Showing posts with label arrogance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label arrogance. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

What About Us?

Pay attention to the bishop, if you would have God pay attention to you. I offer myself up for those who obey the bishop, priests and deacons. May it be my lot to be with them in God. Toil and train together, run and suffer together, rest and rise at the same time, as God’s stewards, assistants and servants. Please the leader under whom you serve, for from him you receive your pay. May none of you turn out a deserter. Let your baptism be ever your shield, your faith a helmet, your charity a spear, your patience a panoply. Let your works be deposits, so that you may receive the sum that is due to you. In humility be patient with one another, as God is with you. May I rejoice in you always.

 

—St. Ignatius of Antioch

 

One temptation Catholics face was described by the future Pope Benedict XVI as taking the prayer in the Communion Rite, “look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church,” and changing it, by practice, into look not on the sins of our Church, but on my faith. In other words, we subverted the recognition of our sins and the holiness of the Church by elevating our own perceived superiority to the flaws of the sinful members of the Church… in other words, if the Church does not work the way we think it should, we take it to mean the Church is in the wrong and that is the fault of somebody else. The Catholic who thinks that the Church would be fine if those in charge would do things their way have fallen into the trap. 

 

We have seen this in articles that portray legitimate incidents of confidentiality as “secret” or decisions to make no changes as “neglect of important issues.” Such people selectively cite Canon 212§3 to justify their actions. Yes, Canon 212§3 exists for us to respectfully express our concerns about the needs of the Church. No, it does not mean we can rudely dismiss the actions of those who are tasked with making decisions on how to handle things.

 

Of course, the individuals within the Church from the laity to the Pope can and do sin. They can make errors of judgment in the administration of the Church. We should be praying for them because of that fact. But we all too often focus on the actions on the part of them—the “Pope and/or bishops,” while ignoring our own role among the laity. Many seem willing to gleefully cite the sentence—falsely attributed to St. John Chrysostom or St. Athanasius—that “The road to hell is paved with the bones of priests and monks, and the skulls of bishops are the lampposts that light the path” when we dislike the things the Pope and bishops have done, while ignoring Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16, and John 14:15 that remind us that our failures of obedience are not a minor matter.

 

We are all called to follow the Christian life and the specific vocation that God may call us to. That calling may be something official within the Church, or it may be a private action. We do need to act in communion with the Pope and the bishops in doing so. If they should rule that a ministry must be done one way, or must not be done another way, then that should be a huge clue that we cannot impose that conflicting vision on the Church. But, if we take the “look not on the sins of our Church, but on my faith” approach, we will fall into error… perhaps even into heresy or schism if we become obstinate enough.

 

I recognize that readers might immediately think of the behavior of an individual among the clergy who does wrong and think, the author wants us to follow blindly! No. I do not call for that. I can legitimately express concern about the German bishops for example, because they appear to be in opposition to the Pope and bishops in communion with him. But I do think that when we get indignant over the legitimate exercise of authority in the Church and are tempted to say that the Church is the one in the wrong, we have the obligation to ask ourselves: What About us?

 

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(†) It seems that the origin of the saying was John Wesley who apparently wrote that St. John Chrysostom should have said it: “A lifeless, unconverting minister is the murderer-general of his parish. . . I could not have blamed St. Chrysostom, if he had only said, ‘Hell is paved with the skulls of such Christian priests!’”

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Ignorance and Arrogance: A Reflection

Introduction

The saints and the philosophers made a distinction between being ignorant and being arrogantly ignorant. The former involved not knowing. The latter involved not knowing but still assuming one’s rash assumptions were true. The former might or might not involve sin, depending on whether one made the effort to learn to the best of one’s ability (God being the ultimate judge). The latter certainly involves rash judgments. Both of them are to be avoided, though the consequences might differ.



Ignorance

Ignorance can be defined as being “uninformed about or unaware of a specific subject or fact,” or “lacking knowledge or awareness in general.” We tend to see the term “ignorant” as an insult or a condemnation. But that isn’t always the case. Humans, being finite, will always have things they don’t know. Sometimes, what we don’t know is inconsequential (What was Gary Kasparov’s seventh move in the final game of his first victorious tournament?)* Sometimes, what we don’t know can have life-threatening consequences (Is it safe to pass that truck while going over the hill?).

Obviously, ignorance about things impacting our or other lives can be harmful. We can be held responsible if we could have learned the answer but never bothered or refused to learn to avoid acting on it. But if it was impossible for us to learn something (invincible ignorance), we can’t be held responsible. As the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (#16) tells us

Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.

Even if we strive to be faithful Catholics, there is always more to learn. There will be things we didn’t know previously that the Church taught on, or discover nuance in a teaching we had previously thought was more blunt. When we do discover this deficiency, we need to correct our thinking, trying to live according to those teachings. 

To do so, we need to be attentive to the Church, under the visible head, the Pope and bishops in communion with him. When the Church admonishes us that a behavior is incompatible with being a disciple of Christ, we act wisely if we listen to the Church, and foolishly if we refuse to listen and insist on our own views.

Arrogance

Arrogance can be defined as “having an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.” It combines with ignorance when we have an exaggerated sense of our own knowledge, when we are actually ignorant—we think we know what is important to know, passing judgment without considering the possibility of our own being in error. For example, I have seen numerous instances of people responding to the Pope condemning injustice related to our politics by saying “why doesn’t he speak out on the mistreatment of Christians in the Middle East?”

This is where I wish I could reach through the computer screen to smack the person. The Pope has frequently spoken out on this subject, and a Google search would quickly correct the accusers error. The arrogance is assuming that one’s lack of knowledge is a knowledge of lack. Through arrogance, the accuser turns what they know nothing about into a belief that the Pope is negligent.

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

The Catechism of the Catholic Church warns against thinking that way, teaching:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

Assuming the moral fault of another requires knowledge that a thing is so, and not merely assuming that what we think we know is sufficient to level accusations. To accuse the Pope of letting priests marry, of letting the divorced/remarried receive the Eucharist, of supporting Marxism, one has to determine that it is what the Pope intends to do and not what one thinks follows from their interpretation of what he says or writes (I discuss this more, HERE).

The Catholic Church is a catholic (universal) Church. It teaches to people of all languages, cultures, and times. But if we assume that our language, culture, and time is the only way to interpret the Church teaching, we are ignorant and arrogant when we condemn the Church—under the visible head the Pope—for pointing out that we have gone wrong in an assumption.

___________

(*) No idea. After writing the sentence, I tried Googling it out of curiosity. No luck.

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.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Masquerading as an Angel of Light

(From The Spiritual Exercises)

With the rejection of the Pope almost reaching the level of overt schism, it is time to look at a forgotten tactic used by the devil—the appearance as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). The words of St. Paul and St. Ignatius of Loyola remind us that our desires to be holy can be corrupted and lead us to deceive ourselves and be deceived by others so we wind up actually doing the work of the devil while we think we are doing the work of the Lord.

Unfortunately, the temptation is being so focused on the evil things we expect those we oppose to do that we miss the devil deceiving us by appealing to our desire to be holy while actually urging us to follow our sinful habits. If the devil can get us to believe our disobedience is not really wrong, then it doesn’t matter how many rosaries we pray or what form of Mass we attend—for we are working against God and His Church.

I believe that the rise of anti-Francis websites and books are a sign of this corruption. I have no doubt that these people are sincere in their desire to defend the Church. But I believe the devil is whispering in their ear, emphasizing the things that anger them, stirring up their suspicions and listening to only those things that reinforce their preconceived notions.

“The Preaching of the Antichrist”
(It’s always wise to ask where the whispers come from...)

In the current time of the Church, I believe we are seeing the devil as an angel of light whispering in our ears and telling us that when the Church does not go the way we want, it is “proof” that the Church has gone wrong. But obedience to the Church is something Our Lord requires (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). To protect the Church from error in this obedience, Our Lord gives the Pope and the bishops in communion with Him—as successors to the apostles—the authority to bind and loose. Yes, we’ve had morally bad Popes, we’ve had cowardly Popes and we’ve had Popes with questionable orthodoxy personally. But we’ve never had a Pope who used his teaching office to teach error.


When Catholics claim the right to pass judgment on which teachings they will accept as binding, they would be wise to ask whether what is urging them on is really God. Since Our Lord gives His authority to the Church, it seems more likely that the angel of light that we think we see is nothing more than the devil seeking to deceive us into rebelling against the Church. Remember, if the devil can lead us to hell, it doesn’t matter to him if we’re pious in doing so.

Whether one is opposed to Pope Francis but loved his predecessors or loves Pope Francis while hating his predecessors, it is a rejection of the same authority given by God to the successor of St. Peter when one rejects the teaching of the Pope (see Canon 752).

And when you feel angry at the Church, thinking there’s no way that God would want you to listen to His vicar, just ask yourself whether that’s really from God or whether it’s a counterfeit, a devil masquerading as an angel of Light

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A Little Knowledge is Dangerous

…as I went away, I thought to myself, “I am wiser than this man; for neither of us really knows anything fine and good, but this man thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas I, as I do not know anything, do not think I do either. I seem, then, in just this little thing to be wiser than this man at any rate, that what I do not know I do not think I know either.” [Apologia 21d]

 

Plato, Plato in Twelve Volumes Translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb., vol. 1 (Medford, MA: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1966).

Knowing less than you think you do is a dangerous situation to be in. It leads a person to act on what they wrongly think is real. When this happens, people reach wrong conclusions, perform the wrong actions, assume the wrong motives. The result is some sort of harm done to oneself or others. 

In some fields, it is apparent to most people when they are in over their heads. Take medicine. Doctors study for years to learn how the body functions, how it can go wrong, and how it can be made right—but even with all that knowledge, mistakes can be made. Now imagine the average person thinking he knows more about medicine than he does. Such a person might guess how to handle a simpler diagnosis, but not always. The more complicated the procedure, the more likely this person is to commit an error, and the more serious the condition, the more serious the consequences of an error.

Most of us know our limitations when it comes to obviously technical fields. But in other fields—especially when it comes out to determining the truth of how we ought to live—people act as if they are experts. They pass judgment on what they think is right, with no consideration as to whether their knowledge of truth or the situation might be lacking.

This is especially the case when it comes to determining the moral way to live. Human beings, by nature, tend to interpret things based on what they want. The assumption is that what they want is good, and those who interfere with that want is bad.

But, if you’re a parent who’s had to childproof a house, you know that what a child wants and what is good for the child are two different things. The child wants to put dangerous items into their mouth, or stick their fingers in dangerous places. He or she resents the parent interfering. The parent’s rules keeps them alive and eventually the child learns why the parent made the rules, learning it is not arbitrary, but based on truth about what causes harm.

In a similar manner, the person who rebels against the moral rules, thinking they know better, endangers souls and sometimes bodies. In assuming that the one who issues these rules are wrong, they think they know more than they do. To be clear, I’m not talking about a blind adherence to any rule. Yes, it is important to understand what the rules are. But it is also important to understand why the rules exist.

This is especially true when the Church teaches. As Catholics, we know that the Church has authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). Because of that, we know that Church teachings create a boundary between living as we ought and living contrary to what we ought. But if we don’t understand the reasons for the teaching, we run the risk of resenting those rules or of reading more restrictions into the rules than actually exist.

Take, for example, the Church teaching on social and economic justice. Certain Catholics resent these teachings—they’re at odds with their political preferences—and say that the Church should work on saving souls, not meddling in politics. The problem is, the person who says this is ignorant of our obligation as Christians to create a society that is just and not a hardship to do what is right. As Vatican II points out:

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.

 

Catholic Church, “Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity: Apostolicam Actuositatem,” in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).

Reforming society is not separate from our mission to save souls—it’s part of that mission. But if we’re ignorant of the what and why of Church teaching, we can end up fighting the Church while thinking our actions right. 

And that’s a major danger. Whether it is a liberal Catholic who resents teaching on sexual morality or a conservative Catholic who resents a social justice teaching, we have a person who thinks they know more than they do and demands that the Church follow his lead. But, because they know less than they think they do, it is dangerous to put trust in their views.

Laxity is not the only danger. Rigorism is another danger. When we start thinking that only those who act like us can be saved without considering whether the Church allows for more options in being faithful, we can wind up falsely accusing the faithful of error. We can start assuming that mercy is the enemy of justice. So, when the Church shows mercy, we run the risk of resenting it instead of rejoicing.

We cannot start to set limits on God’s behalf; the very heart of the faith has been lost to anyone who supposes that it is only worthwhile, if it is, so to say, made worthwhile by the damnation of others. Such a way of thinking, which finds the punishment of other people necessary, springs from not having inwardly accepted the faith; from loving only oneself and not God the Creator, to whom his creatures belong. That way of thinking would be like the attitude of those people who could not bear the workers who came last being paid a denarius like the rest; like the attitude of people who feel properly rewarded only if others have received less. This would be the attitude of the son who stayed at home, who could not bear the reconciling kindness of his father. It would be a hardening of our hearts, in which it would become clear that we were only looking out for ourselves and not looking for God; in which it would be clear that we did not love our faith, but merely bore it like a burden.

 

Joseph Ratzinger, God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life, ed. Stephan Otto Horn and Vinzenz Pfnür, trans. Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 35–36.

From what I have observed watching critics who want to “purify” the Church is they don’t seem to grasp the mission of the Church. Some of them want to reduce the Church to a charitable organization that discards the demands of morality Others want to turn the Church into an exclusive club where they are members, but sinners of a certain type are excluded—that type generally reduced to those who commit different sins from what the critic thinks acceptable.

Neither group seems to remember that the Church was established for bringing Our Lord’s salvation to the world. Neither group seems to remember that we need that salvation ourselves. The temptation is to demand the immediate repentance of others while deciding our own sins are not sins or are not important enough to repent of.

I think this ultimately describes the danger we face in not knowing that we don’t know—that our lives require a constant turning back to God, and that we cannot write off the sinner we deem worse than us.  Our Lord warned the Pharisees that the prostitutes and tax collectors were entering the Kingdom of Heaven before them. (Matthew 21:31b). Our Lord didn’t say that because he thought they were morally good. He said that because they were repenting while the Pharisees thought they had nothing to repent of.

In other words, the Pharisees did not know that they did not know how God was calling them to live. As a result, they assumed whatever was different from their views was error. When we err in that manner, refusing to hear the Church (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16) we are ignorant about our ignorance. But since we, as Catholics, have no excuse for not knowing that Our Lord made the Church necessary and authoritative, our ignorance is vincible and can endanger our souls. And that is more dangerous than not knowing that we know nothing about medicine.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Assumptions: Winding Up in the Ditch (Luke 6:39)

When it comes to hostility or suspicion towards the Church, regardless of what side it comes from, it is rooted in assumptions, not fact. People assume they understand what the Catholic Church holds, or assume they understand the words of a member of the Church that they oppose. Such people assume that not seeing other possible meanings means there are none. They assume that the Church/Pope/Council must be in error if they don’t match what the critics think should be. But, what they fail to consider is whether their own understanding about what should be is correct. For example, if Martin Luther was wrong (and I believe he was) about what God intended the Church to be, then the way he went around attempting reforms was fatally flawed, even if he meant well.

I believe the same is the case with the modernist Catholic who believes Church teaching on things that are intrinsically evil can be changed and the radical traditionalist who believes that the Pope is a heretic. They start with the assumption that what they think about God and what His Church should be is true, and assume that, if the Church is not what they think it should be, the Church has “fallen into error.” But, as with my above example with Luther, if the critic’s conception of what the Church should be is false, then their ideas are also fatally flawed.

These critics do not have to be malicious. They can be quite sincere. But if they are mistaken, unwilling to consider the possibility of being in error, they will be like the blind guides Our Lord warned against. They will lead the other blind man into a pit (Luke 6:39). Not because they wish to do harm, but because they wrongly think they know the way when they need help themselves.

I find that when it comes to disputes of this kind, we don’t have two errors. We have one: but the people in error simply disagree over whether that mistaken view they think true is a good thing or a bad thing. If the view is mistaken, then these people are worked up over nothing. I believe that the case of Vatican II and Pope Francis illustrate this point. Some Catholics wrongly believe that the Council intended to change everything, but Popes Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI “betrayed” the Council. Others believe that the Council not only intended but did change everything, and blame Popes Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI for helping aid the “destruction” of the Church [†].

Needless to say, they can’t both be right. But they overlook the possibility that neither can be right. Since both believe that Vatican II was a radical break, both are in error if Vatican II was not a radical break. Since both believe Pope Francis intends to change Church teaching, both are in error if he does not intend to change Church teaching. The assumption is that these things are so, but that assumption is the point that has to be proven. We cannot conclude that the conclusions drawn from those assumptions are true when they are unproven.

But instead of proof, we get fallacious arguments. For example, “Well, if the Council didn’t mean that, why did this rebellion happen?” That’s the point to be investigated, to see why and how it happened. Invoking Vatican II as the cause of rebellion is meaningless if it never intended what people claim. The point is, it is not what people think the meaning is. It is what the intended meaning is. If people are wrong about the intended meaning, their conclusion is wrong too.

The point of all this is, if we place ourselves in opposition to the Church, and assume we are in the right, we will go wrong. The Church is given the task of preaching the kingdom to the world, and is given the promise of Our Lord’s protection. To accuse the Church of teaching error is to deny Our Lord’s power to keep the promise, and I find that blasphemous. That’s the case if the accuser is saying the Church is wrong on sexual morality, or if the accuser is saying the Church is wrong on Vatican II.

The only way we can avoid winding up falling into the ditch is to stop assuming we are a better guide to salvation than the Church. This means we stop assuming we know better than those chosen to shepherd on how to interpret what the Church has always taught and how to apply it in our own age. The Church has been given this task, and the Church has been given the protection to carry it out. Following any source in opposition to the Church is to follow a blind guide.

It really is that straightforward.

 

_____________________________

[†] Oh yes, people forget it, but these critics savaged Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI just as much as they savaged Pope Francis.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Knowing, Not Knowing, and Knowing You Do Not Know

Accordingly I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed him—his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination—and the result was as follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and still wiser by himself; and thereupon I tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is,—for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him. (Apologia 21)

 

Plato, The Dialogues of Plato, trans. B. Jowett, Third Edition, vol. 2 (New York; London: Oxford University Press, 1892), 113–114.

Introduction

When it comes to the ongoing faction wars in the Church, I suspect many of the participants who attack the Church today as being in error never intend to reject the Church. Instead, they act as they do because they think it is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, what one thinks is the right thing, and what the right thing actually is are often two different things. I think this is an example of the situation described by Socrates’ Apology above—that the person does not know the truth, but does not know about this lack. That is a problem because, if a person does not know that they do not know the truth, they will remain in error while thinking themselves defenders of the faith. 

Unfortunately, one of the problems with social media discussions today is nobody wants to admit that they don’t know something. In fact, implying someone doesn’t know something usually results in an angry response. Bring up the Argument from Ignorance fallacy [†] and people think you’re calling them an idiot. This defensive attitude is unfortunate because every person has a lack of knowledge in some part of their life. The question is, do we recognize this lack and try to learn? Or do we think that what we think we know is all that needs to be known? 

Being Faithfully Catholic Means Constantly Growing

If we are in the latter state, this is harmful for our spiritual health. The Catholic faith requires us to know, love and serve God. That goes back at least to the Baltimore Catechism, and it’s a good summation. We need to know what God revealed, the natural law with which He created the universe, and make use of our natural reason to apply that revelation and knowledge to our personal lives. Being finite beings, afflicted with concupiscence, we do make mistakes in judgment. We do choose the wrong thing. We do miss crucial facts that would change our outlook. And, finally, we do fail to comprehend complex ideas that go beyond our knowledge. There’s no shame in that limitation. But we cannot live that way. As the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes puts it:

[16] In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.

 

Catholic Church, “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes,” in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).

If we refuse to learn, refuse to form our conscience, we have no excuse when we do wrong. And, since Our Lord gave us the Church to guide us, we have no excuse for going astray if we should ignore the Church. As Lumen Gentium puts it:

[14] They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion. He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart.” All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

 

Catholic Church, “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium,” in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).

In short, we can’t stop with what we think we know on how to live the Christian life. Growing closer to God means learning how to live as He calls us to live. Can you imagine a marriage where one of the spouses couldn’t be bothered to learn about his partner? Not caring what the other thought or felt about things? The successful marriage requires a constant change for the better. Our relationship with God requires the same.

Knowing and Learning

Of course the Church goes back to Our Lord Himself, and the writings of the members of the Church, the Councils and so on is massive. One person cannot hope to learn and master it all, even if they had no demands on their time but this study. So one average Catholic may view the encouragement to learn as an impossible demand and give up hope of understanding. Meanwhile another average Catholic might just decide that what he knows is good enough to pass judgment on Popes.

Both views should be avoided. In the first case, the equivalent of a Ph.D is not necessary for salvation. People with the ability and time to study theology can indeed lend their talents to the Church, but this is not the only way a Catholic can be holy and serve the Church. Each one of us has a calling regardless of education and status in life (1 Corinthians 12:15-26). In the second case, assuming one knows enough is to give up learning about Our Lord and growing in relationship with Him. When such a person encounters something within the Church, new to them, they might assume the idea is heretical without considering the possibility of their lack of knowledge making them misinterpret the issue.

To avoid this state, we need to start with the step of realizing the possibility of our not knowing something, considering the possibility that there is more to the situation than we are aware of. We need to realize that, just because we might think, “I can’t think of any reason why the Pope does/doesn’t do X,” does not mean there is no reason that justifies his actions.

Example—The Pope, Divorce, and Remarriage.

One of the problems I see in the social media debates is confusing the intrinsic evil with the actual responsibility of the person. Intrinsic evil means that some act is always wrong regardless of intention or circumstances. One can never have a just abortion or a just rape for example. But one can have a just war if proper conditions are met.

What some Catholics seem to forget (or perhaps did not know), and what the Pope wants us to remember, is that it is not enough to speak against intrinsic evil. Determining the culpability (responsibility) of the person who acts is part of the confessor’s task.  Certain circumstances can reduce the level of individual guilt (but not the fact that an intrinsic evil is done). Confessors have to assess the knowledge and circumstances that led to the action in determining how serious the sin is. For example, masturbation is an intrinsic evil. One must never do it. But some people have formed compulsive habits that are hard to break. In some circumstances, this compulsion reduces the personal responsibility so the person lacks the consent necessary for a mortal sin. The act is still intrinsically evil, and the person is obliged to work at overcoming this compulsion in cooperation with God’s grace. But this reduced culpability does not mean the Church is calling evil “permissible.”

Some critics of the Pope (including a few I ordinarily respect) say they can’t envision a circumstance where culpability can be reduced. But that is an argument from ignorance fallacy. We need to consider the possibility of things being different from what we think, based on our own experience. 

I believe that some Catholics forget this when it comes to the fight over Chapter 8 of Amoris Lætitia involving the divorced and remarried. Contrary to his critics’ claims, the Pope has not denied that divorce and remarriage is never permissible as long as the legitimate spouse lives. What he calls for is that confessors assess the knowledge and circumstances of each person, in this situation. Contrary to the claims of anti-Francis Catholics, the Pope is not seeking to legitimize divorce/remarriage. He is seeking to restore each person to a right relationship with God and His Church. If [§] it turns out that a Catholic in this situation lacks the conditions that make a mortal sin [∞], then the confessor can encourage the reception of the Eucharist while also guiding the sinner to turn away from sin and return to God. He is not a “liberal” or a “modernist” when he properly applies this.

Is it possible that a confessor can act wrongly, or err in their assessment? Yes, because we are all sinners. But the wrongful action of some confessors or some bishops does not mean that the Pope promotes or supports those things. 

Example—Knowing that differences exist in other nations.

Another thing that people may not know that the situation in Western Europe and the United States is not universal. For example, during the Year of Mercy, the Pope declared that all priests would be granted the facility to absolve abortion [¶]. This did not affect the United States, where the bishops already gave their priests the facility to act in their name, but it did affect other parts of the world. In interviews and press conferences, the Pope has discussed all sorts of different abuses and obstacles to marriage that we in the West have never experienced, but people in other countries have to deal with.

Likewise, things we take for granted, like tribunals, do not exist in some Catholic countries. An open and shut annulment case might take 90 days in the US, but might take years in another country. Other countries might have vicious customs that discourage seeking annulment. In such cases, people might feel trapped into doing things that the Church teaches is wrong. As I pointed out above, this does not change the fact that what they do is wrong. But it might (and might ≠ must) mean that some (and some ≠ all) cases involve reduced culpability. If we do not know these things, we run into the danger of thinking the entire world is like the US, and that his actions are nothing more than laxity. But this is false.

Blind Guides who do not know that they do not know.

4. The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, "comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth".(5)

 

But especially contradictory is a notion of Tradition which opposes the universal Magisterium of the Church possessed by the Bishop of Rome and the Body of Bishops. It is impossible to remain faithful to the Tradition while breaking the ecclesial bond with him to whom, in the person of the Apostle Peter, Christ himself entrusted the ministry of unity in his Church.(6)

 

 John Paul II, Ecclesia Dei 

So far, I have talked about people who are unaware of differences, or what the Pope actually said, and simply assume conditions are the same everywhere in the Church. But there is another group of Catholics who are truly dangerous to souls. These are the Catholics who, out of ignorance, assume that differences between their own misunderstanding and what the Pope says to be “proof” that the Pope is in error. They stir up confusion, and then argue that the existence of that confusion is the fault of the Pope they attack. 

This group of Catholics seem intimidating because they pull quotes from obscure Church documents the average Catholic has never heard of. But they sound knowledgable, and the average Catholic, insecure in their own knowledge, thinks their inability to think of a response means it must be true. It is important to remember that their behavior is like the anti-Catholic who distorts a Catholic teaching, and then cites a Bible verse they claim “contradicts” it. But the issue is not the Bible verse, but whether they use it properly. Likewise, the anti-Francis Catholic who cites a quote from Church teaching and contrasts it with something the Pope says has always either misquoted or taken the quote out of context. Often they have never actually read these documents, though they may try to feign otherwise. They often get isolated quotes from websites that argue the Church today is in error. Once countered, they ignore that argument and move on to the next [∑] or ignore that refutation.

For example, when they cite St. Robert Bellarmine on a “heretic Pope,” they make it sound like this is an official Church document. It is not. It is one opinion he lists in a work defending the authority of the Pope (I discuss this HERE). They often misrepresent history of the Church, making it sound like we have had openly heretical Popes in the past, and Pope Francis is merely one more of them. But this too is false. We have three Popes who may have privately held error [£], but never taught it. Since Pope Francis is teaching, if he taught error, it would mean that what the Church believes about being protected from teaching error in faith and morals was false. And once we see that, we realize we can never know if the Church was not in error.

What the average Catholic needs to know about not knowing in this case is, the issue in question is not the Bible or Church documents. It is their interpretation of the documents that are being judged. The authority to interpret how the timeless truths of the Church are applied in each time period fall to the Pope and bishops in communion with him. One judges the dissenter’s claims by how they line up with what the Pope and bishops in communion with him say. When the Pope teaches, even when that teaching is not ex cathedra, it must be obeyed:

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

 

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 236.

So, even if you are an average Catholic who has not had the opportunity or time to study all the tomes the Church has produced, here is something important to know—you cannot have authentic Catholic faith in opposition to the Pope and bishops of this generation. Once you know that, you know that despite all the quotes they may produce, these dissenters have no authority to defy the Church today in the name of being faithful to what they think the Church meant in the past. 

Conclusion

To tie all this together, we need to avoid being like the politician who neither knew the truth nor knew he did not know it. We need to know our limitations and if we do not know something, we must recognize this lack and try to learn the truth. You wouldn’t trust a person who claimed to read a medical textbook and rejecting the findings of the AMA to do surgery on you. You shouldn’t trust a person who claimed to read Church documents and rejected the Pope and bishops guide you spiritually either.

We do have a Church, established by God. God promises to protect this Church. In this Church we have a guide to show us how to live. But the dissenter—whether he says the Church is too strict or too lax—is no guide. He is simply someone who does not know of his own ignorance. If you know you do not know, but know the dissenter does not know either and does not know they are ignorant, you are not as bad off as he is.

But knowing is better than not knowing. So it is always good for Catholics, regardless of their state in life and education, to learn more of their faith—always with the Church, and never apart from it.

_______________________

[†] Briefly explained: Just because a person doesn’t know of a reason disproving their position, it doesn’t prove there isn’t one.

[§] What critics forget is the possibility of a diocese investigating and finding zero cases that meet the Pope’s criteria. That’s why I, unlike some Catholics, don’t see Archbishop Chaput’s statement that he’s not changing diocesan policies to be a rejection of the Pope. If a diocese already does these things the Pope calls for, there’s no need to change.

[∞] Intrinsic evil, full knowledge, deliberate consent

[¶] Normally only the bishop, and those priests he permits, can absolve in this case.

[∑] My favorite “war story” of this type was the anti-Francis Catholic who cited one of the sessions of the Council of Trent to try claiming that after Vatican II, the Church was in error. Unfortunately for him, I had read the sessions of Trent (it’s amazing how much of a Catholic library one can acquire electronically) and cited another portion of that same session that contradicted his interpretation. His response was he didn’t have time to “reread” that document. But if he had read it at all, it was quite clear.

[£] Liberius, Honorius I, John XXII. Of these: Liberius’ error is widely debated; Honorius I probably held error but never said anything public; John XXII offered an opinion on a subject not yet defined—and was only defined by his successor.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Self-Righteousness or Seeking Righteousness?

Introduction

Some things the Church warns about gets shunted aside in different eras. If we think of them at all, we think of them as something other people do and never scrutinize our own actions. I think one of these issues is the issue of self-righteousness—the belief in one’s own actions and motives are morally superior to their opponents. Those who did not share that position were considered morally wrong, not merely mistaken. Unfortunately, many confuse their own self-righteousness with seeking righteousness, which means seeking out what is right and carrying it out. If we assume our own actions are righteous, while those who disagree with us choose evil; if we never ask whether we are doing wrong, while being certain no good Catholic can think differently than us—those are signs of being self-righteous.

Before I go on, I want to make something clear. I am not speaking in support of moral relativism. Some things simply are incompatible with being a Catholic Christian, and we may never dismiss them or treat them lightly. If a fellow Catholic is in error, he or she does need to be led to the truth. But not all differences are based on the willful disregard of Catholic teaching. Moreover, it is not just “other people” who can be in error. We can be blind to our own faults as well.

A Political Example

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

(Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth)

One of the sadder things I see on social media is the division that still exists among some Catholics over moral decisions made during the election. Since the 2016 elections were arguably the worst choices we’ve had in living memory, Catholics were faced with the unenviable decision of picking one of the unfit candidates from the major parties, or an unelectable candidate from a minor party. Catholics trying to act in good faith made their decision on how to prevent the most damage for the next four years. It’s the kind of thing where afterwards, you expected Catholics to say to each other, “That was a terrible election. I pray our options are better next time.”

But in many cases, that didn’t happen. Some Catholics focussed instead on others who made a different decision on how to best limit evil, assuming they were supporters of the worst evils that came from their choice. So, those who voted for our current president are accused of being responsible for every action he takes that runs counter to Church teaching, regardless of whether the Catholic voter supported it or not (the guilt by association fallacy). Meanwhile, those who voted against him are accused of favoring every evil his main opponent supported. So, every time President Trump does something, we get a flood of posts accusing those who disagreed with the poster of either supporting evils in his proposals as well as counter-posts accusing the first group of supporting evils that would have happened if he hadn’t been elected.

At the same time that this is going on, these factions are congratulating themselves for standing up for the Catholic faith because of the superficial links between their favored party and the Church teaching they happen to feel strongly about, ignoring the parts where their favored party runs against Catholic teaching. I’ve seen Catholics who voted, Democrat, Republican, and Third Party act this way, all castigating the others. In other words, these groups accuse each other of putting politics above the Catholic faith, never considering that both groups used the same arguments to reach different conclusions. 

Non-Political Examples

It’s not only in politics. We can see it in the “all we need to do to save the Church is…” attitudes. Some argue that we all need to return to ad orientem, reception of Communion on the tongue, etc., and if we don’t, we’re ignoring the problem, or even in cahoots with those who rebel. Others say the Church needs to change her attitude towards contraception, divorce/remarriage, woman priests, etc., to prevent the collapse of the Church, and those who disagree are against Christ. The problem is, these solutions are not based on the teaching of the Church, but on what we think the Church should be. Often we elevate a discipline to a doctrine. Often, we try to treat a doctrine like a discipline. But in both cases, we tend to attack the people who disagree with us as ignoring the problem or even being a part of it.

But like the political examples above, people are assuming that different views means being part of the problem, through not caring or about actively willing evil. I think the difference between this and the political examples is we are no longer arguing over the best way to apply Church teaching, but whether Church teaching is to be followed. In this case, we’re not only being self-righteous towards others, but towards the shepherds of the Church. Like so many other things, this isn’t done by a single faction. Whether it is a case of a rigorist Catholic saying the Church has no right to reach out in compassion to sinners, or a laxist Catholic saying the Church has no right to bar Catholics from the Eucharist, these are cases where the self-righteous Catholic is saying they are superior to those tasked with shepherding the Church. Whether it’s a case of accusing the Pope of heresy or of accusing a saint of heresy, this is (among other sins) self-righteousness.

The Risk To Ourselves

The problem is, when we fall into self-righteousness, we forget to consider three things:

  1. The fact that we might be wrong in assuming our opponent's error or bad will
  2. The fact that we might be wrong in the positions we hold.
  3. The fact that we are to show patience and charity to those actually in error.

Let’s face it. If we’re going to call a Catholic who viewed Trump as the least harmful choice, “Anti-abortion but not pro-life,” (or if we call the Catholic who could not vote for Trump in good conscience and voted for a Third Party, “pro-Hillary”), we’re being self-righteous. We overlook the fact the individual might have acted in good will. We overlook the possibility of making an error of our own. And, if the person actually did vote this way for reasons incompatible with Catholic teaching, we are not likely to win them back by behaving self-righteously. But bringing them back is part of the Great Commission.

Here’s a personal example on the third point: When I was in my early 20s, I began to consider the Catholic faith I was raised in seriously. But some of my positions were not compatible with the Catholic faith, and I was struggling with these issues, trying to understand how something I had always thought to be politically bad was morally good. If I had encountered the social media crowd of Catholics who insult and speak abusively towards those who thought differently, I would have probably equated the Catholic faith with their behavior and left it behind, thinking it wrong. I probably would have been morally culpable for the errors I clung to, thinking them right. But I think God would have had something to say, at the Final Judgment, to those who drove me away as well.

Pope Francis, in stressing mercy, remembers what many American Catholics seem to forget—we’re not goalies, trying to keep lesser Catholics out. Nor are we just throwing out the rules and saying, “Anything goes.” What we’re trying to do is reach out to those lost sheep and bringing them back into the fold. That means reconciling them with God. And how can we reconcile people who we drive away? How will we answer God when we, instead of rescuing the lost sheep, pitch it back in the brambles?

It Starts With Ourselves

As i said back in the beginning of the post, I’m not saying we should let people do whatever they want and not worry about it. IF they are in error, we need to guide them back. But if we’re self-righteous, how can we guide them? We need to be guided ourselves. This means we need to turn to God in prayer and study, seeking out how we are called to live, not confusing our preferences with what the Church actually teaches. We need to investigate the actual statements and motives of the person who disagrees with us—not presuming on either. We need to recognize that if we are actually not in error and another is, we are called to be Christlike in reaching out to them.

Escaping self-righteousness in favor of seeking righteousness is hard. For example, I’m constantly struggling with sarcasm when it comes to people I think are wrong and should know better. I struggle with it because I know there’s no spiritual growth, and a lot of spiritual harm there. But the temptation is always there to want to “put wrongdoers in their place” and seeking to do right in such cases is much harder.

But, if we fail to make the attempt, then we are like the Pharisees who opposed Our Lord and judged others, never showing mercy, and never considering our own need for it. Don’t think this is a Conservative problem or a Liberal problem. Don’t consider this a Traditionalist problem or a Modernist problem. This is a problem for any person who will neither consider the possibility of their own error, nor show mercy when they are right.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

On Judgment and Misplaced Blame

JeremiahJeremiah prophesying to Israel

I’ve been working my way through the Book of Jeremiah and reflecting on his prophecies. God called on him to carry the word to His people that they were doing evil in his sight and, if they would not repent, God would punish them for their sins. The reaction of the people was anger towards Jeremiah, treating his words as if he was supporting Israel’s enemies and wanting to kill him on account of his prophecies.

It reminds me of St. Augustine, commenting on Psalm 129:

[#4] Why have they fought against me? Because “they could not prevail upon me.” What is this? They could not build upon me. I consented not with them unto sin. For every wicked man persecuteth the good on this account, because the good man consenteth not with him to evil. Suppose he do some evil, and the Bishop censure him not, the Bishop is a good man: suppose the Bishop censure him, the Bishop is a bad man. Suppose he carry off anything, let the man robbed be silent, he is a good man: let him only speak and rebuke, even though he doth not reclaim his goods, he is everything bad. He is bad then who blameth the robber, and he is good who robbeth!… Heed not that such an one speaketh to thee: it is a wicked man through whom It speaketh to thee; but the word of God, that speaketh to thee, is not wicked. Accuse God: accuse Him, if thou canst!

 

 Augustine of Hippo, “Expositions on the Book of Psalms,” in Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 611.

Just as Jeremiah gave God’s message to the Israelites about the urgent need to repent and received hostility in response, the Church speaks against the evils of this age and warns us that certain behaviors rebel against God and brings punishment. Just like the hostility given Jeremiah, the Church receives the same reaction. Israel suffered punishment for her infidelity. Jeremiah was not speaking against Israel out of malice nor because he sided with her enemies, but because God tasked him with bringing a message of truth and consequences. We do not know what God might do in response to our own infidelities, but we can’t say God hasn’t warned us.

I find it curious that the typical response to warnings against moral failings is to blame the messenger as if the fact that certain acts are evil was the invention of the one warning us of evil. His foes accused Jeremiah of treason when he warned Israel. They attack the Church as being homophobic, anti-woman, or legalistic when she warns the world. I think this misdirected anger is a form of denial. If we treat the warning as a “political opinion,” we can go on living our favorite sins and pretending what we do is OK with God . . . and then have the nerve to act shocked when God’s retribution falls on us.

God sent His prophets. Our Lord sends His Church. The mission is not condemning, but saving (John 3:17). Unfortunately, people think this means Jesus just gives out salvation without repentance. They forget that Jesus began His ministry preaching, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). Yes, God wants the salvation of all people. But He links salvation with repentance. If we will not repent, we will not be saved.

When we think about this, it’s clear that Israel blaming her prophets for the prophecy or Americans blaming the Church for her teachings miss the point in blaming them. They’re the messengers warning us that our behavior goes against the love of God. Our problem is with God. God wants a loving relationship with each one of us, but when our behavior goes against what God commands, we break that relationship—something that has serious consequences. In such a case, warning people that their behavior is separating us from God is not an act of hatred or treason. It is an act of love, warning us to step away from the danger.

The atheist, the non-Christian, and the non-Catholic might say “I don’t believe the Church teaches with any authority.” We must pray for those people and evangelize them that God give them the grace to believe. We must also pray for the grace so we don’t be a stumbling block for them, misleading them by our bad behavior. But for the Catholic to ignore the teaching of the Church is as foolish as the Israelite to ignore God’s prophets, and to be angry at the Church for warning us of our behavior is like Israel being angry at prophets for warning them of God’s coming wrath. It is foolishness where we will have nobody to blame but ourselves if we face God’s wrath instead of His mercy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Catholic Tribalism at its Worst

Over this weekend, a couple of famous Catholic bloggers lost their jobs with a prominent Catholic newspaper. But this article is not going to be about them. I only mention it because the aftermath does involve what I want to talk about—the partisan behavior of American Catholics who judge by what they prefer and not by what is true. In such behavior, we see Catholics split into two basic camps:

  1. The faction of “I support X”
  2. The faction of “I oppose X”
There is no third side. This is a case of “You’re with us or against us!” in their minds. If you won’t accept their view, you find them placing you on the opposite side. This is how the bishops get accused of being too liberal and too conservative at the same time. 
 
To the partisans in these groups, their side is on the side of angels and the other side is on the side of demons. They justify or downplay whatever their side does. Whatever their opponents do gets twisted into willful malicious evil done to cause harm. Who’s in the right? In most cases, neither side. Oh sure, the conflict might start because someone did or taught wrong—but at other times it revolves around misunderstandings. Either way, that’s a side story to the mutual recriminations where each faction thinks the others are scum of the Earth. Because the other side doesn’t see it “our” way, it must mean they support the wrongdoing by the extremists on the other side.

This is the wrong way to approach this. As Catholics, our task is to be faithful to Our Lord and the teachings of His Church—under the leadership of His vicar here on Earth—the Pope, carrying them out to the best of our abilities. Sometimes there can be different ways to be faithful to Church teaching on a subject, and sometimes the faithful can disagree on the best way to carry out Church teaching. So long as a side does not try to evade Church teaching but follows the Church sincerely, these differences can exist without sin. In such cases, it is unjust to accuse others with a different idea on how to be faithful of being faithless.

At other times, sometimes individual Catholics or groups do go wrong. Either they knowingly choose something the Church teaches as wrong, or they don’t understand the Church teaching. They think the shepherds of the Church must be wrong because the bishops don’t see it their way. In that case people are choosing wrong, though I leave it to God to judge the culpability, and do not pretend to know their intentions. In that case, we must oppose people in error, though we must oppose them in charity, not with insults and wild claims.

And in both cases, Tribal Catholics get it wrong. In the first case, they take offense when someone says, “I do not think your plan is the best way to handle this.” Because they equate their position with all that is decent, whoever disagrees must not care about Church teaching, the poor, the unborn, etc. In the second case, a faction who supports something against Church teaching (for whatever motive) assumes that the Church intends harm to whoever is at odds with the teaching. In such a view, support for the Church can only be partisan or dogmatic rigidity. So they attack the Church on one side for not caring about women because she opposes abortion and contraception. On the other side, they accuse the Church of supporting illegal immigration because the bishops object to an inhumane policy on immigration.

So long as a Catholic clings to a tribe mentality, they're closed to considering anything that suggests their positions or heroes are wrong. Criticism is, ironically, considered partisan when it targets these things. What's vital to remember is both sides in a tribal war are guilty. When we put our tribal idols first, we're blind to considering whether we’ve gone wrong. It's only when we recognize our own sinfulness and turn to God, seeking His grace, that we can learn to do good. As St John Chrysostom said in a homily:

A first path of repentance is the condemnation of your own sins: Be the first to admit your sins and you will be justified. For this reason, too, the prophet wrote: I said: I will accuse myself of my sins to the Lord, and you forgave the wickedness of my heart. Therefore, you too should condemn your own sins; that will be enough reason for the Lord to forgive you, for a man who condemns his own sins is slower to commit them again. Rouse your conscience to accuse you within your own house, lest it become your accuser before the judgment seat of the Lord.

Catholic tribes can't do this because they think their sins are little compared to the "other side.” That’s what’s dangerous. Being a Christian means a constant turning towards God and away from the sins we were blind to. If we would escape the tribe (and we must strive to do so, praying for God’s grace to succeed), we must be open to considering whether we've fallen into error through ignorance, habit, or pride. We need to consider whether our heroes have gone wrong in comparison to what the Christian life demands. 

First, that means we have to make sure we know both all the facts and what the Church teaches. If we don’t do that, we risk falling into error, wrongly tolerating error, or wrongly accusing someone of error. If the Church allows leeway, we don’t condemn a person for taking it. if the Church forbids something, we don’t make excuses for going against it, claiming it is closer to the Catholic position in spirit. We look to the magisterium to guide us, and we seek to understand. We don’t make ourselves a judge of the “plain sense” when the Pope and bishops make this decision on how to apply the timeless teachings in a certain time.

Second, even when someone errs (for whatever reason or motive), that is not a signal that all moral obligations of justice and charity get tossed out the window. We need to speak truthfully and accurately. For example, being in error is not the same thing as being a heretic. The heretic knows and obstinately refuses to accept Church teaching. The person in error may sincerely think they are being faithful to Church teaching. If we respond in harshness, we may drive a person into the error we want to pull him out of.

Escaping Catholic tribalism means recognizing we can be wrong, and that we must look to the Church for guidance, and respond to others with love and mercy. Sometimes our ideals are false idols. Sometimes our heroes can go wrong. In these cases we must choose: Do we sacrifice mercy and justice to our tribal feuds? Or do we sacrifice our tribal feuds to mercy and justice as God commands? We should consider that carefully the next time a fellow Catholic behaves badly or the next time someone opposes our heroes. We should consider carefully whether our tribal loyalties put us at odds with Our Lord and His Church.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Political Pharisee

Ptx

One rather annoying thing I see on Social Media is the number of people who make political posts on Facebook praising how enlightened they are, while looking with contempt on those they disagree with. As always, this is not limited to any one party or political slant. It’s not surprising in an election year, but I do wonder why so many Catholics feel that the obligation to love one’s neighbor gets suspended from the beginning of the primary season in January through Election Day in November.

Political parties, politicians and voters are all sinners, and none of them can claim to be God’s party. But the problem I see is many people are comparing themselves or their political affiliations with those they disagree with—always in their favor—and viewing themselves as living righteously. If they stay in a party, they see the party as angelic. if they abandon that party, they see it as demonic and they portray themselves as martyrs for the truth…even though the only suffering they normally experience is from people rolling their eyes and questioning the prudence of that choice.

In other words, what we’re seeing is Catholics infected by pride. They label their opinions as the only possible Catholic option and name those who disagree as deceived fools or willing dupes. The problem is, other Catholics who reach a different opinion are looking at them in the same way. On account of political partisanship, we divide the Body of Christ.

I’m sure every person who is guilty will say, “Wait a minute! Look at what that party stands for! No good Catholic can vote that way!” Yes, that’s often true. From a Catholic perspective, the Democrats routinely fail at moral obligations, the Republicans routinely fail at social justice obligations and third parties tend to either have the same failings as the major parties they emulate or have ugly positions which are only unknown because the parties are so obscure. In other words, no Catholic can claim moral superiority on the grounds of their party affiliation (or lack thereof). Every political party and every politician falls short in the eyes of God and His Church.

So, does this mean we should throw up our hands and not vote at all? No. Voting is a duty we must take seriously. As Catholics, we promote good and oppose evil in whatever way is possible. That not only means voting in such a way where either we promote the greater good or (more often) try to block the greater, but it also means we challenge the parties between elections and hold the politicians accountable to do what is right. Archbishop Chaput considers the problem of belonging to a party which is pro-abortion, but I believe his point applies to every evil that a party embraces:

My friends often ask me if Catholics in genuinely good conscience can vote for “pro-choice” candidates. The answer is: I couldn’t. Supporting a “right” to choose abortion simply masks and evades what abortion really is: the deliberate killing of innocent life. I know of nothing that can morally offset that kind of evil.

But I do know sincere Catholics who reason differently, who are deeply troubled by war and other serious injustices in our country, and they act in good conscience. I respect them. I don’t agree with their calculus. What distinguishes such voters, though, is that they put real effort into struggling with the abortion issue. They don’t reflexively vote for the candidate of “their” party. They don’t accept abortion as a closed matter. They refuse to stop pushing to change the direction of their party on the abortion issue. They won’t be quiet. They keep fighting for a more humane party platform— one that would vow to protect the unborn child. Their decision to vote for a “pro-choice” candidate is genuinely painful and never easy for them.

One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false “right” to abortion. We sin if we support “pro-choice” candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so— that is, a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn.

And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions— as we someday will.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 229-230). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

When the party goes wrong on abortion, then we challenge the party on abortion. Obviously the right to life is key and we can never sacrifice this for other concerns. St. John Paul II warned that without the right to life, concern for other issues are false and illusory (Christifideles Laici #38). That’s common sense. No human beings, no human rights. But since we’re supposed to be the light of the world and salt of the earth, we don’t stop once we satisfy one concern. When the party goes wrong on immigration, we challenge the party on immigration. Whatever party platform goes against Church teaching, we challenge the party. We keep working on reforming that party wherever it goes wrong.

We Catholics must stop playing the political Pharisee. We’re not superior to the good faith Catholic (that is, one who obeys the Church and does not support what the Church calls evil) who reaches a different conclusion than ours. Instead, each of us need to look at our political preferences in light of our religious belief and see if we have chosen pride (“I can’t be wrong”) over recognizing our flaws. Then, after making this scrutiny, we must work on bringing the party we choose into following what God commands.

After all, in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, the repentant Tax Collector was justified, not the proud Pharisee. If we’re not careful, we might find that the justified person winds up being the repentant one affiliated with the party we despise—not us.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Other Side of Bad Catholic Blogging

Uniform polyhedron 43 h01(There’s more than two sides to Problems with Catholic Blogging...)

 

Introduction

I've had a lot to say about the bloggers gone bad in the Radical Traditionalist sense. But I have become more aware of another bad trend in Catholic blogging—the abuse of one's reputation as a Catholic blogger to promote a particular opinion on how to best obey Church teaching, treating other opinions on how to best obey Church teaching as if it was the sign of a cafeteria Catholic. I say that such Catholics abuse their reputation because people do look to them to explain the faith and defend it. So when they use their blog as a platform to attack people who disagree with them and treat this difference of opinion on ways and means as if the person who disagrees are actively choosing to disobey the Church, they alienate the faithful into thinking the Church has no place for them.

Making A Distinction

Now we have to make a distinction of course. When the Church teaches “We must do X,” or “We must not do Y,” then the Catholic who tries to undermine these teachings or tries to say that one may disobey the teaching of the Church are being faithless Catholics. The refusal to do this is rejection of the authority that our Lord gave to the Church:

can. 751† Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.

can. 752† Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

can. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.

 

 Code of Canon Law: New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), 247.

So the person who tries to justify their disobedience to the Church teaching on sexual morality, abortion, social justice or any other area cannot be said to be having a disagreement on ways and means obeying the Church. This applies to the liberal politician who says they are more “pro-life” than the person who opposes abortion, and it applies to the radical traditionalist who says they can disobey the Church because they are being faithful to an “earlier” tradition.

But if two people agree that the Church teaching must be obeyed, but have two different ideas on how to best follow that teaching, the person who prefers method A has no right to denounce the person who prefers method B. He has even less right to accuse the person who supports method B of all the abuses that he thinks comes from not supporting method A.

This happens in many different ways. For example, the person who accuses a supporter of gun ownership rights as “not really being pro-life” (that’s a No true Scotsman fallacy by the way) or the person who favors a strong stand against abortion treating bishops who try a gentler approach as if they were secretly supportive—these things are twisting the Church teaching in such a way to make the it seem that disagreement with them is disagreement with the Church. But the person isn’t disagreeing with the Church. They are disagreeing with the claim that there is only one way to obey the Church teaching.

The Fruit of This Abuse Is to Alienate the Faithful

So this is an abuse of the credibility one has as a Catholic blogger when it is used to promote a certain preference tends to be harmful to the Church. In essence, it leads people to think that the Church is limited to one ideological view and has no place for them when the actual alienation is with the rash judgment of the blogger. I think we need to keep this in mind. Most of us recognize that it is scandal to try to tell people that it is all right to reject the Church teaching. But some overlook the fact that it is also scandal to tell people that they are sinning when they actually agree with the Church but disagree with us on the ways and means of obedience.

We who want to be Catholic bloggers (as opposed to bloggers who are Catholic—there is a difference), whose purpose of writing is to exhort people to be faithful to the teachings of the Church, need to distinguish between what the Church teaches and how we would prefer for that teaching to be lived out. The former is to spread our Lord’s teachings. The latter is to usurp the authority of the Church for our own purposes and can lead people into rejecting the Church without cause.

Let us as bloggers always keep in mind the words of Our Lord:

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come! (Matthew 18:6-7)

If we drive people away from the faith because we cannot distinguish between our preferences and the teaching of the Church, we will answer for it. So let us always consider our words—especially when we are angry over something. Let us always pray that what we publish is in keeping with what Our Lord wants us to publish—defending the faith but showing love and compassion in doing so.