Fr. Dwight Longenecker at Standing on My Head has published a piece that asks and answers the question: What is Pope Francis up to with this recent announcement of new cardinals?
It's exciting news, but there's one part of his analysis that particularly caught me. In noting the unusual demographics of this group of cardinals, he says:
This shift in the Sistine Chapel’s population not only means the next pope is certainly going to be chosen from the developing world, but it changes the complexion of the church’s leadership. What we have known in the recent past is the predominance of European and North American liberals or moderates. They have been concerned with church affairs, theological questions and moral debates that have reflected the concerns of Europe and North America. The hot button issues have been women’s ordination, married priests, same sex marriage, abortion, economics and politics. Burdened by intellectual doubt, undermined by liberal Biblical scholarship, infected with modernism and weakened by establishment links, the European and North American leadership have too often presented a church that was worldly, mildly unbelieving and unconcerned about the core gospel values and the need to evangelize.
It is this kind of Catholicism that the Pope wants to engage. It is not so much that he sees the concerns of the developed church as irrelevant as he see them as secondary to more pressing matters in the battle to live the faith and proclaim the gospel.
This is such a comfort to me, when I take the time to think about it. The culture of our country, reflected even in our faith, is both insecure and belligerent, and serious subjects have the ability to polarize quickly. The news and content demanding my attention, loaded as it is with these "hot-button issues," sucks the Christian joy right out of me. Every day I must make the choice to disengage in order to protect my primary vocation and mission; I have a duty to my husband and family to maintain the joy and peace that are the fruits of our faith. Sure, I still feel the need to defend the truth the Church proclaims, but it usually leaves me feeling...defensive. What's worse, some of those I would call allies in the culture wars of America and American Catholicism, who are on the defensive too, seem to hold as their motto "The best defense is a good offense." Jesus said he came to bring not peace but a sword, but it's still true that you can't evangelize people if you're alienating them.
Yet I still feel the need to engage the world. Isn't that what Christianity is all about, becoming so overwhelmed with the Good News that we simply must spread it? This projected effect of Pope Francis' news cardinals is a return to roots, so to speak. Fr. Longenecker says Pope Francis is "putting together his battalions for battle."
Only our focus will shift from infighting among fellow men and among Christians, to the defeat of the true Enemy.