Saturday, May 27, 2017

What We've REALLY Lost


I encounter some Catholics who tell me we’ve lost a lot since we stopped using Latin, stopped using ad orientem, stopped using Communion on the tongue, stopped using the 1962 Missal. Other Catholics tell me we’ve lost a lot since Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI “betrayed” the Second Vatican Council. Both groups tell me that, to get back on track, the Church needs to recover what they think is important—that the Church fell into error when it went against what they think best.

The problem I have with this is: the arguments seem to be based on the post hoc fallacy. X happened, then Y happened. Therefore X caused Y. But before we can accept that, we have to prove that X caused Y, not accept it as true. If there are other factors that explain Y better than X, It is wrong to blame X. For example, Lateran Council V (1512-1517) preceded the Protestant Revolt. Does that mean Lateran V caused the Reformation? Of course not. The roots of the problem preceded the Council, and would have happened regardless of whether Lateran V happened or not.

What the Problem Isn't

I’m inclined to think that the current crises in the Church have a much broader set of causes that can be traced back at least 70 years, perhaps longer. For example, the horrors caused by totalitarian governments; the numbers of people killed in WWII who might have served the Church in clerical, religious or lay roles; the unusually high numbers of men entering the seminaries after WWII—perhaps some of them not really suited for ordination; the increased efforts among American Catholics to become socially accepted, which sometimes meant downplaying their faith; the development of The Pill, which changed the view of sex to look at fertility as a burden; the growing mistrust of authority in the 1950s (especially after what’s commonly known as “The Red Scare”) and 1960s (Vietnam); the heavy handed attitude some members in the Curia used to deal with new ideas; and so on. While any of these factors alone would not explain the widespread revolt in the Church, combined they do show a problem that was in place long before the Missal of 1970 or even the Second Vatican Council.

I think what really happened was the disruptive factors influenced all sections of life in the West, including the Church. There was a rebellion against all that had been respected and revered, and I think society simply couldn’t adapt to this rejection (I think the movie, Paul VI: The Pope in the Tempest did a good job in capturing this sense of chaos). No doubt, changes in Church discipline were jarring to some people and, combined with the general rebellion going on at the same time, it would have been easy to make that post hoc fallacy. However, I suspect this widespread rejection would have happened whether Vatican II happened or not.

As for the Catholics who claim that Popes after St. John XXIII “betrayed” the Council, it looks more like Catholics who were swept up in the spirit of rebellion sweeping the world were seizing upon selective portions of Church teaching to justify what they wanted to do anyway. The “Spirit of Vatican II” has nothing to do with what the actual documents of Vatican II actually said, after all. Among these Catholics, there was a false belief that the Church could change teachings they didn’t like, wrongly thinking the Church could go from “X is a sin” to “X is not a sin.” When the Church refused to go along, it was labeled “a betrayal,” based on the false assumption that everything was up for grabs.

What the Problem Is

That being said, I think we have lost some things to the detriment of the Church. However, these things are not what critics of the Church think. Rather what we have lost are attitudes found in the saints, but absent among many Catholics today.  When I look at the writings of saints who faced down crises over the centuries, I see men and women who loved Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and loved the Bride of Christ, His Church, living their lives in love and obedience. In doing so, they accomplished many things that spread the faith.

I think we have lost that sense of obedience. The Church has always insisted that when the Pope and bishops in communion with him taught, we were bound to give assent. But in modern times, liberal Catholics reject Humanae Vitae and conservative Catholics reject Laudato Si. False theologies have been developed justifying this rejection, mainly by denying that it is authoritative, but the root is Church teaching goes in a direction Catholics do not want it to go, and think the Church must be making a non-binding (and therefore, error-prone) statement, instead of a binding teaching. It is easier for them to believe that then to believe the possibility that they are living in opposition to God. Of course, both sides are happy to point to the disobedience of the other side, while thinking their own behavior justified.

We’ve also seen a loss of respect for the office of the successors of the Apostles. The Pope is treated disrespectfully, as if respect is only due him when he acts in the way the Church approves. The problem is, obedience and respect to the Church is part of the teaching of Christ, passed on to the Apostles. We can start with John 14:15, where Our Lord tells the disciples that to love Him is to keep His commandments. We can look also at Matthew 7, where Our Lord says:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’  (Matthew 7:21–23).

Obedience to His teachings is mandatory. So, when we look at Matthew 16:18-19 and 18:18, we see Our Lord giving authority to His Church, with the promise to protect her, and if we look at Luke 10:16 and Matthew 18:17, we see that Our Lord sees rejecting the teaching of the Church as a rejection of Him. When we consider rejecting a disliked Church teaching, we should consider the consequences.

Conclusion: Turning Back Before It Is Too late

When I look at what shows up on the internet, I see contempt and anger. I see Catholics seem willing to tear down the Church if the Church does not act as they think best. These Catholics claim to be acting to defend the Church, but I don’t see the unconditional love and obedience the saints had.

I think of this every time I see a Catholic calling for a return to the way things were in the past. If we can just go back to the Latin Mass, if we can just return to ad orientem. I think of this every time I see a Catholic calling for the Church to abandon her teachings to bring in more people. I don’t see unconditional love here. I see a case of, “I will only love you if you do as I want.” I don’t doubt they think they are serving the Church like the saints did, but I believe they are misguided. When people tell me that all we need to do is to “go back” to the practices of an earlier era of the Church, or that we need to “move forward” to get with the times, I find myself wondering—perhaps these, and not the current crop of shepherds, that harm the Church.

If we really want to save the Church, perhaps it is time we start by looking into our own hearts and asking how we measure up to what God wants us to be. Do we love God, and entrust His Church to Him? Or are we constantly watching for another Catholic to do something we disagree with, so we can denounce him? The former is the attitude of the saints, and it is the attitude we need to pray for. The latter may result in our damnation if we do not repent.

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