Sunday, June 28, 2015

We Have To Behave as Emissaries of Our Lord

It’s no secret that, since Obergefell, Christians who stand for the defense of marriage as God intended it have become something of pariahs on social media, and having our faces rubbed in the ruling. People have been unfriended because they defend Christian morality, accused openly of being bigots. Between the comments and the “rainbowized” pictures, it can be very difficult to avoid lashing out at the people who seem to want to throw the #lovewins and #loveislove in our faces when we know we are being misrepresented and demonized. But it is lashing out that we must not do, and—unfortunately—some Catholics have lashed out in ways which will lead those who support “same sex marriage” to view it as just that much more “proof" that we are the bigots they always thought we were.

We have to remember that it is Our Lord who commanded us:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?* 48 So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. [Matthew 5:43-48]

It doesn’t matter how badly we are treated. In our response, even if we are forced to block them because of abusive attacks, we have to show that we love those who hate us—not as an act, but in sincerity. That means we have to be civil when we debate with them, avoiding insults, sarcasm or other rudeness. Now yes, that is hard. I confess I created a few sarcastic memes that I had to sit on when I really wanted to post them. (Through the grace of God, I was given a sense that to publish them was not in keeping with Christian witness). But we have to remember that the example we provide may be the only witness they have as to how a Christian bears witness to what they believe. If it is a bad witness, we become a stumbling block that keeps others from seeing God’s call.

Now that doesn’t mean that we have to be silent and not say that homosexual acts are wrong, as those who oppose us try to argue. As Emissaries of Our Lord, we have to carry His message telling the world to live according to God’s will. Indeed, when it comes to the State legalizing “same sex marriage,” the Church has made it very clear that we cannot give our assent:

In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.

 

[#5. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2003).

So, we cannot recognize the diktat given to us in the Obergefell ruling as valid or cooperate—we must oppose it. But in doing so we have to be charitable. Being insulting or verbally (textually?) abusive is not the way we are to go about it. “Rainbowizing” Hitler or the Devil is not a charitable tactic for example. Regardless of whether a person is deliberately acting abusively or is unaware of how they come across, we must show the love of Christ while teaching the truth.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

An Open Letter From a Catholic to Supporters of Obergefell v. Hodges

To the Reader:

After yesterday’s ruling by the Supreme Court, I have seen many anti-Christian (in general) and anti-Catholic (in specific) attacks which seek to dismiss our teachings as the inventions of “homophobic bigots.” The rhetoric has gotten sharp—and I confess to sharing the guilt. However, many of the attacks I have seen demonstrate a profound lack of understanding about our beliefs. So I thought that rather than do a sarcastic blog with a Condescending Wonka theme (it wasn’t very nice), I should try to just write this open letter trying to explain why we must hold our position even in the face of misunderstanding and hostility.

I hope this does not come across as rude or condescending. I hope to give an insight into our beliefs on sexual morality without getting too technical or passionate. But I am only human and therefore a sinner who needs the grace of Our Lord, just like everyone else. So some things might slip past my editing. So let us begin.

We do understand the justification people use in championing “same sex marriage.” It is a combination two things. First, of thinking that love between any two consenting adults is love regardless of gender (hence the #loveislove hashtag), and feeling sympathy for people with a same sex attraction who (until yesterday) were unable to marry. Second, the belief that the situation of people with a same sex attraction is similar to the situation of persecuted minorities in American history, and that the Supreme Court ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges is seen as something similar to the victories of the Civil Rights movement. Because you do see things in this way, it is easy to understand why you see those of us who think the Obergefell ruling was wrong as filling the same role that Southerners filled in opposing Civil Rights. Certainly we deplore the fact that some who held the title of Christian have taken part in the mistreatment of minorities which causes you to mistrust  us and our motives.

But, though we understand your perspective, we cannot accept it as being accurate. The two situations only have a superficial resemblance. The Civil Rights case was about ethnicity, which was apparent by simply looking at the individual. People were judged as inferior simply because of the color of their skin. There was no behavior to modify. In the eyes of those who were racist, no matter how the black man acted, no matter how educated he might turn out to be, laws were aimed at preventing them from being equal to whites in the eyes of the law. Segregation and Slavery before it were dehumanizing and aimed at telling non-whites to “stay in your place."

But this is not the case when it comes to the support of “same sex marriage.” The area of contention is not in believing that ethnicity is a stigma. The division is over the claim that a sexual relationship between two people of the same gender is morally acceptable and there is no reason to forbid them from getting married. Right and wrong is recognized by most people. If we didn’t acknowledge that some acts were always wrong, we would be unable to condemn Nazis, Slave Owners, Terrorists or Rapists. The difference between the two sides in this dispute is over where the line is to be drawn between right and wrong. 

That brings us to the problem. We understand, even though we do not accept, your reasons for supporting “same sex marriage.” The problem is, many seem not to understand our reasons for opposing same sex marriage? Let me deny some of the common accusations against us. It is not, as is widely claimed, that we have a fear or hatred of people with same sex attraction. Nor is it the “ick factor” that we are accused of holding over the physics of the sexual act between two people of the same gender. The reason of our opposition is based on what we believe the purpose of marriage is for.

We do not accept the idea that marriage is a sexual relationship where the partners have feelings for each other and undergo a civil ceremony. We believe that the sexual act is properly based on the complementarity of one male and one female in a lifelong relationship aimed (to the best of their circumstances and ability) at establishing a family  (Father, Mother, the children they brought into the world) with the aim of raising new generations, teaching them the values needed to sustain that society.

Thus, Christianity must speak out and label as “misuse of the sexual act” those actions which either cannot or refuse to accomplish this. Thus the Catholic Church says that acts such as masturbation, fornication, adultery, same sex acts, and contraception all fall under the category of “misuse.” (Other sexual acts like polygamy, rape, incest, bestiality, pedophilia, and necrophilia are condemned for not only violating the purpose of marriage but for other reasons as well. But since many people jump to conclusions and assume that the mention of this means the person is equating them with same sex acts, I will not use them as examples to avoid useless distractions).

The point is, we do not single out people with same sex attraction as being wrong. (Completed acts of sodomy and oral sex between husband and wife are also condemned). Rather, we include sexual acts by people of the same gender alongside other sexual acts which misuse the purpose of what the sexual relationship is intended for.

Unfortunately, many people do not understand our technical terms and assign them a meaning that we never intended in the first place. For example, the term “unnatural act.” People do not understand what the term means and assumes it means “extra special bad, go directly to hell.” But that’s not what it means. What we mean runs along these lines:

  • A sexual act which would ordinarily be considered morally acceptable between husband and wife (i.e. male-female genital acts), but is used in ways not part of the marriage act (rape, fornication, adultery etc) are considered “natural sins.”
  • A sexual act which uses the sexual organs in a way for which they were not designed (masturbation, sodomy, oral sex) is considered “unnatural sins.” 

The reason for this difference of classification is not to say that homosexuality is “worse” than rape (Rape is more serious). The classification is intended to show how it is wrong. The “natural sins” use the sexual act in the way it was physically designed but not for the purpose it was designed for. But a person who misunderstands what we mean by these terms will draw the wrong conclusions and accuse us of saying something we never said.

When a person understands how the Catholic Church understands marriage, it becomes clear that the teaching that says homosexual acts are a sin is not based on the hatred of the people who have such an attraction. It is based on the belief that God designed the sexual act for marriage, and this design precludes everything except the relationship of one man and one woman in a lifelong relationship with the openness to raising children (if possible).

Now it is true that some Christians have done reprehensible things to people with same sex attraction, and we deplore that. But, while I can only speak about my own religion (if you want to hear non-Catholic perspectives, I believe you should speak to someone who is an informed member of that faith),I can point to our teaching that while sexual acts between people of the same gender are morally wrong, the Catholic Church recognizes that this inclination is a trial and that we may not treat such people unjustly. Our Catechism says:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2333)

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2347)

Now, you the reader may not agree with what we hold. But please understand that we do not hold our beliefs out of hatred of the people who do what we call wrong. We believe that acts which are sinful separate us from God and must be avoided if we would show our love for Him (see John 14:15). Since we believe that God made clear, for reasons which are not arbitrary, that marriage exists between one man and one woman (see Matthew 19:4-5). Since we believe this command is from God and is not manmade, we do not believe that we have the right to change this teaching.

I hope this open letter helps explain our concerns.

God Bless

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Laudato Si! Dissension No! Reflections on Sections 1-61

Introduction

So, the encyclical has been released. I had it copied to Scrivener by about 5:30am and converted it into a Verbum book to make it searchable and a Kindle book for ease of reading on a tablet. (Before you ask, no I won’t be giving out copies of this project. I respect the rights of the Holy See to decide how they will license this work, and when official e-book versions become available I will purchase them).

So far I am impressed by what I have seen. The Pope’s encyclical is well written, expressing itself clearly. What I have read thus far (¶ 1-61) is a discussion of the problems and the need to change attitudes. In doing so, he brings up two major themes—the obligation to take responsibility for how our interaction with the environment affects others and how our interaction with the environment uses or abuses God’s creation.

The Authority of the Encyclical

First of all, contrary to the denials of the authority of the encyclical, Pope Francis makes clear that this is part of Church teaching, not an opinion. In ¶15, he says:

It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face. (emphasis added)

“[A]dded to the body of the Church’s social teaching” is significant, affirming that it is part of the ordinary magisterium of the Church which requires us to give assent. People who try to deny its authority are being Cafeteria Catholics. Like it or not, Catholics have to think about taking responsibility for the actions that affect us. Sure, there may be different ways to carry out the Church teaching and some disagreements on what is the best way to do what we are required to do, but we do not have the right to say “X is OK” when the Church says “X is wrong."

The Encyclical and the Preemptive Ideological Rejections

Let’s start by responding to the major ideological challenge to Laudato Si that I’ve seen on Facebook and forums for the past few weeks. Does Pope Francis accept climate change as a given? Short answer, yes. Longer answer, yes in the sense that he acknowledges that human action is being added on top of the natural climate changes. I suspect ideological readers will stop at the short answer and rush off to praise or lambaste the Pope. That’s a pity though. His discussion here is on the fact that the environment involves many complex interactions where changes can have unexpected effects. He indicates that while we cannot control the natural changes in climate, we are responsible for what we do. So, if our pollution has an effect on the weather, we have to take responsibility for that effect.

The next question is, do Catholics have to believe in global warming? Short answer, no. Long answer, hell no. This is about the responsibility to care for the environment in the sense of “God’s gift of stewardship requires responsible, not inconsiderate use."

Pope Francis had said in the lead up to the release that this encyclical will challenge everyone. He has things to say that will force changes in thinking by both conservatives and liberals. Remember all the Facebook quotes that said “Why doesn’t the Pope write on moral issues instead of the environment?” Well as it turns out, he does both. As we will see, he has some strong things to say on moral issues that reject the modern view of gender identity and rights.

But in short, the anti-Francis comments that have been building up are calumny, and are not justified. There is no heresy, no junk science, no ideology here. What we see here has been discussed by past Popes about our moral obligations in what we do and how they affect others.

Themes In the Encyclical 1-61

One of the major things that struck me about this section of the encyclical was the making clear of different areas of responsibility. He does acknowledge [¶23-24] that there are natural events that can impact the environment, for example, volcanoes. But he makes clear that our responsibility is for the part of climate change that we cause, not the parts caused by nature. I find that significant because it counters the polemics that claim that we cannot control changes in climate—no, we can’t control what is natural, but not everything involved is natural. 

Indeed, later on [¶59], he will speak about people who argue that the issues of the environment are “unclear,” using that claim as an excuse to avoid changing behavior—and the morality of our behavior is a a major part of the encyclical.

The problems with the human impact on the environment is that it affects a wide range of nature and this wide range is interrelated. This means that the human actions have a cumulative effect [¶24]. But in doing so, he does not start with a “hippy dippy” approach about it. He starts with the poor and how they are the most affected by the abuse of the environment as short-sighted policies can disrupt the ecosystem. They depend on the land and the waters far more directly than those in wealthier nations. Pollution in the waters affect the agriculture, fishing and drinking water, for example. Weather disasters impact them more and what might seem minor in a developed country can prove ruinous in poorer ones. He points out that the short-sighted use of the environment impacts the poor and we must keep them in mind in how we use the resources of an area.

Section 25-43 deals largely with discussing our obligations to consider the consequences of our actions—not just by waste, but in how we try to fix things. Often times, the poor get hurt by both the ecological damage and attempts to repair the damage that do not take human beings into account. That’s right, the Pope is aware that one can go too far in both directions.

In Section 60, he points out that two extremes must be rejected—the view that technology will eventually solve the problem and the view that human beings are parasites:

60. Finally, we need to acknowledge that different approaches and lines of thought have emerged regarding this situation and its possible solutions. At one extreme, we find those who doggedly uphold the myth of progress and tell us that ecological problems will solve themselves simply with the application of new technology and without any need for ethical considerations or deep change. At the other extreme are those who view men and women and all their interventions as no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem, and consequently the presence of human beings on the planet should be reduced and all forms of intervention prohibited. Viable future scenarios will have to be generated between these extremes, since there is no one path to a solution. This makes a variety of proposals possible, all capable of entering into dialogue with a view to developing comprehensive solutions.

For example, contra the accusations that he will support population control, he explicitly rejects this as a valid option (¶50). In fact, he calls the attempts at population control to be nothing more than an attempt to avoid changing behaviors by wealthier nations:

To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.

The Pope finishes Chapter 1 by saying that the Church does not intend to offer opinions on matters that must be explored by experts (contra the allegation that the Church will get involved in ruling on science), but considers it obvious that damage is being done, even if there is dispute on the how and why. Ultimately, this encyclical is about our relationship to God, neighbor and Creation—which in chapter II he will distinguish against “nature."

I am really impressed thus far, and I will keep delving into it and give my thoughts as I go. I recommend that the reader doesn’t get bogged down by the media claims and ideological Catholic blogs with an axe to grind against the Pope. The Pope isn’t advocating the ridiculous new age environmentalism people accuse him of. This is solidly Catholic.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ordinary Magisterium and the Authority of Encyclicals

Introduction

The encyclical Laudato Si is coming out tomorrow. Personally, I have no intention of commenting on the text until I see the official release and the official translation. But many are up in arms based on the text of the draft, unofficially translated, as if the media reports—always inaccurate thus far—have reported the nuances of the final version accurately. It seems to me that such objections are to miss the point of what an encyclical is and what it is for.

This seems to stem from a gross misunderstanding on the part of some Catholics on the matter of what is binding and what is not. One of the greatest errors going about is the misunderstanding on what manner the Church uses to teach authoritatively. Many have expressed the view that the only thing that binds Catholics is an ex cathedra teaching when the Pope formally defines something declared to be held by all the faithful. The problem is, this is an extraordinary (done outside the normal means) method, normally used in cases where a serious need make a teaching clear.

Ordinary Teaching Authority

But when you have extraordinary decrees, it implies that there is an ordinary means which the Church teaches to inform the faithful as to how the teachings of the Church are to be applied—what must be done, and what must not be done.

Then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in an official SCDF document explained the difference between ordinary and extraordinary magisterium this way:

23. When the Magisterium of the Church makes an infallible pronouncement and solemnly declares that a teaching is found in Revelation, the assent called for is that of theological faith. This kind of adherence is to be given even to the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium when it proposes for belief a teaching of faith as divinely revealed.

 

When the Magisterium proposes “in a definitive way” truths concerning faith and morals, which, even if not divinely revealed, are nevertheless strictly and intimately connected with Revelation, these must be firmly accepted and held.

 

When the Magisterium, not intending to act “definitively”, teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect. This kind of response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith. [Donum Veritatis #23]

In other words, while the ordinary magisterium does not intend to teach things in such a way that we accept it as “divinely revealed,” they do require us to offer the submission of our will and intellect and accept these moral teachings as binding us to obedience. The document goes on to label as dissent (#33) the idea that teachings that are not ex cathedra can be ignored:

33. Dissent has different aspects. In its most radical form, it aims at changing the Church following a model of protest which takes its inspiration from political society. More frequently, it is asserted that the theologian is not bound to adhere to any Magisterial teaching unless it is infallible. Thus a Kind of theological positivism is adopted, according to which, doctrines proposed without exercise of the charism of infallibility are said to have no obligatory character about them, leaving the individual completely at liberty to adhere to them or not. The theologian would accordingly be totally free to raise doubts or reject the non-infallible teaching of the Magisterium particularly in the case of specific moral norms. With such critical opposition, he would even be making a contribution to the development of doctrine.

Dissent is opposition to the lawful teaching authority to the Church—often “justified” by offering spurious arguments that say the teaching authority has not made (or does not have the right to make) a binding teaching in a certain case or area of human activity. So, to call a spade a spade, to disobey the Church in a matter which is not ex cathedra when she teaches on the Christian obligation, is dissent, and thus, contrary to the obligations of a faithful Catholic

Where Do Encyclicals Fit In?

An encyclical is an expression of the ordinary magisterium of the Catholic Church. The 1887 Catholic Dictionary describes an encyclical as:

encyclical (literœ encyclicœ). A circular letter. In the ecclesiastical sense, an encyclical is a letter addressed by the Pope to all the bishops in communion with him, in which he condemns prevalent errors, or informs them of impediments which persecution, or perverse legislation or administration, opposes in particular countries to the fulfilment by the Church of her divine mission, or explains the line of conduct which Christians ought to take in reference to urgent practical questions, such as education, or the relations between Church and State, or the liberty of the Apostolic See. Encyclicals are “published for the whole Church, and addressed directly to the bishops, under circumstances which are afflicting to the entire Catholic body; while briefs and bulls are determined by circumstances more particular in their nature, and have a more special destination.” [William E. Addis and Thomas Arnold, A Catholic Dictionary (New York: The Catholic Publication Society Co., 1887), 290.]

In other words, the encyclical does intend to teach the whole Church about matters of faith and morals in situations affecting the Church or the world in the time it is written—it is not an opinion piece written by a Pope that we can ignore. It is a teaching by the successor of Peter. Many of the teachings listed in Denzinger come from encyclicals, showing this is not a new claim about their authority, usurping the true teaching of the Church. Indeed, Ven. Pius XII had taught in 1950:

20. Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me";[3] and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians. [Humani Generis]

So, we cannot exclude an encyclical from what we are called to obey—the very nature of an encyclical shows that the Pope intends to pass judgment on a matter, and obedience to these teachings are not optional.

Moreover, Vatican II (Lumen Gentium #25) tells us...

In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

…so we can see that the type of document or the frequent reputation of the teaching shows that a Pope is making his will known as head of the Church.

Denying Ordinary Magisterium Can Bind Is Cafeteria Catholicism

So, given that the ordinary magisterium of the Church binds, and given that an encyclical is a way of expressing the ordinary magisterium of the Church, it logically follows that the moral teaching of an encyclical requires assent. But if one chooses to refuse assent, he or she is guilty of dissent, refusing to do what is required as a member of the faithful. So let’s stop with the illusion that one can ignore the teaching of an encyclical as being not binding. It is quite clear that it is binding, and if one is not faithful in small things (Luke 16:10), he or she will not be faithful in larger matters.

Quick Quips: Faithfulness, Messy Church, Failure to Respond

I thought I would try something different today. Instead of trying to create a long article out of one of the ideas bouncing around in my head and losing much of the other ideas in the process, I thought I’d try posting some short reflections under the heading of Quick Quips

Whoever is Trustworthy in Small Matters...

Our Lord has some things to say which seem especially fitting for our time and the attitude of rebellion which we are facing. In Luke 16:10, He tells us, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.

I was struck by this passage the other day when seeing a large number of Catholics on Facebook objecting to Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical Laudato Si. One of the objections which was voiced was the complaint that, “Why is the Pope focussing on something so insignificant, compared to all the other issues out there?” Some have gone so far as to say that the Pope is neglecting souls while speaking about the environment.

But instead of cataloging and refuting every objection that is made, I’d like to point out one thing here. If you think that the moral obligations towards the environment is an insignificant matter compared to other issues that trouble you more, why not just seek to be faithful in these “small matters” instead of using your belief that it is “unimportant” as a justification to ignore the moral teaching an encyclical involves?

After all, if a person is faithless in what they see as a small matter like heeding the moral obligations of Catholics in regards to the environment, then why should he or she be seen as trustworthy when it comes to teaching the faith in greater matters? If a dissenter sees you rejecting the authority of the Church in a matter you disagree with and find unimportant, then why should this dissenter respect the authority of the Church in a matter he or she disagrees with?

Now I don’t mean we have to hold to a scrupulous or pharisaical legalism, in obedience. But, when the Pope says “We have this obligation,” why not say “OK,” instead of looking for ways to justify disobedience?

The Church is a Mess? Why do you say this like it is Something New?

Dissenting Priests, whacko nuns, bishops who seem weak in the face of sin, corruption and defiance. Such things do scandalize the Church today. But, when you read the unabridged Lives of the Saints, a history, or other works from the past—back before Church teaching was considered debatable—you can see that the Church was always a mess because the Church is made up of people who see things differently on how things should be done, even when they are acting out of good faith.

Sometimes a saint was opposed by a person who misunderstood their calling. Sometimes a person dissuaded a saint from something they wanted to do to keep them on track. Sometimes opposition was rooted in heresy or schism. Sometimes it was rooted in natural disagreements. But when you read the lives of some saints in past centuries, the situations they faced sound remarkably similar to the situations of today.

But there’s a myth today that back in the pre-Vatican II Church, the Vatican stopped every dissent and disobedience cold. Actually, no. Heresies lasted for hundreds of years, kings tried to impose their will on the Church in their realms, people took a lax view towards their faith, and allegations about the immorality of clergy circulated as widely then as now. That’s why the Church back then needed saints who were preachers and confessors in the nations who had formerly embraced the faith.

But I think we need to ask ourselves a couple of things here—Are we willing to answer the call (as opposed to waiting for someone else to do it)? And are we willing to work with the Church (as opposed to treating the magisterium as an adversary)?

What Can Separate Us From the Love of Christ? Nothing—But that Doesn’t Mean We Won’t Fail to Respond.

I was reading Romans 8 this morning and was struck by a thought. When St. Paul was speaking about not fearing the trials and tribulations, it struck me that he was talking about the fact that in the battle for our souls, nobody is going to defeat Our Lord and steal us away from Him against His our will. It’s not going to be a case of Our Lord being left defeated on the battlefield, scratching His head and wondering, “How did that happen?"

So if this is the case, how do people go to hell? I would say that the devil works by convincing people that they don’t need to fight and don’t need to change. Whether he does this by persuading people to reject religion, or to practice religion in a way which is focussed on the self instead of God, he deceives us by having us put our own will first while making what God calls us to be a secondary matter,  Our Lord’s words on straining the gnat and swallowing the camel (Matthew 23:24) come to mind here. We focus on things that may be good in themselves, but do it in a way which neglects the bigger picture—like focusing on liturgy and neglecting social justice; or focussing on social justice while neglecting the moral issues.

In other words, when we make adherence to only part of God’s teaching while choosing to ignore the rest, we are failing to respond to God’s love as we are called.