Post 170

Shall We Count the Ways? Reflections on
JHW's Wretched Magazine (August 2016 Issue)

Even after unsubscribing, I continue to receive “Faithful Insight,” John-Henry Weston’s horrid magazine.

He’s becoming increasingly shrill and hysterical.

Consider the front cover of the August 2016 issue.

In large letters it says: “A plea to the Pope to end the confusion.”

The central theme of this issue is the Pope, and whether he is sufficiently Catholic. John-Henry Weston’s editorial begins with this sentence: “The situation in the Catholic Church has become critical.” He goes on.

And on.

And on.

This issue is filled with article after article criticizing the actions and words of Pope Francis. I hardly know where to begin.

I guess I’ll do it by whim.

Let me start with page 17, where John-Henry Weston (JHW) accuses Pope Francis of dissing the rosary.

JHW writes that JHW said to JHW (he uses quotes): “There is no way” I remember thinking to myself, “a Pope would ever say anything slighting the rosary.”

(Insert photo here of JHW looking appropriately scandalized.)

Oh please.

On June 6, 2013, Pope Francis met with a group. A transcript was made. And here, I warn you that whenever you hear anything quoted about Pope Francis which troubles you, do a word count. If the quotation that you are looking at has fewer than 158 words, then probably you do not have enough words to properly understand what the Pope meant. The first paragraph below (in blue) has 158 words. When you add in paragraph two (which is fair, because paragraph 2 contains the pontiff’s second concern), you are at 254 words.

You need a larger chunk of Pope Francis’ words because he is so often quoted when he is speaking casually. You really need the context. In those situations, he mentions examples as they occur to him. The sentences are sometimes not completely finished, as happens in normal conversation, where one idea interrupts another, or where the idea has been delivered well enough so that further elaboration is unnecessary, or where the hearers are anxious to pursue another topic and so the speaker opens himself up for the next question. He paraphrases other speakers; he makes jokes; he wonders aloud.

Consider all these things, and do not fish for that exciting Pope Francis Sound Bite in order to roast him and the Catholic Church.

Here is the whole quotation. Pope Francis was expressing his concern about two heretical tendencies: pelagianism (first concern) and gnosticism (second concern). Here’s the section, and I highlight, in yellow, the part that JHW used, and in case you are wondering, the square bracket parts were added by the group that met with Pope Francis, in order to clarify the Pope’s meaning further.

I share with you two concerns. One is the Pelagian current that there is in the Church at this moment. There are some restorationist groups. I know some, it fell upon me to receive them in Buenos Aires. And one feels as if one goes back 60 years! Before the Council… One feels in 1940… An anecdote, just to illustrate this, it is not to laugh at it, I took it with respect, but it concerns me; when I was elected, I received a letter from one of these groups, and they said: “Your Holiness, we offer you this spiritual treasure: 3,525 rosaries.” Why don’t they say, ‘we pray for you, we ask…’, but this thing of counting… And these groups return to practices and to disciplines that I lived through – not you, because you are not old – to disciplines, to things that in that moment took place, but not now, they do not exist today…

The second [concern] is for a Gnostic current. Those Pantheisms… Both are elite currents, but this one is of a more educated elite… I heard of a superior general that prompted the sisters of her congregation to not pray in the morning, but to spiritually bathe in the cosmos, things like that… They concern me because they ignore the incarnation! And the Son of God became our flesh, the Word was made flesh, and in Latin America we have flesh abundantly [de tirar al techo]! What happens to the poor, their pains, this is our flesh…

Please look carefully at where JHW began taking the quotation. He did not quote even the full first sentence. He sliced it in half, in order to make Pope Francis look bad. And he didn’t even go like this: “[I]t concerns me” or like this: “ . . . it concerns me” so that the reader would know that JHW wasn’t using the full sentence.

Look at what JHW removed (the part which is not highlighted):

An anecdote, just to illustrate this, it is not to laugh at it, I took it with respect, but it concerns me;

The omission of the beginning of the sentence is highly troubling and should show anyone who is paying attention that JHW has it in for the Pope.

When you remove the beginning of the sentence, and you say nothing about the fact that Pope Francis was criticizing two heresies, then you think that Pope Francis’ primary beef was that some folks said the rosary, again and again.

Pope Francis’s words, at the beginning of the sentence, will show any reader that Pope Francis is not intending AT ALL to attack the rosary, nor the idea of a gift. He specifically states that he is trying to give an illustration; he says this is an anecdote to illustrate the point. He does not want anyone to laugh at the situation, but he teaches; he describes the problem. He is wanting to give an illustration of a tendency towards pelagianism, in the context of describing how it is still alive in the church.

To explain further, the Pope was saying that he felt like he was entering into a time machine when he saw the way that some people were still practicing their faith. He was shocked that people would, in these decades after Vatican II, still approach religion as if you EARNED your way into heaven by your Massive and Holy Efforts. The problem wasn’t the rosary or the praying, but the counting.

He was criticizing the counting.

Get it, John-Henry?

The counting.

Pope Francis is very much in favour of the rosary and prayers in general. He regularly and habitually asks for prayers.

However, there is a danger with prayer, as with all spiritual practices, and it is the danger that a person will ‘tally up’ his spiritual accomplishments or works.

It is all too easy to leave God out of the picture. The heresy of Pelagianism, as I understand it, is the view that humans are Very Awesome and Essentially Good. The idea is that they are so good that all they have to do is Apply Themselves and everything will turn out Amazingly Great.

That phrase, “Love is a decision” has some element of the same problem. It’s got that Grit-Your-Teeth element. I am not saying that the phrase is devoid of truth, but it can be used to overemphasize human will and human action. It can serve to remove the romance part of love.

Where is God in all of this? Does he not support you in your good decision to love? What would happen if he didn’t? And where is grace in all of this?

The problem with counting rosaries is that the person counting them is acting as if More is Better. It’s as if God is a computer program or calculator: if one prayer is good then hey, ten are better. Right?

God doesn’t work like that at all.

He considers the heart.

He knows what we want, even before we ask it. He wants us to ask, so that we know and remember our dependence upon him, but if the asking itself makes us think that we are the ones Manipulating him, then that’s what you would call


That was Pope Francis’ point. He was saying, Hey man, ya don’t need to count ’em.

Just pray.

Ya don’t need to count.

It’s prayers

Not math.