Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What is it to Thee? Follow thou Me

Jesus saith to him: So I will have him to remain till I come, what is it to thee? follow thou me. (John 21:22 Douay Rheims)

The recent outrage by Pelosi reminds me of an incident a few weeks ago, where a person in one of the faith groups I lead with expressed a concern over how certain Catholic politicians tend to go along taking positions grossly incompatible to the faith and how certain bishops who have the authority and obligation to carry out the discipline of their diocese seem to do nothing over the whole affair.  Now I can understand such a view, having encountered it often in the past.  I can certainly understand how demoralizing it can be to see the individual politician who scandalizes with his or her position and seems to suffer no consequences for it.

It can be uncomfortable to be asked (and not have an answer to) the question: "Why doesn't the Church do anything about it if it is so important?"  I have seen those who disagree with Church teaching seek to use this as evidence of justifying dissent and I have seen those who support Church teaching express fears that a lack of action indicates sympathy or support for the dissenting view.

Such a concept is one which needs to be carefully assessed.  It assumes several things which need to be demonstrated as true and not merely accepted as true.  Some of these are:

  1. We have to avoid an either-or assumption of "Either the Church would act OR she doesn't care."  We have to acknowledge the possibility that the Church does care and does attempt to act but is acting in a manner which is not visible.
  2. We have to consider the possibility of the wayward politician being instructed and refusing to heed correction.
  3. We have to consider the possibility that what tactics we prefer may not be what the Bishop in question sees as the best way.  We need to remember that the Bishop is tasked to save the lost sheep.
  4. We must remember that the bishop may not sympathize with the dissenter but may behave in a way which is ineffective, because all of us are in need of God's grace.

We must remember "God is not mocked" (Galatians 6:7) and all will be judged on what they should have done.  There will be no excuse for living in open defiance to Church teachings.  As it says in Luke 12:

47 That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely;

48 and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.

We who have knowledge of the Catholic teachings cannot say we are ignorant of our Master's will after all.

Now what I say next may be misunderstood so I want to make this clear.  I am not saying we should just ignore the actions of our fellow believers who go astray.  To admonish the sinner is one of the spiritual works of mercy.  When Jesus says Stop judging, that you may not be judged," (Matt 7:1) it does not mean tolerating evil silently or letting everyone do as they please.  "Stop judging" means not assuming to know whether one will be saved or not.

So what I am saying is that we cannot point at a lack of perceived action as a sanction of dissent.  We know what the Church teaches.  Thus we know what we are called to do.  Because of this, Christ's words, so beautifully expressed in the Douay Rheims becomes an admonishment to us:  What is it to thee? Follow thou me.  (The NAB puts it: "What concern is it of yours? You follow me.")  Since we know what we are called to do, the bad behavior of others is not an excuse for us to do as we will.  Nor is the lack of visible reprimand from the Church an indication of permission or approval.

If we are troubled by the scandal of the fellow believer, we should remember what Christ has so sternly warned in Matthew 18:

6 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

7 Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!

This is a grave indictment here.  Since we know that all of us are called to bring God's message of salvation to others, we are called to bring this message to the sinners of the world who are within the Church as well.

Since we should not desire the death of the sinner (God does not — see Ezekiel 18:23), we should feel obligated to pray for the repentance of the public sinner within the Church and pray for the bishop for who has the task of handling the case to do what is just.

Then we continue to follow Him, praying for the grace that we might not stumble on our own road.  We do not know what graces God provides to others and we do not know whether the scandalous ones will continue to reject these graces or whether they will repent.  We know our own task and we must be faithful in carrying it out, knowing the actions of others do not justify our own slack.

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