Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Voice of the Stranger

That the confusion exists is not disputed. The question is who determines what causes it and leads us out of it. Many Catholics argue that to end confusion, we should listen to what they say, and not listening to them is seen as “proof” that the one opposed is causing the confusion. But we would be foolish to accept the word of just any individual—no matter how appealing their words might seem to us.

If we would be faithful Catholics, we need to recognize that we do have designated shepherds who lead the flock. Jesus, of course, is the Good Shepherd who leads us. But He has made clear that certain people have authority to teach in His name (Matthew 16:19, 18:18) and has made clear that rejecting them is rejecting Him (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). When there is a conflict between what the Church says and what critics of the Church say, the voice to follow is the voice of the magisterium, not the voice of the critic.

This sounds alien to 21st century sensibilities. We pride ourselves on being rational individuals and what we see must be true. From that, whatever does not match our perception must be wrong. We then argue that when the Church does not match our views, the Church must be in error. But that view is incompatible with what we must believe.

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola listed some attitudes faithful Catholics must have. One of them is vital, but easily misinterpreted in modern times:

St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises
The modern misinterpretation thinks this means that even if the Church should teach error, we need to follow it—and it offends people. But this isn’t what it means. What this means is: If we think something is “white” but the Church says it is “black,” we must trust the Church and realize that our own perception must be false. If we rely on our perception and deny the statement of the Church, then we are in error, no matter how sure of our senses we are. Unfortunately, people tend to confuse the teaching of the Popes with things that do not involve Papal authority. So, when a Pope gives an interview or a homily, there can be imprecision. There can be things where a Pope thinks he remembers something but has to go back later and check. These are not teachings. A Pope can make a mistake here and not be heterodox

The magisterium determines what is the proper interpretation of Scripture and Tradition and applies them to the needs of the time. The needs of the time may require a greater emphasis on mercy or a greater emphasis on discipline. But we don’t have one without the other, and an increased emphasis on one is not a contradiction or a betrayal.

This is why, when I encounter those who claim that a Pope is in error, or heretical or some sort of lost shepherd, I keep away. They claim to know the real truth about what the Church is supposed to believe. But in showing a (probably unintended) rejection of God protecting His Church, I can see that they do not speak with the voice of the Shepherd not His vicar. So I flee their voice as the sheep flee the voice of the stranger. No matter what the past reputation of the critic in defending the Church, the fact that they are questioning that teaching authority now shows that we cannot use them as helps to understanding the faith until they abandon the view that their perception takes precedence over what the Church says.

The teaching authority of the Church is the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. It is not the individual blogger, priest, bishop, or cardinal who chooses to take a position apart from that teaching authority. Whether it’s the language of worship, how we receive the Eucharist, how we interpret Amoris Lætitia, or other topics, the one who tries to downplay or undermine what the magisterium today teaches is the one who is the stranger’s voice.

Our Lord tells us that the one who does not go through the gate is a robber (John 10:1) and He is the gate (John 10:7). It seems to me reasonable to conclude that the one who seeks to teach the faithful to oppose those in authority (the magisterium) is that robber. They might be malicious or they might have good intentions. But if they reject what the Pope does instead of accepting the Church saying something is “black” where they think they see “white,” they cannot be considered speaking with the Shepherd’s voice

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Masquerading as an Angel of Light

(From The Spiritual Exercises)

With the rejection of the Pope almost reaching the level of overt schism, it is time to look at a forgotten tactic used by the devil—the appearance as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). The words of St. Paul and St. Ignatius of Loyola remind us that our desires to be holy can be corrupted and lead us to deceive ourselves and be deceived by others so we wind up actually doing the work of the devil while we think we are doing the work of the Lord.

Unfortunately, the temptation is being so focused on the evil things we expect those we oppose to do that we miss the devil deceiving us by appealing to our desire to be holy while actually urging us to follow our sinful habits. If the devil can get us to believe our disobedience is not really wrong, then it doesn’t matter how many rosaries we pray or what form of Mass we attend—for we are working against God and His Church.

I believe that the rise of anti-Francis websites and books are a sign of this corruption. I have no doubt that these people are sincere in their desire to defend the Church. But I believe the devil is whispering in their ear, emphasizing the things that anger them, stirring up their suspicions and listening to only those things that reinforce their preconceived notions.

“The Preaching of the Antichrist”
(It’s always wise to ask where the whispers come from...)

In the current time of the Church, I believe we are seeing the devil as an angel of light whispering in our ears and telling us that when the Church does not go the way we want, it is “proof” that the Church has gone wrong. But obedience to the Church is something Our Lord requires (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). To protect the Church from error in this obedience, Our Lord gives the Pope and the bishops in communion with Him—as successors to the apostles—the authority to bind and loose. Yes, we’ve had morally bad Popes, we’ve had cowardly Popes and we’ve had Popes with questionable orthodoxy personally. But we’ve never had a Pope who used his teaching office to teach error.

When Catholics claim the right to pass judgment on which teachings they will accept as binding, they would be wise to ask whether what is urging them on is really God. Since Our Lord gives His authority to the Church, it seems more likely that the angel of light that we think we see is nothing more than the devil seeking to deceive us into rebelling against the Church. Remember, if the devil can lead us to hell, it doesn’t matter to him if we’re pious in doing so.

Whether one is opposed to Pope Francis but loved his predecessors or loves Pope Francis while hating his predecessors, it is a rejection of the same authority given by God to the successor of St. Peter when one rejects the teaching of the Pope (see Canon 752).

And when you feel angry at the Church, thinking there’s no way that God would want you to listen to His vicar, just ask yourself whether that’s really from God or whether it’s a counterfeit, a devil masquerading as an angel of Light

Monday, March 5, 2018

False Narratives: Garbage In, Garbage Out

One temptation in life is to replace seeking and finding the truth with attaching ourselves to a narrative and following it—even if it leads to error. I suspect that the reader immediately thought of people they disagree with (I did, and I’m writing it). But the problem is, it is difficult to look at one’s own narrative with the same scrutiny. If our assumptions are false, the way we interpret events and motives will be useless and probably harmful.

We see these false narratives everywhere. Whether in religion or politics (and, tragically, we tend to confuse the two), we are tempted to take our preferences on how the world should work and treat any deviation from that preference as a proof that the person we disagree with is in error—and probably maliciously so.

For example, in the 2016 elections, we saw Catholics struggling over which candidate would do the least harm. Disagreement over this issue led to accusations that the person with a different view was openly supporting the evils of that candidate. Or, after the Parkland shooting, we saw Catholics accusing each other of willingness to let innocents die or willingness to let people become victims.

Or, in terms of the Catholic faith, we see people assume that their personal views on what Church teaching means are true, and whoever takes a different view—even if it is the Pope—must knowingly support error.

In each case the assumptions ran:

1. My views are correct
2. This person disagrees with me
3. Therefore, this person willingly supports error.

But the first premise must always be investigated. Even if we desire to be faithful to the Church, it does not follow that the interpretation we give is correct. The magisterium, led by the Pope and bishops in communion with him, determines the correct interpretation. To go against that interpretation is to show that one’s assumption is false.

The second premise’s relevance then depends on whether the first premise is true. If my views are objectively true, then disagreement is a concern: For example, because abortion is an intrinsic evil, a person who disagrees with Church teaching is doing wrong.  But if the person disagrees with the view that opposing abortion means supporting political platform X, that disagreement is not necessarily wrong.

The conclusion is only true if the person has accurately interpreted Church teaching and the opponent has knowingly rejected Church teaching. If the person has misinterpreted Church teaching or confused Church teaching with an opinion on interpretation then the first premise is false. If the person has wrongly confused disagreement with rejection of truth, then the second premise is irrelevant. In either case, the conclusion is unproven. (Remember, it’s possible that both opinions can be in error).

To avoid a false narrative, we constantly investigate whether our assumptions are true and whether there are other ways moral obligation can be legitimately applied. As Catholics, we believe—or are supposed to believe—that the Church authentically guides us on how we must live. But there are different ways we can legitimately apply Church teaching. If the person we disagree with uses one of those different ways (as opposed to trying to evade Church teaching), we cannot accuse them of error.

From “Dogma and Preaching”
[From “Dogma and Preaching”]

The false narrative we must reject is that our preferences are truth and that to reject our preference is to reject the truth. We can be mistaken about things: Whether about how Church teaching works [†] or about the motives of the person we disagree with. To avoid this, we must constantly seek the truth about what Church teaching means and what those we disagree with really hold.

Otherwise, we are the blind trying to lead the blind (Matthew 15:14) because we cannot see past the view that we might err. The old computer programming maxim applies here: Garbage In, Garbage Out. If we assume error to be true, or truth to be error, the conclusions we draw will be worthless, if not harmful.


[†] I reject the notion that the Church teaches error. While she can change disciplines, she will never go from teaching X is evil to X is allowed. Many critics of the Church confuse discipline with doctrine with disastrous results.