Friday, April 13, 2018

Does Our Reaction Show Our Preconceived Notions?

In his Mere Christianity, CS Lewis wrote, “We may think God wants actions of a certain kind, but God wants people of a certain sort.” Depending on the accent the reader puts on certain words, this can either be interpreted as “God wants us to continually turn to him and not simply check off boxes,” or as “God doesn’t care what you do.” The first interpretation would be theologically correct. The second would be false. But the person who praised or condemned CS Lewis because that person assumed the second interpretation would be wrong. 

That is a problem I constantly see in the attacks on Pope Francis. This week, we had a beautiful Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, which urges the readers to constantly seek a life of holiness and evaluate where one needs to change ways of thinking. The exhortation is inspiring and accessible to the average reader. In my first reading (this is something that rewards repeated reading), I found things that confirmed what I thought the Church thought, and I found things that challenged me to go beyond my previous assumptions. In no way did I feel like I was being unjustly attacked by the Holy Father. 

But some people do. People have accused him of contradicting St. John Paul II on the teaching of the Right to Life. People have accused him of denigrating religious life. People have accused him of being a Marxist. But, when I compare what the Pope actually wrote with what his accusers claimed he said, I found no truth to their claims.

In fact, when one reads St. John Paul II in Christifideles Laici #38, we see that what he said on the right to life gives a definition that goes beyond (but must include) opposing abortion:

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of the rights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change—let alone eliminate—them because such rights find their source in God himself.

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

The Church has never yielded in the face of all the violations that the right to life of every human being has received, and continues to receive, both from individuals and from those in authority. The human being is entitled to such rights, in every phase of development, from conception until natural death; and in every condition, whether healthy or sick, whole or handicapped, rich or poor. The Second Vatican Council openly proclaimed: “All offences against life itself, such as every kind of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and willful suicide; all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures; all offences against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where men are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons; all these and the like are certainly criminal: they poison human society; and they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator”(137).

If, indeed, everyone has the mission and responsibility of acknowledging the personal dignity of every human being and of defending the right to life, some lay faithful are given a particular title to this task: such as parents, teachers, healthworkers and the many who hold economic and political power.

Nor can we say that this is merely an opinion of St. John Paul II. The sacredness of human life has long been taught by the Catholic Church. Take St. John Chrysostom in his Homilies on Matthew (Homily 50, #4):

St. John Chrysostom Homily on Matthew #50, ¶4
The problem is people have preconceived notions on what the Church teaches. If their assumptions are excessive, then they accuse those who do less of laxity. If their assumptions are lax, then they accuse those who do more of being excessive. Moreover—and this is the most dangerous part—if the person is error about what the Church teaches, then they accuse the actual Church teaching of being in error. The liberal dissenter might argue that Church teaching “goes against Jesus.” The conservative dissenter might argue that Church teaching goes against Sacred Tradition. But both are using their erroneous views to judge the Church when they should be listening to the Church in order to judge their own values.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
The Church can teach in an ex cathedra manner. The Church can teach using the ordinary magisterium. But in both cases, we must give obedience to the teaching. Tragically, some in the Church assume that what God intends mirrors their own preferences. The conservative assumes Church teaching must mirror conservative ideology while the liberal assumes the Church must mirror liberal values. The lax assume Jesus was lax while the rigid assume He was rigid.

So, when we see people claiming that the divisions in the Church are the fault of the Pope, we need to realize that these divisions are caused by people who insist on their preconceived notions are “true” and judges whatever a Pope should formally teach according to their notions. The confusion in the Church can be laid at their doorstep.

If we want to be faithful to the Church, and we find a stumbling block, then let us remember the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises:

St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises
That does not mean “follow the Church if she teaches error.” It means, “When there is a conflict between your view and the Church, follow the Church as the Pope teaches.” Otherwise, we’re following our preconceived notions into error.



Saturday, April 7, 2018

Same God, Same Church, Same Promise of Protection

In the past week we’ve seen more reminders about the dissent in the Church that claims to be faithful in a higher way. Some show outrage that bishops take a stand against moral wrongs done by the government—but cheered them when they happened to agree to their opposition to previous administrations. We’ve seen people cheer princes of the Church when they undermine the authority of the Pope, implying that the Pope is not following Christ. 

What makes this surreal is the fact that these critics celebrate the past Popes and bishops; saints who not only defended the Church against the wrongdoing of Cæsar, but also recognized that the Pope is the head of the Church and opposed those who claimed that being faithful to Christ meant rejecting the authority of the Pope.

These critics recognize that God protected His Church from error during the reigns of undeniably bad Popes in past centuries. But they will not recognize that God continues to protect His Church today. Instead, they claim that a Church teaching they dislike is not a teaching at all yet, at the same time, argue that when the Pope teaches contrary to Christ, he has no authority.

Canon Law 752-753
So... which one is it? Is it not a teaching at all? If so, the issue of teaching does not apply. But if it is a teaching, then why do they argue that the teaching lacks authority? Personally, I think the issue is these critics are realizing that the Pope is teaching but they do not want to accept it. To avoid violating Canon 752, they argue that a Pope’s teaching is not a valid teaching, and therefore not binding. The problem is the Church is quite clear that nobody has authority to act against the Pope:

Canon Law 1404
Yes, St. Paul can rebuke St. Peter for personal wrongdoing. Yes, we can speak of the shameful behavior of Benedict IX, John XII, Liberius, or Honorius I. But we can’t claim their acts of personal wrongdoing as proofs that we can pass judgment over whether.a teaching is a teaching or not. When the Pope exercises his magisterium, even if not ex cathedra, we are bound to give a religious submission of intellect and will.

To believe that the Pope, exercising his teaching office in the ordinary magisterium, can teach in opposition to Christ is to open a Pandora’s Box that undermines the authority of the Church. It’s a claim that God will let His Church teach error and we have to scrutinize everything a Pope says to be clear he is not teaching error. 

I find that a blasphemous claim—it makes Christ a liar when He says He will be with the Church always (Matthew 28:19-20) and will bind and loose what the Church binds and looses (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). Since Our Lord makes clear that to reject the Church is to reject Him (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16) and that the successor of Peter is the head of the Church (Matthew 16:18), we have a choice. We can either:
  1. Trust that God will not let a Pope bind error or loose truth, OR...
  2. Deny that God protects His Church so she can be the Pillar of Truth (1 Timothy 3:15) and Light of the World (Matthew 5:14-16)
Either we believe that the same God who protected His Church from the beginning protects His Church today, or we have to admit that we cannot know for certain whether God protected His Church in other circumstances. Can we really be certain that the canon of Scripture is correct without the authority of the Church? How about whether we can be sure God protected us in ourTrinitarian belief and that the Church didn’t make a wrong turn in the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) while Arius was right? 

If one wants to claim that God didn’t protect His Church in 1958 (when St. John XXIII became Pope), or in 1963 (when Vatican II began), or in 1970 (When Blessed Paul VI promulgated the new form of the Mass), or in 2013 (when Francis became Pope), then how can you know that God protected His Church in 1570 (when St. Pius V promulgated his Mass) or in 1545 (the beginning of the Council of Trent)?

It is only if we realize that it is the same God, same Church, and same promise of protection that we can trust any teaching of the Church. If one accepts the authority of Pius XII while rejecting the authority of St. John XXIII (or Francis), that person denies God keeps His promise. If one accepts Trent, but not Vatican II as a lawful Council, that person denies God kept His promise. 

Because of my faith in God and His promise, I will trust that when the Church teaches—even when not ex cathedra—she teaches under God’s authority. Because of this, when the Pope teaches one thing and a cardinal, bishop, or priest teaches against him, I will listen to the Pope. I don’t do this out of “papiolatry” or “ultramontanism” that treats the Pope as intrinsically holding inerrancy. I will follow Him because I believe that to do so is to do God’s will.