There’s an old adage out there that, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” I remember it being cited back in my Steubenville days when professors used it to demonstrate how Christians who compromised and tried to match the values of today would be left bereft when the values of the world changed. That’s quite true, but I find myself wondering whether it could be applied to more than the values of the world.
As I was praying this morning, I thought of the conflicts out there within the Church. People who grew so accustomed to how the Church operated in one time became alienated when the Church decided changes were necessary. Catholics “married” to the disciplines and policies of the Church before Vatican II were alienated by the disciplines and policies of the Church after Vatican II. Some of those who “married” the approach of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI felt “widowed” under the pontificate of Pope Francis. And then I thought of the future of the Church. I watched the usual suspects battle on Facebook and Twitter. There were the usual knee jerk comments of “#answerthedubia” and “Cardinal Burke is a traitor.” And I wondered—how wedded to a certain mindset might we be without realizing it?
For example, let us imagine a time when Pope Francis’ pontificate ends (whether by death or by renouncing his office). Let’s imagine the conclave selects Cardinal Burke or a likeminded cardinal to be the next Pope. Some of my readers will no doubt think, “Please God, let this happen!” Others will think, “God Forbid!” The problem is, both reactions are wedded to preferring a certain age. The Church can change disciplines and practices for the good of the Church as a Pope sees fit. So it is possible that the successor of Pope Francis will make some changes to the way Pope Francis does things now. The question each Catholic needs to ask is, Will I respond to these changes with obedience?
To give a personal example, I prefer the Ordinary Form of the Mass properly celebrated, and I don’t think the Extraordinary Form is as wonderful as its proponents claim. But, if the next Pope were to decide, “The Latin Rite will go back to the 1962 Order of the Mass,” I would do my best to accept it. I might grumble over getting used to the changes, but I recognize the Pope has the right to make such a decision. This would not be a mindless acceptance of whatever the Pope said. This would be a recognition of what the Church teaches about the authority of the Pope, trusting God to protect the Church from error. I certainly pray I would accept the authority of such a Pope without attacking him or trying to undermine him.
I think this is what we all need to consider. Will we be faithful to the Church, no matter who leads it? Will we be obedient to the Pope, even if he deems that a discipline or practice we are comfortable with needs to change? If we will not, we’re not faithful to Christ and His Church, but wedded to a preferred age in the Church. In that case we will be widowed when that preference changes.