Saturday, November 1, 2014

To Whom Will You Go?

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I’ve always thought that this pre-WWII comic by David Low could make a good analogy of the Catholic Church and the dangers around it. Replace “Collective Security Policy” with “The Catholic Church” and “Cut-throat Arms Race” with “Error” and you have a pretty good idea of what the real situation is.

There are some Catholics who feel disillusioned by the way things are going in the Church. The idea was that with another Pope like St. John Paul II or Benedict XVI, we’d be triumphantly purging the Church of error and impressing people with our doctrinal purity. The pontificate of Pope Francis seems like a delay or a mistake at best, and a danger at worst.

That kind of approach is something I think is based on a mindset of “We’re going to go in the wrong direction, and maybe sink.” But I am struck by a certain account in the Gospel of Mark:

35 On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, “Let us cross to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. 38 Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”* The wind ceased and there was great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” 41 They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” (Mark 4:35-41)

If we fear that the Catholic Church is dangerously adrift, then we need to remember that Jesus is with us in the boat and will not permit us to sink. But that doesn’t mean that He will spare us from the discomfort of the wind and the waves. The real danger is in assuming that Jesus has left us in the hands of an incompetent helmsman and our choices are to either replace him, abandon the boat, or sink.

But, if we have faith in Christ, we can know that He will not let us sink.

I was struck by some words of Cardinal Burke (probably taken out of context—the original source of the article [RNS] has a bad habit of misreporting Catholic news. So take what is said with a large grain of salt):

“Many have expressed their concerns to me. At this very critical moment, there is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder,” Burke said.

“Now, it is more important than ever to examine our faith, have a healthy spiritual leader and give powerful witness to the faith.”

Yes, some people are feeling uncomfortable. The ship of the Church is being buffeted about by a storm of error. But the storm is not made by the Pope. As I see it, the attacks against the Church are changing. After decades of the “The Pope is a rigid bureaucrat and legalistic pharisee” attacks on the Popes, it seems that they are trying to push a different approach. Now they’re trying to take any similarity they can find and try to make it seem that the Pope is actually siding with them. That’s nonsense if you get your info from reliable sources (Vatican Information Service and ZENIT are two good ones to get what was said in context). But if you go by the mainstream media or Catholic sources who believe their claims are accurately reported, the belief is more understandable.

Yes, we have had bad Popes in our history (John XII, Alexander VI and Benedict IX come to mind here) where the Holy Spirit’s main role appears to have been protecting the whole Church from sinking. And, yes, we have had eras in the Church where a majority of people seemed swept up in error. But the thing that should be remembered by those who fear Pope Francis is a bad Pope, is that no Pope has ever taught error when teaching as Pope. Even Pope John XXII who personally believed an error, never taught it as a formal teaching.

But here’s the thing. Pope Francis is not a John XII, Alexander VI or a Benedict IX. He’s not even a John XXII. He’s a man who deeply loves God and has sought to be faithful to Him in the role as priest, bishop, and now Pope. Reading his writings and addresses from before and during his pontificate, it is clear that he has no intention to change Church teaching from saying “X is forbidden” to “X is allowed.” Instead, his approach is one that takes the Church teaching as a given and then ask, “how do we reach out to those who have fallen astray?"

Yes, we have had some cardinals come out and say things that seem to be examples of wanting to change “Not X” to “X is OK.” But to assume that the Pope will promote such views seems very much like the Spotlight fallacy. Just because Cardinal Kasper appears to support a position on the Eucharist that seems incompatible with Catholic teaching doesn’t mean Pope Francis does.

Personally, I have a growing suspicion that what is going on here is actually the devil’s attack on faithful Catholics to lead them into suspicion of the Pope and doubting or forgetting Christ’s promises. If the devil can get these people to jump ship, that serves his purposes. But even if they don’t, if he can undermine their faith in the successor of St. Peter and lead them to think they know better than the magisterium who teach with Christ’s authority, that’s good for him too.

Remember, not all who followed Christ remained with Him. Remember John, chapter 6:

60 Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” 61 Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? 62 What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?* 63 It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh* is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” 


66 As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. 67 Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” 71 He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve. (John 6:60-71)

Even though Christ had taught them Himself, some decided that their judgment was better. Peter’s response shows the grace of God. If Jesus is the Holy One of God, it makes no sense to go elsewhere.

Now the Pope isn’t Jesus of course. But as he is the Vicar of Christ with the authority given to him to bind and loose, we have an important thing to remember. Unless we would claim that Jesus will bind and loose error in Heaven (blasphemy), we need to have faith that Jesus will not permit the Pope to teach something as permissible if it would endanger souls of those who follow it.

So, for the people complaining of the attacks made against the Church, they should realize that it’s not something that a different Pope would have prevented. It’s something we need to ride out with faith in Christ. Otherwise,where else are you going to go?


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