Did Father write the New Missal? / No Slogans

We pray to start Mass today that God would pour into us the spirit that gave Pope St. Gregory VII his courage and zeal in the face of oppression by the king. We pray that God would do this

so that, rejecting evil, the Church may be free to carry out in charity whatever is right

Does that sound like a sentence you have heard recently? “We cannot co-operate with evil, even if the civil law stipulates that we must.” I promise that I did not write the prayers for this new Missal.

Seriously, though. Pope St. Gregory will certainly pray for us and inspire us to follow in his footsteps: namely, to seek to live worthily for God.

I think we must do everything we can to keep the phrase “religious freedom” from turning into an empty slogan.

The Lord gives no one license to assert a right without simultaneously acknowledging the responsibility that goes with it. No one can assert a right to ‘religious freedom’ without at the same time confronting the terrifying fact that this means that I really have to be genuinely religious.

If the Church has been treated with incomprehension and ill will by the federal government, which She has, then we rightly take umbrage, as Pope St. Gregory took strenuous umbrage when the Church was abused. But anyone who takes umbrage at being treated with ill will and incomprehension must at the same time treat the adversary with good will and understanding. Which is the way Pope St. Gregory always treated everybody.

In other words, the saintly pope of the lay-investiture crisis would never have asserted the prerogative of ecclesiastical authority as some kind of end in itself. He never claimed that the Church enjoyed an abstract privilege of “freedom.” He simply insisted that the Church has a duty to follow Christ. “Religious freedom,” considered as a human right, cannot justify us. Living in communion with Christ, acting according to His holy will, with the affections of His suffering Heart—this, and only this, justifies us.

Pope St. Gregory engaged in an epic legal battle with King Henry IV of Germany, as well as an epic pastoral and spiritual battle with him. Gregory knew a million times more about the law than the king did. The Pope argued with relentless fierceness. He did not hesitate to call his political enemies “precursors of the antichrist and satellites of our ancient foe.”

But the saintly pope never imagined that the Church had any rights that didn’t demand total dedication and self-sacrifice. And Gregory would have been immeasurably happier if the king had turned to God and brought the battle to an un-dramatic end. Then Gregory could have lived as an unremarkable eleventh-century pope, destined to be forgotten by history. The saint would much rather have been a forgotten pope than the great hero the king forced him to be.

St. Gregory never really wanted to be pope at all. He liked being a monk who quietly used his amazing mind to resolve conflicts and keep the Church true to Her mission.

When we stand up for freedom of religion in America, I hope we can do it with Pope St. Gregory’s courage, and I hope we can do it with his humility and his utterly unprejudiced love, too.

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