Showing posts with label judgmental. Show all posts
Showing posts with label judgmental. Show all posts

Thursday, September 9, 2021

It’s Iimi! “CINO” Evil!

In this episode, Daryl and Sean are fighting over which faction is less faithful to the Church, flinging around the “CINO” epithet.

“CINO” (Catholic in name only) is one of the epithets used in Catholic infighting. Like the “You’re only anti-abortion, not pro-life” mantra, it is an accusation that the person labeled is not following Church teaching in some area. The problem is, true or not, we also have the obligation to follow Church teaching. If we will not, we will also be judged for not keeping His commandments (See John 14:15).






















Monday, March 9, 2020

On Those Who Sneer At the Lenten Practices of Others

Is this the manner of fasting I would choose, 
a day to afflict oneself? 
To bow one’s head like a reed, 
and lie upon sackcloth and ashes? 
Is this what you call a fast, 
a day acceptable to the Lord? 

Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: 
releasing those bound unjustly, 
untying the thongs of the yoke; 
Setting free the oppressed, 
breaking off every yoke? 

Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, 
bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; 
Clothing the naked when you see them, 
and not turning your back on your own flesh? 

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, 
and your wound shall quickly be healed; 
Your vindication shall go before you, 
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58:5–8)
Among anti-Catholic and anti-Francis Catholic critics, I see a similar kind of sneering going on, even though the mindsets of these groups are diametrically opposed. The similarities come through how they deride the penitential practices of Catholics. Either they mock the individual sacrifice as “shallow” or they mock something serious on the grounds that people shouldn’t treat sins as something you “give up for Lent.” And if a person should resolve to do something for Lent, the response is a mocking “well, why didn’t you do that earlier?”

It is true that some people can be shallow about a Lenten sacrifice, either making it so light or with so many exceptions as to be virtually meaningless. People can focus on giving up something and become unbearable to live with. People can wrongly approach “giving up sins for Lent” by thinking that they will take them up again after Easter. Some people take up practices for the wrong reason (“I’ll cut back on food to lose weight.”) Such people do need to be gently corrected.

But too often, the people who sneer seem to miss the point. When we give something up, or perform a practice, we do so to turn away from our past way of living and back to God. So, if giving up a certain pleasure helps us to say no to ourself when it leads us away from God, it is a good thing. If doing a good thing helps us to form practices that serve God the rest of the year, that is a good thing. And if we remember that “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2 NABRE), then Lent is a good time to repent of the sins we should have previously turned away from but have not managed to escape, with the intention of staying away (with God’s grace) to stay away after Lent ends.

We should keep in mind that not everyone is able to do the same things. A diabetic is not able to fast in the same way as one who is healthy. A person who loves meat will be harder hit by the rules of abstinence than the person who is vegan. The mother of young children might find it harder to say a decade of the Rosary than the unmarried do to say the whole thing. And a person who tries to use Lent as a time to try again to reject the sin he commits over and over out of love for God is trying to do more than the person who spends his time denouncing others for sins he has never been tempted by.

So, when we see a person approaching Lent differently than we think it should be done, let us not sneer or judge. The person might be shallow, or mistaken. But the person might be struggling with a trial greater than we can imagine.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Pharisee and the... Other Pharisee?

The Catholic social media erupted last night after Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg took aim at Vice President Pence, calling him unChristian on account of his political stances. The division was down party lines, but both sides were free with citing Our Lord’s words of not judging, while pointing out how the other faction supported things incompatible with Christian teaching. The problem was: both sides accused the other side of judging while ignoring the fact that they were judging as well.

Of course it’s not the point of my blog to make political endorsements or to side with one party as “God’s Party.” Rather, I write this to point out that both factions involved in this social media fight are playing the role of the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. By this, I mean that neither group is approaching God by saying, “Be merciful to me, a sinner.” Rather both sides are saying “I thank you God that I am not like that Democrat/Republican.”

Speaking objectively, there is no political party that is not at odds with Catholic teaching in some way, whether life issues, sexual morality, social justice, or other issues.  We, being called to be the light of the world and salt of the earth, have an obligation to reform the political party we affiliate with where it goes wrong. Unfortunately, what people do is play the tu quoque card—being quick to condemn the wrongdoing of the other side while downplaying the moral wrongs of their own party as unimportant so long as the “greater evil” of the other side exists. 

As a result, when the Church speaks out against one evil, she is condemned by the party who defends it and accused of being puppets of the other side. When she affirms that abortion and homosexual acts are gravely sinful, she is accused of being a “tool” of the Republican Party. When she speaks against unjust immigration and economic practices, she is accused of being a “tool” of the Democratic Party. Individual Catholics are adept at pointing out this hypocrisy on the other side while being blind to it on their own.

I want to make clear that Our Lord’s words on not judging means we can’t wash our hands and say, “Welp, that person’s going to Hell. No point in wasting time on him.” It doesn’t mean we cannot call an action evil.  In fact, God has warned us that we will answer for being silent. As God told Ezekiel (Ezekiel 33:8):

When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. (NABRE)

Unfortunately, in our political climate, we do the opposite. We don’t speak out to save, we speak out to show our contempt. We say they are going to Hell for ignoring Church teaching X, while we’re focusing on opposing the greater evil first. The problem is, we define this by making the greater evil fit entirely in the political platform of our enemies while the lesser evil coincidences with our preferred party. 

This has to stop. Both parties are Pharisaical. The deadliest sin to us is the one that sends us to Hell, not the one we have no inclination to commit. Until we can see that and say to God “be merciful to me, a sinner” instead of “look at how bad they are!” we will be that Pharisee in the parable.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Avoiding the Jonah Type Catholicism

Jonahs Anger

Most people, when you mention Jonah, think of the story of Jonah and the whale. That is indeed part of the story. But I don’t think it is the most important part of the story. I think the crucial part begins when the people of Nineveh repent and God decides not to destroy the city. Angered, Jonah has this interchange with God:

But this greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said while I was still in my own country? This is why I fled at first toward Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, repenting of punishment. So now, Lord, please take my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the Lord asked, “Are you right to be angry?” 

Jonah then left the city for a place to the east of it, where he built himself a hut and waited under it in the shade, to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a gourd plant. And when it grew up over Jonah’s head, giving shade that relieved him of any discomfort, Jonah was greatly delighted with the plant. But the next morning at dawn God provided a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. And when the sun arose, God provided a scorching east wind; and the sun beat upon Jonah’s head till he became faint. Then he wished for death, saying, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 

But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry over the gourd plant?” Jonah answered, “I have a right to be angry—angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned over the gourd plant which cost you no effort and which you did not grow; it came up in one night and in one night it perished. 11 And should I not be concerned over the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot know their right hand from their left, not to mention all the animals?” (Jonah 4:1–11).

Jonah was angry because God chose not to punish Nineveh, and also because God allowed the gourd plant to wither. He believed God wronged him in both cases. He was angry because God was merciful, and he was angry because God allowed him to experience discomfort. But Jonah should have been more concerned with the 120,000 people of Nineveh than the gourd plant. He should have realized that God sent him to urge repentance, not to taunt them before their inevitable doom.

I think there’s a similar type of error that Catholics are tempted to direct against the Church. When we strive to live faithfully, and see others do wrong, we want to be vindicated. We want the Pope to issue excommunications around every sinner. But when the Church shows mercy and outreach to these sinners, we’re tempted to act betrayed—as if the failure to punish is an error.

But the use of punishment, like the use of mercy, is a tool with the end of bringing people back to God. If punishment would cause obstinacy, then it might not be the best tool to use at this time. Or, if mercy would lead people to laxity, then it might not be the best tool either. But God gave this decision making power to the Pope and bishops. They have the authority to determine the best means for each case. To be angry at them for choosing what we think is the “wrong choice,” is to miss the point about the reason God established a Church in the first place: To make known and bring God’s salvation to the world.

So, when the Pope says to investigate individual cases of the divorced/remarried instead of assuming the worst intentions, that is the Church applying mercy as the best tool for the circumstance. When a bishop rules that people who openly reject Church teaching are to be denied a Christian burial, he is using sternness as the best tool for the circumstances. These two views are not in conflict.

If we demand that the Church should be all mercy or all sternness, we’re no longer carrying out the mission of the Church. Instead, we’re demanding that the Church follow our preferences. That’s not seeking what is right. That is seeking self-satisfaction.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Self-Righteousness or Seeking Righteousness?

Introduction

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

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

A Political Example

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

(Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth)

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

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

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

Non-Political Examples

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

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

The Risk To Ourselves

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

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

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

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

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

It Starts With Ourselves

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

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

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Prudential Judgment? Misunderstanding? Partisanship? Willful Rejection? A Reflection

20 You sit and speak against your brother, 

slandering your mother’s son. 

21 When you do these things should I be silent? 

Do you think that I am like you? 

I accuse you, I lay out the matter before your eyes. (Psalm 50:20–21).

Four Forms of Disagreement

When people disagree on Facebook or other social media, they seem to do so in one of four ways: 

  1. Prudential Judgment recognizes that two Catholics, who both strive follow Catholic teaching, might reach different conclusions on how to best carry out that teaching while living in the world. Provided that neither of these Catholics are seeking to evade Church teaching to justify what they want to do anyway, we have no right accusing one of error. There are different ways of engaging the world, including political approaches, after all. 
  2. A person can be mistaken but in good faith about what Church teaching involves. Such people need to be corrected of course, but they need to be corrected gently (Proverbs 15:1). People recognize when they are being treated unjustly, and resent it. In resenting it, they might turn away from the truth, thinking our bad behavior is a sign of our being in the wrong. That would be false, but many in the world do reason this way. 
  3. There is also the attitude of partisanship, where we treat a disagreement with our political views as if we were rejecting Church teaching on a subject. Under this attitude, a person who votes for X, or disagrees with voting for Y, is considered to be openly rejecting the Catholic faith. But in reality, this person is simply disagreeing with our political views, but not the Church teaching, and we are in the wrong for judging them. 
  4. Finally, we have a case a person rejects the Church teaching in favor of a political teaching, saying if the Church disagrees with them the Church is wrong. In this case, the person is doing wrong, for whatever reason. The Church does have the authority to speak out on matters of faith and morals, and this includes when a nation or a political movement goes wrong. For a person to reject Church teaching as “intruding into politics” would be to give to Caesar what is God’s (cf. Matthew 22:21). 
Or, in short, we can describe these situations as: Neither is wrong, the other is wrong but in good faith, we are wrong, our opponent is wrong.

Discerning Between These Forms to do the Right Thing

Unfortunately, combox warriors have a bad habit of assuming the first three things are actually the fourth. Disagreement must be rejection of Church teaching, because we can’t possibly be wrong. The problem is, this is the kind of judgment our Lord condemned in Matthew 7:1. We’re assuming that any disagreement with how we see the world is rejecting truth itself, and assuming that rejection is done willfully. But in only one of these four cases is this true. That means in three of these cases, we are judging rashly, and committing calumny if we accuse them.

To avoid these sins, we have an obligation to discern what they intend to say, and what the Church herself teaches on the subject. Discernment, in this case, does not mean our personal reading of these things, and judging others in light of our interpretation. It means we make sure we understand what troubles us, and make certain it ought to trouble us before taking action. Then we have to make certain our reaction is just and chartable. As St. Francis de Sales as says:

Although S. Paul calls the Galatians “foolish,” and withstood S. Peter “to the face,” is that any reason why we should sit in judgment on nations, censure and abuse our superiors? We are not so many S. Pauls! But bitter, sharp, hasty men not unfrequently give way to their own tempers and dislikes under the cloak of zeal, and are consumed of their own fire, falsely calling it from heaven. On one side an ambitious man would fain have us believe that he only seeks the mitre out of zeal for souls; on the other a harsh censor bids us accept his slanders and backbiting as the utterance of a zealous mind.

 

Francis de Sales, Of the Love of God, trans. H. L. Sidney Lear (London: Rivingtons, 1888), 351.

This is a reasonable warning. The fact that St. Paul could rebuke the Galatians or offer correction to St. Peter is not permission for us to behave rudely to those we think are doing wrong. More often than not there is a risk of responding in sinful anger, confusing it with virtue. So, we have three obligations:

  1. To make sure we understand the person who offends us
  2. To make sure we understand the teaching we think he/she goes against
  3. To make sure any response we make is compatible with Our Lord’s commandments to show love and mercy

If we fail in any of these obligations, we behave unjustly, quite possibly causing harm. If we’re wrong about what a person holds, or wrong about what the Church holds, or wrong about confusing our ideology with the Catholic obligations, we condemn the other unjustly. If we are right, but react without love or mercy, we have done wrong, and quite possibly driven a person away from accepting grace.

Conclusion

As always, it is not my intent to point fingers at any individual, nor to insinuate their guilt. Rather I hope to point out a dangerous attitude showing up in disputes between Catholics on how we should behave. Yes, we need to correct the sinner. But it seems that lately we are assuming guilt, rather than asking whether our assumptions are correct. Even when we are correct, there is a growing habit to behave in a vicious way. We need to stop falsely judging those who have not done wrong, and when we correct those who do wrong, we must correct in charity. Otherwise, people might be driven away from the Catholic faith because of our own behavior, not that of the person we disagree with.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Fellow Sinner or Enemy? How Do We View Those in Error?

The internet makes it possible for more people to make their ideas known by allowing them to publish blogs and offer comments on various sites. This opportunity allows Catholics to evangelize through the internet. Unfortunately, it also allows Catholics to savage each other and publish error. There’s no oversight (our bishops have no legal authority to tell a Catholic in error to stop publishing), so anyone who wishes can comment—regardless of their level of theological knowledge and orthodoxy. As a result, there’s a lot of error out there with people wrongly proclaiming their own views to be more faithful than others. The question is what to do about it.

Of course, we can’t accept a moral relativism. Since Catholic teaching involves what we must do to be saved, errors on what the Church teaches involves errors on how we must act and may make a difference between salvation and damnation. Since we’re called to bring the message of salvation to the whole world, we need to correct those in error. The question here, assuming we are correcting actual error and not merely feeling repulsed by an opinion, is the question of tactics.

God’s grace is always involved in a person turning away from evil and towards good. However, God often makes use of human agents to carry out His will. This means how we offer correction can either cooperate with God’s means of turning someone back to Him, or else a stumbling block that acts against God’s will. If we act as a stumbling block through condescending or insulting behavior, we might drive people away from the conversion God desires for them.

Of course free will means that a person might reject our outreach. It might mean they respond abusively. We might even have to walk away instead of continuing to respond. However, we have the obligation to be certain that reaction is not in response to bad behavior on our own part (1 Peter 3:16-17). That means we must be certain our own behavior is exemplary, even when those we try to correct behave rudely. So, we have to investigate our own bad habits and weaknesses to eliminate our own offensive behavior (Proverbs 15:1). Otherwise we guarantee an angry response that is our own fault.

Part of that is remembering who we are. We’re not St. Paul rebuking St. Peter or the foolish Galatians (Galatians 3:1). We’re not the Old Testament prophets rebuking a sinful Israel. For the most part we’re members of the laity with no authority over the people we correct. Yes, the Pope or a bishop can offer a strong rebuke if they think it best. They have that authority. But all we can do is demonstrate what the Church teaching really is and how it ought to be applied. In doing so, we can’t be so offensive that they will not hear us. 

I think the difference is whether we view the erring person as a fellow servant who deserves needs salvation just as much as us, or whether we view him as our enemy who must be vanquished and humiliated, somehow hoping he will be shamed into changing. I think we need to recognize that the second option doesn’t work. If we insult the person we hope to correct, they will probably ignore the truth we might provide and assume we’re the ones in error. We should think about that. Do we really do God’s work when we treat the person we hope to correct as the Pharisees treated the Gentiles? Our Lord dined with tax collectors. We won’t even be civil with that Catholic on Facebook whose politics we find deplorable.

So, maybe we should start to consider what we hope to accomplish and whether our goals and behavior are compatible with what God calls us to be in our mission. What offends us in others, we must not do ourselves (Matthew 7:12). None of us wanted to be insulted or rashly accused. So we should not insult, and we should make certain we fully understand the position of the person in error—not merely assuming that all people who think differently from us, or do wrong, intend to openly defy the Church. Some do. But some are merely mistaken. Others simply do a poor job explaining their position. These people rightly resent being accused of supporting evil.

We should also remember the example of Pope Francis. His Year of Mercy, and continuous calls to remove stumbling blocks are aimed at getting people to think about their relationship with God, and removing the obstacles that discourage them from returning to Him. We should be emulating him. We should also consider the rebukes he issues. It’s easy to think of him just targeting the radical traditionalists, but resistance to the Church teaching comes from all sides. It’s dangerous to our soul to think that so long as we are not sinning like them, we’re doing fine. The deadliest mortal sin is the one that sends us to Hell—we might not be a murderer or a fornicator, but if we calumniate or bear false witness in a mortal way, we will be damned all the same.

We should keep this in mind. We should consider how we behave towards that one “jerk” who comments on Facebook or posts blot posts we don’t like. Do we show mercy and compassion to a fellow sinner? Or do we treat them like they are enemies who can be freely attacked or insulted? Since God has shown mercy to us, we must do the same for others.

21 Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. 23 That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. 25 Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. 26 At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ 27 Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. 28 When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. 31 Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. 32 His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. 33 Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ 34 Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. 35 q So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35)

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 C┼ôlestius 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.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Don't Be Jerks About "Don't Be Jerks" Posts

Pope Francis recently called for Christians who did wrong to people with same sex attraction to seek forgiveness. This was widely misrepresented and some Catholics wound up thinking the Pope was saying we should apologize for Church teaching. But a good number of Catholic bloggers rose to defend the Pope from these attacks, especially when they came from big names in Catholic blogging who had been defending the Church for years..

Unfortunately,there are some blog posts that seem to push an attitude of “we’re all guilty” of doing wrong to these people, and I think that will end up alienating faithful Catholics.

The problem is, the fact that some people do wrong does not mean all people do wrong and we need to avoid indicting every person who believes sin is sin. Many people were justly angered by Supreme Court justices striking down the defense of marriage laws and legalizing same sex “marriage.” They’re also justly angry when they suffer injustice.

See, anger in itself is not a sin. The 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia makes a good distinction:

Its ethical rating depends upon the quality of the vengeance and the quantity of the passion. When these are in conformity with the prescriptions of balanced reason, anger is not a sin. It is rather a praiseworthy thing and justifiable with a proper zeal. It becomes sinful when it is sought to wreak vengeance upon one who has not deserved it, or to a greater extent than it has been deserved, or in conflict with the dispositions of law, or from an improper motive.

The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History of the Catholic Church (Kindle Locations 32267-32270). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition.

We can, with prudence and balanced zeal, be angry at injustice and want it resolved—and we do not sin in such cases. We sin when our anger makes us want revenge on the innocent or by demanding more than justice allows. So, with that balance in mind, it is wrong to assume that all Christians angry at sin or for suffering injustice for their beliefs must be guilty and think they need to seek forgiveness.

As I see it, Pope Francis is talking about Christians who have treated people with same sex attraction as less than fully human, when our task is to show God’s love to our fellow sinners, even though their sins are different than ours. I believe he refers to those who think our faith justifies driving these people away and insulting them—those who go overboard in their rhetoric and those who think that we must ostracize them on account of their sins. The Pope’s message since 2013 was one of showing mercy, which is not the same as permissiveness. Each individual will have to look to their own conscience and see if they stand indicted by the Pope’s words. But neither you nor I can look at their conscience for them. We can only look at our own conscience and see whether we have failed to show love and mercy.

That means we need to stop using rhetoric that accuses and assumes that everyone must be guilty. Instead of saying "Don't be like that guy!” (which assumes bad will on the part of “that guy” and those who have similar concerns), let’s say, "Let us be merciful and charitable because that is God's will for us."

Another point we need to be aware of. Just because people take offense at us because we believe homosexual acts are wrong, does not mean we’re guilty of wronging them. Sure, if someone overlays the rainbow flag with Hitler, that’s seeking to offend. But if a Christian says, “I’m sorry, but these acts are sins,” and the person gets angry, the Christian has done no wrong. Yes, we must be careful to witness Our Lord in our words and actions. But just because someone gets angry when we will not call evil “good,” that doesn't mean we are to blame for that anger.

We should avoid both the idea that everybody is to blame and the idea that nobody is to blame. The Pope’s words call each of us to honestly examine our conscience, and see if we have done right or wrong. But let’s not use rhetoric that sounds like we think everybody has done wrong on this topic.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Love and Truth Will Meet—and Apparently Say "See Ya"

11 Love and truth will meet; 

justice and peace will kiss. 

12 Truth will spring from the earth; 

justice will look down from heaven. (Psalm 85:11–12).

Introduction

There’s an ugly battle flaming up between Catholics when it comes to the Orlando mass shooting. it’s a battle over how to address the people who have a same sex attraction when it comes to condolences. Are they a community? Or are they not? The dispute is over whether one should send condolences to the “LGBT community” or whether that would look like an endorsement of sinful acts. This seems like something which they can resolve charitably. Unfortunately, it’s gotten to the point where the two sides are practically throwing anathemas at each other, assuming the other side is guilty of bad will or even malice.

Setting Up the Situation

To sum up the two positions briefly (and hopefully, fairly):

  1. Those who think we should use term “LGBT community” say this is no different than referring to “the black community” or the “Jewish community,” and nobody should take offense or think this is an endorsement of sinful behavior.
  2. Those who oppose the use say that grouping people by their inclination or behavior is not the same as real ethnic or religious communities, but instead equates people with their behavior. Also, given the tendency of the media to present such things as “CHURCH TO CHANGE TEACHING” headlines, it does matter whether or not Catholics use this term.

So the question is over whether calling people with a disordered attraction a community is in keeping with the command to love the sinner and speaking against the sin.

There’s no official teaching on the proper form here. The official statement from the Holy See said:

The terrible massacre that has taken place in Orlando, with its dreadfully high number of innocent victims, has caused in Pope Francis, and in all of us, the deepest feelings of horror and condemnation, of pain and turmoil before this new manifestation of homicidal folly and senseless hatred. Pope Francis joins the families of the victims and all of the injured in prayer and in compassion. Sharing in their indescribable suffering he entrusts them to the Lord so they may find comfort. We all hope that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence which so deeply upsets the desire for peace of the American people and of the whole of humanity.

The Pope did not use the term, but there’s no doubt he was clear in condemning an evil act and showing love and compassion for victims and their families. So, unless wants to condemn the Pope, there is nothing wrong with avoiding the term. On the other hand, some bishops did use the term in sending condolences and Catholics dispute whether this was right.

Here’s the Problem

The problem with this debate is many debaters are openly insulting of the other side, accusing them of being bad Catholics. Hotheads among Catholics who support using the term “LGBT community” accuse those who don’t like it of bigotry and a lack of compassion for the victims and their families. Hotheads among Catholics opposed to the term accuse those who do use it of heresy and sending a false message to the world. Neither side is free of inflammatory rhetoric (So don’t go pointing fingers at the other side).

But people are assuming that a dispute proves a lack of love or a neglect of truth. Yes, we want to show compassion to the victims and their families. Yes, we want to condemn the mass shooting as something evil regardless of how the victims lived. But we also must make clear (where fitting) that our moral beliefs are not going to change because of the evil some do.

So, we have an obligation. Before we condemn a Catholic for being heretical or hateful, we have to know the intentions the speaker or writer had. Does the person who uses the term “LGBT community” mean to endorse something against Church teaching? Or is this a case of simply not thinking about the potential meanings people might draw from it? Does the person who does not use the term mean to show hatred to the victims? Or is it a case of wanting to be clear about where the Church stands?

What gets overlooked is the fact that a person may not intend what the listener/reader believes it the point. We should strive to speak clearly. But not all will have the same talent in doing so. We have to realize that condolences phrased differently than we like may not mean support of evil. It is possible the speaker is unclear or we have simply misunderstood because we give words meaning that the speaker does not intend. If the speaker uses the term, but does not mean to support sin, we must not condemn him for heresy. if the speaker does not use the term, but does not act out of hatred in doing so, we must not condemn him of bigotry. It is only when we know the person acts from a bad motive, that we can offer a rebuke.

Conclusion

It’s hypocrisy to love the person far away and hate our brother. God, who told us to love our enemies, also told us to love our neighbor as ourself. So if we call for love and compassion for the victims, but will not show it for the fellow Christian who we argue with, we are doing wrong. It’s time to stop accusing each other of bad will and time to start understanding what the other person meant, accepting different views as valid when they are compatible with Catholic belief and gently guiding them back when they are not.

Savaging each other over disagreements because we assume the other is deliberately choosing to do evil is rash judgment and we become hypocrites if we refuse to love our fellow Christian.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Political Pharisee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Intersection of Our Concerns With Truth and Charity

Catholics on Facebook and the Blogs seem to be at sixes and sevens over the state of the Church. On one hand, the Pope and the bishops are the successors to the Apostles and, as such, possess an office worthy of our love and respect when they teach. On the other hand, we have to deal with scandalous statements by some of these successors to the Apostles that seem to be appalling. The question we have to ask is: Where the line is to be drawn? How do we express our concerns without sinning against truth and charity? What makes things harder is the fact that some people, in expressing their concerns, seem to think scandalous behaviors by some justify an indictment against the whole Church.

So, we have an issue of discernment here. We want to reject the noxious weeds—whether scandalous statements by Cardinals Kasper and Daneels or scandalous statements by Catholic bloggers who reject the legitimate authority of the Church when they dislike it—without stifling legitimate petitions for redress. This discernment is one of recognizing where truth and charity intersect with our concerns. 

The issue of truth requires us to make sure that we say of what is, that it is and of what is not, that it is not (to borrow from Aristotle). But, before we can say “X is true” or “Y is false,” we have to actually know that “X is true” or “Y is false.” That’s where the problem arises. Often we tend to think that we know something, but that something is actually based on a false assumption. For example, we assume meanings to words that the speaker does not assume—because the meaning of the word has a broader meaning than the interpreter assumes. In such a case, we impute a negative meaning to the speaker and accuse him of holding that position. For example, the accusation that the Pope is a Marxist or a Liberation Theologian based on his critique of laissez faire capitalism is based on the assumption that his rhetoric has Marxist meanings. Likewise, the person who hears the Pope say “Who am I to judge” and creates out of thin air a claim that the Pope is “changing” the teaching on homosexuality. Quick research could have revealed the source of the quote—which makes that interpretation impossible.

In both cases, people assumed they knew what the Pope meant, solely based on the individual assumption on what the words mean. But truth requires us to go beyond our assumptions and find out if [What we think we know] = [The Truth]. If we do not search out the truth, we are most likely either skirting the edge of Rash Judgment or have already fallen over into outright calumny:

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

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

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

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

2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity. (1753)
 

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 594–595.

That brings us to scrutinizing our concerns with charity. Are we prepared to consider the possibility that a bishop isn’t acting out of bad will jut because his way of handling things isn’t the same as ours, and that we might think differently if we had his information? Sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes there is no alternative interpretation possible. But when we reach that level (and remember our obligation to seek the truth requires us to ask whether our assumptions are true) then we have to correct with love. That is often neglected. How many people who rightly recognize that the Church is not a democracy, become quite “democratic” in dishing out abuse to the clergy they dislike? How many people actually consider St. Thomas Aquinas’ words:

I answer that, A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction.

 

Now an act which proceeds from a habit or power extends to whatever is contained under the object of that power or habit: thus vision extends to all things comprised in the object of sight. Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the Apostle says (1 Tim. 5:1): An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as a father. Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep. viii.), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning him out of the church.

 

Reply Obj. 1. It would seem that a subject touches his prelate inordinately when he upbraids him with insolence, as also when he speaks ill of him: and this is signified by God’s condemnation of those who touched the mount and the ark. (Summa Theologica STh., II-II q.33 a.4 resp.–ad 1)

 

 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne).

With all seriousness, where is this gentleness and respect? People are willing to insult a bishop or even the Pope with what St. Thomas Aquinas calls “Impudence and harshness,” never seeking to discover whether there might be misinterpretation by one’s personal reading or by the source one gets their information from.

That’s ultimately the problem. Whether it is a conservative Catholic who disagrees with the Pope, a liberal who disagrees with the bishop, (or, recently, the academic who wants to get Ross Douthat fired from his position), we find one of three problems:

  1. The attack lacks truth
  2. The attack lacks charity
  3. The attack lacks both truth and charity.

Whenever we feel the need to write about a problem with the Church, or a leader of the Church, we have the obligation to seek the truth, to be charitable in how we interact with those we disagree with and make sure we do respect those in authority when expressing our concerns. Otherwise, our behavior is not praiseworthy, but shameful. This is something we all need to practice—I’m sure some of my readers are looking at what I’ve written and are rolling their eyes over my own blind spots in this area. Yes, I have to work on this too."So let us show love and respect for the Pope and bishops when we are troubled with the behavior of some, and let us show love and respect for our fellow Catholics with whom we disagree with. Let us make sure that we seek out the truth and not merely the views of our preferred news sites. Let us show charity, and not disdain for those we disagree with.

Otherwise, we may find that the measure we used will be used against us (Matthew 7:2)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Catholic Bloggers Behaving Badly

In these times, the most problematic issues involve the open advocating of disobedience to the magisterium. That needs to be opposed of course because it can lead Catholics into denying the authority of the Church and lose faith in the promises of Our Lord. So it is natural for Catholic bloggers to focus on this, standing up to say “This behavior is not ‘good’ Catholicism. It is schismatic."

But that being said, it is possible for a Catholic to do harm in other ways, even if they practice the faith without dissenting. In other words, how one presents the message can actually alienate people away from seeking the truth. For example, the Church makes clear that we have moral obligations to aid the poor and the refugees. A Catholic who chooses to reject the teaching does wrong. However, when Catholics disagree on the ways and means of carrying out Church teaching, it is certainly wrong to accuse them of being bad Catholics for thinking another strategy is better than the popular one.

In other words, two faithful Catholics can have different ideas on how to implement social justice but, provided that they accept the authority of the Church and strive to obey her teachings, can have different ideas on how to carry out that teaching. So when a blogger should happen to label people as being indifferent to suffering or racist because they have a different idea on how to deal with illegal immigration, that accusation is unjust if the other person agrees with the Church teaching and is trying to follow it. Likewise, when it comes to an issue like gun violence, there can be legitimate differences of opinions on how to solve it. But to label the person who disagrees with banning all guns as lying or being indifferent to suffering, that does not help spread the Catholic faith—it merely causes scandal by leading someone who agrees with the Church position to think he or she has no place in the Church.

So we have to discern. If two people support the Church teaching on X, but disagree on how to best follow teaching X, neither person is a heretic. But on the other hand, if one person supports the Church teaching on X while a second rejects that teaching on X, the second person cannot pretend to be a good Catholic so long as they reject the Church teaching.

This problem is compounded when abusive language is added to the mix. When we defend Pope Francis and his method of teaching, we certainly would be wise in emulating his example. When people are running afoul of Church teaching, the Pope reaches out with mercy and compassion. We should go and do likewise. That doesn’t mean tolerate bad actions as if they were good. That means we show the sinner how to change their ways without acting like a jerk over it. But if the person agrees with the Church teaching but has a different take on what approach to use, to be abusive is to behave shamefully. There can be many different ministries with the same end.

So in addition to defending the faith, we must defend it rightly and charitably. If blogger A presents the Church teaching rightly, but acts like a jerk about how he does so, then he causes harm, alienating our fellow believers and driving them away from their own mission. That’s damaging and more likely to drive the believers from the Church than to serve Our Lord’s will.

But on the other hand, we cannot confuse our political beliefs with our faith. Do our politics reflect our faith? Or do our politics shape our belief? If we choose option #2, we are choosing wrong, making an idol out of our politics.

But let’s be reasonable. Seeking a just and merciful solution to illegal immigration does not mean supporting a blanket amnesty. Opposing gun violence does not mean that only supporting a ban on all firearms is compatible with the Catholic faith. Standing up for the Church teaching on the death penalty or just war does not mean there will be perfect agreement on whether a particular instance of the death penalty is just or a particular war is just.

So let’s stop with the sarcastic remarks about “the thing that used to be conservatism” or accusing people who question the value of welfare as it is currently being implemented as being “not truly pro-life.” There is a difference between The Church Teaching and what I think needs to be done to carry it out. The former is not up for debate. The latter sometimes is.

If we make this mistake, we will have to answer for corrupting the message of the Church and for those we alienate for no good reason. Let us remember the words of the Church on Rash Judgment:

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

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

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

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

 

 Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 594.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Avoiding the Error of the Pharisees

In my opinion, the Pharisees are important to consider in this day and age in the Church. I don’t say that to use the group as an epithet, nor to use an ad hominem to target bloggers I disagree with. I think we need to consider them because they did have an attitude towards religion that seemed right from a human perspective, but ultimately that attitude fell short in the eyes of God.

Briefly, the view of the Pharisee was (seeking to avoid pejorative terms) that one was faithful to God by keeping His laws. In doing so, they offered their interpretation of how the Law was best followed. People who did not follow that interpretation were considered sinners. In contrast, because they followed the Law in accordance with their interpretation, they believed they were holy. It strikes me as being an “either-or” fallacy. Either one followed their interpretation of the Law and were holy, or they did not follow their interpretation of the Law, and were corrupted. The problem is, the either-or fallacy overlooks the possibility of there being more than two options—in this case, the fact that it was not enough to follow the observance of the Law. Jesus did not fault the Pharisees for keeping the Law. He faulted them for failing to love God and neighbor while keeping the law (Matthew 23:23).

The historic Pharisees were, of course, something that emerged from Jewish culture. But we should not think that the attitude of the Pharisee is limited to Judaism. it seems to me that the mindset which motivated the Pharisee can exist in Christianity in general. This includes existing in the Catholic faith. The either-or fallacy can be found among members of the faith as well. As Catholics, we believe that if we would love God, we must keep His commandments (John 14:15, Matthew 7:21, 1 John 5:2-3). However, a Catholic who only kept the commandments and did not love His brother, would be just as in the wrong (see 1 John 4:20-21) as the individual who thought one could ignore God’s commands so long as they showed love for the unfortunate. The Catholic teaching recognizes that we must both act rightly and love rightly.

The historical Pharisees were right in recognizing that some actions done against the Law were sins. Likewise, the Pharisee mindset in the Church rightly recognizes that if people refuse to follow the moral teachings of the Church, they do wrong. Where this mindset goes wrong is in assuming that since they do not behave that way, they stand before God holy and righteous. But Jesus called the Pharisees “Whitewashed tombs,” (Mathew 23:27) because their internal attitudes were wrong, regardless of how rigorously they kept the law.

Today, I see the Pharisee mindset most flagrantly in the opposition to Pope Francis. This opposition stems from an interpretation from a certain group of Catholics on how one is to be faithfully Catholic. This interpretation includes an implied mindset of thinking that sinners should be cast off from the Church. Yet the Pope makes an effort to reach out to these people where they are. Whether it is the washing the feet of a Muslim girl in a youth prison on Holy Thursday, whether it is praising a single mother for choosing life, or dialoging with atheists and non-believers, or reaching out to the divorced and remarried and the person with same-sex attraction, he is reaching out to the sinners and calling them to the love of God. As he said in a September, 2013 interview:

“I see clearly, that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up.

What he does is laudable. But some people look at this approach, and challenge his supporters with words very similar to the words the Pharisees addressed to the Apostles, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11). The Pharisees were scandalized with Our Lord. Today, many are scandalized with Pope Francis, even though he is not doing anything contrary to the Church teaching—only contrary to a personal (and non-authoritative) interpretation of the Church teaching.

So, how do we avoid the error of the Pharisees? It is imperative that we do avoid it, because Our Lord saw fit to condemn it. We must avoid it by changing our attitudes:

  • We must stop thinking that our keeping the commandments is enough before God.
  • We must stop thinking that those who failed to keep the commandments are to be cast away.

Or, as Jesus said:

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them [a scholar of the law]* tested him by asking, 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

If we forget this, we are not keeping His commandments—a requirement of loving Him. Each individual will have to look into their own heart, knowing God is their judge, and ask whether they have fallen into the error of the Pharisee, thinking only about keeping the commandments and lacking the love that goes with it. It is an easy thing to do today with such hostility towards the Church and some Catholics flagrantly defying the Church teaching and seeming to get away with it.

Yes, we need to speak out against sin—but not in the mindset of “The Church needs to put those bastards in their place!” It needs to be done out of love, with concern for the fate of the individual who falls into sin. We need to love the person with same sex attraction, the woman who has an abortion and the Catholic politician who flagrantly votes against Catholic teaching, and our approach to their sins should be one of bringing them back to God and reconciled with His Church. Otherwise, we may have to face the final judgment with the reality of “the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matthew 7:1b)

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, April 13, 2015

Mercy and Misunderstanding

Prodigal Son(The Return of the Prodigal Son, James Tissot)

The Bull Misericordiae Vultus, announcing a jubilee beginning with Advent 2015, has been released to mixed response. The response tends to be based on how one understands concepts like mercy and justice. With the modern tendency towards turning these terms into buzzwords, people tend to interpret the reports as if they were political rhetoric, and either approve or disapprove based on what the buzzwords mean. But we need to realize that mercy and justice have much deeper meanings in the Church, and this bull needs to be read with the understanding that the Church has for these words.

Summary of the Bull

Pope Francis published the Bull Misericordiae Vultus (“Face of Mercy” if Google Translate got it right) announcing the jubilee year of mercy. The text and the concept is a beautiful one. It seeks to tear down the barriers which keep people from turning back to God—the kind of thing where people have encountered bad experiences in the Church which leave them fearful or resentful of turning to the Church. Some might feel they cannot be saved because of fear. Others may have encountered bad experiences with members of the Church which lead them to think the experience is the norm.

The Pope recognizes that there must be more to evangelization than admonition. There must be “respect and love” and “encouraging remedies" (MV #4). The bull is a message of urging encouragement, stressing God’s love for the sinner and calling the sinner to be reconciled and healed by God. He points out Jesus’ compassion for the people who seek Him and provided for their deepest needs. He stresses how Jesus’ parables show God as a Father who never rests until He finds the lost and brings them back. Such mercy is not only for the institutional Church to deal out in the Sacraments. We are all called to show mercy to others because mercy was first shown to us by God (MV #9).

The bull speaks about how we as human beings judge only superficially, not knowing the depths of the soul that the Father can see. We are to accept the good in each person and forgive. It calls on us to rediscover the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, reminding us of God judging us based on whether we have aided those in need, whether physical or spiritual. The Pope insists on confessors being “authentic signs of the Father’s mercy” (MV #17), behaving as the father in the parable of the prodigal son—running out to meet the son despite the fact that he has squandered his inheritance, and expressing the joy of his return.

Then, in what seems to be a part overlooked in this bull, the Pope reminds people that justice and mercy are not contradictory, but “two dimensions of a single reality” (MV #20). Justice gives the individual what is rightly due, and God is the Judge. Justice, avoiding legalism, is seen as “faithful abandonment of oneself to God’s will.” Our Lord sought to break down the legalistic view that divides people into the just and the sinners—seeking to reach out to all sinners, offering the salvation. We have to go beyond considering the border of goodness as “formal respect for the law.” Mercy is God reaching out to the sinner to give him a new opportunity (MV #21) to repent and believe.

Reflections on What It Calls Us to Be

The bull is very insightful and should be read as a reminder of what God is calling us to be. It certainly strikes me as a challenge for a Catholic blogger. We need to avoid being barriers to people seeking mercy, and that means we must be careful in not choosing rhetoric that leaves a person believing that God is unapproachable or that we do not want them to return to the Church. Even when our blog is based on defending the teachings of the Church unpopular in modern culture (sexual morality or social justice depending on the ideological outlook), we have to do so in a way that does not leave the reader who happens to be at odds with the Church either defiant or despairing.

It means we have to avoid putting people into “us” and “them” categories or “saints” and “sinners” categories where we put ourselves in the category of the “good" and others in the category of “you horrible people!” It means we have to be showing people how to return to Christ’s Church and live rightly, not writing angry articles about how the bishops need to throw out some person or another. That’s not to say we have to capitulate on dissent (see below), but it does mean we have to stop acting like the angry guard dog on a chain barking and growling at everything that is out of the ordinary, failing to distinguish between the hostile intruder and the person needing help.

What this Document is Not Saying

However, one thing we need to remember is that a call for mercy and not judgment on our part does not mean changing Church teaching from “X is a sin” to “X is not a sin.” God has called us to live in a certain way which reflects His goodness. Accepting mercy means thinking like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable, saying "O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). The person who seeks mercy knows they have done wrong and wants to return to a healthy relationship. The person who does not accept that they have done wrong may want to return to a healthy relationship, but he or she is refusing to seek mercy.

So, the Pope is calling on those of us in the Church who have sought and received mercy from God, to show mercy to those who are at odds with us or the Church (see Matthew 18 23-35). That doesn’t mean that we are to call evil good. It means we are to act like the father of the prodigal son and embrace the returning sinner. The Church cannot say that abortion, contraception, same-sex acts etc. are no longer sins, because God has made clear that loving Him means keeping the commandments (see John 14:15 and 1 John 5:1-6).

So the person who hopes or fears that this jubilee of mercy is going to be changing the teaching of the Church, that is simply false. This isn’t a matter of letting people do whatever the hell they want. This is a matter of shepherds going out to find the lost sheep, and rejoicing when it is found and returned. We can't be saying “Stay out until you can behave!” It is a case of saying “Please come back to God who loves you!” Some may refuse the offer of mercy, but we can’t stop seeking to lead them back. If they refuse and die in their refusal, that is for God to judge. But if we don’t seek them out and try to bring them back, we too will be judged (see Ezekiel 33:1-18).

So, this document is not saying “The Church must change her teaching” or “you must let people do what they want.” It is saying we can’t write people off as irredeemable. We have to keep trying to reach them, avoiding the judgment that says “I’ve done enough—to hell with you!” That strikes me as key here. mercy neither means “Stop saying that what I do is a sin!” nor “That’s the limit and I don’t have to reach out to you anymore!” Even the Church penalty of excommunication is not done so as to amputate a diseased limb, but as to show the person how serious the sin is in hopes of bringing them back. It’s a tool to be used like a scalpel—not a sledgehammer.

Conclusion

What seems most important to remember is the Pope is not calling for moral laxity. He’s calling for a change of heart, both in the sinner estranged from God and His Church, and in the person who has already been converted by His grace. To the person estranged, the Pope is calling for them to accept God’s mercy and return to Him and His Church. To those who have received God’s mercy, God is calling us to be merciful to those who wrong us and to not stand in the door to keep those we dislike away from reconciliation.