Sunday, November 09, 2014

Pope Francis and ‘Junk Journalism’

The Holy Father's 'cathedra' in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

(Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome: This homily was given on November 9, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Ezekiel 47: 1-12; 1 Corinthians 3: 9-17; John 2: 13-22.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: John Lateran 2014]

The Urban Dictionary defines “junk journalism” as “a news story that’s written without adequate research, investigation or information. … Junk journalism is aimed to promote traffic to [a] news site or to get public patronage by fabricating [an] alarming pack of lies to newsreaders.”

That having been said, it’s hard to find a news report on our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in the secular media and press these days that does not qualify as “junk journalism.”

Yes, you can find a good article here and there, if you look long and hard enough; but if you’re trying to find out what the pope REALLY SAID on a given subject—and ALL that the pope really said on a given subject—it may take you awhile, unless you go to a reliable Catholic news source like EWTN or the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights or the National Catholic Register.

For example, the secular media and press have repeated over and over and over again the words the Holy Father spoke during an interview back in 2013: “Who am I to judge?”

And 99.999% of the time when they quote this line of Francis, they try to create the impression that he was breaking with traditional Catholic teaching and condoning homosexual acts.

In doing that they conveniently ignore both the context of the remark, as well as the rest of the statement the pope made.  The Holy Father was speaking specifically in that interview about priests who may experience same sex attraction in their lives, but who are striving to be chaste.

And in that context he said—and here’s the complete sentence: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

He was not condoning sin there!  He was basically saying exactly what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, and what John Paul II and Benedict XVI and every other modern pope has said: that it’s no sin to experience same sex attraction! 

The sin comes with the sexual activity associated with that attraction.  So if a person has the attraction but refrains from the activity, there’s no sin involved.

That’s what the Holy Father was saying.  But you’d never know that from the way the junk journalists report it.

On a similar note, last week there were dozens and dozens of news reports that I came across about pop singer Elton John, who at a recent Aids benefit concert called Pope Francis his “hero”, and who thinks he should be canonized for (as one article put it) “his compassionate drive to accept gay people in the Catholic Church.”

Now I’d like to see the evidence that Benedict XVI and John Paul II and all the popes that preceded them did not accept people with same sex attraction into the Catholic Church.

Perhaps Elton would find this hard to believe, but prior to Francis’ election we parish priests were NOT instructed by the Vatican to throw people out of our parishes who claimed to be gay!

I think what the pop singer mistakenly believes—probably because of all the junk journalism he’s been exposed to in recent months—is that Pope Francis condones things like so-called gay marriage.

Well his opinion of the Holy Father’s “sanctity” would probably change dramatically if he knew that a couple of years ago (when he was still a Cardinal in Argentina) Francis actually called gay marriage “the work of the devil.”

Funny how the junk journalists totally ignore things like that.

I mention all this today because of the feast we’re celebrating in the Church this weekend: the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome.
Rome, you will recall, has 4 major basilicas: St. Peter’s; St. Mary Major; St. Paul Outside the Walls; and St. John Lateran.

If you were a contestant on Jeopardy (as our parishioner Dr. Harwood was a few weeks ago), and Alex Trebek said, “The first major Christian basilica built in Rome, which functions as the pope’s cathedral,” how would you respond after you “buzzed in”? 

Well, put in the form of a Jeopardy question I think 9 out of 10 people would say, “What is St. Peter’s Basilica?”—but they would be wrong.

The correct answer is, “What is the Basilica of St. John Lateran?”

We normally associate the Holy Father with St. Peter’s.  We do that because Peter was the first pope, and because in recent centuries popes have lived in close proximity to St. Peter’s, and have celebrated many important ceremonies there.  But the cathedral of the Holy Father is actually St. John Lateran—which is why today’s feast has so much meaning.

This feast, you see, reminds us of our unity with the Holy Father—our unity with the Holy Father in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Faith!  The word “cathedral” comes from the Latin word “cathedra” which means “chair” or “seat”.  In every cathedral, the bishop has his “seat” or “chair”—which is where he sits during ceremonies.  And it’s from this “chair” that he presides over his flock.

Now, with respect to the pope, that “flock” includes you and me—not just the people of the Diocese of Rome.

So this is a feast day for all of us.  We are united as Catholics in the one, true Faith: the Faith that is guarded and taught and defended by the man who sits on the “cathedra” (the chair) in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

And it’s precisely that unity that many of our junk journalists want to destroy!

At least that’s how I see it.

And you’d be hard pressed to get me to believe otherwise.

The next time you read an article about Pope Francis in a secular newspaper or magazine or online; the next time you see a news report about him on network television, notice the verbal “picture” they paint of this man.  They portray him as being at odds with his fellow bishops; they portray him as being almost totally different from every previous pope; they imply that he’s breaking with traditional Church teaching on whatever matter they happen to be talking about; they say or imply that he’s doing his very best to pull the old, narrow-minded Catholic Church out of the Dark Ages and into the modern world!

And, in the process, they are creating an atmosphere of discord and disunity among God’s people: “Do you like Francis or not?”  “Are you a liberal Catholic or a conservative Catholic?”  “Do you approve of the way the pope is changing everything in the Church?”

These are the kinds of things people are talking about—thanks, in large part, to the confusion caused by junk journalists: junk journalists who are definitely doing the work of the devil!

Remember Satan’s philosophy has always been (and will always be) “Divide and conquer.”
He knows he can’t destroy the Church.  But he knows he can hamper her mission to some extent by causing division and discord among God’s people.

And he’s working overtime these days to do that!


It’s because he knows very well the truths that are contained in these Scripture readings we just heard.  For example, Satan knows that the Church is like that temple that the prophet Ezekiel saw in this vision we heard about in our first reading.  In fact, I would say that the Church is the ultimate fulfillment of this vision.  Here Ezekiel sees water that flows from the temple and brings life to everything it comes in contact with: “Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.  Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall not fade nor their fruit fail.”

Well, spiritually, that’s exactly what happens through the Church, is it not?  Through the preaching and teaching and sacramental life of the Church, God’s saving grace flows out and gives life—eternal life—to people!

Now what’s really interesting is that a different temple is mentioned in each of these readings.  In the Ezekiel text the temple is the temple in Jerusalem which prefigures the Church today; in the gospel Jesus calls his body a temple; and in the second reading St. Paul says we are the Lord’s temples.

Very confusing.

No, not really.  I think the message is pretty simple and clear.  The Lord is reminding us today that the grace of salvation comes from the temple (the temple of Jesus’ body, sacrificed for us on the Cross), through the temple (the temple we call the Church) to the temple (the temple that each of us is).

Salvation is from the temple (Jesus), through the temple (the Church), to the temple (us).

Satan tried to destroy the temple of Jesus’ physical body and he failed.  Now he’s trying, with the help of junk journalists and others, to cause division in that middle temple, the Church, so that he can destroy the third temple (you and me) forever.

Don’t let it happen!  That, I believe, is what the Lord is saying to us today:  Don’t let it happen!  Love the Church; love the Holy Father; stay united with him and with one another—and tune out the junk journalists of the world!