The Way It Looks from Purgatory

The advantage of writing from Purgatory is it keeps one’s mind off the pain. The other advantage, it helps one laugh at bourgeois Christianity.

It’s quite a spectacle on earth, still. I like especially the invocation of “Vatican II theology.” That usually means having your cake and eating it, too. How do you like this definition of obedience — that it means mutual dialogue with one’s superiors, until they come to see the reasonableness of one’s own novelties? Nice, eh! Anything else means “going back to pre-Vatican II.”

The children of the bourgeoisie have been too indulged during their childhood. No one has ever said no to them, and made it stick. They are accustomed, the bright and able ones especially, to being praised. They fancy themselves heroes to the church, for staying in it. They fancy themselves heroes to the world, for defying the church.

0, do they hate Pope John Paul II! Their sighs roll up into Purgatory daily. A pilgrim of the absolute, that pope, if ever there was one. They think he is “conservative.” Conservative to them means saying no. He said no to Hans Kung. He said no to Father Drinan. He said no to Miguel d’Escoto and Ernesto Cardinal. (But he couldn’t make that stick. No part of the bourgeoisie, those two.) He said no to Sister Agnes Mary Mansour.

Now there is something curious about that case, the nun’s. According to complaints circulating here in the firehouse, the Pope failed to follow “due process.” He said no. He meant no. He gave the good sister one hour to respond, one hour, for which thirty years of religious life had prepared her. Fiat mihi secundum verbum Tuum. Not on your life! Sister Agnes Mary Mansour preferred, rather, no longer to be a sister. (Perhaps in God’s eyes she chose correctly; I have learned in Purgatory not to judge.)

The other complaint that circulates here is also a good one. Nuns, they say, are treated like the clergy when it comes to discipline and obedience, but like lay people when it comes to sacraments and juridical power. Is not the whole point of religious life a vow of obedience to the Holy Father, to be his instrument, as he sees fit? Not in the new bourgeois Christianity! Not on your life!

Religious communities, in the new view, are gatherings of the likeminded who lead “prophetic” lives, designed to lead the church, instruct the bishops, and tutor Rome, like the secular avant-garde. There are more “prophets” in North America today than in all of Europe in my day!

What would they do with a Cure d’Ars in North America, let alone a country priest? They wouldn’t call such Catholics prophets, would they? They’d call them arch- reactionaries! Obedience, humility, poverty, obscurity, what would “the prophets of Vatican II theology” know about that? Such things they shoosh aside into “the Dark Ages.”

I think I got out of the world just in time. Under the Sun of Satan could hardly be understood nowadays. (Sacre bleu, it’s hot here today!)

Someone told me just yesterday that the Archbishop of Detroit at first defended Sister Mansour, saying that she was clearly against abortion personally, but would be able to fulfill the laws of the state dispensing money to poor women for abortions. There is a difference between law and morality, they say. Of course there is! There always is! But the advantage belongs to morality, at least for those who in their persons and by their vows of obedience belong to the Pope.

We have laymen for the dirty tasks. Laymen are cannon fodder. We laymen belong in Purgatory. Purgatory was made for us. Mixing it up with the sinful world is what we are made for. Clergy and religious are called to higher things.

How in the name of bourgeois Christianity did anyone ever dream that becoming a public official is a higher vocation than being a priest or a nun? An honor? Being a public official! Mon Dieu. (In France, we used to know what to think of public officials. It is about the same in Poland today, I think.)

They say that the “new nuns” are caught in a “double bind.” They were urged by — of course — “Vatican II theology” to identify with the poor, to go out into the world and serve. And yet, when they do, a reactionary pope can call them back. What shall they do? Which way shall they turn?

In Purgatory, there is nowhere to turn, I can tell them. The straight way to Heaven is obedience. In perplexity, that is what obedience is for. It is holy. It is humbling. It is infinitely fruitful. Saints are made by paradox. In North America, they have lost their taste for paradox. They have a new name for sweet self-will. They call it “Vatican II theology.”

From here, Vatican II theology, when you read every line, in every paragraph, in every document, seems nearly as reactionary as Vatican I, and Trent, and so on back to the Gospels. “Thou Art Peter and on this rock I shall build my church.”

Why did Sister Agnes Mary Mansour jump from the rock? Why did her community jump with her? Give them credit for this, they conducted themselves discreetly and according to quiet due process. Yet in that final decisive hour, when the Pope made his will expressly clear, it was too much. Thirty years had gone into preparation for that hour.

Who am I to judge, a layman in Purgatory? There is such a thing, sacre diable, as Purgatory on earth. For me, it would be life as a public official in the state of Michigan, U.S.A., distributing funds for what I believe is immoral and against the rights of the aborted ones. We have laymen who undergo such Purgatories every day. There are so few nuns. We need them, every one. I hope one of them, somewhere, will pray for me, in my pain.

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Bernanos, born in Paris on February 20, 1888, spent the best days of his childhood and youth in an old estate in the country belonging to his father in the little village of Fressin. He studied at Vaugirard College, the Institut Catholique, and the University of Paris. In World War I he served as a corporal in the French Cavalry. He married in 1917 and had three sons and three daughters. Time magazine in its October 14, 1946, issue states: "Georges Bernanos is France's most distinguished Catholic author-and his own Church's sharpest critic." In an interview with the Most Reverend Edwin V. O'Hara, Bernanos explained his severe attacks on Catholics as an attempt to awaken Catholics to their responsibilities. He died in 1948. Reply Forward

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