Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Unasked For, But Needed, Reprimand

One of the curious things to watch in the Church are the Catholics who say that the Pope needs to stay out of politics and spend more time focusing on Church teaching. Of course, what the critics define as “politics” are the issues where the Pope speaks against the position that the critic holds. Popes speaking on public issues that they agree with are no problem.

The troubling thing about this attitude is it tries to force Church teaching into comfortable partisan positions that don’t threaten the critic. The problem is, the Church is given her mission to bring The Lord’s salvation to the world. When an individual, a group, or a nation acts in a way contrary to what we must do to be saved, the Church must speak out. As God told Ezekiel (Ezekiel 33:7–9):

You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me. When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life. 

The Church has the same task as Ezekiel. When we as individuals, groups, or nationalities do evil, the Church must speak out. 

One of the temptations in this case is to point to another existing evil (one which we oppose) and argue that the Church should focus on it instead because it is “more serious.” That’s a dangerous way to think, however. There’s no doubt that some sins are intrinsically evil and worse than others. But the deadliest sin is the one that sends you (or me) to hell. We rightly oppose abortion and same sex “marriage,” but our opposition to these evils will not excuse us from a mortal sin that we do commit. In fact, we might be putting ourself in the position of the Pharisee who praised himself compared to the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). Let’s face it. The Pharisee wasn’t guilty of the sins that the Tax Collector was guilty of. But that doesn’t mean that the Pharisee was free of sin.

We should remember that the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46) has a lot to say about how we responded to those in need. If the Church warns us that our favorite policies neglect those whom Christ commanded us to help, responding with “stay out of politics” is a wildly inappropriate response and suggests either gross ignorance of or opposition to what the Church teaches. As the Vatican II document, Apostolicam actuositatem, teaches:

5. Christ’s redemptive work, while essentially concerned with the salvation of men, includes also the renewal of the whole temporal order. Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. In fulfilling this mission of the Church, the Christian laity exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders. These orders, although distinct, are so connected in the singular plan of God that He Himself intends to raise up the whole world again in Christ and to make it a new creation, initially on earth and completely on the last day. In both orders the layman, being simultaneously a believer and a citizen, should be continuously led by the same Christian conscience.

This is true regardless of whether the Church is seeking to convert the people of a nation to stop slaughtering the unborn or whether the Church is trying to convert the people of a nation from treating migrants as less than human—or any other sin that endangers our souls by wronging others.

When the Church speaks out on an issue that seems to strike close to home, perhaps we should consider it a merciful opportunity to ask ourselves if we have gotten complacent and drifted from where we need to be.


  1. It is so easy to find fault with the church or with anyone that doesn't agree with us. I get confused because then I ask myself if I am doing the same thing, then? So how do you know who is right? Do you know what I mean?

    1. My take is we know who has been entrusted with the authority and responsibility to shepherd the Church. We should listen to them, trusting God to protect His Church.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly, yet there are times when I fear I am wrong, and the papal detractors are right, and what if they are right about this blue pill red pill nonsense. If I think too much about it, I get all turned around and upside down. It's a fearful thing to think, what if they are right? (Even though intellectually I am fairly certain in my limited understanding, that they are not.) Anyway, thank you for this great blog! There isn't much you can find that defends magisterial authority, so yours is a welcome place to read.

    1. I figure, if the Papal detractors are right, we have a more serious problem: it means the teaching that God protects the Church from error must be false. But since I believe God does protect His Church, I find it more plausible that the critics are wrong.

  3. Bingo. These days, happily, it's often possible to see what the Pope or other authority actually said: not what someone else said the Pope, bishop or whatever, said.

    I've found that remembering who's in charge helps me deal with reminders I don't like, and that's almost another topic.