Showing posts with label trust. Show all posts
Showing posts with label trust. Show all posts

Saturday, January 15, 2022

It’s Iimi! Trust and Dialogue

When Pope Francis spoke to diplomats, he mentioned "Cancel Culture" (he used the English word) as one of the dangers of this time. He described the phenomenon as we know it in the west. It would be easy to think that "Only they do that but We do not," and conclude that We do not need to change.

 

The Problem with that kind of thinking is that the Pope's remedy is something we all should do but tend to neglect when we interact with others we disagree with: The Willingness to take part in... TRUST AND DIALOGUE.

















Sunday, October 31, 2021

It’s Iimi! Did The Pope Actually Say It?

It’s quite possible that the Vatican will make a statement, assuming that the “private conversation” did not involve the seal of confession. In such a case, it’s possible that we’ll be told something I did not consider. If that happens, I’ll try to add a commentary about my understanding to this text above the comic.

After visiting Pope Francis, Joe Biden told the media (some sources seem to think he was just trying to dismiss the subject) that the Pope said he was a great Catholic and that he should keep on receiving the Eucharist.

In this comic, Iimi and Paula discuss the story. Iimi points out that right now there are no facts or context to the claimed statement and looks into why we must not rashly assume that things are as claimed. We cannot accuse the Pope of ignoring the evil of abortion.

What we can and must do is pray for the Pope and the President. And, if the reader is troubled, praying for peace of mind is also good.

(I will be resuming the current story arc. I just thought this should be written to address the concerns American Catholics are feeling.)







Friday, October 11, 2019

The Faithful Who Forgot to Believe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


_______________

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

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

(#) The relevant canons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

(*) From the Catechism:

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

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

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



Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Do You Not Yet Have Faith?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Ultimately, God is in Charge

As you may have noticed, I'm frustrated by all the sniping and accusations going on between Catholic factions. I find it demoralizing to orthodox Catholics and likely to lead others to think we don’t have anything better to offer them. I’ve written several articles on that theme. Of course, my blog has a small reach, and even if I had a larger one, words alone cannot persuade people to change. It’s a matter of grace. I have no say over who receives grace, nor who responds or rejects Him. This is the point when you see people going in the wrong way, beyond your control: one can either become bitter or one can turn to God and trust Him.

Blessed John Henry Newman described it well in his Grammar of Assent. In talking about the difference between the Catholic who remains faithful and the Catholic who breaks away from the faith:

The reason, if we may conjecture, may sometimes be this: he has never believed in the Church’s infallibility; in her doctrinal truth he has believed, but in her infallibility, no. He was asked, before he was received, whether he held all that the Church taught, he replied he did; but he understood the question to mean, whether he held those particular doctrines “which at that time the Church in matter of fact formally taught,” whereas it really meant “whatever the Church then or at any future time should teach.”

 

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

Each person, whether a convert or someone baptized as an infant, must choose to trust the Church is infallible because of God, or else he will lose faith in the Church because they don’t believe God protects the Church. To believe God protects the Church means we must not only believe that God protected the Church from error up to this point, but we must also believe God will continue to protect His Church from teaching error, regardless of who the Pope may be, or what condition the world is in.

Yes, we’ll continue to see problems. Church history tells us of crises far worse than the current one. But we either trust Him to protect His Church built on the rock of Peter and his successors, or we will be building on sand, and our faith will collapse. I think, in the end, we need to follow the example of St. John XXIII as told by Monsignor Loris Capovilla, his private secretary. and related by Cardinal Dolan: Every day, about midnight, there St. John XXIII…

“…would kneel before the Blessed Sacrament. There he would rehearse his problems he had encountered that day: the bishop who came in to tell of his priests massacred and his nuns raped in the Congo; the world leader who came to tell him of his country’s plight in war and asking his help; the sick who came to be blessed; the refugees writing for help; the newest round of oppression behind the Iron Curtain. As Pope John would go over each problem, examining his conscience to see if he had responded to each with effective decisions and appropriate help, he would finally take a deep breath and say, “Well I did the best I could….It’s your Church, Lord. I’m going to bed. Good night.” (Dolan, Cardinal Timothy M. Priests for the Third Millennium.)

This isn’t indifference to problems in the Church. Nor is it abdication of responsibility. It is a recognition that we are limited and need to turn to God, entrusting the Church to Him instead of building up an ulcer worrying about what is beyond our control. Ultimately God is in charge. We can either be faithful and give assent to the teachings of the Church while trusting God when we’re troubled, or we can obsess about what we don’t like, gradually losing faith—first in the Church, and then in God who promised to protect her.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Thoughts on Difficulties and Doubt

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

 

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

Introduction

Let’s begin with a personal anecdote: Sometimes I come across difficulties with parts of Scripture and theology. I ask myself How does THAT work? Whether it’s some harsh passages of the Old Testament, or when a Pope or a Saint says something that seems different from my understanding of how things fit together, it can be jarring. Then there’s always the example of Catholics behaving badly throughout history, I have an ideal on what the Church should be, and I compare that to the real life example if actual Catholics, and find that even heroic Catholics have done troubling things.

But while I have difficulties at times, I have never had any doubt about the authority of Church teaching or Our Lord’s protecting the Church from error. So I submit to the teaching of the Church, trusting  that however God might judge an issue, it will be done in a way that reflects His justice and mercy both. I would certainly resent any accusations that I denied or doubted the teaching of the Church because of my difficulties on comprehending how a teaching works. Why? Because I do not reject the teaching as I try to understand it better.

I believe that if I were to doubt the mercy of God or the teaching of the Church on a matter, I would soon find myself at odds with both God and His Church. I would be making myself the arbiter of what should be where I presume to pass judgment on things I have no right to do so. I think those paying attention to what goes on in our faith are aware of the factionalism arising in the Church. We’ve been seeing the anti-Francis attacks since the day he became Pope which assumes what he does differently is “heretical.” Sadly, we’re seeing an emerging position that declares all persons who oppose the Pope must be “schismatic.” I think both of these movements confuse difficulty and doubt, either in their own minds or in the behavior of others, and we need to discern the real difference to avoid the twin dangers of losing faith by harboring doubts, and the rash judgment of assuming another’s difficulty is a doubt.

Doubt from Ourself

I think we harbor doubt when what we see something we do not understand and assume something must be wrong with it because we’re not comfortable with how it sounds. If we’ve invested in a certain opinion or school of thought, then a shift of emphasis sounds like “error” instead of a legitimate change of how we approach something. If we take this difficulty and assume the Church must have gone wrong, we are harboring a doubt in the belief that God protects His Church from teaching error. In a similar way, when we try to find reasons to deny that a teaching we dislike is actually a teaching, we are harboring doubts about the authority of the Church to bind and loose.

These and similar attitudes to these lead to doubting that what the Church teaches is done with God’s authority and with His assurance that He will not permit the Church to teach us error. Once we embrace this doubt, we will replace trust in God with trust in ourselves, thinking that if the Church does not act as we see fit, she must be in error.

Assuming Doubt in Others

On the other hand, some assume that a difficulty with a teaching automatically equals a rejection of that teaching. A person who voices their concern with how people might misinterpret a Church teaching (while accept the validity of that teaching) is not doubting. Yes, we want to avoid legalism in following Church teaching, but one can wrestle with understanding what the teaching means and one’s limited capacity to understand (and by being human, we do have a limited capacity).

One example I see with this, is in the recent attacks on Cardinal Burke in Social media comments. I have seen some Catholics treat him with the same abusiveness that anti-Francis Catholics direct at the Pope. But, regardless of what thinks about how he’s handled things or how his supporters have used/misused his words, much of what he says and does seems based on difficulties in reconciling the teaching authority of the Pope with his understanding on the Church teaching on marriage—but he does not doubt either one. While I don’t approve of how he handled the issue of the dubia, he denies the Pope is in heresy, and should not be treated as a schismatic that rejects the authority of the Pope along the lines of Canon 751.

Conclusion

I think we need to remember our limitations. The fact that we have difficulties reconciling two teachings of the Church does not mean one must be false. But, if we try to downplay one in the name of defending our conception of the Church, that is a warning that we are harboring a doubt. At the same time, when we see people expressing a misgiving, we should be certain they are actually harboring a doubt before accusing them of doing so. They just might be trying to accept the truth but are having trouble in understanding how to do so. We must be careful in not being the stumbling block that turns their difficulty to doubt.

So let us avoid turning difficulty to doubt by remembering that while our own knowledge and power are finite, God’s knowledge and power are not—and He can and will protect His Church. And let us avoid accusing a fellow Christian of doubting if all he is doing is working his way through a difficulty. If such a one submits to the authority of the Church while struggling to understand, we should help them, not attack them.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

What's the Point?

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him!”  (Luke 12:4-5 RSV2CE)  

Whenever times are difficult, especially when one has doubts about the morality of the choices involved, we need to ask ourselves, “What is so important that we would rather die than compromise over it?” The martyrs knew the answer to that. When it came to a choice between compromising on their faith or accepting suffering and death, they put their faith over saving their lives. That should make us think. If the saints preferred martyrdom over betraying their faith, how much more should we be willing to prefer lesser suffering rather than compromise our own faith?

I think this is where Catholics in affluent nations are being most tempted. We’re so focussed on our comforts and rights—so afraid of losing them—that we’re tempted to compromise on the faith to protect them. We might not literally commit idolatry, but it often happens that situations tempt Catholics to say about Church teaching, “Well that’s not as important,” when we’re offered the choice to compromise to escape hardship. We try to find excuses that justify compromise to avoid what we fear.

What this means is we’re often choosing silence in the face of real evils, downplaying them in favor of our political or cultural values in order to escape discomfort. That’s exactly the choice we’re forbidden to make if we profess to be Christians, and there are consequences in making that choice.

Now, it is natural to want to avoid unnecessary suffering, and Christians have never been obliged to seek out martyrdom. But if the time comes where we have to make that choice, then we have to ask ourselves what is most important. We need to ask whether our love of comfort is interfering with seeking our greatest good—salvation. If we know God wants us to behave one way, but that way is at odds with our desires, we have to sacrifice our desires to do His will.

God loves all of us—even those we are tempted to despise—but we have to respond to that love. That response is not just saying we love God. It means we have to do what He wills (John 14:15, Matthew 7:21-23). If we decide that God will save us in spite of ourselves so we can do as we will, that’s the sin of presumption. Yes, God does forgive sins. He provided a Sacrament with that express purpose after all. But if we’re not sorry for our action and if we’re willing to do it again if the situation arises, then we are refusing this forgiveness—we’re demanding that God legitimize our sin. If we refuse His forgiveness, we will not be forgiven.

Going a step further, if we refuse to ask if we might have gone wrong, we won’t repent, we won’t seek forgiveness, and we will not receive forgiveness. That isn’t injustice on God’s part. That is facing justice after refusing mercy.

None of us can save ourselves. We need God’s grace, which is a gift. None of us can claim it as a right. He is always willing to give it, but all too often we don’t want to give up our wrong desires in exchange. We want cheap grace and resent having to give up anything in exchange. In fact, we think it is unreasonable. But if we don’t give these things up, if we think they “don’t really matter,” then we’re not turning to God. We’re demanding He turn to us and accept us on our own terms. We’re not pleading for grace, we’re demanding a handout. I think here, we should consider the words of St. Alphonsus Liguori:

We, in a word, are merely beggars, who have nothing but what God bestows on us as alms: But I am a beggar and poor. The Lord, says St. Augustine, desires and wills to pour forth his graces upon us, but will not give them except to him who prays. “God wishes to give, but only gives to him who asks.”5 This is declared in the words, Seek, and it shall be given to you. Whence it follows, says St. Teresa, that he who seeks not, does not receive.

 

 Alphonsus Liguori, The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1886), 27.

We need to ask for, not demand, the graces God willingly gives.

Keeping this in mind, we need to examine every situation we face in life and ask what a Christian in need of salvation must do to remain in God’s graces and to bear witness to others through our words and actions. Bearing witness is vitally important. Modern society accepts evils as if they were good, or tolerates them in the name of expedience. To people in this society, Christian teaching seems like a hardship. When they find something difficult, they’ll want loopholes and they’ll seize on Scripture quotes or fragments from Church documents that seem to permit their behavior.

Knowing this is the world we’re called to evangelize, we need to realize how we respond to similar situations is a witness to how seriously we take the faith we proclaim. For example, if we won’t obey the Church when it comes to a minor inconvenience, do we really think we’ll have credibility when we ask people to do what seems difficult—like reject contraception which they see as a “safety net”? If we would have others be faithful in potentially life changing events, we should show we are willing to do the same when things seem difficult for us.

So, if we’re tempted to misuse Scripture and Church teaching to deny the importance of a Christian obligation, we have no right to be shocked when others misuse them to justify a different evil. It’s only when we completely open ourselves to God and say, “I want to follow You no matter how afraid I am of the consequences, please help me to do Your will,” that we effectively witness to our faith and let others know Him.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Armageddon in 2016? Fearing the Future after November 8th

Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “what is in man”. He alone knows it.

 

John Paul II [October 22, 1978], Homilies of Pope John Paul II (English) (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2014).

This year, an election year, disagreements between Catholics are reaching a fevered pitch. People fear the evils of the future, and reasonably want to limit them. Unfortunately, they cannot agree on what the worst evils are and how to face them. Because of this, Catholics who fear the evils from one candidate accuse other Catholics who disagree of supporting those feared evils or willfully ignoring the danger. For proof of their claims, they point to certain Catholics who do support these evils in defense of their candidate and argue “guilt by association” (a fallacy). To further muddy the waters, many blame the Pope and bishops for not focussing on their issues. Why doesn’t the Pope speak more about X? Why do the bishops spend so much time talking about Y? People assume that if our shepherds were doing their jobs right, we wouldn’t be in these difficulties, and also assume that these are the worst times ever faced, and it has to be somebody’s fault.

Of course, some of the promoted policies do promote evil and could end up persecuting the Church. It is reasonable to oppose such evils and try to limit those which are inevitable. But it’s not the worst possible times ever faced by Christians. In other times, and currently in other regions, the Church has faced persecution to the point that members of the faithful faced martyrdom and other miseries. No, I’m not arguing the fallacy of relative privation here. We do want to avoid whatever harms the faithful and we want to stop whatever leads people away from God.

But as I work my way through works like A History of the Councils of the Church written in the 19th century by the German Bishop Karl Joseph von Hefele, I see a Church history full of governments backing the enemies of the Church, supporting the dissenters and persecuting the faithful. The Church survived these evils, and eventually converted the oppressing rulers. This is a scenario that repeats itself throughout Church history. The faithful, in concert with the Church—under the headship of the successor of Peter and never apart from—challenge the triumphant dissenters and eventually restore the Christian world to faith. As Cardinal George once remarked:

I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.

God provides the grace to accomplish this, but He also sends heroic men and women in every generation to stand up against the state and teach what is right. Thinking about this makes me ponder. If we find ourselves wondering where these heroic men and women are in this generation, then perhaps this is a call from God for us to be one of them. Whether the coming times are times when Christians will die in bed, die in prison, die in the public square, or pick up the shards, Christians are called to stand up and promote the faith despite how the world treats us.

So, yes, let’s take this election seriously. Let’s properly form our conscience through the teachings of the Church, promoting good and trying to oppose evil wherever possible. Let’s vote responsibly. But let’s not live in terror of the aftermath. I’ve no doubt things will be hard for us, and I have my opinions on which way will be harder for us. But let’s remember our obligations to evangelize the world regardless of who gets elected or what unjust laws get passed. We should pray for Our Lord’s protection as we do His work, and relief from evil. But since Our Lord warned us people would hate us on account of Him (John 15:20-25), we can’t be surprised if we have a rough time for the next four years . . . or ten years, or a hundred years or more.

So we have to work, and Our Lord wants us to work together (John 17:20-21). As it says in Psalm 133:1, “How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers dwell together as one!” That won’t happen if we savage each other and accuse each other of bad will in our actions, when it is a matter of simply having different ideas on what we must do to be faithful to God and His Church.

So let us keep our mind on our real Savior, who will remain Lord over all creation regardless of who gets elected. Let us live for Him regardless of what happens to us in the future.

Monday, March 21, 2016

In Times of Trouble, Remember The Lord

Way of the wickedSee how the wicked string their bows, fit their arrows to the string
to shoot from the shadows at the upright of heart
[Psalm 11:2]

It is easy to feel depressed or discouraged about the state of the world. Whether it is news of the persecutions of Christians overseas, news of injustices by our government against the faithful of the Church, or the moral quagmire of the 2016 election season, it is easy to see all of the negative actions at work against us and fear we will be overcome by evil. It seems even more discouraging to see our fellow Catholics behaving with hostility when their views on what should be done differ from ours. It’s also a temptation for us to find a scapegoat when things go wrong. The Pope should have said more about X, the bishops shouldn’t talk about Y, it’s the fault of the modernists, the traditionalists, the establishment, the outsiders, the conservatives, the liberals, the Democrats, the Republicans...

Whew! We could pass out from lack of breath blaming the people who are responsible for the state of the Church, the world or the nation. But when we face these times of trouble, we need to make a decision. Will we focus on the troubles we perceive? Or will we focus on the One who is mightier than all of these troubles?

I am a person who likes to read the old Church documents and histories of the Church. As a result, I see other crises that the Church has faced. Other overt persecutions, legal injustices and the like. For example, I’m reading currently about the Arians and the emperors who supported them, riding roughshod over the Church. It’s a dark time when the orthodox Catholic faith was against the ropes. Bishops, and even Popes, were exiled for standing up for what was right.

But God protected His Church. No doubt the Church suffered at the hands of the unjust, and individuals were even martyred, but the Church is Catholic, not Arian.

I think this is what we need to remember. The Church is attacked. Some are martyred. Many face some level of hardship. Some abandon the faith for error. These are serious trials. Throughout these trials, some urge us to compromise a little bit. Others blame the shepherds for the fact that there is hardship. But these things always were a part of being faithful to Our Lord. Indeed, He promised us we would be hated for following Him.

So, when we struggle against injustice or feel outraged at the fellow Catholic who publicly causes scandal. we need to turn our eyes to Our Lord and trust that whatever He asks us to endure, it is not too much for us. We need to constantly look to what we do and set aside that which is unjust and that which distracts us from our true calling.

That doesn’t mean we need to be passive in the face of error or persecution. Obviously we are called to call the world to living in a way that is right. But we’re not God. We can’t bestow grace on anyone. So we might be attacked for our efforts. But we cannot become indifferent to suffering or embittered when we feel a lack of support. We must trust in God that whatever evils befall us, He is not on some coffee break and he is not ignorant of what is befalling us.

This is why, when we see (or experience) injustice, we must continue to have Trust in Our Lord, no matter how bleak it may seem to our eyes. Remember that to the Apostles, Good Friday looked like a day of defeat for the One they trusted. But it turned out that Our Lord achieved victory in a way far beyond what they could hope for.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Do We Trust in God? Or In Ourself?

At times everyone fears what the truth might require…that accepting the truth might ask us to give up more than we want to give. This is especially the case when we have staked our claim on a position that is being challenged. If we follow the truth, and truth tells us that something we held important is actually not true, then we have to admit that we were in error. That is hard to do. Nobody wants to admit they were wrong—especially when they have to admit that their opponent might have been in the right all the time. That’s a hard situation to reconcile, and probably why many find it difficult to go from non-Christian to Christian, and from non-Catholic to Catholic. (Read some of the conversion stories out there and see how hard it was for some of them to come across to our Faith. Some of us who were already here as a part of the Catholic Christian faith either forget or never knew the difficulty of the conversion from error to truth and to admit that what they defended as truth was actually falsehood.

So why is it, when it comes to the Catholic faith which we profess to be the true Church, do we fear when the Church teaching challenges us? Why do Catholics get angry when the Pope speaks in a way which challenges our comfortable behaviors? When we’re reminded about teachings that challenge our political preferences? If we profess to believe in God, and that the Church binds and looses with the authority given to her by Our Lord, why do we fear to have our flawed understanding changed? Is it because we fear that the Church is falling into error? Or is it because we fear the consequences of having to admit we followed the faith incorrectly at times?

In other words, it’s a question of whether we are trusting in God or trusting in ourselves.

If we trust in God and recognize our own tendency towards sin and error, we can trust in the teaching authority the Church to remain under God’s protection even when the individual Bishops, Priests, Religious and Laity act sinfully and in error. We can trust that when the Church teaches and it goes at odds with what we feel comfortable with, we can change and trust in God to protect us from being misled—if we follow His Church.

But if our confidence is in ourselves—In our confidence to interpret the Scriptures or Church documents and reject anything that challenges what we feel comfortable with—then we put ourselves before God. Ultimately, we claim to know the truth and don’t feel the need to pray for guidance from God, or to obey the teaching of the Church. The funny thing is when we claim to know the truth to the point that we know better than the Church, it always seems to work in our favor. There’s seldom a case where we acknowledge our need to change. It’s always the other person who needs to change.

I think in these times, when growing numbers of Catholics are openly showing their contempt for the teachings of the Church, the teachers of the Church or both, we need to start asking ourselves where we put our trust. If our trust is in God first, then we can trust Him to protect His Church from teaching error. In such a case, we can avoid overreacting to the times when people in the Church make mistakes or do wrong. We can trust that God established a Church where we can know where to look for the truth when there are multiple factions defying it. We know that no matter how bleak things look, our enemies will not prevail against us in the end.

But if our trust is in ourselves, then we are going to become embittered and living in fear as the members of the Church continue to do things differently than we would have them done—and thus be suspicious of every change. We tell ourselves that if only the Church would do things our way, then we would not be having these problems. Some think the Church needs to change her teaching on divorce or on contraception. Others blame the rise of dissent on the diminished use of Latin and the introduction of the Ordinary form of the Mass. They say that if only the Church had changed a teaching here or not changed a discipline there, all would be well. But since the Church is having problems, it is assumed to confirm that the individual is right and the Church is wrong.

But that’s no way to live. There’s always going to be differences and disputes and disobedience—even among Catholics who generally want the same thing. If we think that our personal standards are the truth to live by, then there is going to be an awful lot of heretics out there (in our minds) and we may end up trying to oppose something that is not even wrong.

But if we recognize that God is the one whose standards we are called to follow, and that His is the Power and the Glory, we might turn our ears to listen to Him and see if we’re not acting more like Saul the Pharisee instead of Paul the Apostle, seeking to change if we do so. We recognize that the authority God gave to bind and loose is not in ourselves, but in the Church herself.

Ultimately, when we trust in God, we allow ourselves to be humble. That doesn’t mean to be passive in the face of wrongdoing, but it does mean that we need to open our eyes, ear and heart to discern what His will may be. But if we trust in ourselves, we become arrogant, and we are so sure we are right, that we forget the possibility of seeing if we’ve missed the point in following Him.

All of us (and not just the other guy) need to pray and discern to see where our trust truly lies. If it is in ourselves, then we need to pray for a change of heart.

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Do Not Be Afraid!" Reflections on God and His Church

5. Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “what is in man”. He alone knows it.

So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.

[John Paul II, Homilies of Pope John Paul II (English) (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2014). October 22, 1978]

The powers of darkness are doubtlessly smiling over the vote in Ireland recognizing “same-sex marriage.” I have seen Irish news sites crowing about how the power of the Church was “finally broken.” Media sources and politicians are full of advice telling us that we need to change our teachings if we are to “remain relevant” and survive. 

The Flood2(The ultimate result of breaking the bonds with the Church, the Barque of Peter, is being stranded when the floods come)

Meanwhile, many Catholics are stunned, and thinking that if only the Church had done things differently, we would not be seeing the revolt carried out once more in a nation which was once solidly Catholic.

I am inclined to think that both groups are missing the point of what God’s intention is and what the task of His Church is.

God is our Creator. He loves us and designed us for good. However, He did not want mindless slaves who have no choice but to live the way He wants. He wanted our response to be love freely chosen. This means: If we are free to make the right choice, we are also free to make the wrong choice. God gives us the grace to respond to Him in love and obedience. However, we are free to refuse that gift of grace, placing ourselves first and seeking things that are pleasurable in the short term, but ultimately destructive.

Because of the choice of our first parents (see HERE for a reflection on the Fall and the need for Baptism), we have an inclination to sin and we need salvation—something we are unable to give ourselves or earn. The acts of Jesus, suffering and dying for us opened Heaven to all who would accept His gift. But that acceptance is a free choice. We need His grace to accept it, but we can refuse it by choosing to live in a way against what God calls us to be. If we do refuse that gift, we do have nobody to blame but ourselves if we die in opposition to His commandments.

As Catholics, we believe that the Catholic Church was established by Our Lord as the means of bringing His salvation to the world. The Church does not act as a self-appointed association of do-gooders or meddlers who are putting their noses in the affairs of others, or are a charitable NGO. As the Catechism begins:

1 God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.

2 So that this call should resound throughout the world, Christ sent forth the apostles he had chosen, commissioning them to proclaim the gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Strengthened by this mission, the apostles “went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.”5

The Church exists to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to live as Our Lord has commanded. It follows from this, that the Church is not free to change her teaching from saying “X is evil” to saying “X is good.” If the Church sanctions behavior which goes against the commandments of God, she is failing in her mission.

But at the same time, she does not have the ability counteract free-will. No matter how firmly or clearly she teaches the truth about God and how we must behave if we truly love Him, people can misuse free will in defiance of that teaching (cf. Revelation 22:11). History is full of instances where faithful nations turned to error and rejected the Church—not because the Church failed to teach, but because those who ruled found the Church to be an obstacle. Consider England’s shift to Protestantism at the whim of the King, the French Revolution and others.

Unfortunately, some people fail to make that connection. Instead, they assume that the existence of rebellion against the Church must be the fault of the Church. The logic runs like this:

  • If the Church (Bishop/Priest) fails to teach, people will embrace error. (If A happens, B will happen)
  • People embrace error (B happens)
  • Therefore the Church failed to teach (Therefore A must have happened)

In logic, we call that affirming the consequent. The flaw is this—just because A can cause B is not proof that A did cause B. There may be other causes and these causes must be eliminated before we can affirm that A did cause B. In this case, the assumption is that the rejection of Church teaching must be ignorance because somebody failed to teach properly. Sometimes that is true. But it is not always true. Hostility and a willful decision to reject the Church teaching is also possible. So can the corruption of society into embracing something the Church speaks out against. So can the corruption of a government to take an antagonistic view of the Church. These are all possibilities where the assumption can be false.

So it important to remember what the Church is for—to proclaim the Gospel, baptizing and teaching what God has commanded. This task does not permit the Church to change God’s teaching. It only permits her to discern what is the best way to do this. This task does not mean that a person listen to the Church or will persevere in the faith either. A person might make a shipwreck of their faith. 

Also, we need to remember that God is in charge. We trust Him to look after the Church under the headship of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him, trusting when the Church does require us to give assent, God will not allow the Church to teach something that obligates us to commit sin. Even if some are unfaithful, The headship of the Pope is still where we must look for the true practice of the faith, because we trust God’s promise to protect His Church.

Finally, we need to remember that the behaviors of a nation which repudiate the teaching of the Church is not the death knell of the Church. The Church had survived the breaking away of whole nations through heresy and schism, and she will continue to do so with the Irish apostasy. It will be hard on those nations and the Church in those nations. We certainly need to pray for the Church and the shepherds in this countries. We need to re-evangelize those nations. But panicking is not acceptable.

We must not be afraid to bring Christ to the world, even when we are hated and ridiculed for speaking out. We must not allow ourselves to give into panic and assume the battle is lost whenever the politician promotes evil. Certainly, let us pray for the clergy, religious and laity that all may carry out their task in serving the Church faithfully. But let us always remember the role God intends the Church to play and not blame her for not being something she never was to begin with.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spare Us, O Lord, From Those More Catholic Than the Pope

Another papal statement, another cry of outrage from a certain portion of the Catholic laity. It saddens me because, from what I can see, whenever there is dissent, those who are disobedient declare that they know more about God’s will and the real meaning of Church documents than those who have been given the authority and responsibility to teach and protect the Word of God.

Many excuses are offered of course. The primary one offered is that the teaching of the Pope is only binding in extremely limited circumstances. The problem with that argument is that it is usually the person who is opposed to what the Pope has said that is the one defining those circumstances. I believe these people are missing the point and are quite possibly endangering their souls (God being the one to judge, of course) depending on their individual responsibility for their actions.

I’m going to give a long quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church here because I think it is overlooked and, without it, it becomes easy to overlook how far God has entrusted the successors of St. Peter and the Apostles with His binding authority:

2032 The Church, the “pillar and bulwark of the truth,” “has received this solemn command of Christ from the apostles to announce the saving truth.” “To the Church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls.”75 (2246; 2420)

2033 The Magisterium of the Pastors of the Church in moral matters is ordinarily exercised in catechesis and preaching, with the help of the works of theologians and spiritual authors. Thus from generation to generation, under the aegis and vigilance of the pastors, the “deposit” of Christian moral teaching has been handed on, a deposit composed of a characteristic body of rules, commandments, and virtues proceeding from faith in Christ and animated by charity. Alongside the Creed and the Our Father, the basis for this catechesis has traditionally been the Decalogue which sets out the principles of moral life valid for all men. (84)

2034 The Roman Pontiff and the bishops are “authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people entrusted to them, the faith to be believed and put into practice.” The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for.

2035 The supreme degree of participation in the authority of Christ is ensured by the charism of infallibility. This infallibility extends as far as does the deposit of divine Revelation; it also extends to all those elements of doctrine, including morals, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, or observed.

2036 The authority of the Magisterium extends also to the specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the Creator, is necessary for salvation. In recalling the prescriptions of the natural law, the Magisterium of the Church exercises an essential part of its prophetic office of proclaiming to men what they truly are and reminding them of what they should be before God. (1960)

2037 The law of God entrusted to the Church is taught to the faithful as the way of life and truth. The faithful therefore have the right to be instructed in the divine saving precepts that purify judgment and, with grace, heal wounded human reason. They have the duty of observing the constitutions and decrees conveyed by the legitimate authority of the Church. Even if they concern disciplinary matters, these determinations call for docility in charity. (2041)

So, it is not just the ex cathedra pronunciations that bind. The Church has the right to announce moral principles and make judgments on human affairs—even if they involve disciplinary matters. This binding authority is primarily passed on in catechesis and teaching. It is not limited to the extraordinary magisterium. When we see this, we have to make a decision when it comes to a teaching by Pope Francis that makes us uncomfortable—Just how far do we trust God to protect the Church from teaching error in a matter we are obliged to give assent and docility?

I think the problem is people have been accustomed to thinking of the Church as only having binding teaching when it comes to rare pronunciations. But that is not the case. Humanae Vitae was not a document which was declared ex cathedra, but it is considered binding. The Catechism is not an ex cathedra document, but it is a binding document, with St. John Paul II writing, “I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.” (Fidei Depositum 4). That means that the teaching of the Church on the issues contained within are authentically Catholic—which includes the teachings on sexual morality and social justice (the issues that the Left and the Right dislike respectively).

The problem in the Church is not that Pope Francis is some sort of “loose cannon.” The problem is we have forgotten the docility (readiness to accept instruction) we are bound to observe the teachings of the Church with. You can’t appeal to someone not a part of the magisterium to counter the magisterium—something that happens when some Catholics point to some very 13th century language by St. Thomas Aquinas to counter the Pope’s understanding of the needed rarity of the death penalty in the 21st century. As Canon Law puts it (CIC 1404), "The First See is judged by no one.” CIC 331 tells us, the Pope "is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely."

In other words, there is quite literally no person on earth who can loose what the Pope binds or bind what the Pope looses (Matthew 16:19, and Isaiah 22:22).

Such a concept must be frightening to some. If the Pope is not protected from teaching error, then a madman Pope can teach whatever the hell he likes and none of us can do anything about it—if we think the Pope is wrong, then we have no choice but schism… something that some have sadly accepted as the only choice available because they cannot reconcile the teaching of the Pope with what they want the Church teaching to be.

It is only if we have faith in God that He will not permit His Vicar to bind error or loose truth, that we can put any trust in what the Church teaches. Otherwise we could never know whether the Pope was in his right mind or whether the Church properly interpreted the Scriptures properly when professing the belief in the Trinity. It’s quite literally the case that without the assurance of God’s protection, we would never know if the faith we professed was true or whether it got to the point of embracing the most bizarre things.

Some might object here, saying that we have our faith and our reason, so we could tell the difference between the authoritative teaching of the Church and the virtual apostasy of some other denominations. But I would say that Church history is full of members who were so certain that they had the proper understanding of the real meaning of the Scriptures and Tradition, that they wound up outside of the Church, labelled heretics and/or schismatics.

No, Christ built His Church on Peter and his successors. He promised to be with the Church always (Matthew 28:20). It has always been Rome that has been free from heresy—even with the worst Popes in our history, the strongest accusation that could be leveled against them is that they failed to teach when they should have spoken out. But the successors to Peter, when teaching as Pope, have never taught error.

That’s not to say everything the Pope says is going to come across as a masterpiece of eloquence with no ambiguity. There have always been phrases that were vague or words that have multiple meanings. But we believe that the Pope is protected from error in Church teaching, not from social flaws, sins, or from making bad civil laws where he rules. So there always will be some uncomfortable moments—but that’s not just modern Popes. That’s all the way back to Peter, denying Christ three times and eating apart from the Gentiles in Galatia (Galatians 2:11-14)

So, this leaves us with some hard choices. We can...

  1. Put our faith in God, that He will protect His Church by protecting her from teaching error.
  2. Deny that the Church teaches with God’s authority, leave, and find a new place to follow God (to which I remind the reader of John 6:68)
  3. Remain in the Church, being disloyal and undermining the people’s faith (to which I remind the reader of Mark 9:42)

My faith tells me that only the first choice is valid, while the others lead to ruin. And that is where I must stand, believing that rejecting the authority of our current Pope is to reject the authority of Our Lord. It’s not because I think the Pope is flawless (far from it). It’s because I trust in God to protect His Church so the gates of hell will not prevail against her (Matthew 16:18).

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What About the Troubled But Faithful?

Introduction—The Troubled Catholics Wanting to Be Faithful Are NOT Bad Catholics

In my recent articles about the rebellion in the Church, I focussed mostly on the people who were being obstinate because the Church was taking an approach they did not like or did not match their political preferences. However, there is one group I tended to only mention in passing. It occurs to me that some might think I was lumping this group in with the disobedient. So I thought I would talk more about this group—the troubled but faithful Catholic who is trying to make sense out of the claims and counter-claims made about what the Pope or the Church after Vatican II is doing.

First of all, I want to make clear that the people in this category that I have met are not disobedient. They want to know which claims are correct so they can faithfully follow the claims of the Church. Some of them may have been recent converts or reverts and are not confident in their knowledge of the Church. When they encounter someone who seems more knowledgable or confident about what they hold about the Church, they begin to wonder if perhaps these people might know more about the faith and should be listened to.

The danger to these Catholics in this case is that not all of the people who seem confident about their faith are representing the true faith, but are actually representing their preferences as doctrine. So when these Super Catholics start attacking the Pope or bishops because they dislike what is said, the troubled but faithful Catholic is in danger of being misled.

So the question of the troubled but faithful Catholic is understandable—who is to be heeded and who is to be ignored—is not unreasonable. There are examples of Catholics, laity, religious, priests and even bishops whose words, actions or inaction causes scandal. How can we say “trust the Church” when we don’t know if the individual priest or bishop is trustworthy? I want to make clear that I don’t consider this question to be the sign of a bad Catholic. I see it as the sign of a Catholic who wants to be faithful but is afraid to have their trust betrayed.

So, based on some of the things I have encountered on my blog and in talking with friends, here are some of the things that strike me as possibly helping the Catholics who fall into this category.

Fallacies of Composition and Division

There are two ways of thinking that seem natural and reasonable, but are actually misleading. They are known in logic as the fallacies of composition and division. I include them, because they can trip up the faithful Catholic who is troubled by dissent and scandal.

The fallacy of composition works this way: A is a part of B. A has flaw X. Therefore B has flaw X. The response is, “not necessarily.” For example, take the argument “Father Harry Tik favors contraception. Father Harry Tik is a Catholic. Therefore the Catholic Church favors contraception. This is false because in this case, the priest in question is in opposition to the teaching of the Church. Unfortunately this one is widespread. People encounter a bad priest or bishop and assume the whole Church has that badness. The fallacy of division works this way: A has quality X. Therefore every part of A has quality X. Again, the response is “not necessarily.” For example, take the argument, “The Church is pro-life. Therefore every Catholic is pro-life.” People like Nancy Pelosi show this is false.

The important thing to remember from these fallacies is that a person can’t make assumptions that the whole is bad on the behavior of some, nor that the individual must be good on the basis of the beliefs of the whole. Remember Jesus’ parable of the Kingdom of God being like a net cast into the sea (Matthew 13:47-50). It catches the good and the bad alike.

The Teaching Authority of the Church is Living, Not Dead

The history of the Church goes back to AD 33. The Church teaching authority has taught a lot in that almost 2000 years. There’s a lot written down which benefits the Church. But we don’t rely on those written documents alone. If we did, we’d be in the same boat as the supporters of sola scriptura, with about as many interpretations as interpreters. With a living magisterium, we recognize that it is the current Pope and the bishops who teach in communion with him who has the authority to teach at this time what is and what is not a proper interpretation of the Church teaching. When Pope Francis dies or steps down, it will be his successor who has that authority.

Once we recognize that, we can see that the Catholic who tries to claim faithfulness while denying or ignoring the teaching authority of the current Pope and the bishops is leading people astray. From the earliest days of the Church, people were clear on that. St. Ignatius of Antioch, for example was constantly exhorting people to respect the bishop and not to be in opposition to him (Epistle to the Magnesians, Chapter VII. Epistle to the Trillions, Chapter II. Epistle to the Philadelphians, Chapter VII. Epistle to the Smyrnæans, Chapters VIII and IX).

Yes, at times we do have faithless bishops who do not shepherd well, and on some occasions, teach error. In such cases, we are to pray for the bishop in question. But that doesn’t give us the right to ignore the teaching authority of the Church under the Pope.

Remember—Some People Put Forward Their Opinions As Doctrine

As human beings, each Catholic has their own preferences on what things should be like in Church. For example, I prefer the ordinary form of the Mass (respectfully celebrated of course) over the extraordinary form of the Mass, but I have no objections to the extraordinary form of the Mass or those who prefer it. Some Catholics however think the ordinary form was a mistake and should be repealed. Of them, some of them accuse the Church of falling into error. We need to remember that, while we may like a specific way for the Church to do something, it is up to the magisterium to determine what is best for the Church—theirs is the responsibility, theirs is the authority. If it troubles us, we can make our concerns known, but we need to remember that the bishop is the authority of the diocese and the Pope has authority over the whole Church. The Vatican I document Pastor Aeternus tells us in Chapter 3:

If then any shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection or direction, and not full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those things which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world; or assert that he possesses merely the principal part, and not all the fullness of this supreme power; or that this power which he enjoys is not ordinary and immediate, both over each and all the Churches and over each and all the pastors of the faithful; let him be anathema.

Which means that when the Pope sets things in place for the good of the Church, we do not get to appeal to something beyond the Pope. We can ask him to consider it our way, but if he says that it shall be done this way, we can’t say “No, I’ll do it that way!” But some people do, and believe the Church errs, not them. Such people can be a danger to the faith because they have convinced some that the Church has fallen into error and can no longer be trusted. Such people cause a great deal of confusion for the troubled Catholic who wants to be faithful, and such people blame on the Church for the confusion.

So I would stress that when you encounter someone who says that the Church as a whole is in error, they are not a reliable guide.

Misinterpretations Happen More Than You Might Think

We don’t have to have a malicious media to get news about what the Pope says wrong. All it takes is a lack of knowledge to understand how the Church works and how she teaches. The Pope doesn’t formally teach in press conferences or in interviews or in personal books (St. John Paul II’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope or Pope emeritus Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth are not teachings of the Pope). He teaches in encyclicals, exhortations, motu proprio, and others. But the modern media seems to be focussed on the big scoop and they tend to think of Church teaching as party politics. So, when they come across words that sound like (to them) a change in Church teaching, they report it as a Church teaching. 

The modern media also tends to mirror each other. When one news source begins talking about “The Pope says X!” soon, all the news sources are talking about how the Pope said X, expanding on it with their speculation (See HERE for a parody of how this works). When this happens, people tend to believe it and when someone contradicts this, claiming it to be a misquote or taken out of context, people tend to not believe it. (“Who am I to judge” was taken out of context. “Breed like rabbits” was a misquote and so on). Some people accuse the apologists of trying to “explain away” what was said. But the transcripts do show that what was said and what the media reported are not always the same.

Now, the Vatican does have one weakness, and that is being slow when it comes to getting the full transcripts out there. I would hope that they catch on and release the transcripts as soon as possible, not relying on the members of the media to accurately report things they don’t understand properly. That wouldn’t help in cases where the Catholic is only aware of secular news sources (I strongly recommend Vatican Information Service and ZENIT), but if the full transcripts would appear on the same day as the interview or press conference, it would probably deflate a lot of the misinformation.

But here’s something to consider. How many times do the anti-Catholics dredge up the stories about how we “worship statues” for example. No matter how many times we deny that this is true, no matter how eloquently we explain what we do believe, you’ll come across someone who gets it wrong. So that’s why I have to disagree with the people who say that “If the Pope spoke clearly, this wouldn’t happen every time.” Yes, it can and does. St. John Paul II’s writings on economic justice was constantly misrepresented as being a turn in the direction of socialism. Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate was also represented this way. When St. John Paul II wrote Veritatis Splendor and Evangelism Vitae, the media’s first question was “Is the Pope changing Church teaching?” When Benedict XVI was interviewed in Light of the World, reporters around the world misinterpreted a hypothetical example of a “homosexual male prostitute with AIDS using a condom” reporters assumed he was perhaps moving towards approving homosexuality and definitely was changing Church teaching on condoms when it came to people with AIDS.

So, it is not true that the media wouldn’t keep misrepresenting the Pope if he spoke clearly—they did the same thing with his predecessors… constantly.

Conclusion

The thing I would most want to say to encourage the faithful Catholic who is troubled by what they see around them is this: Trust that God protects His Church, and His Church is centered around the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. Yes, there will be snags. Like us, they are human and sometimes they will goof up. Sometimes individuals in the Church may play the part of Judas. But we need to remember that God will not permit His Church to teach error in matters of faith and morals. Because even when the teaching is not ex cathedra, we have to give our assent to it (see CCC #892). It makes no sense for God to insist that we obey the Church in sinning against God or else be guilty of sin, so it is reasonable to expect God to protect the Church from teaching error when we must give assent or be guilty of sin.

This isn’t a call for blind obedience. It is a call for trust in The Lord.

May God Bless you in your seeking to be faithful to Him. I pray this article will be a help and not a hindrance.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Don't Blame the Signpost For Telling You That You're Going The Wrong Way

“When a wise man points at the moon, the fool only looks at the finger."

—Attributed to Confucius

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When you look at a painting of John the Baptist, the common trend is to portray him as pointing to Christ. This is done whether the picture of Jesus is of an infant, and adult or as the Lamb of God. The symbolism is a good one. John the Baptist did not do his mission for its own sake. His mission was intended to point to Christ and call people to prepare to receive Him. The disciple of John the Baptist who would be trying to put Christ in opposition to John the Baptist would be missing the point. As John the Baptist explained:

25 Now a dispute arose between the disciples of John and a Jew* about ceremonial washings. 26 So they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him.” 27 John answered and said, “No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said [that] I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him. 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens to him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. 30 He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:25-30)

John’s message and mission was not a rival of Christ, but a signpost. People were free to ignore him, and some did. But he was there to point the way to Christ, and people who had a problem with him ultimately had a problem with God.

In some ways, we are seeing people make this same mistake with the Church as was made with John the Baptist. They look at the Church and get angry with what she says must be done if we are to follow Christ. They see the Church teaching as “judgmental” and want her to change her teachings to their own benefit—whether behavior or political ideology.

But the Church points to Christ when she says that we must do X or we must not do Y. If she changes her teaching to satisfy critics, she no longer points to Christ, and can no longer be a signpost.

Basically, it is foolish to judge the Church teaching on faith and morals as being a manmade imposition on people. The Church believes she is continuing the mission given to her by Christ, and will not change from saying “X is wrong” to saying “X is OK."

A person can either heed the Church as the signpost to Christ and follow her teaching, or one can reject the Church and go his or her own way. If they do so, they have nobody but themselves for going the wrong way.

I choose to follow the Church because I believe she points to Christ, and was given the authority and the responsibility to do so. This means I have been forced to reject some of my ideas and political beliefs when I learned they went contrary to what was right. As a Catholic, participating in the mission given by Christ, I am called to explain to them why the Church teaches they should go this way and not that way, but I can’t compel them to follow the signpost established by Our Lord. When they choose another way, all I can do is pray for them to return. When they are abusive of me, all I can do is pray for them and turn to The Lord for strength and consolation.

But I won’t change my ways to deny the teaching of the Church because I believe that she is the Church established by Christ and I will be faithful to Him in obeying the teaching of this Church.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Conservative Op-Ed Writer and the Precipice

I came across a rather bizarre article in the New York Times about the Church. That in itself is not too unusual for that paper. What made it even stranger was the advocacy of disobedience by conservative Catholics. In "The Pope and the Precipice,” we see conservative columnist Ross Douthat opine that the Pope is supporting change on the Church teaching on sexuality and the votes on the final relatio was intended as a rebuke of the Pope . . . and perhaps it should be.

He writes the following:

Francis is charismatic, popular, widely beloved. He has, until this point, faced strong criticism only from the church’s traditionalist fringe, and managed to unite most Catholics in admiration for his ministry. There are ways that he can shape the church without calling doctrine into question, and avenues he can explore (annulment reform, in particular) that would bring more people back to the sacraments without a crisis. He can be, as he clearly wishes to be, a progressive pope, a pope of social justice — and he does not have to break the church to do it.

But if he seems to be choosing the more dangerous path — if he moves to reassign potential critics in the hierarchy, if he seems to be stacking the next synod’s ranks with supporters of a sweeping change — then conservative Catholics will need a cleareyed understanding of the situation.

They can certainly persist in the belief that God protects the church from self-contradiction. But they might want to consider the possibility that they have a role to play, and that this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him.

Mr. Douthat would have us believe that the Pope really believes the Church teaching must change:

But something very different is happening under Pope Francis. In his public words and gestures, through the men he’s elevated and the debates he’s encouraged, this pope has repeatedly signaled a desire to rethink issues where Catholic teaching is in clear tension with Western social life — sex and marriage, divorce and homosexuality.

and:

Yes, Francis has taken no formal position on the issues currently in play. But all his moves point in a pro-change direction — and it simply defies belief that men appointed by the pope would have proposed departures on controversial issues without a sense that Francis would approve.

 He believes that the Pope can err unless opposed, and he fears a schism can occur if the Pope changes the teaching (see HERE)

I think his understanding of God’s role in all of this seems to be a defective one. If the Pope changes a teaching in such a way that it says that a sin is not a sin, or that public sinners may receive the Eucharist, this is a matter involving salvation—if the Pope teaches wrongly in this matter, it is something that will endanger the souls of many. If the Pope could do that, we could never trust a teaching of the Church. We could never know when the Church taught error and could never be sure we could trust a teaching.

But if this be true, then either the Catholic Church has misunderstood the meaning of Christ’s promises or it means Christ could not keep His promises. Either way, the Church teaching on same sex attraction would be the least of our worries because it means the Church already has taught gravely serious error.

So this is the precipice Mr. Douthat is standing in front of. He’s convinced that the Pope will choose wrongly unless he is challenged. Once you take that step it’s a long way down, because it makes you the arbiter of right and wrong and the judge of the Church. That way lies the dissension, rebellion and schism that he fears. Basically it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy brought on from wanting to avoid it.

But I believe Mr. Douthat grossly misreads the intent of Pope Francis. He is not a “hippy-dip” liberal. He has a record of writings and actions which show he has spent his time defending the Church teaching.

If you read what he has to say, in context, we see that he has always defended the Church teaching from those who would change things. Consider four years ago, (three years before he became Pope), then Cardinal Bergoglio took a stand leading the Church in Argentina against the attempts to legalize same-sex marriage. The article cites him as saying:

He wrote: “In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

Cardinal Bergoglio continued: “Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

These are not the words of a man who supports a change in Church teaching.

Mr. Douthat’s problem is not that he’s a false Catholic. I won’t accuse him of being a heretic or a schismatic. He seems very sincere in his faith, wanting to be obedient to the Church. The problem is that he sees things in one possible way, and that way is the belief that Pope Francis is what the liberals claim him to be.

As for myself, I don’t fear the catastrophes he does, and this is for two reasons:

  1. I believe that Jesus Christ is still watching over His Church (which is found in communion with the successor of St. Peter) and will not permit her to teach error.
  2. I believe Pope Francis loves God and loves the Church and is determined to be a good servant of Christ.

Because of that, I cannot accept his thesis. There may be a schism if certain Catholics are deceived into trusting their own wisdom over Christ’s and believe that the Church will teach error. But this won’t be the Pope’s fault. This will be the fault of those who lost their faith in Christ, and see the Church as a battleground of factions.

So, I keep praying for the Pope every day, and trust in God to give him the needed grace to serve faithfully.

Forget the role of Our Lord and Savior, and you put yourself on a precipice . . . the only way to avoid a fall is to get off the ledge.