Archive for the ‘Catholic Identity’ Category

May I Offer a Few Suggestions?

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

It is exceedingly unlikely that anyone will ask my advice about who should be our next Holy Father.

Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about my hopes for the new Pope.  I have no particular interest in the “inside baseball” issues of reforming the Curia, or governing the Vatican Bank, and I imagine that most Catholics share my disinterest.

More than anything, I would like our next Vicar of Christ to be the embodiment of the New Evangelization.  My humble suggestions would be for the Cardinals to elect a man who can do the following:

  • Call people in an attractive, compelling way to unity with Jesus through the teaching of the Church, the Sacraments, and the fellowship of other Catholics.  This is the essence of the Christian mission, a point repeatedly made by Popes John Paul and Benedict, and if it is fulfilled boldly, it will appeal to those who are searching for meaning and love in their lives.
  • Continue to show the world the love that God has for every individual human person, through the apostolic work by the institutional Church and individuals.  Our Church has demonstrated repeatedly that no person is left out of the human community, and our duty of solidarity and charity extends to all.
  • Encourage more regular Catholic people to give witness to the joy that comes from living the truths of our faith and their personal friendship with Jesus.  To paraphrase Pope Paul VI, the world will not listen to teachers, but it will listen to teachers who are witnesses.  In a world of sadness and distress, the path to true happiness leads to the arms of Jesus — and we will only convince people of this by our lives, not by our words alone.
  • Adapt to new modes of communication so that the more people can come to know the love of Jesus and the “ever ancient, ever new” truths of our faith.  By this, I don’t just mean the mechanisms of communication (internet, social media, etc.), but an appeal to the modern sensibility in which emotional and social experience are paramount.
  • Strive for unity with other Christian communities, and comity and good relations with non-Christians.  This is an irrevocable commitment of the Church, one that we cannot allow to falter out of discouragement or hostility.
  • Stand as a courageous counter-witness to a world that believes that faith is nonsense, that God is irrelevant, and that pleasure is all.  Man searches for meaning endlessly, and our unquiet hearts can only find rest in the one, true God.  The new pope would have but to look to the lesson of his two predecessors, who were outstanding public witnesses.
  • Of course, the personal qualities of the Holy Father are not as important as the reality of his office, since it is only by being in communion with the Bishop of Rome that I can be fully incorporated into the Church established by Christ Himself.

    One thing is certain.  We should all join in prayer for our Church, and for the cardinals who are entering the conclave on Tuesday.

    Veni Creator Spiritus!

    Dividing the Body

    Sunday, October 14th, 2012

    The hyper-partisan state of contemporary American politics poses a significant threat to the unity of the Church.  And we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

    It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that politics is inherently partisan.  That’s the nature of the animal.  Having clear distinctions between parties is in many ways a useful and efficient way to structure the public policy debate, and to organize a government.  Principled disagreement is a healthy way to carry on a constructive dialogue about policies.  And, certainly, no democracy can function without a healthy party system — just look at the deplorable state of politics in New York City.

    But the modern obsession with politics has gone beyond a healthy debate about which policies are to be preferred, and which will work better to address social problems.  During this hotly-contested election, it seems now that all issues and all relationships are being colored by whether one is a Republican or Democrat,  or whether one favors or opposes the re-election of the President.

    This partisanship, which was reserved to the political arena, has invaded private life, and is intruding upon the Church.  People are being drummed out of the Church as not “real Catholics” because they show insufficient partisan zeal, or because they propose showing civility to one candidate or another, or because they suggest that one can vote for a candidate other than a Republican or Democrat.  And that is very dangerous.

    Look, I know very well that there is a lot at stake in this election — and I’m not even talking about pragmatic issues like economic and foreign policy. The policies of the current Administration are deeply anti-life — they aggressively promote abortion at home and abroad, undermine the authentic definition of marriage, carry out a program of aggressive warfare that recklessly kills civilians, and are openly and actively hostile to religious liberty.  I cannot personally imagine any “proportional reason” that would justify voting in favor of a candidate who supports so many intrinsically evil policies. (Remember, this is my personal opinion, not an official statement of the Archdiocese)

    But, no matter how significant this election is, the winners and losers are all mere flashes in the pan, here today and gone tomorrow, and their platforms are passing ephemera that nobody will remember in a short time. There are few things as dated and time-bound as partisan politics.

    The Church, the Body of Christ, is an entirely different matter.  She is eternal, and her mission transcends any temporary partisan election that divides people.  The Church continues Christ mission of calling all people to himself in unity through the Holy Spirit.  Factionalism in the Church has been a problem from the earliest day — just read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.  But in any age, factions and divisions deeply wound the Church.

    I am a political wonk.  Election Day is my Super Bowl.  I read political news compulsively.  But I constantly have to remind myself that, as Pope Benedict once wrote:

    The state is not the whole of human existence and does not encompass all human hope. Man and what he hopes for extend beyond the framework of the state and beyond the sphere of political action.

    All people thirst for the divine, and politics cannot satisfy that need.  Only God, through the instrument of the Church, can provide the answer.  Before any political affiliation, electoral interest, or policy preference, we are Christians, members of Christ’s Body.  And we must never let any partisan politics divide the Church in any way that would diminish her ability to draw all people to God.

    Controversies and Dinners

    Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

    There is a controversy brewing in Catholic and pro-life circles over reports that the President has been invited to attend the annual Al Smith Dinner here in New York.  In my opinion, people need to take a deep breath, relax a second, and think carefully about this.

    It’s important first to understand what the Al Smith Dinner is, and is not, and then what the invitation means, and what it does not.

    The Al Smith Dinner is organized and hosted by the Alfred E. Smith Foundation, which is closely affiliated with but independent of the Archdiocese of New York.  It’s named after Governor Al Smith, an iconic figure in New York politics, who dedicated his life to serving the people of the state, particularly the needy.  He was a classic urban machine politician, but was also committed to working with others across party lines when he saw that it was in the public interest.  He was always proud of his Catholic faith and he defended the Church against attacks against religious bigotry.  He was certainly well familiar with anti-Catholicism, since his own faith was brutally attacked during his run for the Presidency in 1928.

    The dinner is not a religious event in any way — it’s a civic/political event that raises money for Catholic charitable institutions.  It’s not held at a religious building — it’s at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  It has no religious component aside from a benediction and closing prayer — much like sessions of Congress.  A large proportion of the people who attend the Dinner are not Catholic, and the list of past speakers shows that only once in its almost 70-year history has a religious figure given the keynote address (Cardinal O’Connor).

    The dinner has a long tradition of inviting New York elected officials of all parties, and candidates of both major parties for the Presidency.  It is strictly non-partisan, and an invitation to the dinner is in no way an endorsement of any office holder, or any candidate for office.

    It’s also important that the politicians who speak at the dinner are not being given any honor or award by the Church, but are rather delivering an address that is one part jocular remarks written by professional jokesters, and two-parts generic political after-dinner bromides.  Any comparison between the Al Smith Dinner and the honorary degree given to the President at Notre Dame’s graduation ceremony is thus completely off-the-mark.

    Everybody at the dinner understands this — it’s a civic event, much like a Veteran’s Day parade (but with a fancier menu and white tie).

    Some people have been saying that inviting the President in some way undermines or contradicts the Church’s public witness in defense of life and the family.  There is no question that the President’s political agenda and policy record are deplorable from a Catholic perspective — he is consistently anti-life and is ardent in his promotion and support of abortion, he is in favor of re-defining marriage, he opposes parental choice in education, his Administration is a consistent enemy of religious freedom, and there is good reason to believe that he has dealt with our bishops in less than good faith.

    Give the consistency and strength with which our bishops — particularly Cardinal Dolan — have been proclaiming the Catholic view of public policy, it is hard to see how this one Dinner could possibly lead anyone to believe that the Church is softening her defense of life, the family, and religious liberty.  When everyone wakes up the morning after, the struggle will resume.

    But, as a matter of fact, an invitation to the current incumbent President to the Al Smith Dinner actually sends a message, one that is important in this time of pathologically toxic politics.  It says to us that we can vehemently disagree with a public official’s positions, but we can still show respect for his office, and for him as a person, and treat him with civility.  It gives us an opportunity to act as Christians, and show some love to our adversaries, and even those whose policies we consider to be immoral and oppressive. After all, even St. Peter told us to “honor the emperor” (1 Pet 2:17).

    The message is also that we can set aside our deeply-held differences and leave the partisan politics at the door for an evening, speak nicely and politely to each other, and work together for a common cause in the service of the poor.  That’s a good thing, something that Al Smith would have been proud to associate himself with, and something that Catholics and pro-lifers should also support.

     

    Note:  Some bloggers and other news sources have linked to this blog post, and have said that it is a statement by “the Archdiocese”.  Please read the sidebar to this blog: “The opinions expressed by the Bloggers… are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Archdiocese of New York”.  These comments are not an official statement by the Archdiocese or the Cardinal — they represent my opinions, and mine alone.  Clear?  Okay, fire away — but in a civil way, please.

    Our Men in Black

    Monday, June 4th, 2012

    Over the past two weeks, I’ve had a privilege that very few lay people ever get a chance to share.  I’ve spent time with about a thousand of our priests.

    The occasions were our biannual clergy continuing education days, which are part of the Safe Environment program.  In past years, we’ve used these days to offer information about the Theology of the Body, the dangers of internet pornography, and other important subjects.  This year, we covered the key issue of maintaining good healthy boundaries in ministerial relationships.

    The education component of the day is important, but I suspect that the main benefit to the priests is the fellowship they experience — an opportunity to get together with their brothers and to renew the bonds of fellowship.  The chance to see and hear the Cardinal speak about priestly life is also a real plus.

    For an outside observer like myself, these days were an affirmation of how important and special our priests are.  Their camaraderie and good humor was uplifting, and it was truly inspiring to hear them pray and sing Midday Prayer together.

    I had the chance to address them briefly on each of the days.  As part of my talk, I took the opportunity to express my personal and professional gratitude to them, for their leadership and example, and their commitment to serving us.

    I’m a realist.  I know that nobody is perfect, and that our priests are just as human as I am — flawed, but striving to be good.  But the reality is that our “Men in Black” are indispensable and a treasure to our Church.  I cannot imagine what my life would be like without the priests I have known.

    At the end of my remarks at the clergy days, I told our priests that  I was in awe of them.  May I suggest that every Catholic should take the opportunity to thank a priest?  They deserve it.

    The Disgrace of Georgetown

    Thursday, May 17th, 2012

    There’s a very fine Jesuit priest who is a professor at Georgetown University, Fr. James Schall. In a recent column, he said this: “Tell me who you honor and I will tell you what you are.”

    The reason for the question is the appalling decision by Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute to have HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as the speaker at their commencement. The president of Georgetown has stated that this platform is being given to the Secretary because of her “long and distinguished record of public service”.

    Yes, you read that right.  An allegedly Catholic university, giving a platform of honor to the current Administration’s point person to advance its anti-life agenda.

    Let’s review some of the highlights of Secretary Sebelius’ “long and distinguished record”, for those at Georgetown who don’t have access to the Internet:

  • She has spearheaded the recent attacks on human life and religious liberty by promulgating the infamous HHS contraceptive and abortion mandates.
  • She notoriously declared at a pro-abortion rally that “we are in a war” to defend the right to kill children in the womb.
  • She has associated with, and embraced the support of, the infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller — she even hosted an event at her governor’s mansion in honor of him and posed smiling for pictures with him.
  • As Governor of Kansas, she consistently opposed pro-life legislation, and has repeatedly vetoed bills like a ban on partial birth abortion.
  • Her record was so bad in Kansas that her own bishop, after trying privately to convert her, had to publicly admonish her not to present herself for Communion until she publicly repudiates her pro-abortion positions.
  • Georgetown loves to boast about how it is a university “in the Jesuit tradition”. At the heart of the Jesuit charism is the Spiritual Exercises of their founder, St. Ignatius Loyola. During the second week of the Exercises, those who are on the retreat receive a meditation on the Two Standards. This is a powerful expression of the very meaning of Christian discipleship.

    The meditation asks bluntly — whose standard or flag will we follow, Christ’s or Satan’s?

    Satan’s standard, of course, is the one that the world finds most attractive, because it superficially appeals to our fallen human nature. It offers us the desire for worldly possessions, power, honor, and a false view of freedom that is a disguise for immorality. In the end, though, it leads only to destruction.

    Christ’s standard, on the other hand, is the one that the world finds unattractive, because it appeals to values that are exemplified by Our Lord himself, whom the world rejected. It offers us humility, poverty, sacrifice, and authentic freedom that involves willing adherence to God’s will. And in the end it leads to glory.

    So here’s the question for the Georgetown administration — which standard have you chosen? As Fr. Schall said, “Tell me who you honor and I will tell you what you are.”

    A Time for Unity

    Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

    The HHS  mandate has now been confirmed and implemented, in the same precise terms as were announced last year.  Under this regime, all individuals will be required to obtain health insurance that will provide free coverage for sterilization, contraception and some abortion-causing drugs.  The exemption for religious employers continues to be extremely limited, and all we have is the President’s promise that he will provide something more expansive at some undefined point in the future.

    So, where do we go from here?

    It’s very important that we not allow this issue to be understood solely in terms of election year partisan politics.  That’s unavoidable, of course — it is an election year, and it is already an issue in the campaign.  But for us, this is an issue that far transcends the current political climate.  This is an existential question for Catholics.  What does it mean to be a Catholic in America at this point in time?  What are we to do when our government enacts laws that we cannot, in conscience, obey?  How do I remain a good, law-abiding citizen, while also preserving my soul?

    We have to recognize that we have reached a critical point of decision, both as a Church and as individual Catholics.  The political forces out there — the Administration and their opponents, along with all the pundits and spin-doctors — are seeking to divide us into opposing camps, in order to win votes or to advance policy goals.  Our bishops are trying to keep us united in the Body of Christ.

    Listen for a second to what Cardinal George said the other day, during his periodic (ad limina) visit to the Holy Father — an event that enhances the universal unity of the Church.  He said (the emphasis is added by me):

    Even in the midst of this strengthened unity, news of attempts to weaken the unity between the bishops and the faithful have been reported.  This is the first time in the history of the United States that a presidential administration has purposely tried to interfere in the internal working of the Catholic Church, playing one group off against another for political gain.  What isn’t always understood is that the Bishops of the Church make no attempt to speak for all Catholics; they never have.  The Bishops speak for the Catholic and apostolic faith, and those who hold that faith gather around them.  Others disperse. 

    Just so.  Unity with our bishops has always been the hallmark of the Church.  As St. Ignatius of Antioch said in the early second century, “Wherever the bishop is, there let the people be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

    Our bishops are calling us to rally around them, behind the standard of Christ.  It is sad that some people will disperse, and choose to follow a different standard — they will decide instead to accommodate themselves to the spirit of the age, with the Administration’s contraceptive anti-life ideology, or with various political forces.  Just as it was in Gethsemane, so also it is today.  Some will remain faithful, others will not.  Clearly, we need to conduct a prayer campaign to foster unity in the Church and a greater respect for human life (like this one, or this one, for instance).

    All this is not to say, however, that we are to stand by and disengage from the public policy struggle.  Although it appears that the Administration is absolutely intransigent on this issue, there are still two other branches of government.  Court cases have already been filed, and more will follow, to challenge this violation of our religious freedom.  We can’t leave things to the courts, though — we need to work together and redouble our efforts to influence Congress to pass legislation to protect the right of conscience.  Bills like the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012 deserve our support.  We should all be flooding Congress with emails and letters in support of them (an easy way is to go here).

    As laypeople, we also need to remember that this is an election year, and that every member of the House of Representatives, one-third of the Senators, and the next President will all be elected in November.  This issue, as much as any in our lifetimes, should serve to remind us of our duty as Catholic voters.

    Elections matter.

    Secularism in Action

    Friday, September 23rd, 2011

    In my last post, I proposed that many of our social and political disputes stem from a fundamental conflict in how one views the human person — the Secularist view versus the Incarnational view.  That may or may not be an interesting point, but how does it play out in the real world?

    To see the impact of this conflict, we need look no further than the recently-announced regulations by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.  The Department was acting pursuant to a provision in the health care “reform” law that mandates coverage of “preventive services”, a term that would ordinarily encompass medical care that prevents diseases.  The Department, reflecting the Administration’s contraceptive mentality, has decided that pregnancy is a disease to be prevented, and has mandated that every private health insurance plan cover — without any charge to the insured person — contraceptive drugs and devices (including some that clearly have the effect of causing an abortion) and sterilization surgery.

    I’m not going to discuss the absurdity and iniquity of this proposal.  Those should be self-evident.  I want to focus for now on how it demonstrates the impact of  Secularism on religious liberty.

    HHS has proposed an exemption from this rule for “religious employers”.  Note this — not religious individuals, who will be forced to pay premiums for immoral drugs and procedures.  Not religious insurance companies, which will be forced to pay for them.  Only religious employers can be exempt, if they satisfy HHS’s view of what that term means.

    It is in this definition that we find the Secularist attack on religion and on human liberty.   HHS has defined “religious employer” to mean only an organization (a) whose purpose is the inculcation of religious values, (b) that primarily hires persons who share the  organization’s religious tenets, and (c) that primarily serves person who share those tenets.  So, you only count as a religious institution if you are solely religious in your activities, and you refrain from interacting with anyone else — in other words, if you keep your religion entirely in the private sphere, and dare not step out into society as a whole.

    Think of how narrow this definition is.  Every Catholic social service or health care agency serves the needy, regardless of their faith.  Every Catholic parish has many purposes, including the celebration of liturgy and sacraments and the salvation of souls.  Every Catholic school has multiple educational purposes beyond just inculcating religious values.

    Jesus himself  wouldn’t qualify for this exemption.

    The regulation raises many disturbing questions for the future of religious liberty in our nation.  How will HHS determine whether an organization qualifies?  How will they determine what the purpose of the institution is?  How will they tell if the employees or clients share our religious tenets?  Will there be a test given by HHS?  Will people be asked about their beliefs by a government official?  Will a government agency, perhaps called the State Administration for Religious Affairs, be set up to make these determinations or to issue certificates or licenses to religious groups?

    The point here is not just the reflexive hostility that this regulation displays for religion and religious believers.  Rather, it is that the government considers itself authorized or qualified to define what an authentic religious organization is.  And that in their mind, the only acceptable religion is the one that keeps to itself, keeps quiet, and follows orders.

    This is the impact of Secularism on our society, with all the coercive power of the government at its disposal.

    “You Can’t Be a Catholic…”

    Sunday, September 4th, 2011

    You very often hear that “you can’t be a Catholic and [fill in the blank]“.  The [blank] is then filled in with whatever the person finds reprehensible, and what they consider to be grounds for ejecting somebody from the Church.  The most common ones I hear are “you can’t be Catholic and be pro-choice”, or “you can’t be Catholic and support ‘gay marriage’”.

    That can be a very tempting sentiment to express.  Catholics must always adhere to the teaching of the Church — God forbid that I ever say or do anything against that teaching.  There’s also something very distressing about people who proclaim themselves to be “good Catholics” or “devout Catholics”, yet take public positions or perform public acts that are inimical to that teaching.  It misleads people, and it places souls at risk.

    Now, I am no canon lawyer (I am a lawyer and some people want to shoot me out of a cannon, but that doesn’t count).  But as I understand it, the general principle in Canon Law is that once you’re baptized a Catholic you’re always a Catholic, unless you formally defect — make a formal statement to your pastor that you are leaving the Church. That’s very rarely done. It’s actually very difficult to stop being a Catholic. Merely committing a sin is not enough.

    That makes perfect sense.  The Catholic Church isn’t a country club, where you lose your membership if you violate the rules or fail to pay your dues.  It’s the Body of Christ, and we are incorporated into that Body by virtue of our Baptism — we are indelibly changed by the grace of that sacrament.  It has become a question of who I am, and not just what I believe or do.

    The key question then is not whether one ceases to be a Catholic, but to what extent a person is in communion with the Catholic Church, and thus with Christ Himself.

    Full communion with the Church can be impaired by many things, such as heresy (rejection of a truth divinely revealed), schism (no longer attending Mass, but instead joining a religious group that is not in communion with the Holy See), etc. Failing to live a life in keeping with the teaching of the Church will also impair one’s communion (e.g., openly cohabiting with a non-spouse).  Individual acts can also breach communion (like any mortal sin). In most of these cases, full communion is restored by sacramental Confession.

    The USCCB described this once as “If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues…he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church.”

    Penalties like excommunication are imposed by the Canon Law in some particularly serious cases (e.g., heresy, schism, abortion, etc.).  But they do not eject someone from the Catholic Church. Instead, they are public declarations that a person has breached communion with the Church in a significant way (e.g., those who participate in the purported “ordination” of women as priests). In these cases, full communion has to be restored, often by some other public act.  The goal of these penalties is not to kick people out, but to call them to return.

    So, for example, the poor deluded people who participate in mock “ordinations” of women have breached communion with the Church by their actions. Under Canon Law they have incurred an automatic excommunication. In no way are they Catholic priests. But they are still Catholics.  Likewise with those who ordain bishops without the consent of the Holy See, or politicians who support intrinsically evil laws (such as those recognizing abortion rights, or re-defining marriage).  They haven’t stopped being Catholic, but they have gravely wounded their communion with Christ and His Church.

    Why does this technical distinction matter so much?  Because it’s much easier to dismiss people as being beyond the pale, than to grieve for their sin and to work to reconcile with them and repair the damage.  Anyone who has trouble in their family knows how tempting it is to wish that the difficult person were gone from the house, and how much harder it is for them to stay and work things out.

    Reconciliation and healing are hard.  Just ask the father of the Prodigal Son.  Just ask Jesus.

    Varia

    Saturday, July 16th, 2011

    The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):

  • Must read of the week:  Americans United for Life’s exhaustive report on Planned Parenthood.   The Executive Summary provides the basic narrative, the full report has all the details.
  • Stats on late-term abortions in the UK show that it is being used in a eugenic way, to eliminate disabled persons.
  • More proof that human life as a disposable commodity — women in the UK, pregnant due to IVF, are having abortions because they’ve changed their minds.
  • The madness of sex selection continues in India, with baby girls being subjected to sex change operations.
  • Scholar Brad Wilcox punctures the bubble of those who think that “open marriages” are a great idea.  Why would we ever want to go back to the ’70′s?
  • Yet our narcissistic culture, having learned nothing, now brings us the inevitable lawsuit seeking to legalize polygamy.  If same-sex “marriage” is inevitable, then why not anything else?
  • An Illinois court stops the state from terminating Catholic Charities adoption and foster care services due to the civil unions law.
  • Here’s some background on the series of lies that led to the passage of the Illinois civil unions bill, particularly the lies about how it would affect religious institutions.  And every major public official in that state is a Catholic.
  • Lessons learned about the secularization of Catholic universities, thanks to the NLRB ruling that Manhattan College is no longer a church-operated institution.  A lesson worth bearing in mind as more and more Catholic institutions and schools come under the leadership of lay boards with little or no connection to the Church.  It’s all about Catholic identity and mission.
  • Beautiful story of the current record-holder for the world’s most premature baby (21 weeks, 5 days, 1.01 pounds).
  • (Please note that these links will take you to websites that are not affiliated with the Archdiocese.  We neither take responsibility for nor endorse the contents of the websites.)

    I’m the Pope, I Am — Not

    Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

    There’s an old joke that goes “there may be a shortage of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but there’s no shortage of vocations to the papacy”. The point being that few people seem willing to turn their lives over to God in service of His people, while lots of people feel free to consider themselves the ultimate authority about the validity of Church teaching.

    This strange phenomenon was on display once again in a recent article in the Washington Post, in which they questioned parishioners at a local church about the Holy Father’s comments on condoms. The piece was oddly entitled, “Faithful Have Mixed Views” — which was strange, since they didn’t quote a single person who accepted and supported the Church’s teaching on contraception and sexuality. Typically, the reporter quoted only those who openly stated their disagreement with the Church’s teaching.

    The upshot of the piece can be summarized in one quotation from a man who was an usher at the parish:

    “As a Catholic,”…  he opposed the use of condoms. “As a John Doe,” he said he approved. “It’s strictly personal,” he added, “a singular decision.”

    There’s a word for that attitude, and it’s not “Catholic” — it’s “Protestant”.

    At the heart of Protestantism is the denial of the authority of the Church to define matters of faith in terms that are binding upon all, and the freedom of individuals to determine the content of the faith.  This principle is called “private judgment”.

    The Catholic approach to the faith is quite different. We are called to listen to the bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome — the successors of the Apostles, who together constitute the Magisterium, or teaching authority of the Church, exercised under the command of Christ Himself and in His Name. We have an obligation to adhere to the doctrines they teach us, and to set aside our personal reservations.

    The Catechism puts this quite clearly:

    “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.”…  Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles: “He who hears you, hears me”, the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms. (85, 87)

    This is not mindless obedience, but is instead an exercise of the virtue of faith.  We should be actively receptive to this teaching, always seeking to inform ourselves better and to seek a deeper understanding of the will of God. The teachings of the Church are absolutely binding upon me in conscience, but I must always strive to better appreciate them with my intellect, and carry them out with my will.

    This is not easy, and it runs very much against my nature.  I’m a skeptic and cynic, and I have a hard time believing things that I cannot see and test for myself.  But to be a disciple of Christ, I have to let go of that, and step out of the boat in an act of faith.

    Cardinal John Henry Newman, who was beatified by Pope Benedict during his recent trip to Great Britain, described the difference between private judgment and Catholic faith, and the Catholic attitude to the teachers of our faith, as follows:

    Now, in the first place, what is faith? it is assenting to a doctrine as true, which we do not see, which we cannot prove, because God says it is true, who cannot lie. And further than this, since God says it is true, not with His own voice, but by the voice of His messengers, it is assenting to what man says, not simply viewed as a man, but to what he is commissioned to declare, as a messenger, prophet, or ambassador from God. In the ordinary course of this world we account things true either because we see them, or because we can perceive that they follow and are deducible from what we do see; that is, we gain truth by sight or by reason, not by faith. You will say indeed, that we accept a number of things which we cannot prove or see, on the word of others; certainly, but then we accept what they say only as the word of man… We keep the decision in our own hands, and reserve to ourselves the right of reopening the question whenever we please. This is very different from Divine faith; he who believes that God is true, and that this is His word, which He has committed to man, has no doubt at all. He is as certain that the doctrine taught is true, as that God is true… and it gives this assent not because it sees with eye, or sees with the reason, but because it receives the tidings from one who comes from God. This is what faith was in the time of the Apostles, as no one can deny; and what it was then, it must be now, else it ceases to be the same thing.

    In this light, it makes no sense whatsoever to say that I can accept a teaching “as a Catholic” but reject it “as John Doe”. I can no more separate my Catholic identity from who I am as a human person than I can separate my body and soul.  Who am I, and who gave me the authority, to do such a thing?

    As Catholics, it should be our fervent prayer that we not try to set ourselves up as the popes of our own church.  Instead, may we always have the grace to conform our hearts, minds, and wills to the will of God, as expounded to us in the teachings of His Holy Catholic Church.