioned it in the past, but it is worth saying again: Reactionary Catholics have the same view of the power of the gospel as the Pharisees who hated Jesus: they do not believe in it. They see the gospel as eternally threatened, not as having power. It is a thing always about to be destroyed, not a power on the march to conquer the world with love in Christ. They live in fear, not confidence, and the closest imitation they can offer to the confidence of Jesus is not peace in the face of hatred, but haughty contempt in the face of their victims.
Jesus, confronted with things that were defiling under Levitical law, consistently overcame defilement with the power of divine love. He touched lepers, greeted Gentiles, touched menstruating women, welcomed tax collectors, and even touched corpses. Instead of being defiled, he healed them, opened their eyes to his love, and even raised the dead.
That is the confidence that Francis radiates. So he has no interest in huddling in Fortress Katolicus, driving out the impure and pouring boiling oil on all who approach, as is the Reactionary Way. He is not afraid. He has, by his own confession, not been afraid from the moment he was made Pope and accepted the grace of the Holy Spirit to do his office. Instead, as I pointed out repeatedly, he has banged away at one message: He has preached good news to the poor. Understand that, and you understand everything you need to know about this remarkably simple man and his remarkably simple message. He has left the Fortress, has no interest in the Fortress, and has gone out into the highways and byways to meet anybody who is willing to listen to Jesus’ gospel. Because he understands what St. Thomas understood: That which is received is received according to the mode of the receiver. Instead of demanding that everybody in the world approach the gospel according to the incredibly limited outlook of Reactionaries and their incredibly limited politics, economics, and aesthetics, Francis meets people where they are and then invites them to see with the vision of Christ.
All good evangelists have always done this. Which brings me to this piece in, of all places, Teen Vogue. It’s a look at Servant of God Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker.
What matters here is not so much what the piece says as the fact that it exists at all in the pages of Teen Vogue. And exactly the same dichotomy of response is found to it as to the interest of Elton John in talking to the pope. For those interested in bearing witness to the Faith and unafraid getting cooties or incurring ritual impurity, the willingness of Elton John to listen to the successor of Peter and the willingness of Teen Vogue to listen to and learn from a Servant of God and eventual canonized saint of Holy Church is a win. It’s a step forward, an open door, an opportunity to bring the word of Christ to people who are interested in and searching for that word or they would not be attracted to these figures whose lives are inexplicable apart from that word. Do these people have their own agendas, thoughts and ideas? Of course they do. So what? So did the Samaritan woman. So did the apostles. So does everybody Christ meets and engages. Welcome to the human race. Our task as witnesses is to join that human race, unafraid, and not hunker down in fear of it.
But for the Fortress dwellers, the interest of Teen Vogue in Dorothy Day is an indictment of Day. If she were a real Catholic, she would not excite the interest of those people, those filthy icky liberal media types. All it proves is that Day is unclean, defiling, and defiled. One more to be read out of the Church, posthumously, as a fake Catholic. One more to be avoided and not listened to. And those who seek light in her are not to be welcomed but rebuffed by redoubled efforts to drive them away as infiltrators and enemies, not seekers.
It is the choice between these two ways of being Catholic–of thinking as fearless apostles sent out to the world to meet people where they are and speak the gospel of Christ to them on their terms vs, hunkering down in a Fortress living in fear of ritual impurity–that will determine the progress of the Church in the coming centuries.
We have a pope who is showing us how it’s done. We also have the serpent of MAGA Reactionary Qhristianity, fueled by a ton of conservative American money and a phalanx of right wing Catholic media–TV, radio, and social media–arrayed against and at open and naked war with him and with Catholics trying to imitate him. But I believe the Holy Spirit guides the Church still and that those seeking to bear witness to Christ rather than drive souls away from him have His help. More than this, they have the help and prayers of the communion of saints–including Servant of God Dorothy Day.
So I live in hope.