Showing posts with label judging. Show all posts
Showing posts with label judging. Show all posts

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thoughts on Controversy and the Church

One trend I come across in social media is the claim that, before Pope Francis or before Vatican II, the Church and the Popes taught clearly, but now everything is ambiguous and needs clarification. This is an error, but it’s an easy one to make. The error revolves around the fact that the further away we are from a controversy, the less we hear about the things which led up to a formal definition by the Church. We remember that Nicaea I condemned Arianism. We don’t remember the disputes about the interpretations of Scripture and the meaning of equivocal words. We think of the old maxim, Rome has spoken, the cause is finished, and wonder why people should still fighting except that the Pope isn’t clear. But we forget that when St. Augustine said this, he was actually speaking about the repeated disobedience despite the teaching of the Holy See:

For already have two councils on this question been sent to the Apostolic see; and rescripts also have come from thence. The question has been brought to an issue; would that their error may sometime be brought to an issue too! Therefore do we advise that they may take heed, we teach that they may be instructed, we pray that they may be changed.

 

Augustine of Hippo, “Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament,” in Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. R. G. MacMullen, vol. 6, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 504.

When we dig into the history of the Church we see that, when the Pope or a Council teaches on a subject, error doesn’t vanish. The decree just establishes the dividing line where one has to choose—either to accept the authority of the Church or to reject it. Error, however, doesn’t say, “Yep, I’m wrong but I don’t care.” Error rarely says, “I’m going to leave and start my own church!” What normally happens is Error denies that it is in opposition to Church teaching. Rather it either pretends to be faithful anyway or else it claims that the magisterium is wrong, and would have taught differently if they were really following Our Lord, or The Bible, or other Church teachings.

For example, when St. Pius X condemned modernism, many real modernists denied they held the positions condemned in Pascendi Dominici Gregis and Lamentibili Sane. They would simply modify their positions slightly, claiming obedience to the letter of the law while violating the spirit of the teachings. If we were to apply the logic of the critics of Pope Francis or Vatican II, we would have to say St. Pius X was to blame for the continued disobedience. But in fact the disobedience came from those who chose to misrepresent what the Pope said. We can also point to the fact that Catholics and Protestants alike have pointed to St. Augustine to justify their contradicting positions on grace and actions. Did St. Augustine teach confusion? Or did one side cite him wrongly? I think we can recognize that St. Augustine did not teach contradiction or error.

What these examples show is that confusion and dissent existed before Vatican II. We forget about it because, if we read about these things at all, we only read about the final results, and not the path that led to that point. We don’t see the discussion that evaluated each claim and argued over the merits and problems. We wonder why the Pope hasn’t issued a decree, excommunicated a politician or answered a dubia. We forget how Blessed John Henry Newman explained, over 150 years ago, why dispute and confusion existed in the process:

And then again all through Church history from the first, how slow is authority in interfering! Perhaps a local teacher, or a doctor in some local school, hazards a proposition, and a controversy ensues. It smoulders or burns in one place, no one interposing; Rome simply lets it alone. Then it comes before a Bishop; or some priest, or some professor in some other seat of learning takes it up; and then there is a second stage of it. Then it comes before a University, and it may be condemned by the theological faculty. So the controversy proceeds year after year, and Rome is still silent. An appeal, perhaps, is next made to a seat of authority inferior to Rome; and then at last after a long while it comes before the supreme power. Meanwhile, the question has been ventilated and turned over and over again, and viewed on every side of it, and authority is called upon to pronounce a decision, which has already been arrived at by reason. But even then, perhaps the supreme authority hesitates to do so, and nothing is determined on the point for years; or so generally and vaguely, that the whole controversy has to be gone through again, before it is ultimately determined. It is manifest how a mode of proceeding, such as this, tends not only to the liberty, but to the courage, of the individual theologian or contraversialist. Many a man has ideas, which he hopes are true, and useful for his day, but he wishes to have them discussed. He is willing or rather would be thankful to give them up, if they can be proved to be erroneous or dangerous, and by means of controversy he obtains his end. He is answered, and he yields; or he finds that he is considered safe. He would not dare to do this, if he knew an authority, which was supreme and final, was watching every word he said, and made signs of assent or dissent to each sentence, as he uttered it. Then, indeed, he would be fighting, as the Persian soldiers, under the lash, and the freedom of his intellect might truly be said to be beaten out of him. But this has not been so:—I do not mean to say that, when controversies run high, in schools or even in small portions of the Church, an interposition may not rightly take place; and again, questions may be of that urgent nature, that an appeal must, as a matter of duty, be made at once to the highest authority in the Church; but, if we look into the history of controversy, we shall find, I think, the general run of things to be such as I have represented it. Zosimus treated Pelagius and Cœlestius with extreme forbearance; St. Gregory VII. was equally indulgent with Berengarius; by reason of the very power of the Popes they have commonly been slow and moderate in their use of it.

 

John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1865), 289–290.

One can also read the CDF documents where a theologian’s works were ultimately condemned. In them, there is a process of dialogue in which the Church determines whether the person understood his ideas went against the Church, and if so, entered a discussion on how to make things right. It took years from the time the case was taken up until an obstinate theologian’s work was condemned. It takes years because the Church wants to make sure they do not wrongly judge someone who has merely stated the truth in a new way.

The modern critics however do not take years—whether in studying the Catholic faith or studying the person alleged to be a heretic. They match what they think they know about the faith and compare it with what they think they know about the person they dislike. The problem is often these Catholics treat their reading of Church documents in the same way that the Biblical literalist interprets the Bible—without regard to context or nuances in translation, and without regard for one’s limitations.

That’s not to say that only people with a PhD have anything to say about Scripture or Sacred Tradition or Church documents. What it means is we ought to realize we can go wrong, and we can avoid error by making sure our reading does not contradict the magisterium. Just because one person thinks the Pope contradicts a document does not, in fact, mean the Pope contradicts that document. The critic forgets to consider the possibility of his own error. 

This seems to fit in with the Pope recently expressing his concern about “restorationist” (a belief we need to “go back” to an earlier time) attitudes, saying, “they seem to offer security but instead give only rigidity.” Expecting that the only response to a problem in the Church is strict response is to reject any response of compassion. Rigidity (wrongly) views the Pope’s words on mercy as moral laxity and condemn him with a growing demonic hatred. But many of those Catholics I have tangled with cannot get beyond a binary thinking of “either rigid or heretical.” But if there is a third option, a none of the above, then the binary thinking is right.

Now the epithet of “Pharisee” gets overused (and, yeah, I know I’m guilty of using it at times, too) but rigidity was one of the problems with the pharisees. They wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11), they were scandalized that He dined with tax collectors (Matthew 9:10-13), and that he allowed the sinful woman to wash His feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50). Our Lord was not lax in these cases, but he was merciful, and this is what the Pope is calling us to emulate—don’t treat the sinner with harshness, but with love.

I think the ultimate problem with controversy in the Church is that Catholics (whether ordained, religious, or laity) presume they know all the facts about Church teaching and about the situation of the sinner and reject the approach the Church takes if it does not match the individual’s flawed understanding. And that’s where we have to change. We have to stop thinking we are the ones who pass judgment on the Church when the Church does not match our preferences, and let the teaching of the Church pass judgment on our preferences.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Reflections on Mercy and Justice

Last judgment(The Last Judgment—Fra Angelico)

Mercy has been the theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate, and it has been badly misunderstood. Many people see Mercy and Justice as polar opposites, thinking that an emphasis on mercy means a belief that God will not punish and that the Pope will change Church teaching and no longer call sin a sin. The people who hold this view fall into two camps—those who think this is a good thing and those who think it is a bad thing. Neither group asks whether they got it wrong in the first place.

We call God merciful because He constantly calls us back to Him, always willing to accept our repentance, even if we struggle with habitual sin. But he doesn’t violate our free will in doing so. That’s where justice comes in, giving a person his due. The person who spurns God’s mercy or acts presumptuously by assuming God will forgive whether we repent or not will eventually face judgment for refusing to heed God’s pleas and warnings.

As each of us is a sinner, each one of us needs God’s mercy. As God tells us that the merciless person will not be shown mercy (Matthew 18:33, James 2:13), we need to show mercy to each other when we are wronged. We can’t turn a person away who seeks our forgiveness. If we want God’s mercy to be limitless, we cannot put limits on our own. But there is another side to the coin. Mercy involves forgiving the repentant and providing a way for the sinner to turn back. But it does not mean excusing the sin as if it was not a sin.

To seek mercy is to humbly recognize one’s wrongdoing and intend to change to the best of their ability and assisted by grace. If we refuse to admit we do wrong, we’re not seeking mercy. We’re demanding that the Church condone our actions. It’s saying “I’ve done nothing wrong—you’re wrong for insisting on this teaching!” Since we Catholics believe the Church only teaches on right and wrong because of the mandate and responsibility Our Lord gave, to demand the Church change her teaching from “X is a sin” to “X is not a sin” is to reject God’s teaching (see Luke 10:16).

And that’s where God’s justice comes into play. He offers us every chance to change our ways, and every grace to do so. But if we refuse the opportunities and the graces, if we refuse to listen and choose to do what is evil in His sight, we will answer for it. We have an immortal soul. After we die, we will eternally go some place. If we have sought to be faithful to him, cooperating with His grace, and do not have unrepented mortal sins on our conscience, we will go to Heaven (whether directly or through purgatory first). If we put ourselves first and willingly live against His commands, we will go to Hell. That sounds blunt, but our Lord put it bluntly too:

25 You say, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair? Are not your ways unfair? 26 When the just turn away from justice to do evil and die, on account of the evil they did they must die. 27 But if the wicked turn from the wickedness they did and do what is right and just, they save their lives; 28 since they turned away from all the sins they committed, they shall live; they shall not die. 29 But the house of Israel says, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” Is it my way that is not fair, house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are not fair? (Ezekiel 18:25–29)

Our ways are not fair because we want Cheap Grace. We want the right to live as we please and then go to Heaven. But that is an impossibility. If we want to go to Heaven, we need to live as God calls us to live. God will give us the grace to do so, and provides us with the sacraments—including the Sacrament of Penance for when we fall short. But He won’t force us to change our ways. We have to respond to His call and His grace.

So that brings us to the tension between the Christian and the world. We’re called to evangelize the world (see 1 Corinthians 9:16), bringing people knowledge of God and His gift of salvation, and how to follow His ways (Matthew 28:20). But because that involves telling people they do wrong, people respond with hostility. We’re bigots and judgmental in their eyes because we tell them what they practice is evil and not good.

Yes, some Christians do behave wrongly. They seem to relish a kind of vengeance where wrongdoers suffer, and they seem to take satisfaction in the belief that their enemies are going to go to Hell. They get outraged at the thought that the sinners might get to Heaven before they do (Matthew 21:31). But these are Christians who fail to do what God tells them to do. They are an aberration. But warning sinners to change so they are not excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven is not that kind of behavior.

If we want mercy from God, we must show mercy (Matthew 7:2). That means forgiving those who wrong us, and it means keeping the door open for people to reach God. Of course, this is something greater than we are. God is the one who brings people to salvation. But we can’t view ourselves as bouncers at the door, deciding who’s good enough to get in. The criminal, the unscrupulous politician, or (perhaps hardest of all) the person we can’t stand are all called by God. We should desire their salvation. That means speaking the truth with love. We don’t compromise on doing what is right, but we also don’t get so caught up in our own views, that we keep people away who are earnestly seeking God and want to turn to Him with their whole heart.

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.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Overlooking the Essentials: Reflections on the Negative Catholic Reaction to Pope Francis

Introduction

With the Pope’s visit to the US, people—including Catholics—are scrutinizing his words to use them in order to justify their political positions. If the individual agrees with his words, he is a great Pope, while if they don’t, he is not. Unfortunately this mindset seeks to take the Pope’s words and cram them into a dualistic political mindset: “Either the Pope is conservative or liberal.”

On one hand, we get Nancy Pelosi’s reprehensible statement of “I actually agree with the pope on more issues than many Catholics who agree with him on one issue” where that “one issue" is abortion and St. John Paul II spoke of "Precisely in an age when the inviolable rights of the person are solemnly proclaimed and the value of life is publicly affirmed, the very right to life is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death." [John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae #18]—a pretty big disconnect. On the other hand, we get the accusation that the Pope is a liberal-leftist-marxist-who-should-stick-to-religion-and-not-get-into-politics (whew!) whenever he speaks on a topic they dislike.

Both views miss the point. Catholicism isn’t a faith of “Well I may have got an F when it comes to abortion but I get an A+ when it comes to holding political positions I can sort of equate with the Catholic teaching, therefore I get a grade of C as a Catholic!” (conservatives would reverse this and come to the same conclusion). Catholicism is about seeking to be faithful to God in all things, repenting and turning back to Him when and where we fall short.

The politician who ignores the Church teaching on abortion does evil. That’s undeniable. But the politician who ignores the Church teaching on social justice also does evil. Does that mean that abortion and social justice issues are moral equivalents? Definitely not. But to say that Issue #1 is worse than Issue #2 therefore Issue #2 is not important is simply false. The unrepented mortal sin will damn a soul whether it is abortion or whether it is adultery.

Labelling the Pope Based on Personal Ideas of What We Think Should Have Been Said

Unfortunately there is a strong anti-Francis mindset (it’s beginning to be called Papal derangement syndrome elsewhere) where the Pope’s orthodoxy is judged based on how often he mentions a topic and how forcefully he does so. It’s so predictable, it's almost like a simple computer program:

10 IF POPE DOESN’T MENTION ISSUE X DURING ADDRESS GOTO 20; ELSE GO TO 30
20 PRINT “THE POPE NEVER TALKS ABOUT X! HE’S A BAD POPE!”; GOTO 10
30 PRINT “THE POPE DOESN’T TALK ENOUGH ABOUT X! HE’S A BAD POPE”; GOTO 10 

This kind of mindset assumes that there is no merit to other topics the Pope might discuss and that if he doesn’t make Issue X the centerpiece of his visit to America, then there was no merit to his visit. In such a case, the individual has made himself or herself into a judge who determines the importance of what issues to discuss in the Catholic teaching and has actually deafened himself or herself to hearing what the Pope actually has to say.

Unfortunately the Pope, like his predecessors, have been slandered. Both the supporters and detractors of Francis, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have bought into the myth that their positions are political. The only difference is that Francis is maligned as being a liberal while St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were maligned as being conservative. But neither accusation is true. If you read Sollicitudo rei socialis by St. John Paul II and Caritas in veritate by Benedict XVI said similar things on social justice and responsibility to creation: Indeed, all three recognized the importance of, and drew from, Blessed Paul VI and Populorum progressio. But while his predecessor’s teachings have been forgotten already, Pope Francis is maligned as being a liberal-leftist-marxist-modernist-heretic (whew!) when all three of them said the same thing.

What We Think Should Have Been Said May Not Be the Best Thing to Be Said

We need to realize that we are not the Pope and do not have his insights into what he thinks this country needs to hear when it comes to being evangelized. Think of it this way. The Jews, in expecting the Messiah, legitimately were concerned about justice against the Romans and wanted Him to declare Himself (see John 10:24 for example and Matthew 11:3ff). But Jesus’ mission was not what the people expected it to be. Those Jews waiting for Jesus to speak about those issues only were going to wind up disappointed. But those who came to listen and learn from what Jesus said would be satisfied.

I’m not suggesting that the Pope = Jesus here. But the Pope is imitating Jesus in his words and actions in America. When he speaks to the President, Congress, the UN, the Bishops and us what he believes we need to hear—not in condemnation but in gentle encouragement. If we dismiss this message, labeling it as not important, we will end up frustrated and dissatisfied by what he said when his visit to our nation ends. But if we approach his addresses with the mindset of “What is he saying to me and how should I apply it to my life?” we will end up enriched by this visit.

Now, yes, I would like it if the Pope chose to speak more overtly on the moral issues like abortion, “same sex marriage,” and the like. But I do believe he is reaching out gently to people who are not ready for the solid food of the Gospel (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-3), speaking to them gently, not harshly. We should certainly recognize the possibility of the people estranged from or ignorant of the Church being driven away from listening if the Pope spoke as we might wish he would.

Ultimately we should come to learn from what the Pope is teaching and not judge him on what we want him to say.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

We Have To Behave as Emissaries of Our Lord

It’s no secret that, since Obergefell, Christians who stand for the defense of marriage as God intended it have become something of pariahs on social media, and having our faces rubbed in the ruling. People have been unfriended because they defend Christian morality, accused openly of being bigots. Between the comments and the “rainbowized” pictures, it can be very difficult to avoid lashing out at the people who seem to want to throw the #lovewins and #loveislove in our faces when we know we are being misrepresented and demonized. But it is lashing out that we must not do, and—unfortunately—some Catholics have lashed out in ways which will lead those who support “same sex marriage” to view it as just that much more “proof" that we are the bigots they always thought we were.

We have to remember that it is Our Lord who commanded us:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?* 48 So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. [Matthew 5:43-48]

It doesn’t matter how badly we are treated. In our response, even if we are forced to block them because of abusive attacks, we have to show that we love those who hate us—not as an act, but in sincerity. That means we have to be civil when we debate with them, avoiding insults, sarcasm or other rudeness. Now yes, that is hard. I confess I created a few sarcastic memes that I had to sit on when I really wanted to post them. (Through the grace of God, I was given a sense that to publish them was not in keeping with Christian witness). But we have to remember that the example we provide may be the only witness they have as to how a Christian bears witness to what they believe. If it is a bad witness, we become a stumbling block that keeps others from seeing God’s call.

Now that doesn’t mean that we have to be silent and not say that homosexual acts are wrong, as those who oppose us try to argue. As Emissaries of Our Lord, we have to carry His message telling the world to live according to God’s will. Indeed, when it comes to the State legalizing “same sex marriage,” the Church has made it very clear that we cannot give our assent:

In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.

 

[#5. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2003).

So, we cannot recognize the diktat given to us in the Obergefell ruling as valid or cooperate—we must oppose it. But in doing so we have to be charitable. Being insulting or verbally (textually?) abusive is not the way we are to go about it. “Rainbowizing” Hitler or the Devil is not a charitable tactic for example. Regardless of whether a person is deliberately acting abusively or is unaware of how they come across, we must show the love of Christ while teaching the truth.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Reflections on the Anti-Francis Mindset

Introduction

One thing seems clear from reading comments and articles from a certain subset of Catholics is that we do have a strongly anti-Francis mindset that exists in the Church. To this mindset, the Pope is to blame for how the media reports his words and is believed to have whatever motive the media attributes to their report on his words. It can be quite demoralizing for the Catholic trying to be faithful, and encountering Catholics who seem much more confident in their allegations than they are in questioning them. It’s easy for these Catholics to begin to doubt themselves and wonder if they have perhaps missed the point because they continue to run into these allegations.

The problem with this mindset that demoralizes others and undermines trust in the Pope is it assumes two things that needs to be proven:

  1. That the media reports are accurate.
  2. That the motives attributed to the Pope are true.

Unless both can be established, it is a rash judgment to assume bad will or bad teaching from the Pope.

Thus far it turns out that every time the media has focussed a story around the Pope planning to change Church teaching by using a quote, that quote was only a part of what the Pope said and when viewed in context it shows he did not say what the the media reported. When this happens over and over again, a person should recognize that certain sources are simply unreliable. But instead, the anti-Francis mindset assumes the Pope is unreliable.

Shocking News—Arnobius of Sicca blog Denigrates the Pope… OK, not really...

Think of it this way. Look at my first paragraph. See how many quotes you can create that could make me sound like I am opposed to Pope Francis. These are the ones I found with a cursory look:

  • “we do have a strongly anti-Francis mindset” (implies I am speaking of the whole Church and I am a part of it).
  • “the Pope is to blame for how the media reports his words” (Hey! Even the Papal defender Arnobius of Sicca says it’s the Pope’s fault!)
  • “It’s easy for these Catholics to begin to doubt” (when taken with the other two partial quotes, sounds like I am saying the Pope is causing the doubt)

In other words, a person looking for quotes to bolster the image they want to give could even take my own blog which defends the Pope and make it sound like I am blaming him. I did say all of these things. But I didn’t say them in the context one might be led to believe. In fact, I’d oppose all of these claims. I wouldn’t be to blame for a reporter skimming my first paragraph and grabbing a few lines that caught his eye and making a story out of it. It would, in fact, be unjust to say I should have expressed myself better to avoid such misinterpretation. 

Who Watches the Self-Proclaimed Watchdogs of Catholic Authenticity?

That’s how it seems to work with the Pope. For the secular news reporter who has a negative view of the Church teaching, thinking it is judgmental and harsh and wishes it would change, words that talk about loving the sinner and presenting God’s love can sound like “A CHANGE IN TEACHING!” (and there’s another quote in my blog that can be taken out of context). It isn’t any such thing of course. Then the Catholic who has an antipathy towards the Pope—and certain Catholics have been antagonistic to his election to the papacy on account of his stand as cardinal on the extraordinary form of the Mass and have been hostile ever since—see this as justifying their hostility.

Like ripples from a rock thrown into a pond, this mindset affects other Catholics who equate such sites as defenders of Catholic orthodoxy. If they oppose the Pope, some are led to believe that the Pope should  be opposed . . . after all, if it wasn’t true, they wouldn’t have said it right? So the reputation of Pope Francis as heterodox continues to spread. Nobody asks the question as to whether these self-proclaimed watchdogs of orthodoxy are in fact orthodox themselves?

This is a problem because the individual or small group does not have such authority to teach at all—especially if they try to teach contrary to the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. God has entrusted the successors of the apostles with the authority to bind and loose—not people with a blog and a laptop (and, yes, that includes me). The person who tries to advocate opposing the Pope when he teaches is a rebel, not a faithful Catholic.

Does a Political Platform Judge the Catholic Teaching? Or Does the Catholic Teaching Judge the Political Platform?

That brings us to another problem. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was easy to equate conservative politics with Catholic orthodoxy. The Church was strong on her affirmations of abortion, “gay marriage” and similar issues as morally wrong. Politicians who opposed the Church on these things were liberal. Politicians who agreed with the Church were conservative. Simple enough—or so we thought.

It was never that simple. Church teaching and conservative politics never entirely overlapped. In some cases conservatism had positions which were also incompatible with Church teaching. In others, the motives for a shared teaching were difference. The Church had positions on social justice that were sometimes confused with political liberalism. St. John Paul II and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI also spoke on the social problems in capitalism that needed to be reformed—and were accused of “moving to the left.” They spoke on environmental issues—and were accused of "moving to the left.” They spoke on compassion for illegal immigrants—and… well you get the point.

So, what we see happening with Pope Francis, happened before with his predecessors (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11). They were praised for things members of a political happened to agree with (even if held for different motives), and attacked when such groups disagreed. Thus the simultaneous mutual claims by right and left that the Pope supports the other side. Like the Self-Appointed watchdogs mentioned above, political platforms do not have authority to teach. Political parties can take positions that the Church must condemn as incompatible with the Christian obligation. When they do, the Church condemnation is not partisan, but a warning for us to think about where we are in relation to God.

So, when our political beliefs feel threatened by the teaching of the Church, maybe the issue is not a bad Pope. Maybe we’ve adopted a political belief incompatible with the faith.

The Either-Or Fallacy

In addition, we need to remember that there are many times that the truth is not found in the formula of “Either A or B.” Sometimes both A and B are condemnable. Sometimes neither A nor B is condemnable. Republican and Democrat parties disagree with each other, but it is not a case of one being always true and the other always false. Yes, sometimes one party is in error while the other is not. But, sometimes both can be in error. Or sometimes their disagreements are over ways and means which are both in keeping with Church teachings. So we always need to ask what is true, what is in keeping with the Church teaching. That’s not just something we ask about others. It’s what we need to ask about ourselves.

Conclusion

These seem to be the problems with the anti-Francis mindset in the Church. There’s a lot of motives for it, whether misunderstanding or disagreement. But each person who doubts or outright opposes the Pope needs to answer some questions: On what basis do you justify yourself? Pope Francis is not an Alexander VI or John XII. He’s not a John XXII. There’s no moral behavior to scandalize or personal belief to be corrected. Where did your doubt come from? From your own belief? Then how do you know you have not gone wrong yourself? From the assertion of another? How authoritative are they? From your politics? Remember we must “Render unto God.” Do you think he is teaching error? Remember that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.

The fact is, the Church is led by the successors of the Apostles, not the bloggers or the people who prefer the extraordinary form of the Mass. The magisterium has the authority and the responsibility to determine whether a belief is compatible with the teaching of the Church, not the bloggers or the fans of the extraordinary form. That’s ultimately the problem with the anti-Francis mindset. It would rather deny that God protects the Pope from teaching error than admit the possibility of being wrong about what the Church teaching requires us to do.

Now not all of these people are doing this out of malice. Some have simply been deceived by the hype. Some have not thought things through. Perhaps some are acting out of Scrupulosity. But some may have fallen to pride and decided that only when the Church goes their way that it is to be obeyed. I personally won’t judge the reason or the motive. But I will say that the anti-Francis mindset is an error and must be rejected.

Monday, June 23, 2014

More Thoughts on Judging

I have a friend who on occasion asks questions about the Catholic faith that on the surface seem simple, but on reflection actually have fascinating implications and makes me seek a deeper understanding of an aspect of the faith. This is another one of those times.  I imagine if it were not for his questions, my faith would be shallower and so would this blog. 

 

He asks me about the Pope's recent sermon on judgment in light of his strong words against the Mafia this weekend: 

 

The Pope himself just judged the actions of the mafia and excommunicated them. He must see that as a different form of judgment? 

 

In general,  the whole idea of not judging is a tough one to get my head around. Clearly, there are times that we should stand up against a wrong that is being done and clearly as Christians there are times when correcting a brother or sister is a duty. So when is "judging" allowable? And what is the Pope saying? 

 

It's a reasonable question. Judgment is a word which is equivocal (having more than one meaning). So if a person means judgment in one way while a second hears the word with another meaning, people will get confused. 

 

The meanings of Judgment are: 

 

Judgement (also judgment) 

  ■ noun 

    1      the ability to make considered decisions or form sensible opinions. 

      ▶      an opinion or conclusion. 

      ▶      a decision of a law court or judge. 

Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). 

 

So, Judgment can mean discernment on one hand, and making a ruling on the other. How does Jesus intend it to be understood? 

 

In the Gospel reading for today, we see Matthew 7:1-5: 

 

1 “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. 2 For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. 3 Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? 5 You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.  

 

New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mt 7:1–5. 

 

If we interpret judging in this part of the Gospel to mean "the ability to make considered conclusions" about the right and wrong of an act, then that leads to the absurd conclusion that Jesus contradicts himself (Remember Matthew 11:21 and Matthew 23:13-36 shows Jesus making some very strong denunciations of wrongdoers). He warns us to do good and avoid evil. We cannot do that without making considered conclusions about what acts are good and what acts are evil. 

 

So much for the modern relativist interpretation. 

 

But, if we consider the passage to mean "Don't think of yourself as having the authority to determine how God will ultimately sentence this man or woman, don't think you can just write off and ostracize the sinner. You have don't have the authority to judge. Instead you have the obligation to speak out so the person repents (read Ezekiel 33. God warns us that we can't be silent in the face of evil). 

 

So we can't write off the Catholic politicians who cause scandal. It may turn out that after we try to bring them back, they refuse us, but that doesn't free us from the obligation to try (See Ezekiel 33:7-9). The Christian has to let himself be the tool for God’s grace to reach out to the people of the world who do evil. We can’t be like Jonah in the Old Testament who took off in the opposite direction to avoid giving God’s warning to Nineveh.   

 

So, to use the recent denunciation of the crimes of the Mafia as an example, I see Pope Francis saying IF you do not repent, THEN you will be damned. The judging would say “This person is not repenting. Therefore he is damned.”  What Pope Francis is saying is judging in the proper sense. He's not writing off the members of this Mafia family as irredeemable. he sees them as in need of salvation and uses his authority as the Vicar of Christ to authoritatively warn them that their actions are in contradiction to the faith they belong to but ignore.   

 

Or consider another example. On rare occasions, we get a person who gets it in his head that it is OK to target an abortionist for murder. Abortion is wrong. Warning the abortionist that abortion is wrong is not judging in the sense that Christ condemned. Telling him or her that they can repent and turn their lives around is not judgment... 

 

...but deliberately targeting the individual for murder is being judgmental. It's determining that the abortionist will never change his or her ways and so it is better to kill the person than to try to convert the person. 

 

The existence of people like Bernard Nathanson and Abby Johnson are examples of why the killing of abortionists is wrong. We cannot know who will repent and who will not. But the reason Jesus forbids us to tear up the weeds is that we might tear up some of the wheat with them:

24 He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. 26 When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. 27 The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”

 

New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mt 13:24–30.

Consider also that if Jesus meant judging in the sense of "the ability to make considered conclusions," then there would be no way to warn a person of evil. Ezekiel 33 would be nonsense. But if Jesus meant it in the sense of  "Don't presume to know the ultimate fate of these men and woman," then the Pope's actions are quite prophetic in the true sense of the word. He's warning these men and women that their actions will have consequences: IF you do not repent, THEN you will not be saved.  

 

The Judging condemned by Jesus removes the IF... THEN, and changes it to "You do not repent. Therefore you will not be saved. So I'm going to write you off as a loss." 

 

All of us have the beam in our eye where we must face the warning: IF you do not repent, THEN you will not be saved. If we do not acknowledge and deal with this beam—our own need to repent—how can we guide someone else to repent? 

 

Hopefully, this is shows that Pope Francis does not contradict himself when on one hand he warns the Mafia and on the other hand speaks against judging. He calls for us to intercede for the sinner as Jesus intercedes for us, but not to take God's role and condemn and carry out the sentence.