Tuesday, October 20, 2020

If a Catholic is for a Faction, He is not Behaving Like a Catholic at All

For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11–13).

Between the elections and disputes over what the Church should be doing in the world, Catholics—especially in the United States—have become fragmented, arguing that the sides they pick in a dispute are in the right while Catholics who disagree or even say “I’m not convinced that this either-or argument is correct” are deemed to be heretical or misled.

While I say this in rebuke, I am not saying “values are relative, and it is a matter of indifference who you vote for or what the Church does.” I have my own personal views on which political party is a worse evil and which behaviors in the Church are more harmful. However, I believe my own political views and preferences on the governance of the Church must take backseat to the authority of the Church. When the Church teaches that we must do or not do something, we are behaving shamefully if we try to explain away our obligation or argue that those tasked with leading the Church are not authentically Catholic.

As I see it, in determining whether a position is in keeping with the Catholic Church, we must first look to those who are tasked with shepherding the Church. Why do I say this, instead of appealing to the Bible or to past teachings of the Church? Because I believe that Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church as the Church intended to teach the whole world. I believe that He promised to be with His Church always and to protect it from teaching error. I believe the visible head of this Church is the successor of St. Peter, and the bishops—when acting in communion with him, and never apart from him—are acting as the successors of the Apostles. When they teach, even if not teaching ex cathedra, their teaching requires religious submission of intellect and will. In this role, they determine whether certain interpretations of Scripture and past teachings of the Church by groups of Catholics, or their behaviors or claims are authentic or not. This authority exists despite the personal sins of those men who are tasked with being shepherds of the Church. Otherwise, we could not have any authority at all and our favorite teachings would have no more authority than the ones we dislike.

When we grasp that, one thing becomes clear: Any attempt to pit a political platform or the antics of an individual Churchman against that authority of the Church is to reject the authority of the Church, replacing it with an ersatz Catholicism that divinizes one’s preferences while denying that the Divine source of the Church’s authority applies in their circumstances. Essentially, it turns the Church teaching into “What’s mine is mine. What’s yours is up for grabs,” because as soon as the individual dislikes being at odds with a teaching, he or she can just deny the authority of the teaching. We have seen that in the liberal dissent during the pontificates of St. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. We are seeing it now in the current conservative dissent against Pope Francis.

This means, instead of looking to God’s Church as receiving the authority to bind and loose from Christ (see Matthew 16:19, 18:18), we look to ourselves to bind and loose the Church. In doing so, we make ourselves no different from the non-Catholics who reject the authority of the Church because it goes against their conception of the truth. But, while the non-Catholic might be invincibly ignorant about the fact that the Catholic Church was established by Christ and teaches with His authority, we Catholics do not have any such excuse. In fact, by arguing that the Pope and bishops are acting against the Church teachings, we acknowledge that we know the Church has this power.

And then we are back to the initial problem the factional Catholic must face. To be a faithful Catholic, one must accept the teaching authority of the Church… today just as much as in the past. The moment we reject that, we open any teaching a faction of Catholics dislikes to being labeled as “error” or “opinion.”

Therefore, I say: If a Catholic is for a Faction, he or she is not behaving like a Catholic at all. It is only if we remember that God’s protection of His Church applies in every age that we can be faithful… not by clinging to some teachings that we like while pretending the rest don’t count.

 

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(†) While I try to keep my opinions off my blog because it is about Catholic teaching and not my views, I suspect anyone looking at my Facebook feed can determine what views trouble me more.

(‡) From the Code of Canon Law:

CAN. 752† Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

CAN. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.

CAN. 754† All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and to proscribe erroneous opinions, particularly those which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops puts forth.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Rebellion of False Prophets

When the priest Zephaniah read this letter to Jeremiah the prophet, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: Send to all the exiles: Thus says the LORD concerning Shemaiah, the Nehelamite: Because Shemaiah prophesies to you, although I did not send him, and has led you to rely on a lie, therefore thus says the LORD, I will punish Shemaiah, the Nehelamite, and his descendants. None of them shall dwell among this people to see the good I will do for this people—oracle of the LORD—because he preached rebellion against the LORD. (Jeremiah 29:29-32)

As I continue working through the Book of Jeremiah, I’m struck by the emergence of the false prophets who either say what they think and attribute it to God, or say what they think others want to hear. Both are treated as leading people in a lie and as preaching rebellion against God who had something different in mind for the people of Israel as they faced exile in Babylon.

The concept of preaching rebellion struck me as something relevant for our times. Back then, God sent certain prophets who spoke His message to the people while false prophets tried to undermine his message. In this time, we have the Church which was established by Christ to preach and to teach while people who do not agree with what the Church is doing argue that it has gone astray, and God wills something different.

It seems to me that both are examples of the false prophets. In both cases we have those who were given authority by God to teach in His name and people who do not like what is taught and try to undermine it. I suspect that both cases are not so much about deliberate malice as it is not believing the authority of the ones God has sent. The false prophets might sincerely think they understand the situation better. But it is rebellion against God nonetheless because the prophet or the Church which they oppose is teaching with God’s authority.

Things are as bad as they have always been. In 1974, writing about the hostility towards the pontificate of St. Paul VI, Hans Urs Von Balthasar could write about a rebellion that fits the same problems today, 46 years after it was originally written:

To use, for once, the nonsensical division of humanity into a “left” and a “right”, we can say that the “left” is closed to the monarchic, aristocratic, bureaucratic and any other “cratic” claims of the central “apparatus”, while the “right” is split: there is a small segment in which “papolatry” still prevails, but the majority is plagued by a growing fear that the Pope might be captured by the “progressives”, if he himself is not a “leftist” who, at the expense of the “silent Church”, spins questionable diplomatic threads to Moscow and Peking. [Paul VI is meant. The original text was published in 1974—Ed.]

Of course, there is—and always has been among Catholics—a healthy popular sentiment that is faithful to Rome without being blind to the faults and human failings of the curia and even of the pope. Ordinary common sense is able to handle this as a matter of course and without embarrassment. But this sentiment (sound, from the Catholic point of view) is steadily undermined by the mass media, the press and the numerous publications that demonstrate their Christian “adulthood” by an arrogant and even venomous superiority toward all that comes from Rome, happens in Rome or goes to Rome.

—Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church, trans. Andrée Emery, Second Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), 25–26. Bracketed editor notes from the original text.

These parallels between the false prophets in the time of Jeremiah and the critics of the Church today should lead us to consider whether our tendency to downplay the Church when she teaches what we do not want to hear—claiming that her teaching is false—might be seen by God in the same way that he saw Shemaiah, the Nehelamite… as being in rebellion against Him and leading people into a lie. We as Catholics believe that Jesus left us with the Church which teaches with His authority. So, if we follow a false prophet who teaches that this Church is in error, we are following the rebel against God and are without excuse.

We are constantly told that the Church is promoting all sorts of errors. But when we look at what the Church teaches, we see that the false prophets making these accusations are confusing their political and cultural preferences with God’s will. The result is they lead rebellion against God by saying that the Church is being hijacked by “the left” or “the right,” when in fact it is their preferences that are trying to hijack the Church.

 

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(†) The original title of this work translates as “The Anti-Roman Attitude.”

Monday, October 12, 2020

Dealing With the “In the Real World” Brush-Off


You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me. When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life.  (Ezekiel 33: 7-9)

* * *

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

The other day, I wound up involved in a combox argument with a woman who was using all the old arguments certain Catholics use to downplay abortion when they want to vote for the candidate who is pro-abortion and do not want to delve into whether that choice is compatible with the Catholic teaching. As the dialogue devolved, I heard the typical “the pro-abortion candidate is more pro-life” and “personally opposed but I can’t impose my beliefs on others.” When I pointed out that the Catholic obligation to go out the world to teach the nations about what they need to do to be saved (John 14:15 figures in prominently there), she came up with an even older argument, that ran, “That might be the ideal, but the Church needs to consider the real world.” That is nothing more than a repackaged version of “the Church needs to get with the times.”

This is not an advocacy article trying to tell you how to vote, however. Rather I see this attitude as a warning sign that we have work to do in evangelizing the world… starting with ourselves.

The fact that some Catholics continue to fall back on those arguments shows that they either do not grasp or do not care to follow the Church teaching on areas that would go against their preferences. But, before we get cocky, we should remember that this sort of thinking also exists on the other side of the political factionalism. Consider how many times we hear that the Pope grew up in a socialist country so he does not understand how economics work in the real world (currently this is directed against Pope Francis, but this argument was also used against St. John Paul II)  and it is unreasonable to follow his uninformed opinions. How many times do we hear Catholics say that the Church is out of touch in condemning torture because these times are more dangerous than they realize?

This is the same argument as the first, only applied to a different disobedience. Regardless of faction, this argument effectively denies that the Church can teach in a binding manner if we dislike that teaching. Their personal political preferences come first and if they dissent against a teaching or fear their political preferences will be harmed by a teaching against them, they define the Church teaching as out of touch with the real world.

The problem is, we cannot pretend this is compatible with the Catholic Faith. The Great Commission makes clear that we have a mission. We must let the people of the world know about the need for salvation and the need to reject what goes against that salvation. The fact that people will continue to try to do evil things and be harmed if they are blocked if those things are barred by law is not an excuse for us to avoid saying what is right and explaining why it is vital to follow these teachings.

“The Real World” that everyone appeals to against the Church is not the reality of what is right. “The Real World” is identified in Scripture as “the flesh,” “the world,” “the carnal,” etc. It is the attitude that puts self-gratification first and reacts hostilely to anything that threatens it directly or indirectly. While it would be wrong to interpret it in a gnostic sense—that matter is evil—Our Lord did warn us, The world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I testify to it that its works are evil (John 7:7).

We are called, as part of the Great Commission to let people know they need salvation and what they need to do to be saved. Peter Kreeft described it this way:

Christianity is the “good news” indeed, but this good news makes no sense unless you believe the bad news first. The good news is like the offer of a free heart transplant operation from God; but if you don’t think your heart is desperately diseased, you won’t see that offer as good news at all. As Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17). He said this to the Pharisees, the self-righteous fools who thought they were just good people who didn’t need to repent of sin. The good news of forgiveness is really good news only because the bad news of sin is really bad news. The greater the problem, the greater the solution. The deeper the valley, the higher the mountain. (Peter J. Kreeft, Because God Is Real: Sixteen Questions, One Answer.Ignatius Press, 2008, 209).

Those who say the Church teaching does not work in the real world are like those Pharisees who thought they did not need to repent. We do need to realize we need to repent and turn away from the values of “the real world” and teach others to do the same. Otherwise, we should remember the words of God to Ezekiel warning him of what should happen if we stay silent.

 

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(†) One of the bizarre behaviors of the critics is, the same Catholics who say that the Pope’s words about the abuse of capitalism are more applicable to socialism also say we must oppose him because he is a socialist. Well, which is it?

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Into Exile?



Thus says the Lord: Do what is right and just. Rescue the victims from the hand of their oppressors. Do not wrong or oppress the resident alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. If you carry out these commands, kings who succeed to the throne of David will continue to enter the gates of this house, riding in chariots or mounted on horses, with their ministers, and their people. But if you do not obey these commands, I swear by myself—oracle of the Lord: this house shall become rubble. (Jeremiah 22:3–5)

When I do my morning readings and study, sometimes the different books line up and discuss one theme in different ways. When that happens, it gives an interesting perspective on that theme. Lately, the theme coming up has been the times of Jeremiah and his warnings of coming disaster for the Jews. The Jews of the time thought of their problems as an external threat arbitrarily imposed on them for the wrongdoing of others. One of the kings even asked Jeremiah to intervene with God to prevent disaster… an attitude that showed that he did not even grasp the cause.

Jeremiah made clear that the disaster was unavoidable and the fault of the Jews themselves, not others, or other segments of the population. Everyone had fallen into corruption and had earned the coming wrath. Superficially keeping the law would not save them when their attitude was what kept them far from God.

I think of this as I watch Catholics in this country respond to the disasters afflicting us. Regardless of what side one falls under on the political divide, we sense that dark times are imminent, but we think that it is the fault of others. Whether the “others” are from a different political faction, a different country, a different religion, or whatever you prefer, we assume that our current woes are on account if them, and if they would only act as we see best, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

The prophets were clear that this was not the case. Ezekiel 18:1-4, for example, had this prophecy about that assumption:

The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, what is the meaning of this proverb you recite in the land of Israel: 

“Parents eat sour grapes, 
but the children’s teeth are set on edge”? 

As I live—oracle of the Lord GOD: I swear that none of you will ever repeat this proverb in Israel. For all life is mine: the life of the parent is like the life of the child, both are mine. Only the one who sins shall die! 

In other words, if we are undergoing a national crisis, the wrong attitude to take is “It’s somebody else’s fault.”

We need to flash forward to the year 2020. We are a nation laid low by a plague, and we are facing an election that feels like it was described in Isaiah 3:4-5. All of us—Catholics included—are acting as if we are immaculate and whatever fault exists for our trials belong elsewhere, even as we act unjustly in our own way.

We have excuses of course. We say that “Yes, the Church teaching on X is important but, in these times, we must focus on Y instead.” The problem is, we all too often have no intention of doing anything to correct the injustice of X, even if we feel perturbed by it. We decide we do not want to risk what we have by doing anything that might cause harm to it. So, we hypocritically condemn others for their failures to follow Catholic teaching and explain away our own failures. Both factions are quite proud of the fact that they follow the rules better than the other side. But let us remember the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1867 The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are “sins that cry to heaven”: the blood of Abel, the sin of the Sodomites, the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt, the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan, injustice to the wage earner.

If we turn a blind eye to the sins our faction is guilty of committing or tolerating, while condemning the other side for violating God’s law, we are hypocrites and earn condemnation ourselves. So, before we point fingers at the other side for their evils and congratulate ourselves for our “virtues,” let us ask ourselves if we too are guilty in the eyes of God. I say that because, the Catechism of the Catholic Church also warns us:

1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest. (Emphasis added).

We who are Catholics should also remember the teaching of Vatican II. Because we belong to the Church established by Christ and possessing the fullness of His teachings; because we can avail ourselves of the graces He provides through it, we are without excuses if we live against or turn our back on these teachings.

All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

We should keep that in mind. While our fellow Catholics might be sinning differently than us, that does not negate our own sins against God and our fellow man. I think this is where Our Lord’s teaching on judgment really applies:

Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3–5)

If, in 2020, we condemn the other side while “being comfortable” with our own vote* or political platform, then we have a log in our eye. The failure of the major factions to fix the evils they are complicit in means we should not call our preferred faction “good.” At best we can call it “less evil,” and need to reform it even as we oppose the evils of the other side.

Otherwise, we share in the evil and will answer for it… quite possibly facing the equivalent of the exile that the prophets warned the ancient Israelites about.

 

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(*) as one “personally opposed but…” voter told me when trying to justify her opposition to ending legalized abortion..

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Once Again, The Blind Try to Lead the Blind: Reflection on the Rejection of Fratelli Tutti

St. Augustine, in his prologue to the work Christian Instruction describes a situation that very much sounds like what Pope Francis is going through… being criticized by people who do not understand either the teaching or the basis behind it:

Some will censure my work because they have failed to comprehend those principles of which I shall treat. Others, when they have desired to employ the principles which they have learned and have endeavored to explain the Sacred Scriptures according to these principles, but have failed to disclose and elucidate what they want, will think that I have labored uselessly; and, because they themselves have not been aided by this work, will think that no one could profit from it. The third category of critics comprises those who either actually interpret Scripture well, or seem to in their own estimation. These observe, or think they observe, that they have gained the ability to explain sacred writings, although they have studied none of the regulations of the sort that I have now determined to recommend. Accordingly, they will protest that those principles are essential to no one, but that whatever is convincingly revealed about the obscurities of those writings could be achieved more effectively by divine assistance alone.

—St. Augustine (Christian Instruction)

 Another Papal document, another round of dissent from certain Catholics alleging it is rank heresy. If ever there was an example of the adage, a little knowledge is dangerous, this is it.

The Holy Father’s encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, is a document that reminds us of our obligations under the Golden Rule and the Great Commandment. While written as an appeal to all people of good will, it is just as binding on us Catholics as any other Papal teaching. But those Catholics who want to reject the Pope (schism) or do not like his teaching (dissent) have twisted certain points in it to allege he is openly promoting heresy. In doing so, they are not only behaving dishonestly (whether deliberately or through vincible ignorance), but they show that they do not even understand the Catholic teachings they accuse the Pope of violating.

I plan to discuss the two most widely repeated claims that these anti-Francis Catholics make against the Pope and his encyclical. First, that he has denied the right to private property. Second, that he has rejected the Church teaching on just war. Both claims are false.

Fratelli Tutti and Private Property

The first claim—widely repeated in the secular media—is that the Pope has denied the right to private property. The problem is, this is not even an close as a paraphrase of what he said.

Pope Francis discusses this in three paragraphs (118-120):

118. The world exists for everyone, because all of us were born with the same dignity. Differences of colour, religion, talent, place of birth or residence, and so many others, cannot be used to justify the privileges of some over the rights of all. As a community, we have an obligation to ensure that every person lives with dignity and has sufficient opportunities for his or her integral development.

119. In the first Christian centuries, a number of thinkers developed a universal vision in their reflections on the common destination of created goods. This led them to realize that if one person lacks what is necessary to live with dignity, it is because another person is detaining it. Saint John Chrysostom summarizes it in this way: “Not to share our wealth with the poor is to rob them and take away their livelihood. The riches we possess are not our own, but theirs as well”.[92] In the words of Saint Gregory the Great, “When we provide the needy with their basic needs, we are giving them what belongs to them, not to us”.

120. Once more, I would like to echo a statement of Saint John Paul II whose forcefulness has perhaps been insufficiently recognized: “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone”. For my part, I would observe that “the Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property”. The principle of the common use of created goods is the “first principle of the whole ethical and social order”; it is a natural and inherent right that takes priority over others.[97] All other rights having to do with the goods necessary for the integral fulfilment of persons, including that of private property or any other type of property, should – in the words of Saint Paul VI – “in no way hinder [this right], but should actively facilitate its implementation”. The right to private property can only be considered a secondary natural right, derived from the principle of the universal destination of created goods. This has concrete consequences that ought to be reflected in the workings of society. Yet it often happens that secondary rights displace primary and overriding rights, in practice making them irrelevant.

Critics seized on one line “The right to private property can only be considered a secondary natural rightderived from the principle of the universal destination of created goods” and interpreted it as denying the right to private property. But they failed to recognize that this line is not a Marxist principle, but a Catholic teaching. We do have a right to private property. But we must make use of it for our brothers and sisters in the sense that the Good Samaritan made use of his property for the good of others in need. St. John Paul II made this point in his encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (#42):

It is necessary to state once more the characteristic principle of Christian social doctrine: the goods of this world are originally meant for all. The right to private property is valid and necessary, but it does not nullify the value of this principle. Private property, in fact, is under a “social mortgage,” which means that it has an intrinsically social function, based upon and justified precisely by the principle of the universal destination of goods. Likewise, in this concern for the poor, one must not overlook that special form of poverty which consists in being deprived of fundamental human rights, in particular the right to religious freedom and also the right to freedom of economic initiative.

Moreover, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us the same thing:

2404 “In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself.” The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family. (307)

2405 Goods of production—material or immaterial—such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number. Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor.

2406 Political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good. (1903)

As we can see, this was not a new teaching by Pope Francis. Catholics who think this is an endorsement of “Marxism” urgently need to revisit the teachings about our obligations to others.

Has Fratelli Tutti Cancelled the Just War Doctrine?

The next issue to consider is the issue of Just War. Critics seem to rely on their own interpretation—or more likely a favored media source—of #258, where it reads:

258. War can easily be chosen by invoking all sorts of allegedly humanitarian, defensive or precautionary excuses, and even resorting to the manipulation of information. In recent decades, every single war has been ostensibly “justified”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the possibility of legitimate defence by means of military force, which involves demonstrating that certain “rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy”[239] have been met. Yet it is easy to fall into an overly broad interpretation of this potential right. In this way, some would also wrongly justify even “preventive” attacks or acts of war that can hardly avoid entailing “evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”.[240] At issue is whether the development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the enormous and growing possibilities offered by new technologies, have granted war an uncontrollable destructive power over great numbers of innocent civilians. The truth is that “never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely”.[241] We can no longer think of war as a solution, because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits. In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a “just war”. Never again war![242]

Following the same playbook they used when criticizing Amoris Lætia, they take a footnote (242) and turn it into a doctrine while ignoring the section the footnote references. The footnote reads, “Saint Augustine, who forged a concept of “just war” that we no longer uphold in our own day, also said that ‘it is a higher glory still to stay war itself with a word, than to slay men with the sword, and to procure or maintain peace by peace, not by war’ (Epistola 229, 2: PL 33, 1020).” Critics take the first phrase in that sentence and act as if was rejecting the past teaching on War. But what the critics do not consider is how both warfare and the justification of it has changed. Modern warfare is indiscriminately destructive of the innocent and leaves them in bad conditions after victory is declared. Consider the case of Christians in Iraq for example. So, do we no longer follow St. Augustine? That should be obvious. The teaching has been further developed since then. So, we cannot appeal to his version against that further development.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists conditions of Just War:

2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: (2243; 1897)

— the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

— all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

— there must be serious prospects of success;

— the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

Critics tend to emphasize the first and third conditions while neglecting the second and fourth. In modern times, the decision is made to go to war, and we strike at the most advantageous moment, while the disorders produced are treated as unavoidable and therefore irrelevant. But unless we meet all of these conditions, what we have is not a just war.

Let us be aware: we no longer see governments leaving war until a last resort. Now we do preemptive strikes and launch cruise missiles at our enemies to strike them by surprise, which some Catholics defend. And, of course, on the anniversaries of the use of nuclear weapons in Japan, we will invariably see some Catholic defend their usage even though the Church itself has always opposed it.

What the critics do not understand is, The Pope hasn’t abandoned past teaching on Just War. He is deploring the fact that we no longer follow it, even though we label every war we favor “just.”

Conclusion

This is just a brief overview of the problems with the objections. It is more in depth than the manga version I created earlier, but critiquing the critics can be done in greater depth still and cover more issues. 

But the ultimate thing to remember when faced with the attacks on Fratelli Tutti is this: Not only are the critics of the Pope wrong about what he said, they’re wrong about what they think the teaching is supposed to be. 

We have a Pope and bishops—successors to the Apostles—to whom Jesus Christ given the authority to teach in a binding manner, even if it is not done ex cathedra. When they do teach the entire Church (and an encyclical is such a teaching), we are bound to obey§ such teachings. Those critics who say that the Pope and bishops in communion with him teach error do not have such authority to teach in opposition, even if they are bishops or cardinals themselves*

As a result, we need to be aware that these critics who claim to be more Catholic than the Pope are nothing more than blind guides. Following them will lead to ruin. We have an obligation to learn what the Pope intends to teach, not insert (eisegesis) our own preconceived notions over that actual teaching.

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(†) Critics have done this for years over the Church teaching on social justice, appealing to an earlier version that does not mention a later abuse against a later version that does. Like critics today, they think that a development is a contradiction.

(‡) If you do not have the internet, you would not be able to read this anyway.

(§) Canon 752-753:

CAN. 752† Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

CAN. 753† Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.

(*) In such a case a bishop or cardinal would only be giving his own opinion, not a binding Church teaching.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

It’s Iimi: Maybe I Was Born A Tree, Because I Will Dialogue

The encyclical Fratelli Tutti has been released and Iimi-tan is bombarded with questions about it. The objections leveled against the Pope in this comic we’re all ones I personally encountered on Facebook. What irritates Iimi-tan (and me) is that the complaints not only show that the critic didn’t read it (or read it very superficially), but that the critic doesn’t understand the actual Catholic teaching.





Friday, October 2, 2020

Reflections on Our Attitudes About Trump and COVID-19

was startled to learn about the news that Donald and Melania Trump had been diagnosed with COVID-19. It certainly brought home the fact that if the rich and powerful can get it, so can the rest of us. But this article is not about the moral goodness or badness of a human being, dealing with an illness, or the precautionary measures needed against them. Rather, it is about looking at the reactions on social media and having to ask, “What is wrong with people?”

The reason I ask this is because a certain set of Americans are responding with malicious glee to the fact that two human being have been afflicted by a disease that seems to have called almost 208,000 deaths and afflicted 7.35 million people in the United States alone. I have seen people wish the President a painful death, and I have seen people seek to use this for a partisan gain. Even in the media, we are seeing the main discussion focusing on how it will impact the elections and the Supreme Court nomination process. Some of those carrying out this abhorrent behavior are self-professed Christians.

Once again: These Donald and Melania Trump are human beings, made in the image and likeness of God and worthy of as much respect and compassion as every other human being. If we claim to care about human lives, we need to show concern for these specific human lives as well.

Those who dislike the President will no doubt bring up a litany of his sins. To which I will respond with the words of Christ:

Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit [is] that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:31-36).

The attitude of the Christian for the suffering must be one of compassion and caring that is not contingent on how they have treated us or how their affliction will benefit or harm us. Regardless of what one thinks of a person’s politics or character, we are not exempted from that part of God’s great commandment that tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

And if we invent excuses as to why someone who we dislike doesn’t count, we’re pretty reprehensible.

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(†) Worldwide, we have 1.35 million deaths and 34.5 million cases.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

It’s Iimi! What is Good Government?

Ms. Baculum was just expecting the students to to emulate Biden v. Trump in a debate when she set the topic as “What is good government?” and barred any discussion of religion. Iimi-tan takes it in a different direction. (Rick’s personal attacks are ones I’ve encountered frequently since I reached voting age)




Sunday, September 20, 2020

Do We Need to Prepare for a Gethsemane Moment?

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:36–39)

 

There’s an old saying (it’s been attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola, among others) that goes, “We must pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended on us.” While it can be misinterpreted in a Pelagian sense, it means that we must rely on God to grant us what we need and work for it, trusting Him to strengthen us in cooperating with His will. Sometimes the good which God wills can be spectacular like the Walls of Jericho. At other times, it can be difficult to see, like Christians living during the Roman persecution must have struggled with why things were going that way.

 

In difficult times like this past year, there is a lot to be fearful about. Some of these are international (like coronavirus). Others are local, like the Presidential Elections and the open seat on the Supreme Court. We worry about them because the consequences can be serious. However, I think in modern times, we tend to forget that the Christian life can involve suffering. We (especially in the West) are tempted to think that we shouldn’t be experiencing injustice or suffering at all. If we do, somebody—other than us—is to blame for it, and it wouldn’t have happened if they had acted as we thought best.

 

We shouldn’t be surprised that injustice and suffering happen. The recent and ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East shows that we never know if one of us will be called on to make the ultimate sacrifice for our faith. We don’t know if our own nation might take a turn for the worse in terms of government harassment or mob violence over our values. 

 

We especially shouldn’t be surprised because one article of our Christian Faith involves the bloody execution of our Lord, Jesus Christ. As He warned us, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). It is unreasonable to expect our life as Christians to be free of troubles. This is not a call to be passive in the face of injustice. Rather, we are called to carry out the Great Commission despite the troubles that come our way. Nor is this an argument that because our treatment is not as bad as it is in other countries, we are not treated unjustly.

 

What it does mean is we ought to approach whatever hardships that come by following the example of Jesus in Gethsemane. Yes, it is natural to avoid suffering. We legitimately pray to be delivered from evil in the Lord’s Prayer after all. But, if it turns out that we cannot avoid suffering, then we should pray for the grace to accept God’s will and endure as we carry out His work here on Earth. 


Saturday, September 19, 2020

What is Our Obligation? Body Count Theology and the Fallacy of Relative Privation


 

The election grows closer and everybody is worried about the consequences. Looking at it objectively, no matter who wins, the consequences will be severe. So nonpartisan discussions should involve what the cost is of rejecting the greater evil. It’s understandable that Catholics would also look at the election with concern. The Catholic’s concerns about the cost will be different from the secular concerns, but we do have an obligation to identify both the greater evil and whether a “proportionate reason” exists to support the lesser evil.

 

Unfortunately, we’re seeing some Catholics reduce this into an issue of the body count. It’s understandable of course. Looking strictly at numbers, a policy that kills 62 million people is more serious than a policy that kills 6 million people and must be given a higher priority. But we do need to go beyond “strictly looking at numbers,” as the fact that the second policy “only” killed 6 million does not make it negligible or tolerable. I didn’t pick those two numbers at random. 62 million is the number killed by abortion in the United States from 1973-2018. 6 million is the number of Jews estimated murdered by the Nazis in their “Final Solution.” Both are horrific when you realize that the numbers are not statistics but human beings. It would be monstrous to argue that Hitler’s policies didn’t matter in comparison.

 

But reducing political support of a candidate to the fact that his policies have a lower body count than the other is effectively that! It’s ridiculous and offensive because the moral choice would be to reject both. Sometimes we do have to do that. The logical error to avoid is the fallacy of relative privation. This holds that because Evil X is greater than Evil Y, Evil Y is not important… an attitude incompatible with Catholic belief§.

 

Some Catholics may legitimately find that their conscience demands fighting the evil that Candidate A will impose must take a higher priority than the evil that Candidate B will impose, and that justifies a vote for Candidate B. But if they do think that a “proportionate reason” exists that justifies voting for Candidate B, they are not excused from fighting the evils that Candidate B supports. I would argue that they are obligated to fight the evils their vote is enabling if their candidate is elected. I do not believe we can claim that tolerating that evil for the next four to eight years is compatible with the Catholic view.

 

Unfortunately, we see Catholics on both sides who do exactly that. Some Catholics argue that by voting for the pro-abortion candidate, they are effectively reducing abortion because other policies will reduce the “need” for it… forgetting how many abortions are performed for arbitrary reasons. They then stay silent on abortion except to criticize those who give it a higher priority. Others argue that while they don’t like the evils in their party, “the stakes are too high” to fight against it until later… a later that never comes. In this game, both sides are swift to point out the hypocrisies of the other side… and never quite grasp that they are guilty of the same thing.

 

So, do you believe that the attacks on the right to life are the worst? Do you think that ignoring the other issues are missing a crucial point on what that right entails? Well and good. “They” should repent of their attitudes. But the question remains: What are you going to do about the evils in your own party? They’ll still be there on January 20th, 2021 and saying “I voted against Candidate A in 2020” isn’t going to be a defense at the Last Judgment. The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46) and the Parable about the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) show that we can’t be passive when people are suffering.

 

I am, of course, just a laic blogger. I have no authority to judge the conscience of you the reader based on how you happen to vote. But I can state my fraternal concern that many people seem to be forgetting that our moral obligations go beyond the ballot box. Our obligation as Catholic Christians¤ involve evangelizing the world in [election] season and out (cf. 2 Timothy 4:1-5) in the face of all the errors that risk damnation… not just the ones committed by those with a -D or an -R after their names.

 

__________________________

 

(†) To head off debates on Hitler being pro- or anti-abortion, Hitler’s views were based on eugenics, not moral values. He opposed abortion for “Aryan” ethnicities but favored it for other ethnicities.

 

(‡) I reject the concept of “Candidate X is Hitler” rhetoric that shows up (I rejected it in my blog at least as far back as 2012). No matter how repugnant we might find one or more of the current candidates, their positions are not Hitlerian.

 

(§) It’s closer to Utilitarianism where the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people is considered the key.

 

(¤) I don’t say this to deny the values of non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians that share our concerns. If you are in one of those groups, I hope my writing has some value for you too. But I am appealing as a Catholic to fellow Catholics to be aware of their obligations.

 

 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Quadrennial Problem For Catholics


All these horrors I've heard of during the Nurnberg process, these six million Jews, other thinking people or people of another race, who perished. That shocked me deeply. But I hadn't made the connection with my past. I assured myself with the thought of not being personally guilty. And that I didn't know anything about the enormous scale of it. But one day I walked by a memorial plate of Sophie Scholl in the Franz-Joseph-Strasse. I saw that she was about my age and she was executed in the same year I came to Hitler. And at that moment I actually realized that a young age isn't an excuse. And that it might have been possible to get to know things. (Traudl Junge in the movie Downfall)

At the time of this writing, there’s 47 days left until the US Presidential elections. At different times, I’ve referred to this as the “silly season” or even the “stupid season” because of how we Catholics tend to irrationally let our political values replace our Catholic moral teachings in governing how we live. We tend to act as if “our” candidate is the next best thing to the Second Coming, and “the other” candidate is the coming of the antichrist. As a result, whoever—even a bishop—speaks of “our” candidate in less than glowing terms, or concedes that “the other” candidate is right on an issue is accused of standing with the forces of darkness. The Catholic teaching “our” candidate is strong on or “the other” side is weak on is considered vital. The Catholic teaching “the other” candidate is strong on, or “our” side is wrong on is considered as less important.

That’s not to say that values are relative or that we can’t vote for any candidate at all. But what it does mean is we have an obligation to understand Catholic teaching properly so our consciences will be properly formed by the Church. From that, we are required to look at the candidates running and honestly assess whether a vote for one of them is morally justified. This is entirely different from the tactic of “looking for excuses to justify how we were going to vote anyway.” Nor can we conveniently weigh the Catholic teaching in a way that suits us.

The Church does indeed make the Right to Life the first right. Without it, the rest of the rights are “illusory” as St. John Paul II put it. However, the Church defines what is part of that right more broadly than partisan Catholics do. St. John Paul II wrote, citing Gaudium et Spes:

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”. (Christifideles Laici #38).

Let’s face it. Under this definition, neither party can honestly be called “pro-life.” We can only argue over which party causes the greater evil, and whether there is a proportionate reason to vote for the party that violates the Right to Life in a less evil way. But as we argue, we need to remember that God is the final judge, and He knows how honest we are being with ourselves.

Because the Right to Life is first and foremost, any party that chooses to violate it in some way is supporting grave evil, whether it involves an intrinsic evil (such as abortion) or an evil intention or consequence with an act that is not intrinsically evil. Matthew 25:31-46 reminds us that failure to help those in need is also damnable after all. Unfortunately, in the election years, we will inevitably see some Catholics argue that the other policies of a pro-abortion candidate will reduce the need for abortion… downplaying the fact that their candidate advocates the legal support for abortion, downplaying the fact that the Church lists it next to murder and genocide. Meanwhile, other Catholics argue that “the stakes are too high” to rebuke a candidate who supports the unjust treatment of migrants and the use of torture. Both sides declare that their candidate is the only moral choice, even though neither choice is moral.

Catholic supporters of both of these candidates will need to ask themselves whether they are prepared to face those who were made victims of the policies at the final judgment and honestly say that the suffering they enabled was not as bad as the evil they sought to oppose. I don’t mean making that decision in a tsk, that’s rough but what could I do? approach where we don’t look too closely at the evils we enable. I mean, are we prepared to honestly say before God and the victims that our vote was literally intended to stave off a worse evil?

And, if we are prepared to say this honestly before God and the victims, are we prepared to show our sincerity by speaking out against the evils our vote enables if that candidate gets elected, fighting tooth and nail to overturn that evil in our party?

Because if we’re not, if we’re prepared to stay silent for the next four years over those issues, the odds are we’re not being honest about our “proportionate reason” either.

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(†) If one takes those arguments and replace the word “abortion” with murder or genocide, these arguments sound demonically evil.