Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts

Monday, August 29, 2022

It’s Iimi! Breakthrough!

It can be hard to be patient when you can’t identify any forward momentum in what you try to do. Often our human efforts seem to come to nothing. But God has a plan too, and you never know when He plans a… Breakthrough!

































Post-Comic notes: And so it begins for Kismetta, not ends. She has many more steps to take. But she’s taken an important first step towards Christ.


As a side note, in showing the reactions of the Muslims Kismetta  knew, it had to be the Assistant Imam who opposed Najiyah’s plans, to avoid turning him into a cardboard villain. The Assistant Imam would not want to live under ISIS or the Taliban. The Muslims in this comic are not extremists. But, like all other people, they can make errors of judgment. 


For those who may be mildly shocked by the Assistant Imam returning Najiyah’s feelings despite their age difference, or those who assume that the stories of Muhammad’s wife Aisha, means all Muslim men are pedophiles, I found it interesting that, while California allows underage marriage with parental consent, it’s forbidden in Jordan (where the Assistant Imam comes from) and Qatar (where Najiyah comes from). Exceptions can be granted if the courts find the underage partner to be mature enough to understand the responsibility of marriage. 


But the point is, the Assistant Imam wants to wait until Najiyah becomes an adult so she doesn’t rush into a situation she might later regret.


His position on polygyny reflects the research I’ve found online. The most common view I’ve seen from Muslims online is, “Can men do this? Yes.  Should they do this? We don’t recommend it.”.

Monday, August 8, 2022

It’s Iimi! (Not) A Typical Anime Beach Episode

What would you get if you took an anime-style Beach Episode and removed the fanservice, the love confessions, all the hijinks and replaced them with a Socratic dialogue about why Jesus can’t be other than what Christians profess Him to be? You’d probably wind up with something like this comic, which is … (Not) A Typical Anime Beach Episode


Pre-Comic Notes: This episode makes use of terms that are familiar to fans of anime/manga, but may not make sense to other readers.


The “Beach Episode” and “The Bathhouse” are two recurring anime/manga themes. In Japanese culture, families do go to the beach during summer break, and communal bathing (sex segregated) is common. 


In anime, these tropes are often used as an excuse to showcase the female characters in skimpy outfits and sexualized poses (“fanservice”) with male characters trying to get glimpses of them. Frequently this is done with the teasing of a (never quite successful) attempts to confess love and/or possible intimacy between the male and female leads. It’s aimed at the male reader. 


This comic is a subversion of these tropes, replacing “fanservice” with theological dialogue, and poking fun at how western anime fans would be uncomfortable if they actually found themselves placed in these situations that anime and manga treat as common.

























Post-Comic Notes: You didn’t think it would be that easy for Iimi to succeed, did you? It’s one thing for Kismetta to find flaws in Islam. It’s quite another to move towards accepting the chief claim of Christianity after years of claims made against it. Apologists aren’t God. They can help remove stumbling blocks in the path. But only God can give the grace.

 

Accounts of Muslim converts to Christianity all point out the difficulty of overcoming the belief that Jesus was only a man. A holy man to be sure, but still only a man. It’s not just Muslims of course. As far back as the Pagan Romans, we could see philosophical monotheists finding the idea of God becoming man to be offensive… that was seen as beneath the dignity of God.

 

This is why it’s important to pray for those who struggle with accepting our beliefs. We who were brought up in our faith do not have to unlearn the things that contradict it, so sometimes we don’t grasp just how hard it is for those who come from outside to do that.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

It’s Iimi! Gifts of Love and Mercy

After the death of her mother, Paula has become a near recluse. Iimi worries that this might be a result of her own inability to reach out and help. Meanwhile, Krysta and Kismetta worry about supporting both Iimi and Paula. As the funeral approaches, will this be a time for… Gifts of Love and Mercy




























Monday, July 5, 2021

Guardian of the Faith

Thea Iscra and Andrea Feday discuss the conditions under which they will permit this date between Iimi and Saul to go forward. Talking about it with Iimi afterwards, Thea makes clear she wants Iimi to be prepared to protect her faith in case she has an unrealistic attitude about Saul’s intentions.














Monday, November 30, 2020

God is My Savior: Reflections at the Beginning of the Liturgical New Year



When I was growing up in the 1980s, there was a popular T-shirt that read, “Life’s a ***** and then you die.” It is something we thought was funny as teenagers. But looking at it from the perspective of today, I can see it was a cry of despair that life is suffering and meaningless.

Flashing forward to today, the temptation to think that way is real. Regardless of one’s outlook on life and wherever one lives, 2020 can easily be considered—expressed most charitably—sub-par. Depending on your outlook, 2021 can only get better… or can only get worse.

Of course, for Catholics, the New Year has already begun with the First Sunday of Advent. The message of Advent is important because it tells us that, no matter what hope or despair we feel about the Presidential Election or with COVID-19, that we need a savior and that our Savior will not forsake us.

That does not mean life will be all “sweetness and light” of course. Life does have hardship and injustice that is out of control. It also has hardship that comes in response to our own actions. Those who suffer the worst of it quite naturally feel embittered if told to “hang in there” because things are “looking up” (cf. James 2:16-17).

Rather, the Advent declaration of The Savior serves as hope to those in the worst of circumstances that no matter how bad life gets, there is respite offered to us. Not a superficial ephemeral respite of this world. But that things will be made right in the substantial and eternal sense. 

But, at the same time, it tells those whose faith is in themselves, in politics, in science, that we need saving in a way that these things cannot solve. At 12:01pm, January 20, 2021 we will have the same problems we have today. A change of political administration cannot change that. We will still be subject to the ravages of disease. A coronavirus vaccine cannot change that. In other words, we are mortal finite beings who are unable to solve certain things.

If we do not have a Savior, all we have been through in 2020 is meaningless, a farce. The changes we might get in the future does no good for those who died this past year, for those who suffered this past year.

But, if we do recognize our need for a Savior and seek to live according to His ways, we will be able to make sense out of what we have been through and will go through. There is a point to life, there is a relief from our sorrows that is much more than nothingness. God is in control.

He is in control, but He is not a “fairy godmother” or a “genie” who grants wishes when we pray. Sometimes, we do have to say, like Jesus did, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). We may have to be told like St. Paul was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Job could not see the sense of his suffering. He railed against the perceived injustice of God in letting these things happen to him when he did not do anything that merited such punishment. God’s response to Job was not to excuse Himself. It was to point out that Job could not grasp what God knew and designed and Job had no basis for telling God that what He permitted was unjust.

We do need to keep this in mind. I do not know what might happen to me today, tomorrow. I could drop dead. I could be stricken by a disease. I could lose my family or friends. But come what may, I trust that God is my Savior and that what happens to me here on Earth does not mean that God has abandoned me.

So yes, 2020 is a dumpster fire… and I am sure others can say it more vehemently than I can, having suffered more. But, regardless of whether 2021 is better or worse in the temporal, physical sense, we have a Savior who offers us what we cannot possibly do for ourselves. We would be wise to trust and follow Him regardless of how the road looks here on Earth.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Do We Need to Prepare for a Gethsemane Moment?

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:36–39)

 

There’s an old saying (it’s been attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola, among others) that goes, “We must pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended on us.” While it can be misinterpreted in a Pelagian sense, it means that we must rely on God to grant us what we need and work for it, trusting Him to strengthen us in cooperating with His will. Sometimes the good which God wills can be spectacular like the Walls of Jericho. At other times, it can be difficult to see, like Christians living during the Roman persecution must have struggled with why things were going that way.

 

In difficult times like this past year, there is a lot to be fearful about. Some of these are international (like coronavirus). Others are local, like the Presidential Elections and the open seat on the Supreme Court. We worry about them because the consequences can be serious. However, I think in modern times, we tend to forget that the Christian life can involve suffering. We (especially in the West) are tempted to think that we shouldn’t be experiencing injustice or suffering at all. If we do, somebody—other than us—is to blame for it, and it wouldn’t have happened if they had acted as we thought best.

 

We shouldn’t be surprised that injustice and suffering happen. The recent and ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East shows that we never know if one of us will be called on to make the ultimate sacrifice for our faith. We don’t know if our own nation might take a turn for the worse in terms of government harassment or mob violence over our values. 

 

We especially shouldn’t be surprised because one article of our Christian Faith involves the bloody execution of our Lord, Jesus Christ. As He warned us, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). It is unreasonable to expect our life as Christians to be free of troubles. This is not a call to be passive in the face of injustice. Rather, we are called to carry out the Great Commission despite the troubles that come our way. Nor is this an argument that because our treatment is not as bad as it is in other countries, we are not treated unjustly.

 

What it does mean is we ought to approach whatever hardships that come by following the example of Jesus in Gethsemane. Yes, it is natural to avoid suffering. We legitimately pray to be delivered from evil in the Lord’s Prayer after all. But, if it turns out that we cannot avoid suffering, then we should pray for the grace to accept God’s will and endure as we carry out His work here on Earth. 


Friday, August 14, 2020

On the Counterfeits of Faith, Hope, and Love

If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:14–15)

* * *

Faith means: You, O God, are right in every case, even when I cannot see it or perhaps would prefer the opposite. Hope means: In you alone, O God, do I have my continued existence, and for that reason I leave behind all assurances resting on myself. Love means: All my strength and heart and mind are straining themselves to affirm you, O God (and myself only in you), and those whom you have placed beside me as my “neighbors”. 

—Hans Urs von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology. vol. IV, Spirit and Institution. trans. Edward T. Oakes. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 348–349.

* * *

As I see the reactions from certain elements of the Church—largely found in the United States and Western Europe—it seems that people have forgotten something crucial. While nobody sets out to put themselves in opposition to God, some have replaced the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love with counterfeits that put the focus on reliance in themselves. I think the above quote by Hans Urs von Balthasar helps us see why the modern attitude is a counterfeit.

In the case of faith, we are supposed to recognize that God is in control and what He promises will be fulfilled despite all the opposition against Him. Yes, His permissive will may allow evil to exist for a time. We certainly cannot complain if we are mistreated on account of living the Christian life. Jesus did warn us about persecutions after all. But that does not contradict His promise. So (to use our current crisis), when He promises to protect His Church, we must have faith that His Church will not fail. But some, instead of trusting that God is right in every case, claim that to do God’s will, the Church must act as they personally think best. If not, then the Church is deemed “in error” when the actual issue is that they prefer a different outcome, a different teaching, a different tone.

Hope means that while we cooperate with God by doing His will (Matthew 7:21-23), we recognize that the ultimate outcome is God’s. We can do wrong, or fail to good, but we hope in God to do what is impossible for us. The counterfeit of this is assuming that whatever bad thing might come our way, it is somebody else’s fault. If they acted as we saw fit, then we wouldn’t be in this mess.

The virtue of Love requires that our actions are done out of seeking the greatest good for the beloved.  Obviously, as finite beings, we cannot add anything to the works of the infinite God. But—after John 14:15—we can choose to do what God wants. Not because of compulsion or fear, but because of love for Him. That love for Him requires us to love our fellow human beings and seek their greatest good as well. The counterfeit of this is to make that love of others conditional on whether their behavior matches up to our standards. If the person is not up to that standard, we can feel free to treat him or her with contempt. There’s no room in this counterfeit for the sinner who doesn’t live up to our standards. Forgetting that we are also beggars coming before the King seeking fulfillment of our needs, we demand a level of perfection from others that we do not demand of ourselves.


Where’s the Love in that mindset?

None of this should be interpreted as “let others do whatever they like.” Some do choose to do wrong and we must admonish and correct. But this must not be done with the counterfeits of the theological virtues. If we do not do unto others, how can we dare to come before God to ask what we refuse to them? (cf. Matthew 6:14-15). But this is where these counterfeit virtues lead us.

All of us are sinners. Contra the claims of the founders of Protestantism, we are not Pelagians who think we can be good by our own efforts. We do have to return to God like the Prodigal Son did and strive to live rightly with the grace He gives us. This will be an ongoing cycle in our lives. Some of us may have done worse things than others. Those who have done those worse things need to turn back. Those who have not done them must not view them like the Older Brother viewed the prodigal. Jesus shockedthe Pharisees by saying “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31). To the 1st Century Jews, these people were seen as doing the worst possible things. In saying this, Jesus was not saying it was morally acceptable to be either. But he was saying that those who did the worst things, but repented, will enter Heaven before the self-righteous who do not repent.

If we’re tempted to reject the teaching of the Church, if we think things are hopeless, if we refuse to show love to others—especially if it’s because those we dislike are found wanting by our standards of our own ideologies, politics, or morals—let us remember that we have replaced the true theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love with a counterfeit.

 

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(†) Today, Jesus might shock us by saying, “Abortionists and homosexual activists are entering the Kingdom of God before you.” He wouldn’t do this to affirm their behavior, but rather to point out that repentance is expected of all of us.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

A Plague On Us? A Reflection


At that time some people who were present there told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (Luke 13:1-5 NABRE)

 

As the death toll rises in the United States, I’ve seen news reports of some religious figures calling the COVID-19 pandemic a punishment from God. Usually, these figures decide to blame their favorite targets as the cause of this punishment. This seems to be the sectarian counterpart to the secular blaming of their political foes for the wisdespread impact of the disease.

 

There’s not much we can do about the secular bashing. Partisans are going to do whatever benefits them regardless of whether it’s moral or not. But as Christians, we should not allow our Faith to be hijacked by people with an axe to grind. We need to be clear on some things before we allow ourselves to be sucked into the scapegoating game.

 

Chastisement happens when God inflicts something on us in order to bring about correction. As the Hebrews were told by Moses in Deuteronomy 8:5, “So you must know in your heart that, even as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD, your God, disciplines you.” Certainly God has made use of this to teach just how serious rebellion against Him was. But, as Jesus pointed out to the Jews, not everything bad that happens is a sign of God singling out a certain group. Some who die in disasters, wars, or plagues are no better or worse than those of us who remain.

 

When God sent afflictions (like the plagues of Egypt or the chastisements of the Hebrews), they targeted the guilty people. There were no innocents caught up among the casualties. When God punished the Egyptians, they were all guilty on account of their acceptance of the mistreatment of the Jews. When God punished the Israelites, they were all guilty. And God made sure that the guilty knew that the chastisement was coming so they might change their ways.

 

The problem is, when people take a sectarian approach to the COVID-19 crisis, they assume they are innocent and their opponents are evil, and God is simply striking down his enemies.

 

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.

 

Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Lord of the Rings: One Volume (p. 59). HMH Books. Kindle Edition. 

 

Are there vile evils that are widely accepted as “good” in these times? Tragically, yes. Do some evil people get swept up by the disasters of the world? Yes. But some good people also get swept up by them. When we look at Church history, we see that many saints died because of their work with the victims of the plague. We would not say that they were part of the guilty chastised by God. In fact, Our Lord makes clear that not all the bad things that come are intended as a sign:

 

Jesus said to them in reply, “See that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many. You will hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for these things must happen, but it will not yet be the end. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place. (Matthew 24:4–7)

 

The one who tries to hijack COVID-19 to condemn his enemies in the name of God is behaving as one of these false messiahs.

 

We should be wary of assuming that whatever evil comes into our life must be a chastisement. In the Old Testament, for example, we had God warn the people through the prophets that something was coming in response to the evils and infidelities of Israel and Judah, reaching a point that poisoned the entire society. Books of the Bible (like Lamentations) showed the recognition that this was a punishment on all, not “the other guy.”

 

I find it significant that, when the Pope spoke on the pandemic in his Urbi et Orbi, he did not talk about God’s condemnation of evildoers. He spoke about keeping the faith in a time of fear:

 

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

 

Rather than using this pandemic as an excuse to condemn other factions as being to blame for it, we should use this event to consider where we stand before God. None of us can claim to be sinless. All of us need to repent of something. So, instead of attacking others as the cause of a chastisement, we should make a firm purpose of amendment before God until the sacraments are available again

 

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(†) In saying this, I am not denying the Immaculate Conception. I am simply speaking of the rest of us who did not receive that extraordinary gift of grace.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Faithful Who Forgot to Believe?

Your words are too much for me, says the Lord. 
You ask, “What have we spoken against you?” (Malachi 3:13)

Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me. (Luke 10:16)

As I watch the antics of those anti-Francis Catholics that inflict confusion on the Church while accusing the Pope of causing confusion, I think we have a curious case: Catholics who claim to be faithful while forgetting one of the important elements of that faith. That element is faith in God to protect His Church from teaching error. For whatever motive§, they say that the Pope is teaching error. But God protects His Church from teaching error. If He did not, we could never know what to obey and what not to obey.

Some might claim that the Pope can err and it’s up to the Church to correct him when he does. They cite canon 212 §3 while ignoring §1 (not to mention 752, 1373, and 1404)# or by applying the wrong definition to “inasmuch.” They cite St. Paul rebuking Peter or the “correction” of Pope John XXII. But neither case involved teaching error. St. Paul rebuked St. Peter for his personal conduct, not his teaching. John XXII did not teach at all. He merely gave an opinion on an undefined (at this time) subject@. While the critics cite these cases to argue that Pope Francis can err, these cases can’t be used to justify the rejection of Pope Francis, who is intending to teach on faith and morals. 

If what they claim about this Pope was true, then we would effectively be conceding the claims of the Orthodox and Protestant denominations and merely disagreeing over when a Pope did teach errors. The problem is, if the Pope can teach errors, we have no way of proving when any Pope& has taught correctly. I say that the Pope taught rightly on X while you disagree. I say the Council of Chalcedon in 451 was right. Another might say that the Robber Synod of 449 was right. If we do not have a final visible authority who has the final say on what is and is not proper teaching*, we have nothing to confirm who teaches rightly or when? How can we profess to be a Church which the gates of hell will not prevail against (Matthew 16:18) if we consistently claim the gates of hell sometimes do prevail when we disagree?

If we insist on holding to our interpretation of a council while refusing obedience to the Popes and Councils we dislike, we do not act as Catholics, but as Eastern Orthodox. If we insist on holding to our interpretation of the Scripture, rejecting the authority of the magisterium under the headship of the Pope, we do not act as Catholics but as Protestants.

But this is what we have in this situation: a group who claims to be faithful Catholics but refuse obedience to the Church under the current visible head. This obedience is not ultramontanism or papolatry. It is the behavior that the faithful were expected to give to the Pope when he taught. This obedience was required when the Pope intended to teach. The concept that the Pope only had to be obeyed when he taught ex cathedra was consistently condemned. For example, Pius IX in his Syllabus of Errors condemned the proposition that:

22. The obligation by which Catholic teachers and authors are strictly bound is confined to those things only which are proposed to universal belief as dogmas of faith by the infallible judgment of the Church. — Letter to the Archbishop of Munich, “Tuas libenter,” Dec. 21, 1863.

Yet those Catholics who claim they are justified in rejecting Amoris Laetitia or Laudato Si are doing exactly what the Church condemns. Incredibly, some critics say Amoris Laetitia can be rejected because it is “only” an Apostolic Exhortation that differs from Familiaris Consortio. That traps these critics in a dilemma. If an Apostolic Exhortation is not binding, then Familiaris Consortio is not binding either. But if Familiaris Consortio was binding, then Amoris Laetitia is binding because, CCC #85 (see footnote * below) tells us that authentic interpretation comes from the magisterium in communion with the Pope.

While the critics argue that Laudato Si is an opinion and not binding, #15 specifically identifies the encyclical as “now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching”. Under canon 752 (see footnote #, below) the teaching of the Pope—even when not infallible—requires the religious submission of intellect and will. This canon references Lumen Gentium #25 which tells us:

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

There is no way a Catholic can refuse obedience to the teaching of the Pope and still be considered faithful.

And this brings us back to the point I gave at the beginning. Some Catholics who profess to be the true believers by opposing the Pope have stopped believing one part of the faith. That part is the belief that the successors of Peter teach with the same authority and protection that Jesus Christ gave to the original rock on which He built a His Church (Matthew 16:18)^. The Catholic who forgets this belief can put faith in himself instead of the Church, believing that the Church can err but he cannot. But such a Catholic is not accurately professing the Faith because he forgot what to believe about the authority and protection by which a Pope teaches.


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To understand the origin of the meme, see here: https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/is-this-a-pigeon

(§) As always, I want to make clear I neither name nor presume the culpability of individuals. I leave it to God and their confessors to assess that. I merely write on the dangerous attitudes that I believe dangerous to the faithful while (per canon 752) giving religious submission of intellect and will to the Pope when he acts as Pope.

(#) The relevant canons:

can. 212 §1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.
§2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.
§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

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. 1373 A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.

can. 1404 The First See is judged by no one.

(@) The modern equivalent of St. John XXII might be when Benedict XVI, in the book interview Light of the World, where he mentions “a male prostitute with AIDS” as an example of moving from a premoral outlook to starting to think about the consequences of actions. Many inside and outside the Church wrongly thought this was a teaching. The outcry against John XXII was based on people wrongly thinking he was teaching.

(&) Or, given the hostility towards Vatican II, any Council. If one won’t obey Vatican II, thinking it “errs,” such a one has nothing to say to another who claimed Trent was wrong.

(*) From the Catechism:

85 “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. (888–892; 2032–2040)

(€) Lumen Gentium #25 references the same source cited by Pius IX.

(^) Some claim Christ is the rock, denying this verse gives any primacy to Peter, but in making this statement, He makes Himself the Builder.



Thursday, May 30, 2019

Do You Not Yet Have Faith?

85 “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

86 “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church 

One element of the rebellion within the Church is the attempt to set paragraph 85 at odds with the beginning of paragraph 86. “Yes,” they say, “the Church has this authority. But the Church is not superior to the Word of God. So, when the Church teaches contrary to the Word of God, I must not obey.” Unfortunately, this way of thinking—sincere as it might be—is leading people astray.

This is because they have used the wrong emphasis in paragraph 86. It is not intended to be used as a means to pass judgment on when to obey the Church. It is intended to declare that the Church teaching cannot and does not change what God has taught, so we can trust the teaching of the Church with confidence regardless of the sins of . We can see this in the often overlooked paragraph 87:

87 Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles: “He who hears you, hears me,” the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.

There’s no place for interpreting paragraph 86 as setting oneself up to judge whether or not to accept the teachings of the magisterium as valid. (See also Canon 752, Humani Generis #20, Lumen Gentium #25). It is part of the Church teaching that we trust and obey the Church as if we were trusting and obeying Christ (cf. Luke 10:16). Not because of the holiness of the men who serve as Pope and bishops, but because we believe that Christ always protects His Church. 

Remember, it makes no sense to profess that you trust God to protect His Church from error in the extremely rare case of ex cathedra definitions while thinking He allows error to pour into the Church through the Ordinary Magisterium. But that is what the anti-Vatican II and anti-Francis attacks from within the Church are effectively saying.

There will always be trials and tribulations in the Church. They will be more than we can handle on our own. We will need Our Lord to save us from them. But we should always remember the Gospel account of crossing over the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41). When His terror stricken disciples woke Him, he calmed the storm and told them: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” (Mark 4:40).

Yes, the Church is in the midst of a storm, as she was countless times before. Yes, it can look like the worst storm ever. But God is in charge of His Church. The Barque of Peter will not sink. Yes, we must strive to do His will, but in the end, things are not under our control. They are under His.

That is why we must abandon the fear that the Church will fail or become corrupted. Not because Popes are sinless, but because God always protects His Church.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Catholic “ME-gesterium” Pitfall

One of the popular citations used against Pope Francis (or Vatican II) comes from St. Vincent of Lerins, on defining what is Catholic:

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.

Commitorium, Chapter 2, §6

The definition is true in itself. The Catholic Faith is consistently taught from generation to generation. No faithful Catholic would deny it. The witness of the Apostles and their successors is constant, and someone who taught otherwise (St. Vincent was writing against the novelties of Donatists and Arians) was identified as heretical when they contradicted this ancient Faith.

The problem with the modern citation of this ancient writing (written AD 434) is it overlooks the legitimate development of doctrine. As St. John Paul II wrote in Ecclesia Dei, #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)

The problem with the current attacks on the legitimate development of the Church teaching is that the critics use St. Vincent of Lerins falsely. They look to what the Church Fathers and Medieval Theologians said about a topic and compare it with what the Church says today. But they confuse what the Church Fathers wrote with what they think the Church Fathers mean, not understanding the context of the writing.

Here’s an example. I have encountered some Feeneyite leaning Catholics who argued that non-Catholics necessarily go to Hell because Pope Boniface VIII wrote, in the Bull Unam Sanctam: “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” Since non-Catholics aren’t subject to the Pope, these Catholics argue that non-Catholics cannot be saved.

The problem is, the context of Unam Sanctam was not written about those outside of the Church. It was about King Philip the Fair, of France, demanding that the French clergy put obedience to him before obedience to the Pope. Pope Boniface was teaching that no secular ruler could claim a higher authority over the Church. That doesn’t mean that one can refuse obedience to the Pope. It means that these Catholics were misapplying a teaching in a way that was never intended. Whatever “contradiction” they think they saw with later teaching, it was never intended by the original teaching.

This is a growing problem with the Church today. Faithful Catholics are not wrong to study the writing of the Saints and Doctors of the Church. But if they rely on their own “plain sense” reading without considering subsequent development on how it is applied, they risk deceiving themselves into making themselves into what I call a “ME-gesterium,” where they pass judgment on Church teaching on the grounds that what the Church teaches doesn’t match with their personal interpretation.

I think Blessed John Cardinal Newman’s words about converts who left the Catholic Church again applies to this mindset as well:

I will take one more instance. A man is converted to the Catholic Church from his admiration of its religious system, and his disgust with Protestantism. That admiration remains; but, after a time, he leaves his new faith, perhaps returns to his old. The reason, if we may conjecture, may sometimes be this: he has never believed in the Church’s infallibility; in her doctrinal truth he has believed, but in her infallibility, no. He was asked, before he was received, whether he held all that the Church taught, he replied he did; but he understood the question to mean, whether he held those particular doctrines “which at that time the Church in matter of fact formally taught,” whereas it really meant “whatever the Church then or at any future time should teach.” Thus, he never had the indispensable and elementary faith of a Catholic, and was simply no subject for reception into the fold of the Church. This being the case, when the Immaculate Conception is defined, he feels that it is something more than he bargained for when he became a Catholic, and accordingly he gives up his religious profession. The world will say that he has lost his certitude of the divinity of the Catholic Faith, but he never had it.

An Essay in Aid to a Grammar of Assent, page 240

In the case of the “ME-gesterium” Catholic, he or she probably remains in the Church, but considers any future development of the Faith to be “error” that needs to be overturned.

The Church is infallible in teaching ex cathedra in a special way. But the protection of the Church also falls on the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church—which is the normal way the Church teaches [§]. As Ven. Pius XII put it (Humani Generis #20):

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

Likewise, Lumen Gentium 25 tells us:

25. Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock. Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

This is confirmed in Canon 752:

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.

Notice that the Church consistently teaches that even the ordinary magisterium is binding on the faithful. This undercuts the common claim that whatever is of the ordinary magisterium is merely opinion that is liable to error.

The “ME-gesterium” has a dangerous pitfall: it assumes that the individual can clearly understand the past writing of the Church but the Pope and bishops in communion with him do not. It assumes that the individual cannot err but the Pope can if his teaching goes against their understanding. It assumes that every teacher past and present speaks and reasons as a 21st century American so a grasp of history (ecclesiastical and secular) and culture is not needed to understand the full import of past teachings in the context of today.

Ultimately, the danger of the ME-gesterium is pride. The individual thinks they cannot err, but the Church can. In claiming to defend the Church from “heresy,” they take the first step towards it: denying the authority of the Church to determine the proper interpretation of the timeless teachings to meet the moral concerns of today. 

If we want to be faithful Catholics, let us recognize that God protects His Church. Not all Popes or bishops have been saints. Some were bad men. But God protected the Church from error in the worst of times. That protection exists now and until the consummation of the world (Matthew 28:20). If we do not believe that, we should recognize it as a warning sign that our own faith is in danger.


—————————————

[§] Most ex cathedra teachings were made to combat heresies which refused to obey the Ordinary Magisterium.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Thoughts on Reforming and Deforming

[Preliminary Note: This article should not be seen as making a blanket condemnation of everyone who wants justice in the current scandals. Rather, it is warning about a certain anticlerical attitude promoted by some factions in this call for reform. I don’t intend to accuse any individual of supporting these errors. Rather I point out certain dangerous errors so they can be rejected in the search for true justice.]

The current scandals in the Church provoked legitimate concern. When wrongdoing exists, it needs to be addressed quickly and justly. The problem is different people have different ideas on what is quick and just. When something is proposed that doesn’t meet their ideas, the assumption is that “nothing is being done.”  The thing to remember is, the Church has things that cannot change. If we want reform that goes against the nature of the Church, that “reform” will not happen. We cannot demand the Church betray what she is in order to meet our demands. 

Throughout history we see the difference between real and false reform. The true reform works with submission to those tasked with shepherding the Church. The great reforming saints dealt with corruption in the Church while submitting to the judgment of the Pope and bishops. On the other hand, movements like the Lollards dealt with corruption by treating the Pope and bishops as adversaries that must be opposed. They ended up by attacking the teachings of the Church that stood in their way. If a bishop said their demands were not compatible with the teachings of the Church, the bishops were considered to be enemies of reform.

The question we need to ask, when faced with things we dislike in the Church, is whether we will accept the authority of the Pope and bishops when they make a decision as shepherd of the entire Church or diocese. Yes, canon 212 does say we have the right or duty make known our concerns (“with reverence towards their pastors,” which few seem to notice). But that doesn’t mean what we want is fully compatible with Church teaching. If we want something that violates Church teaching, the Pope or bishop must refuse that request.


Unfortunately, instead of assessing their demands, these factions tend to accuse the Church of stonewalling or “business as usual” or “good old boys club.” They certainly run the risk of falling into thinking these Church teachings are obstacles to good. History shows that movements like these turn into heresy (demanding a rejection of these underlying teachings) or schism (rejecting the authority of the teachers).

I don’t say this to advocate clericalism. I don’t say this to advocate “business as usual.” Instead, I say this because any true reform must work with the shepherds of the Church. A proper reform must identify where the problem lies and what sort of correction is compatible with the teaching of the Church. For example: The Lollards under Wycliffe thought that the problem of corruption among the clergy was the rejection of the clergy itself.

While I don’t see a Lollard style rejection (yet?), I do see troubling attitudes. “How can we trust the bishops to police themselves?” is a common charge. The demand follows that any solution must have the laity deciding what must be done—without input from the clergy. 

I believe that question is a warning sign of error. It is the foundation for a rejection of the clergy justly exercising their authority to determine how to apply Church teaching if that exercise doesn’t go the way the critics want. If one is tempted to think “the whole damn structure is corrupt,” then it’s easy to start thinking that we must remake the whole thing to suit our own beliefs on what it should be.

But if those beliefs are wrong, then the attempt at reform will also go wrong. As Catholics, we recognize that the magisterium has the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, 18:18), interpreting how to apply teaching to a particular age. Any true reform must recognize that authority and submit to it. Yes, there will be corruption in the Church. Yes, it needs to be eliminated. Yes, there will always be disappointing actions we think fall short of what is needed, and No, we shouldn’t just take a fatalistic attitude about that.

But we need to recognize that a proper reform cannot exclude the Pope and bishops, and cannot begin with the assumption that all are guilty until proven innocent. A movement that thinks this way is cutting off those who have the authority and responsibility to determine whether a proposed reform is compatible with what Our Lord established the Church to be. That way lies ruin.

Yes, we of the laity have the right, and sometimes the duty of making our needs known—but respectfully and giving the proper submission required when they exercise their lawful authority.

I think one thing that is getting lost is trust in God and prayer. We should be praying for God to guide the Pope and faithful bishops to seek out a just solution. We should then work with them in getting that needed reform. But if we think we can reject the Pope and bishops as part of the problem, we will not reform the Church.

We will deform it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Do You Not Yet Have Faith?

35 On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, “Let us cross to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. 38 Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” (Mark 4:35–40).

This account of Jesus stilling the waves speaks volumes about our lack of faith in God. The disciples, seeing the storm, believed they were going to die and that Jesus was somehow going to just let them. But his rebuking the wind and sea shows us He certainly has the authority and power that keeps everything under control. He wasn’t going to let the boat sink, even though the disciples feared he might overlook the dangers and forget them.

We might smile at the disciples, but we’re no different. We fear that He will not involve Himself in what frightens us. If pressed, we might deny that we don’t trust Him and are merely concerned with other factors, but when it comes down to it, people are afraid He is going to just let His Church collapse at the hands of those they fear the most. 

Of course, free will means any one of us can act in a way that disrupts the Church. But when God makes a promise, He keeps it. He might not keep it in the way we expect—for example, the first century Jews had ideas about the Messiah that were not what God intended—but He keeps it faithfully. We, on the other hand, have a bad habit of anticipating God to fulfill his promises in a specific way, and if He does not seem to fulfill it in that way, we fear He is not going to fulfill it at all.

I think of that as some Catholics and Catholic periodicals who spent years defending the Faith and the authority of the Church, are suddenly despairing and assuming what they do not understand is the sign of a catastrophe. Because they cannot reconcile their interpretation of Church teaching with the actions of Pope Francis, they assume he must be in error. They invent theologies that can somehow have, at the same time, a “heretical” Pope and a Church protected from error. 

Such Catholics lament that this is the biggest crisis to afflict the Church since the Arian heresy, and wonder what will happen to the faithful (a group that always includes them, and usually excludes those who disagree with them). But I think this is a view that is ignorant of history. The Church has always had to deal with attacks. Whether attacks from persecution, heresy, or corruption, the Church has always needed to withstand and correct. What we forget, however, is the Church has made changes to disciplines without changing her teachings in doing so.

The problem is often one of perception. If one wrongly thinks a changed discipline is a sign of heresy or corruption, that one will no doubt assume the Church is in mortal peril. If one wrongly thinks that the existence of error means the magisterium supports it or is incompetent, they will assume the Church is in mortal peril. Critics thinking this way tend to assume the Church will remain in error until she does things the way they want them done, even though the Church is not in error.

The disciples, traveling on the Sea of Galilee, assumed that being in the company of Jesus meant that they would not experience difficulty. As a result, when things became difficult, they responded in a panic. But God responded in His own time and His own way. We need to recognize Our Lord will do the same for our own troubles. No, this isn’t a call for passivity. We have tasks to do in converting the world. But we shouldn’t think that the problems of the Church means that God forgets His Church and his promises. He protected the Church in the past. He protects the Church now. He will protect the Church in the future. Recognizing this, Our Lord’s question to His disciples remains’s relevant to our own fears: Do you not yet have faith?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Thoughts on Difficulty vs. Doubt Regarding the Holy Father

Many persons are very sensitive of the difficulties of religion; I am as sensitive as any one; but I have never been able to see a connexion between apprehending those difficulties, however keenly, and multiplying them to any extent, and doubting the doctrines to which they are attached. Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. There of course may be difficulties in the evidence; but I am speaking of difficulties intrinsic to the doctrines, or to their compatibility with each other. A man may be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, of which the answer is or is not given to him, without doubting that it admits of an answer, or that a particular answer is the true one. 

 

John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1865), 264–265.

Blessed John Henry Newman spoke of having difficulties with the Church, but that this never led him to doubt. I think his distinction is a good one: We can have difficulties on understanding a Church teaching, the actions of the Church, or the behavior of a churchman without falling into doubt about the authority of those who lead and teach. I have defended St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. But this does not mean I openly praise everything they have done. There are some things I wish they handled differently. But those actions have never led me to doubt that the Holy Spirit guides and protects the Church from teaching error, or to doubt the Church teaching on the authority of Popes.

For example, I wish Saint John Paul II had not elevated certain individuals to bishoprics, I wish he had not kissed that Quran, I wish he had treated Assisi 1986 like a conference. I wish Benedict XVI had not used the example of “a gay prostitute with AIDS” in the Light of the World interview, and had not lifted the excommunications of the SSPX bishops. I wish Pope Francis would put a moratorium on press conferences, and I wish he would address conflicting interpretations of Amoris Lætitia. All of these things led to confusion in the Church. However, these difficulties have never led me to doubt their orthodoxy. Nor have they led me to doubt or explain away their authority when they exercised it differently than I preferred.

I think this is the difference: The person with difficulties may struggle at times when a Pope does something that seems disruptive. But he doesn’t reject the Pope in some degree, or seek to deny his authority at some level. However, the person with doubts does allow himself to do these things. That doesn’t mean the doubting Catholic is a schismatic—though doubt can lead there. But the doubting Catholic thinks the action of the Pope cannot be reconciled with his own understanding of what the Church should be, and seeks a solution to justify setting aside Church teaching or obedience to the Pope.

I think another insight from Blessed John Henry Newman fits here:

I will take one more instance. A man is converted to the Catholic Church from his admiration of its religious system, and his disgust with Protestantism. That admiration remains; but, after a time, he leaves his new faith, perhaps returns to his old. The reason, if we may conjecture, may sometimes be this: he has never believed in the Church’s infallibility; in her doctrinal truth he has believed, but in her infallibility, no. He was asked, before he was received, whether he held all that the Church taught, he replied he did; but he understood the question to mean, whether he held those particular doctrines “which at that time the Church in matter of fact formally taught,” whereas it really meant “whatever the Church then or at any future time should teach.” Thus, he never had the indispensable and elementary faith of a Catholic, and was simply no subject for reception into the fold of the Church. This being the case, when the Immaculate Conception is defined, he feels that it is something more than he bargained for when he became a Catholic, and accordingly he gives up his religious profession. The world will say that he has lost his certitude of the divinity of the Catholic Faith, but he never had it.

 

John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (London: Burns, Oates, & Co., 1870), 240.

I think he makes a good point that goes beyond converts to the Church. The Catholic who recognizes the divinity of the Catholic faith, established by Our Lord and passed on to us by the Apostles, recognizes that it remains the same Church in AD 33, AD 117, AD 1057, AD 1517, and AD 2017. Our understandings of the Faith deepens over time, which can lead the magisterium to make new definitions or change how teachings are best applied to carry out the Great Commission.

I think his point about the Catholic who accepts what the Church teaches up to this point and the Catholic who will accept the authority of the Church whenever she teaches or changes discipline is vital in recognizing the difference between difficulty and doubt: Do we believe that Our Lord, who established the Church and promised to be with her always, continues to do so? Or do we think the problems we have with the Church means the Church has gone wrong to some extent? I think we must recognize that if we reach the point where we think the Church, in exercising her authority, is wrong or can’t be trusted, we have gone from difficulty to doubt about God protecting His Church.

When facing things that trouble us, we have an obligation not to let our difficulty become a doubt. As the Catechism puts it:

2088 The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it. There are various ways of sinning against faith: (157)

Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated doubt can lead to spiritual blindness.

 

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 506–507.

We’ve had, at this point, 266 Popes. A handful of these have been morally bad. A couple may have privately held error. But despite the existence of bad Popes—and I deny Pope Francis is one—they never taught error. We need to ask ourselves why. Popes like John XII show we can have Popes who care nothing for serving God and the Church. But they didn’t issue any decrees exempting themselves from keeping mistresses or nepotism. How are we supposed to believe that 265 Popes avoided teaching error, but suddenly Pope Francis broke that streak?

Doubts that try to make that argument actually undermine the Church they hope to protect. If one argues Pope Francis is a bad Pope who teaches error, that person will have no reply—without resorting to the Special Pleading fallacy—to the challenge, “How can you say previous Popes did not teach error?” If one argues (and I have encountered some who do), “Francis refused to accept God’s guidance,” then that one has to answer how Benedict IX, John XII, Liberius, Honorius I, etc., managed to accept God’s guidance despite acting wrongly elsewhere. But if God did protect the Church from our acknowledged bad Popes, then the doubter must explain why He chose not to with Francis. It is only when one says, “God always protects the Church from teaching error,” that they can avoid this dilemma.

This is why I have said it is more plausible to believe the Pope’s detractors have it wrong, than it is to believe that the Pope is teaching error. To believe the Pope teaches error, one must doubt Jesus protects the Rock on which He built His Church. That doesn’t mean we won’t have difficulties with what Popes do. There will be gaffes and misunderstood actions. God protecting Popes from teaching error when they use the teaching office doesn’t mean God protects them from sinning or being a bad administrator of the Church. We don’t have to defend the dark spots in the history of the Papal States, or ill-advised concordances. But when the Pope acts in teaching, or administrating the Church, we are bound to give assent (see CIC 747-754). The only way to avoid refusing obedience or fearing the Church can bind us to accept error, is to work to overcome doubts.

We should consider the words of Monsignor Ronald Knox, who pointed out the underlying point that addresses our problems:

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. Emphasis added).

And that is the ultimate question: Can I trust that the Church is this final repository? Can I trust that God will protect the Church, under the current Pope, from teaching error? If we can, we can trust God to protect the Church with each Pope. But if we doubt these things, the rest which we profess to believe is on shaky ground indeed.