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

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