To avoid accusations of harboring sympathies, I’ll start off by saying that the recent antics of certain radical traditionalists openly rejecting Pope Francis and disavowing Cardinal Burke over Amoris Lætitia was wrong. Effectively it was an elevation of oneself over the authority God gave His Church. I’ll also say that the politically liberal Catholics who support and promote things directly condemned by the Catholic Church are wrong for the same reason. Neither group practices the Catholic faith properly because both groups reject something crucial—the fact that the Church teaches with the authority given by Christ.
Now that I made clear that I have no sympathy for rebellion against the Church (in this day and age, people forget it quickly), I want to cover something we might be doing wrong in responding with these people. That response is one of ridicule and contempt shown for those at odds with Church teaching. The other day, I posted this meme in different pages on Facebook:
I received some responses that missed the point. Some said it was an “easy dilemma” and that most people, even those who trust in themselves would quickly choose one of the buttons without hesitating. I think some would find it easy. But that wasn’t the point. What we must consider is the case of a person who long believed the Church was from God but suddenly find themselves at odds with her. They feel trapped in an impossible situation: The Church teaches something they believe they cannot accept. Their reason and emotions battle for control of their will—to choose whether to admit “I am wrong” or to refuse to bend, deciding “the Church is wrong."
Personally, I have never been in that situation, and pray that I never am. But we should all remember the words of St. Paul: “Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). If we have struggled in the past, let us remember how hard it was. If we have not struggled, let us not think it is easy.
I don’t say we must accept their errors. What I say is to look at what Pope Francis said in Amoris Lætitia:
The Bride of Christ must pattern her behaviour after the Son of God who goes out to everyone without exception”. She knows that Jesus himself is the shepherd of the hundred, not just of the ninety-nine. He loves them all. On the basis of this realization, it will become possible for “the balm of mercy to reach everyone, believers and those far away, as a sign that the kingdom of God is already present in our midst”. [¶309]
He was writing about those who were in irregular marriages needing outreach and compassion. But I believe this applies to other sinners as well. The radical traditionalist and the Catholic who calls evil “good.” Our Lord warned us, in the parable of the merciless servant:
32 His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. 33 Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ 34 Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. 35 So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”
New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mt 18:32–35.
Admonishing the sinner is a spiritual work of mercy. But if we are harsh and harden sinners in their views or drive them to despair, we have not shown mercy, no matter how eloquent we are (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
So this is my thought. When we view the scandals of the radical traditionalist or the “pro-choice” Catholic, are we seeing them as lost sheep in need of rescue? Or are we seeing them as mortal enemies? I believe God calls us to choose the first action. I don’t say this will be easy. I’ve had to block some individuals on Facebook because their abusiveness was spiritually harmful and I think I was justified in doing it. But sometimes we mock these people instead of pray for them. That’s not in keeping with how we should behave.
Some people may be abusive, offering us slander for our attempts to make Our Lord’s way known. We cannot change how others treat us, but we can change how we treat others. It’s hard. I get satisfaction over vanquishing abusive attackers with devastating witticisms. But do I act as a missionary for God when I behave this way? I doubt it.
I don’t intend to judge any individual here. Lord knows I’m guilty here too. I didn’t have any bloggers or Facebook pages in mind when I wrote this. I just write this because I felt we need to look at what we say and do and how others might receive those words and actions. Even if those we dialogue with reject us, there may be others hearing or reading the exchanges. How we behave might be the only witness to what a Christian is called to be—or it might be a false witness that turns people away from the truth, thinking it is of no value.
I’m just saying we should consider the witness we bear in our behavior and choice of words.