Guest-hosting for Rush the other day, I objected to the Pope's Christmas message, wherein he chose to use the birth of Jesus as an opportunity to push his "refugees welcome" message. Joseph and Mary were not "refugees" in Bethlehem; they were a couple who couldn't get a motel room: that's all. Terry Duerr didn't take kindly to my criticism of the Pontiff:
I am angered by you bigotry toward my Faith. Your bigotry came out loud and clear while you filled in for Rush over the Christmas Holidays. You attacked the Holy Father, and my Faith with your sneering comments about the King James Bible is the only Bible. Your Bible illiteracy is readily apparent. If you had kept reading about the birth of Christ, you would have read he and Mary and Joseph went into Egypt to flee from Herod. You didn't mention that they did indeed travel across the border into another country.
You owe all Catholics and the Holy Father an apology.
I will no longer listen to Rush when you are on again. I have listened to him for decades, until now. So apparently I agree with most the content if you are labeling me in you head as a liberal, I am not.
I am and will always be Catholic. To be steeped in history, one can not help then to become Catholic. It is the Faith of Truth, and it is not just for those of simple piety, but the intellectuals, such as Aquinas, and Augustine, not to mention Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict is one of the most intelligent minds of the modern era and I dare you to pick up one of books and read it.
Fly Over County
My forlorn wish for 2018 is for a modest reduction in intemperate correspondence from those eager to take offense and threaten boycotts over nothing. But no doubt I'll be out of luck on that front. To take the silliest part of Mr Duerr's letter first:
Re the King James Bible: I was comparing the New International Version with the King James Version, after reading aloud Luke 2 in both translations. So I was expressing a preference for one Protestant Bible over another Protestant Bible: No Catholics were harmed in the making of this comparison. And, if you're determined to be so obtuse as to regard it as anti-Papist, it's at least as much anti-Protestant: I've no idea what part of "Flyover Country" Mr Duerr actually lives in, but I'll bet you could drive fifty miles in any direction and not find a Baptist, Congregational or Episcopal church that uses the King James Version for Sunday worship. For many years I conducted the Christmas Eve service in my local church, and always read from the KJV. But that's not the version in the pews of that or any other New Hampshire meetinghouse these days. So, whatever your view of the King James Bible, my hostility to the leaden sludge of newer translations is extremely ecumenical.
That aside, let's get to the substance of Terry Duerr's complaint. The time spent writing his missive would have been better expended looking up what the Pope actually wrote. He may venerate the Holy Father, but he evidently doesn't read him. There is no mention of the flight into Egypt in the entire message. Here is the relevant passage from the official English text of the Pontiff's speech:
We see Jesus in the many children forced to leave their countries to travel alone in inhuman conditions and who become an easy target for human traffickers. Through their eyes we see the drama of all those forced to emigrate and risk their lives to face exhausting journeys that end at times in tragedy. I see Jesus again in the children I met during my recent visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, and it is my hope that the international community will not cease to work to ensure that the dignity of the minority groups present in the region is adequately protected. Jesus knows well the pain of not being welcomed and how hard it is not to have a place to lay one's head. May our hearts not be closed as they were in the homes of Bethlehem.
So not only does the Pope not mention Egypt in that context but he chooses to impugn the "hearts" of the people of Bethlehem. Here is the Bible's only specific detail of the whereabouts of Christ's birth, from Luke:
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
The Greek word kataluma can mean both a public lodging or a private guestchamber, in which sense Luke uses it twenty chapters on:
The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber?
So it's linguistically unclear whether the couple were turned away from the local EconoLodge or the guest bedroom of relatives. (As a son of the House of David, Joseph assuredly had family in Bethlehem, but given the requirements of the census many other wandering sons and nephews and cousins were surely also in town.) Yet from that one line - "because there was no room for them in the inn" - a whole expansive iconography was built: the stern innkeeper turning away the mother with child, exiling them to the stable, etc. There is no scriptural basis for that, and even less for impugning the entire townsfolk as people of "closed" "hearts" who chose to inflict on the baby Jesus "the pain of not being welcomed".
So Terry Duerr is wrong: the Pope was equating today's refugees not with Mary and Joseph's flight into Egypt but with Jesus' birth in Bethlehem.
But, even were Mr Duerr right and the Pope were equating refugees with the flight from King Herod, His Holiness would still have been, in the larger meaning, wrong. I don't mean merely in the literal sense that, as the burdens of the census make plain, Joseph is not the ancient equivalent of a Syrian refugee in Malmö, but of, say, a guy with grandparents in Malmö who's been away working in Gothenburg for a couple of years; I mean it in the sense that the Pope is wrong about an existential question for the Church and the civilization it built.
I don't know if His Holiness ever gets into street clothes and leaves his impressively walled city-statelet to wander the streets of Rome, but, if he did, he would see, in Italy as in France as in Spain as in Germany, that Christendom is dying on his watch. In 2016 I attended (as the Pope did not) the funeral in Rouen Cathedral of Père Hamel, the eighty-five-year-old Catholic priest whose throat was slit during Mass by two Muslim men. The service, for all its protestations of unity and forgiveness, chilled me: I felt mostly the absence of faith, or at most its exhausted remnants. Père Hamel had shared, enthusiastically, his Holy Father's illusions: In Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, he had given land next to his church to the local Muslim community to build a mosque. So no "closed" heart there. And he was repaid for his generosity with ritual decapitation.
All over Europe churches close and mosques open. But the Pope virtue-signals while Rome burns: The celebration of the birth of Christ is not the time to insist that Christendom needs more Muslim "refugees" - because that is not the meaning of the birth of Christ. And his slur on the people of Bethlehem is perplexing to me - because they are not the villains here but the victims: Bethlehem is where Herod embarked on the slaughter of the innocents.
Speaking of which, Terry Duerr's erroneous belief that His Holiness was talking about Mary and Joseph's flight to Egypt raises a good point: If you wanted to tie Jesus' birth to the refugee situation, you surely would mention Egypt, wouldn't you?
Ah, but to mention Egypt would risk people noticing the obvious - that genuine refugees do what Mary and Joseph did: they flee somewhere nearby and then, when it's safe, return home. So all those Syrian and Libyan and Sudanese refugees could likewise take refuge somewhere nearby - like, say, Egypt. Mary and Joseph, after all, didn't seek refuge in Germany and Sweden.
The Islamization of Christendom is the biggest story of our time - one that will resonate down the centuries when we are gone and forgotten. And this Pope is on the wrong side of this issue - unlike his predecessor, who understood its implications all too clearly. A decade ago, in America Alone, I noted "the future implicit in Cardinal Ratzinger's choice of name for his papacy: Benedict XVI":
Born in Umbria in 480, St Benedict was the man who ensured during the Dark Ages that the critical elements of Roman and Greek civilization were preserved and that, by infusing them with Christianity, they would emerge in a new and stronger form: the basis for Europe and western civilization. Referring to his namesake, Pope Benedict XVI once quoted a Benedictine motto: Succisa virescit – pruned, it grows again.
Pope Francis does not appear not much interested in pruning and re-growth. Imagine if Benedict had not resigned to become "Pope Emeritus". Imagine if we still had a vicar of Christ who understood the stakes, rather than one who sounds like any other run-of-the-mill social-justice EU prime minister. When will His Holiness speak up? When will he attempt to arrest and reverse the closure of churches and their conversion to mosques?
As I always say, you have to be able to prioritize. So Terry Duerr is "angered" by my preference for the King James Bible, but defends a foolish man taking refuge in modish fancies as Christianity is slaughtered in the lands of its birth and shrivels in the continent it made its home. Shame on him, and pity our children and grandchildren who will have to live in such a world.
~On Wednesday, Mark joins the great John Oakley at Toronto's AM640 live at 5pm Eastern. We hope you'll tune in.