"Alas You Pharisees!"
We all know the story of Jesus denouncing the Pharisees for thinking their holiness came through their observance of the Law, while missing God’s commandments of love of God and neighbor that permeated all the rest of the Law. So, it seems rather ironic that so many like to point their fingers at members of the Church for not observing what they think is most important, not showing love for God and neighbor in doing so.
Such behavior is not limited to one particular political perspective or one specific way of living out the Catholic faith. One is not automatically guilty of, nor automatically free of, such behavior on account of being conservative or liberal, traditionalist or modern (not to be confused with modernist of course). The behavior can be found in any person who confuses their behavior with “The only way one can be Catholic."
We Cannot Express the Faith In Such A Way As To Drive People To Despair
Of course, we need to make sure we understand the difference between the Pharisaical person and the Catholic faith. Our Lord did not condemn the keeping of the commandments—rather He considered that to be part of the requirement of taking up one’s cross and following Him. So, it is not being Pharisaical to say that doing what is good and avoiding what is evil is important.
But, in doing so, we cannot close the doors to the person who is outside of the Church, barring them from the possibility of returning or driving them into despair or resentment so that the thought of repentance becomes impossible.
This seems to be a major problem in the Church today, particularly in America. Whenever the Pope or a Bishop responds in a way to something we dislike that is not a strongly worded condemnation, he is immediately accused of being heretical, or liberal/conservative and being unfit for his office. When the Pope or a bishop meets with a politician who holds positions in opposition to Church teaching and the meeting is proper or even cordial, the assumption is he is in agreement with the views of the politician.
Reaching out to the Sick is Not Dependent on Whether The Sick Will Accept Help
Meanwhile, I find myself thinking the whole thing sounds similar to what the Pharisees had to say...
10 While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. 11 The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. 13 Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’* I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Luke 9:10-13)
Some people try to counter this fact by saying that Matthew repented, while these current politicians do not. But that strikes me as being a false interpretation. The Scriptures say many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and His disciples. It does not say that many repentant tax collectors and sinners came. So it is quite possible that some of those who came and dined with Him did not repent. (Don’t make the argument from silence fallacy that assumes that because the Bible did not say one thing, it means the opposite must be true). Certainly, we know that Jesus called some who did not follow, or else put conditions on following Him that effectively meant not following (see Luke 18:18-24 and Luke 9:59-62).
Jesus called even those He knew would not follow Him. We, not being God, can’t even know who would not follow in the long run. Remember the Parable of the Two Sons in Matthew 21:28-32…
28 “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. 30 The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. 31 *Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. 32 When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.
The person who announces his intention to obey can end up disobedient. The person who announces his defiance can end up repenting. The Pope knows this, and seeks a way to reach out so that the sinner will not continue to sin, but to turn back to God. So do the cardinals and bishops who are denounced because they do not always publicly condemn the politicians, the divorced/remarried, and those performing other sexual sins.
Our Lord Spoke Strongly to the Pharisees, and Sometimes Bishops Speak Strongly to Our Zealots
There is a time for mercy, and there is a time for strong words. Jesus employed both. However, the strongest words He employed involved those who had missed the point of what God’s teaching was about, thinking that condemnation was to be employed (Luke 9:51-56), not the attempt to bring back the lost. Christ spoke of the sinner in the parable of the lost sheep. (Luke 15:1-7). He spoke of the Pharisees in the condemnations of Matthew 23:1-36. The difference between the two is that the Pharisees believed they were fine as they were, and it was the others who needed to repent—while making them feel that they were permanently cut off.
That seems to be the other side of the coin, where people get angry at the bishops who seem to take a strong stand against a person who expresses an opposition to sin in a harsh way. When this happens, sometimes Catholics get angry. The question is, “Why does he speak harshly to a person who thinks like us, but not to this person here who has done this wrong?”
“I Thank You I Am Not Like That Tax Collector…"
I would answer this by saying that sometimes there are different circumstances for different people. For a person who has a mistrust of the Church, who assumes that the Church hates them, a gentle approach can be best. On the other hand, for a person who is convinced of their own rightness, sometimes being jolted out of their overconfidence is needed.
Of course, mistakes can be made. Perhaps a person is treated too gently or too harshly for the circumstances. We should be praying for our priests, bishops and the Pope that they may shepherd us well, and we should be praying for God to open our hearts to be willing to be shepherded.
The Church, being made up of sinners, is going to have cases where members—even those who are shepherds—make mistakes or even choose to be disobedient. We cannot say they are right to do so, or that it doesn’t matter. However, I think we do need to be careful about how we express our concerns and be careful to determine whether our perceptions actually match the reality of the situation. Not everything is done in the open where we can see it, and we cannot assume that just because we do not see something, that nothing is done. Nor can we assume that just because it is not handled in the way we would like it to be done, that it is done in opposition to Church teaching.
We need to remember that the Pharisees were not impious men—in fact they were quite religious. They probably would have accepted Our Lord if He had met their idea of what they thought a Messiah to be. The problem is they wanted religion on their own terms, making the mistake that their terms were God’s terms and thus missed the wonderful thing that God had done for them (Matthew 23:37-38).
As Catholics, we believe that God has established the Catholic Church to teach in His name (John 20:21-23, Matthew 28:18-20) and that He protects the Church from error. So when one begins rejecting the Pope and Bishops (successors of the Apostles) teaching in communion with him on the grounds that it does not match their own views is rejecting Christ (Luke 10:16) just as the Pharisees did. We need to beware the leaven of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:5-12) and not trust in ourselves and think the Church has failed (Matthew 28:20)...
…Otherwise, Alas for us.