Showing posts with label temptation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label temptation. Show all posts

Friday, March 27, 2020

What Are We Doing?

James Tissot, Jesus Tempted In the Wilderness
As we continue our national shutdown and become the country with the highest (recorded) number of cases, we become more reliant on social media to interact with each other. For some of us, this isn’t much of a change. For others, it’s a drastic disruption on how we live. But changed or not, life does go on.

Our life as Catholics goes on too. We may not have access to Mass or the Sacraments, but our call to live as faithful Christians continues. So we need to ask ourselves—what are we doing in this time of self-isolation? Are we using the time of isolation which we have to turn further to God and bear witness to Him? Or are we behaving in a way that hides from Him in our personal lives or defaces how He appears in the eyes of others?

Like it or not, many of us are having our Lenten time in the desert (cf. Matthew 4:1-11) in a more imposing sense than we would like, and we have to decide how to face it. Obviously the person who works in an essential job or a mother of young children will not have the same opportunities as a single person who works from home. So it would be foolish to write about one way of living the Catholic life as if it were something all should follow.

But all of us should be asking ourselves what we could be doing in this time in the desert that our abilities and capacity can handle. If we approach it that way, seeking God’s will and asking for His grace, we might find ourselves growing closer to God.

But if we just use this time to continue our vendettas and petty squabbles, we might be shocked to learn we have fallen away from Him and alienated ourselves from each other.


(†) To avoid any confusion here, I am not talking about when the Church binds us to do or avoid something. The Church can and does make legitimate universal requirements of us. I am talking about the “It’s so easy—all you have to do is…” attitude that is so easy for us to fall into in judging others.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Reflecting on “Silence”

I watched the Martin Scorsese film Silence last night. It was a well made film that makes one think about the ends and means of one’s actions. 

Saying that it’s well made is not an endorsement of its moral quality here. It’s not a film for casual viewing: the USCCB has given it an “L” rating (limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling). It’s a justified rating because the actions of the protagonist are incompatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church. The review rightly warns:

Those lacking such a foundation [of being well grounded in their faith] could be led astray, drawing the conclusion that mercy toward the suffering of others can sometimes justify sin. While Catholics who are blessed with the freedom to practice their faith in peace are hardly in a position to judge those facing martyrdom, the principle that circumstances can mitigate guilt but not transform wrong into right remains universally valid.

This article is not a review of the movie. Rather, it is a reflection on the attitude of the protagonist Fr. Sebastian Rodrigues. The thing that struck me as I watched it was a theme that came up again and again: The temptation to ask, How could God be “silent” in the face of suffering the Japanese Christians endured?

In this movie, Fr. Rodrigues couldn’t answer it and fell into doubt, witnessing the tortures the faithful endured, combined with the duress given by the chief persecutor and the spurious rationalizations made by another apostatizing priest. He ends up apostatizing himself, spending the rest of his life rooting out smuggled religious goods and writing “refutations” of the Catholic Faith. The movie implies that he might have repented in the end by showing, at his cremation, a small crucifix in his hands as his casket is consumed by fire. The book, by 

Shūsaku Endō, reportedly treated the apostasy by Fr. Rodrigues as a morally “good” act§ to save others from torment. Japanese Catholics almost unanimously condemned the book when it was published in 1966.

The thing that struck me, watching the film, was the slow motion train wreck of a trap that Fr. Rodrigues fell into. He couldn’t grasp how God could allow His people to suffer and began to see it as “silence” on the part of God. This weakened him under the torture the inquisitor (the movie’s chosen term) inflicted on Japanese Christians to get him to apostatize, telling him it was his fault and the spurious argument (posited by the apostate Ferreira) that Christianity wasn’t suited for Japan. The final result was “hearing” Jesus telling him to step on the fumi-e (a religious image suspected Christians were forced to step on as an act of apostasy) to be “like” him and save His people would certainly be an insult to the martyrs who died rather than perform a “meaningless” gesture like burn a pinch of incense in Roman times, step on the fumi-e in Japan, or in whatever form we might face the attack.

Persecution, the rise of heresy and schism, corruption in the Church, and other evils are not a sign of God’s “silence.” Nor are they signs of His “weakness” or “nonexistence.” We may not do evil so that good may come of them, and a good intention does not change the fact that an act is evil. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out:

1756 It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it. (1789)

We in the West may never face overt persecution (I pray we are never put to that test). Most of what we face comes from unjust lawsuits, and other harassment where we are tempted daily to compromise.

But we should beware of thinking that the flaws of the characters Fr. Rodrigues and Fr. Ferreira were simply that they were “weak” men who failed, but we wouldn’t. Whenever we entertain doubts that something we don’t like is a failure on the part of God, we are falling into the trap that they did. Whenever we’re tempted to think that a good intent “justifies” our evil act, or that the consequences we oppose are an exemption to our moral obligations, we are behaving like these characters. We will always encounter hardships in life. Some will encounter hardships that are worse than ours. But those hardships never exempt us from doing good and opposing evil.

We should keep this in mind when we face our constant mild trials, and if we should face an insurmountable trial, we need to pray to God that we be given the grace to do what we’re called to do, and not try to rely on our own preferences and strength.


(§) As a disclaimer, I have not read the novel. This assessment comes from other sources. But they’re unanimous that the scene with the crucifix did not happen and seemed contrary to the novel.

Monday, August 15, 2011

TFTD: The ME Magisterium

Preliminary Note: Obviously, I'm not saying ANYTHING a priest or bishop does must be right.  However, when the Pope or bishop teaches authoritatively, even if not ex cathedra, we are bound to obey.  I think there is a great deal of confusion about this.


In a past blog, I mentioned offhand that I thought the work Father Elijah by Michael O'Brien was mediocre.  As I struggled to reread it last night, I've decided it is about as wretched and dubious as the Left Behind books, although in a different way.  The reason I have come to this conclusion is because the author presents the Church (whether intentionally or not) as being good or bad depending on whether the Church follows his views.  In the book, the Pope and certain bishops and priests are shown to be good people.  The rest are portrayed to be bad people, being cowardly, or acting out of malice.  In this work of fiction (which needs to be stressed.  It's not a doctrinal work) These good priests and bishops fit a mindset which O'Brien approves of.  The rest are either part of a cabal or are under pressure from a cabal which seeks to subvert Church teaching.

It's a mindset which also appears on certain Catholic blogs.  There is a heroic minority, loyal to the Pope (usually) in the face of a widespread attempt to subvert the Church.

I find a tendency to "Either-Or" thinking here.  Either a priest or bishop is flawless OR he is someone to be rejected.  Such a view has no place for the concept of the man afflicted by original sin, who can make errors of judgment without being a heretic maliciously plotting the downfall of the Church.

The Danger of Overconfidence in Our Own Righteousness

I guess what I fear about this kind of thinking is that it is easy to fall into the error.  It can lead towards the idea that our idea of the Church is the right one, and the Pope and the Bishops and the Priests stand judged on whether they live up to our ideals.  There is also a tendency to make everything wrong within the Church out to be a case of organized malice.  Modernist priests and nuns are seen as proof of a conspiracy to remake the Church into some sort of liberal social group.

Then when the Magisterium of the Church does something we dislike it is taken as proof of the Church being under the influence of these individuals and their philosophy.  Reception of the Eucharist in the Hand?  Mass in the Vernacular?  Altar Girls?  Bishops condemning injustice in American Immigration policies?  Obviously the Church must be under the influence of the liberals and modernists!

This mindset is ironically very similar to that of the liberals within the Church, who believe that we are proof that the Church is under the influence of radical conservatives who are seeking to subvert the true Spirit of the Church.  Thus the Magisterium gets accused by both sides of being tools of the other side.

I'm inclined to think the problem within the Church is actually something along these lines.  We confuse our preferences with Church teaching, and if the Church teaching goes against what we think is best, well it must mean the Church is wrong:




Ultimately we need to remember something.  Christ is the head of the Church.  He has entrusted to the Successor of Peter (Matthew 16:19) and to the College of Bishops in communion with him (Matthew 18:18) and He has promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18) and that he would be with the Church always (Matthew 28:20).  The Church will not err when it comes to a matter involving our salvation.

Individual Flaws in a Flawless Church

This doesn't mean that the individuals within the Magisterium will always behave in a manner which is flawless.  Remember, the Apostles ran away when Jesus was arrested.  Peter's personal behavior in Galatia needed to be rebuked by Paul (Galatians 2:11-14).  That doesn't mean the Apostles were never again to be trusted.  It means the Lord chose men who were sinners – like we all are – with the task of carrying out His mission in bringing the message of salvation to the whole world.

Yes, we can have embarrassing incidents where the Pope kisses the Koran not realizing his actions will be misinterpreted.  Yes we can have scandalous incidents, such as bishops kicking things under the table (like the sexual abuse scandals) or ignoring liturgical abuses – hoping these things will go away if ignored.  It's not wrong to be troubled by these things.

Since the bishop is supposed to be the witness to the faith, since he is supposed to be the successor to the Apostles, we should be able to look to him as a source of strong teaching.  However, we need to distinguish between the Bishop who teaches authoritatively and the individual who wears the mitre making a bad judgment or actually sinning.

A bad judgment does not automatically mean a heretical priest or bishop.  Nor does a sinful action on the part of the priest or bishop. 

I think I should also point out that just because the Pope, Bishop or Priest acts in a way which we dislike does NOT automatically mean he is a heretic or exercising bad judgment.  We have to recognize the possibility of our own misunderstanding of Church teaching.  We have to recognize that some members of the Magisterium may intend to do right, and make an error on the best way to act in following Church teaching.


But let us not fall into the mindset that because some have caused scandal that the whole is corrupt.  Especially let us not fall into the mindset that we cannot fall into error.  We can and do.  Jesus Christ gave us a Church which does have the authority to teach and which the Holy Spirit prevents from teaching error.

If we forget this, we can be deceived into deifying our own likes into dogmas and judging the legitimate authority by our authority.

We must always pray to be protected from error… both ourselves and those who have been entrusted with the position of leading the Church.