Sunday, June 23, 2019

How Long Will You Straddle the Issue?

The quote in the graphic reminds us that the Catholic Church is a body whose members span the globe, from every nation on Earth and our moral obligations must reflect that. However, the individual Catholics are members of particular nations, and this fact can limit our perspective.

When faced with these two facts, individual Catholics can either expand their understanding of who their neighbors are (see Luke 10:25-37), or they can decide that what happens outside their nation is less important than the benefits within.

The Catholic who chooses the second option cannot claim to be living according to the teachings of the Church, even if they adhere to the letter of the law.

However, we should also remember that this limited view is not only about national borders. We can also run the risk of limiting our practice of the Catholic Faith by treating Church teaching outside of our political preferences as “simply optional,” “merely prudential judgment, or “the Church getting into politics.” When the Church teaches something that goes beyond our preferred boundaries, we have a choice. We can either admit that we’ve gone wrong—through ignorance or dissent—and need to reassess our values, or we can double down and say “the bishops got played” over issues we disagree.

We should consider the words of Msgr. Ronald Knox before deciding to believe that the Church “got it wrong”:

Here is another suggestion, which may not be without its value—if you find yourself thus apparently deserted by the light of faith, do not fluster and baffle your imagination by presenting to it all the most difficult doctrines of the Christian religion, those which unbelievers find it easiest to attack; do not be asking yourself, "Can I really believe marriage is indissoluble?  Can I really believe that it is possible to go to hell as the punishment for one mortal sin?"  Keep your attention fixed to the main point, which is a single point—Can I trust the Catholic Church as the final repository of revealed truth?  If you can, all the rest follows; if you cannot, it makes little difference what else you believe or disbelieve.

(In Soft Garments, pages 113-114).

If any of us wants to claim that we are faithful Catholics, we need to ask if we really believe that the Church is the “final repository of revealed truth,” is the Church established and protected by Christ. To paraphrase 1 Kings 18:21, we might ask ourselves, How long will you straddle the issue? If you believe that the Catholic Church is established and protected by God, follow her out of obedience to Him. It is that simple. If the Church can teach error now, we have no way of knowing that she didn’t teach errors earlier. But if the Church was protected from error in the past, it’s unreasonable to think that our dissent is because we’re right. It’s much more plausible to believe that we fell into error ourselves.

Some will no doubt point (selectively) to times in Church history when bishops fell into heresy. Yes, individual bishops can fall into error if they teach in opposition to the Pope, who is the final stop in determining truth and error. And yes, individual bishops and even Popes can sin or make mistakes in understanding. Popes and bishops need salvation like the rest of us. But the Pope and bishops in communion with him have the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, 18:18), and rejecting them has serious consequences (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16).

And don’t say that “this only applies to the ex cathedra teachings. The ex cathedra teachings were defined in response to people rejecting the regular teachings of the Church. They were binding before they were formally defined. 

So, when we’re tempted to dissent, claiming we know better, we need to stop straddling the issue and either accept the authority of the Church as being protected by Christ or admit we do not believe in the teaching authority of the Church.

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