ROME — In a startling change to the Catholic Faith, Pope Benedict XVI announced today that tossing people down elevator shafts could represent a first step in assuming moral responsibility “in the intention of reducing the risk of having your own son electrocuted to death before your very eyes.”
The Imperial Mainstream Media Center has taken this as a signal that the Church intends to canonize Darth Vader for his saintly courage in tossing Emperor Palpatine down an elevator shaft as the latter was torturing Darth Vader’s son to death with huge bolts of electric Force energy. In addition, the Imperial Mainstream Media Center has also declared that the pope therefore means to say that destruction of whole planets, as well as the subjugation of billions of inhabitants all over the galaxy, the betrayal of his closest friends, the slaughter of the Jedi and their younglings, and his conversion to the Dark Side “don’t matter.”
But most importantly, according to an Imperial Mainstream Media spokesman, “The point is, throwing people down elevator shafts is now formally accepted by the Church as moral behavior and Catholics need to think about how to incorporate this new development of doctrine into their lives. If you feel that throwing people down elevator shafts is the safe and right thing for you, then,” says the Imperial Mainstream Media Center, “we believe the pope means to say, ‘Do it with my blessing.’”
But seriously, folks: Two things are beyond my comprehension in this latest kerfuffle from the incurably thick mainstream media and the reliably easy-to-blindside people at the Vatican who seem to make it their business to let the MSM turn Benedict’s sensible remarks into a “gaffe” or, sillier still, tinder for global conflagrations of “controversy.”
First, what’s the big deal with what Benedict said? His point, for anybody with two brain cells to rub together to see, is that somebody who has lived a sinful life can take a modest and imperfect step toward forgetting himself and try to do something for somebody else. That doesn’t automatically make him a hero or a saint, nor does it baptize the details of his attempt at self-sacrificial decency as a Good Thing. So when Darth Vader — after betraying the Jedi, killing a bunch of children, acting for years as the lieutenant of the Most Evil Man in the Galaxy, destroying Alderaan, torturing Han Solo, and trying with might and main to kill Luke Skywalker — finally feels a tiny pang of conscience after watching his own son be tortured in the most sadistic manner possible and tosses Emperor Palpatine down an elevator shaft, we can say that there has been “a first step in assuming moral responsibility” — a first eensy weensy, itsy bitsy step. We can’t say, “Pope approves throwing people down elevator shafts.”
That’s why, for instance, the Church affirms the penitence of the Good Thief but has never committed itself to the proposition that crucifixion is a just punishment for theft (or, indeed, for any crime) merely because he said, “We are receiving the due reward of our deeds” (Lk 23:41). It leaves that desperately sick syllogism to others, typically (as I have wearily experienced) in comboxes arguing for torture and/or the death penalty.
Speaking of the Good Thief, one thing that is important to realize is that the purpose of mercy is to confront the visage of offense, not to say, “You did no wrong and I affirm you in your okayness.” The Good Thief got to heaven because of the abundance of Christ’s mercy, not because he was a splendid chap who had not only never sinned, but lived a life of exemplary virtue. Similarly, when it comes to Darth Vader’s action, one legitimate response to his deed is, “Big whoop.” So the Murderer of Planets finally got a freakin’ clue and did what any normal father would have done years ago for his own flesh and blood. That’s heroism? That’s sanctity? Sure, in extremis, we can hope for grace for people like him (as guys like the Good Thief demonstrate). But as guys like St. Paul demonstrate, when you don’t die minutes after your one work of virtue, there tend to be a lot of other things you need to change in your life.
So, to continue our analogy, should it not be painfully obvious that what the pope intends is a merciful concession to help the radically darkened intellect struggle toward the light? Is it not plain that he is saying God is willing to take the slightest movement of the will toward grace as an opportunity for mercy, as Jesus did with the criminal? Could it possibly be clearer that he is not saying, “I confer my apostolic benediction on banditry and on tossing people down elevator shafts as the perfect will of God”?
And here is the second thing I find astounding: It is not just the utterly theologically ignorant MSM that seems unable to grasp this simple point. When the story broke, I saw panic in many a combox from ordinary Catholics and gloating in many a combox from More-Catholic-than-the-Pope reactionary dissenters writing things like:
After calling the prophylactics, commonly called “condoms,” immoral in a controversial statement in Africa in March 2009, this Modernist Newpope has apparently done a flip-flop on himself, countenancing the use of the devices in such cases as those of male prostitutes. On the same basis, Benedict-Ratzinger would presumably consider morally-justifiable the use of condoms by his cardinals, bishops, and presbyters when they rape Newchurch children. (Emphasis added)
Now, to be sure, the reactionary dissenters tend to radically lack the virtue of charity and so are bent on reading anything Benedict says or does in the worst possible light. Mercy being so foreign to themselves, they cannot recognize it in Benedict’s words, either. That is the doom of those who make themselves stupider than they really are: they succeed. Their failures lie not in the intellect, but in the will: They want to hate Benedict, so they take any excuse to do it and end by ascribing to him all sorts of false ideas that he never remotely said. To them, the only fit word is, “Repent.”
But with serious faithful Catholics, I think a different word has to be spoken: namely, “Be not afraid!” There was absolutely no reason to panic over this silly kerfuffle. At the end of day, what the pope was saying was not, “Condoms OK! The Church is reversing itself!” but that God is merciful and will take even the slightest crack in our armor against His grace as an opportunity to work mercy in our lives. When human beings make even a clumsy and stupid effort toward virtue, then, in the words of Uncle Screwtape, “If only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.” As somebody who prefers my Church to be merciful, I’m grateful for a pope who understands mercy and shall give thanks for him — among many other blessings and mercies we have received — this Thanksgiving.