Thursday, January 24, 2019

What’s Wrong With the World? “Everything Except Me!”

When the London Times asked the question, “What’s Wrong With the World?” G.K. Chesterton responded with a letter: “Dear Sir, I am.”

If a newspaper were to ask that today, there would be a flood of responses, pointing at a lot of people but summed up as, “Dear Sir, Everything except me.”

The Catholic Social Media, in responding to the news stories of the past week, served as a reminder of that problem. We all have our idea on what should have happened in each case which absolutely cannot be challenged. If anyone should challenge it, it is seen as proof that the challenger is a terrible person deserving of our contempt... even if that person happens to be the Pope or a bishop who is making use of his authority to teach or discipline to meet the needs of the faithful.

Do not think I am saying that the Pope or bishop is incapable of sinning or making bad decisions. They are human, and sinners, just like we are. But they have been entrusted with the authority to determine whether something is in keeping with Catholic Faith. Even if one should think that a matter of discipline or judgment is misapplied, we are required to express our concerns with reverence (see canon 212). We are required to give a favorable interpretation to their actions as much as possible (CCC #2477 and #2478).

This is not happening. Nowadays, when they exercise their office, they are treated as if this exercise is nothing more than an uninformed opinion from a hated politician. The Pope and bishops are assumed to be ignorant of Church teaching and (contradictorily) aimed at maliciously supporting enemies of the Church. Then people are “shocked” to learn that other people are rejecting the Church on matters they happen to agree with. The fact that they are guilty of the same thing as the others they condemn never occurs to them.

We have two choices. We can either try to regain the reverence and respect we are required to give the Church (Luke 10:16), starting with ourselves, or we can contribute to the breakdown by picking out “heroes” and “villains” based on whether they say only what we already favor. 

This is where we fail. We hear that, and our first thought is to point to the worst behavior—real or hypothetical—and use that as an excuse not to obey. Were there priests and bishops who fell away from the Faith? Yes. But part of that falling away involved rejecting the authority of the Pope. They assumed that what they stood for was right, and the Pope’s rejection of their view was seen as “proof” that the Pope was in error.

See how those past heresies and schisms mirrored the attitude of today. Instead of considering the possibility of being wrong, they assumed that disagreement meant the Church herself was wrong. They wound up outside of the Church. We should beware that we don’t wind up the same, deceived by the belief that we can’t be mistaken about something we feel strongly about.

I believe that’s why G.K. Chesterton’s insight into what’s wrong with the world was right. Each of us must answer “I am,” because each one of us believes we’re the only one who isn’t.

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