The day that summed up a pontificate


Catholic Herald, 14 April 2018

Actions spoke louder than words on Holy Thursday

The Paschal Triduum is the holiest moment of the year. This time it was also abundantly newsworthy. Holy Thursday 2018 summarised the entire pontificate of Pope Francis in one day.

It began with the release of the “interview” of Pope Francis by Eugenio Scalfari. It would be major news if the Supreme Pontiff no longer believed settled Church teaching about the existence of hell. It was significant news that the Holy Father had granted another audience to Scalfari, who has created similar mischief in the past by claiming that the Pope said what he did not say.

No one seemed to think the Scalfari interview was a good idea. Indeed, not even the Holy Father’s most vocal supporters defended him this time. But there was also a certain weariness about it. Of course the holiest days of the year could not pass quietly in the Rome of Pope Francis; there is always news to be made.

The first public item of the day was the Chrism Mass. As is customary when Pope Francis addresses priests, he had a few admonishments in mind as they renewed the promises of their ordination. And he introduced a new term: the “truth-idol”.

“We must be careful not to fall into the temptation of making idols of certain abstract truths,” Francis said. “Because the ‘truth-idol’ imitates, it dresses itself up in the words of the Gospel, but does not let those words touch the heart. Much worse, it distances ordinary people from the healing closeness of the word and of the sacraments of Jesus.”

Anything – even a very good thing like the truth – can become an idol, if preferred to God Himself. Even the truth about God could be idolised. But from St John Paul II’s Splendor of Truth (1993 encyclical) and Benedict XVI’s “cooperators in the truth” (papal motto), it is quite a departure to think of truth as a danger. One of the key dynamics of this pontificate is that critics worry about the Holy Father being ambiguous about certain truths, and the Holy Father himself worries about people who worry about such things.

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