Is Pope Francis Walking On the Mystical Side?

imageAnthony Faiola, writing in the Washington Post, tells us that Pope Francis embraces the mystical side of the Catholic Church:

To many, the first Latin American pope is a reformer, a man determined to lead the Catholic Church into a new age of enlightenment.Yet as Pope Francis prepares to make his first official trip to the United States, his papacy is also proving to be one of apparent contradictions. Perhaps the biggest: A pope who has become the darling of intellectuals, even atheists, is also fully embracing some of the most fervent forms of worship within the Catholic Church.

Far more than his predecessor, Francis has thrust himself into the contentious world of so-called popular devotions — including the mystical celebration of holy relics, such as the blood, bones and clothing of saints, as well as the adoration of the Virgin Mary through processions and other rites. By doing so, Vatican watchers say the pope is effectively endorsing a more ardent and mysterious brand of Catholicism that is popularly practiced — especially among the poor — in his native Latin America.

Critics, however, say the pope may be flirting with superstition. Also citing his constant mention of the devil and explicit backing of exorcisms, some say he risks undercutting his image as a 21st century moral leader in tune with the times.

“The danger is that popular devotion becomes all too important, that we seek to elevate ourselves by touching a body part or a cloth touched by a saint,” said Vito Mancuso, a Bologna, Italy-based theologian and author. “We would be moving backwards, almost to idolatry.”

The incident in Naples, where Francis caused a stir with the blood of Saint Januarius, marked only one in a long list of recent papal devotions to relics and other mysterious artifacts. In June, for instance, the pope “venerated” the Shroud of Turin, praying before the cloth believed by some to be the burial garment of Jesus Christ despite disputed tests that have carbon dated it to centuries after the crucifixion.

The pope made no official claim about the shroud’s authenticity. But his personal charity has sent at least two busloads of homeless Romans to visit the shroud, and the pope additionally taped a special video message celebrating it.

“Let us listen to what it wants to silently tell us, across death itself,” the pope says in the message. “The sole and ultimate word of God reaches us through the sacred shroud.”

On the other hand, we considered, Does Pope Francis Believe the Shroud is Real?

What is mystical?  Idolatry?  Superstition? And all this by degree?

7 thoughts on “Is Pope Francis Walking On the Mystical Side?”

  1. It is evident that the journalist is not a Religion Writer and he even quotes the wrong person.
    There are two issues to be tackled, so here we go:
    Pope Francis has indeed spoken about the devil once in a while and there are reports about
    Pope John Paul II performing exorcisms twice in the Vatican, about which no details are available. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (see no.1637) says that care must be taken to distinguish between demoniacal possession and psychiatric problems. We have the famous case of Anneliese Michel in Germany, who died during exorcisms, and the clergymen involved had problems with the law. It led to a book on the topic of evil, one of whose authors was Cardinal Walter Kasper, then archbishop of Stuttgart-Rottenburg.

    Some years ago I read a full-page newspaper report on the topic of the devil and exorcism, where Orthodox Jews, a reform rabbi and a Catholic priest gave their opinions. The orthodox Jews said they performed the exorcism by placing a pigeon’s anus on the navel of the person who was possessed so that the evil entity could leave. They then said that they burnt their fingernails when they were cut. When it came to this part I judged that this belief was derived from the Zoroastrian demonology of ancient Iran, probably during the Babylonian Captivity.
    (The narrative about the Gerasene demoniac in the Gospel according to Mark ends by saying that the man was sitting in his “right mind” after Jesus cured him. Did the “legion of demons” go into the pigs, or was that the interpretation of the bystanders, influenced by the Graeco-Roman pagan mythology that was in vogue in Palestine after the Romans took over?).
    The reform rabbi dismissed the belief of the Orthodox Jews, saying that it was not a part of his Reform Synagogue’s theology. The most a rabbi could do, he said, was to pray for the person with the problem to find his “I”. That would take us to Heidegger’s “dasein”.
    The Catholic priest just said that the Church only believed in one divine being, and that was God, he rejected demonology and exorcisms.
    Ultimately the topic leads us to the “mysterium iniquitatis”, the mystery of evil, which is an ongoing problem, one that has led fundamentalist pastors to abandon their churches. It appears to have been very controversial in the Old Testament period. The great Jewish scholars Ben Zion Wacholder and Shemaryahu Talmon tried to trace where the problem originated:
    C. G. Jung dwelt on the problem of evil, studying and discussing it with his closest friend, the American dominican friar Father Victor White, who lived in Oxford. They parted ways because of this, the strong Christian spiritual bond being the only link between them:
    He was also a “Shroudie” in a way, with a copy of the Turin Shroud face hanging behind a small curtain in his study:
    (Click on on the left)
    There is also mention of “idolatry” in the report. It does seem that we humans always look for something “palpable” when it comes to the divine. I have seen Muslims incensing photographs of Mecca and Jews kissing the Mezuzah and a photograph on the internet where an orthodox Jew is seen holding a cellphone close to the Wailing Wall so that his friend in Europe who was on the line could recite a prayer. This is also idolatry in a broad sense.
    So much for “superstition” and “idolatry”…

  2. I’m not sure who that catholic priest was…but think i’ll believe both jean paul and padre pio on the subject

  3. After reading all this, there is no alternative but to change my mind.

    Pope Francis certainly believes the Shroud is real otherwise he would not have attitudes of reverence with other relics, after all the Shroud is the most important christian relic.
    It does not surprise me at all that he had spoken about the Devil because he himself performed a kind of exorcism on a disabled boy allegedly with a demonic possession.
    Are exorcists fanatic priests or are they priest with a special training skill to fight with the dark forces?

    I don’t buy theories of «modern» so called theologians that deny the Devil’s existence and state that Christ’s ressurrection was a spiritual event ( I really don’t know what they mean with that).

    If Christian religions did not have a mystic side namely miracles and the fight with evil, christian doctrine would be just a kind of empty philosophy.

    The Shroud is the living testimony that something happened with Jesus body in that dark tomb, and no matter what the physics and chemistry of that event were they left the imprint of His body on the cloth.

    Antero de Frias Moreira
    ( Centro Português de Sindonologia)

  4. In classical mythology, Lucifer, the Light bearer, became identified with the morning star as a herald of the dawn, more so in poetry rather than any specific legend. In Isaiah 14:12 he is used as an allegoric subject of a taunt-song against the King of Babylon: “How you have fallen from the heavens, O Morning Star,* son of the dawn! How you have been cut down to the earth, you who conquered nations! 13 In your heart you said: “I will scale the heavens; Above the stars of God* I will set up my throne; I will take my seat on the Mount of Assembly, on the heights of Zaphon.”

    So that he then becomes identified with the sin of pride, setting himself above the stars of God. This theme of pride then seems to be taken up in the NT. When the 72 return from their mission into Israel, they comment on how even the demons obey them and Luke has Jesus give the reply: ‘Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning* from the sky.” [Luke 10: 18] which seems to echo the Isaiah passage. He continues: “19 Behold, I have given you the power ‘to tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” I suggest that Jesus is implying that the forces of evil have an existent spiritual reality.

    This idea of Satan falling from the sky, finds an echo in Revelations 9:1: “1 Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star* that had fallen from the sky to the earth. It was given the key for the passage to the abyss. 2 It opened the passage to the abyss, and smoke came up out of the passage like smoke from a huge furnace. The sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the passage. (etc) ”

    Thus, in Christian times Lucifer came to be regarded as the name of Satan before his fall. It was thus used by John Milton (1608–74) in Paradise Lost, and the idea underlies the proverbial phrase “as proud as Lucifer.”

    However, it is also apparent that those who suffered from various forms of mental illness were thought to be possessed by a devil or an evil spirit. The two should not be confused by a modern mind, and I think it reasonable to believe that there are in fact evil spirits who desire the downfall of mankind. How much of this is spiritual reality, and how much of it is merely a projected personification of the forces of evil is difficult to say.

    As a footnote, it is curious that in some primal societies, even today, those who suffer from certain types of mania, are sometimes seen as having access to a form of spiritual power, and are consequently granted an excess of temporal power or leadership, sometimes to the detriment of the tribe. In history, to what extent have the several tyrants been driven by a type of megalomania, because they were perceived as having access to a type of divine power?

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