Saturday, March 18, 2006

A Whole Bunch of Things

As regular readers, both of you, will know, I'm not one of these people who takes what is wrong with the Church today to use it as an excuse for railing incessantly against the Second Vatican Council. Once again, this is not what I plan to do in this post. I hold to it that all the crap that happened after Vatican II was neither authorized, promulgated, nor sanctioned by Vatican II and was the fruits of dissident activists who, like Biblical Fundamentalists, quote small passages here and there while totally leaving out the context and using these as supposed documentary foundation.

Further, I believe that if one looks back into history, one finds out that there were practically always, especially after councils that had even just medium-sized changes planned for the Universal Church, periods of strife in the Church, be they clerical or lay. Still further, as one would find out, there were also the times, just as numerous, where the Church needed to, and did, put her foot down saying "enough is enough". I believe another one of those times is upon us now. What I'm talking about now is the incompatibility of true and genuine Catholic identity with the rejection of the doctrines of the Church, be they many or few.

This is not to say that we should bear down on parishes with sword and rack, but it is to say that we can no longer remain complacent and ignore the scourge of dissent that lashes the Church. I don't mean people who sin, as we all do, but rather people who knowingly and consciously reject the sacred truths of the Holy Catholic Church. It's true that no man has a window into another man's soul to see what his eternal dwelling place will be. However, there are clear boundaries which show whether or not one is Catholic in the true sense of the identity.

What prompted me to write this post was reading a blog by a person who it wouldn't surprise me to find out was editor-in-chief of the Daily Dissenter. At the time, I wondered if I should get into an argument with him. It reminded me of something Mom has told me many times, that you should never let an SSPX'er get you into a discussion about liturgy, not because it isn't important, but because the main point that trumps everything is obedience. Don't get caught up in the Tridentine v. Novus Ordo question, but simply bring up, again and again, the issue of obedience. The reason I thought of this was because all you need to do is to reverse the radical positioning from the right to the left and you have this guy I'm talking about (I won't link to him because I think that would be giving him more publicity than he deserves). Similarly, don't let people like this guy drag you into debates over this doctrine or that doctrine, but continually rub in the plain obligation of obedience.

Never, ever, in the entire history of the Church has it been taught that one can be Catholic while at the same time not accepting the doctrines of the Church in their entirety. As a matter of fact, it has taught the polar opposite, that the acceptance of doctrine is an absolutely integral part of the authentic and true Catholic identity, and its rejection of it, in however big or small a part, cuts one off from the Church, plain and simple. As I said in a post a while back, you are free to believe whatever you want about doctrines, to reject it or to accept it. The catch is that you do not get the best of both worlds. If you do reject it, you are no longer Catholic. But why, you fifteen year old defensor fidei, are you no longer Catholic just because you don't agree with every doctrine?

Because the two are not two but one. Catholicism and her doctrines are not two different things that you simply take the one of without the other. You marry someone and you vow to reject all others who are not your spouse. This is because you and your spouse are now one union consecrated by God and in that union, there is no room for third parties.

The Catholic Church is exactly the same way. You accept the Church in your conversion on Holy Saturday night, or you accept it every day in the renewal of your baptismal vows. Just like you accept your spouse and reject all others, you accept the Church and reject all others. Since Catholicism and her doctrines are one and the same, one who doesn't accept the doctrine doesn't accept the Church and therefore, the sad truth is, cannot be considered Catholic. Again, none of this to sound self-righteous, but some things need to be said, and I believe there is an era of winnowing that will transpire across the next few decades. Everybody sins, and none of this is to say that people who sin aren't Catholic. However there is a difference between sinning and cognizant and willingly rejecting the doctrines of the Catholic Church.

There are many sides and aspects of Catholicism. One of these is obedience. Read any saint or doctor of the Church and you will see that this is and has always been the case. Another is communion. That is the co-union of believers, though we are of many colors and cultures, are one and united in what we believe and what we don't believe. As I’ve already said, to believe in Catholicism is to believe fully in all its creed and doctrine. That has always been taught since day one, and those who say that they “don’t buy” this or that doctrines divorce themselves from the Church and are longer Catholic in anything but label.

But further, there is no co-union when we believe in a whole mess of things about Christ but not in the Church He left behind and the creed and doctrines He gives to it. That is why those who are at odds with the Church on one or all of the essentials cannot and must not recieve Sacramental Communion. It is a spiritual lie, just as sexual acts without love is a corporeal lie. The "Amen" after "The body of Christ" is not simply a "yep, Christ is truly there", let alone a "yep, that's the cue for me to say "Amen"." It is the "by receiving Christ into my very person, I renew my commitment to my responsibilities as a member of the body of Christ to strengthen and challenge myself more, and to care for other parts of the body as well. A hand does not function without the arm, but if the arm has gone astray, the other members must come to it's aid. By this commitment I renew, I profess my full belief in Christ and His bride, the Church." If you don’t believe fully, there is an imperfect communion and a spiritual lie is being told by receiving Sacramental Communion.

Moving along, how about this question: exactly what role am I saying the conscience has? Well who can honestly claim they’ve never been stuck in a dilemma that no doctrine of the Church addresses? It does happen. When I look at a dilemma, I look to the Church first to see if she says anything about it. I suppose I’m a religious nut-case for doing that. Well, I don’t know, but I think it would be wrong to disregard the awesome Church Christ gave us as if it was a gift we got for Christmas that we don’t really know what to do with and sort of put away in a closet. Anyway, my point is that there are these times when we do not know that the Church teaches on this or if she does, we are totally and honestly ignorant of it (that is, really ignorant and not just *wink wink* “hey, I didn’t know“). It is in these times when you appeal to your conscience. These circumstances do arise, quite often. Keep a tally book of all the times that you honestly don't know what, if anything, the Church teaches about this or that. It would get quite boring because you would update it quite often. This does not detract from the fact that these circumstances do not arise if we know what the Church teaches. The conscience should agree with truth, but if it doesn’t, that’s hardly the truth’s fault.

But why only appeal to your conscience when you don't know what, if anything, the Church teaches on the issue? Isn't it the conscience speaking to you even if you do know, and disagree with, what the Church teaches? Yes, it is the conscience speaking. But it is a false and malformed conscience. Why? Because the conscience is supposed to be informed and molded to the doctrines of the Church because the doctrines are truths that are binding upon the consciences of the faithful (there's that “bind” word again). Two words should come to mind when thinking about the conscience and hearing it mentioned in Sacred Scripture: informed and conformed.

The conscience is the most misunderstood faculty today. It is used as a rationale for any whim the wind blows in. I’m sorry to say and take no delight in saying; the conscience is today a warped, pathetically self-affirming tool that tells us what we want to hear.

The reason this is worth bringing up is this; if your conscience tells you that a doctrine of the Church is wrong, or that it isn’t binding on you, you, my friend, have a false conscience. Christ meant what he said by "whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Christ did not go on to say to Peter that "whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven unless, of course, someone else decides in their infinite wisdom that you're wrong...yeah, 'cause then they're right, since their conscience tells them so, and your power to bind and loose that I just gave you is compromised." On that note, I rather think it should be said again: if your conscience tells you that such and such a teaching isn’t binding upon you and demanding of the entire submission of mind, will, and faith, and that you can reject it and remain innocent, you have a false conscience that needs to be conformed to the teachings of the Church.

But further, the conscience is not some faculty that you pull out of a bag. The doctrines of the Church are binding on the consciences of the faithful. This is why if your conscience tells you you can disregard this or that doctrine, you have a false conscience. Because it is these doctrines that are attached and bound to the conscience and if you tell yourself you needn't obey them, you are listening to the falseness in your conscience and, realize it or not, disobeying your conscience.

But why, the question is begged, are doctrines supposedly so “binding” on the faithful especially to the extent of the faithful conforming the conscience to them? The answer is simply because of the authority Christ gave Peter, but let’s go deeper. Maybe Peter was given some such authority, but nowhere in Scripture does it say you have to agree, and it certainly does not say that you are to be excluded if you don't agree! Wrong. Matthew 18:15-18: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, go and tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Other objections that might be brought up against this post would be that I’m being un-pastoral and uncharitable. Let’s take the latter objection first. Charity, today, is assumed to mean not talking about things people don’t want to hear about. “Don’t you dare mention hell in your sermons, Fr.”, is most people’s feeling. When in fact the most uncharitable thing a person could do, bar none, would be to affirm people in sin and let them fall into Hell because we were couldn’t care, or cared but feared rejection too much to say anything. The most charitable thing to do is to show someone, again not in a self-righteous manner, but to show someone that there is a problem that needs to be fixed. That is charity! Ignoring wrong in others and in one's self and letting it be paid for in the long run with the pure justice of God for the sake of warm, fuzzy feelings in the short run is self-centeredness and the antithesis of charity. Christ is viewed on as the most charitable figure in history, yet speaks of the reality of hell more than anyone else. To go along with that, He also speaks of not only of informing others of their wrong-doing, but at the same time shows the authority of the Church (again, MT 18:15-18).

Now the former objection that could be brought to me and this post. That is of being un-pastoral, and that maybe someone, especially with my aspirations, shouldn’t be so. Well let me settle this one straight: I desire no one to leave the Church. I believe that those who are aware of the Church’s claim to being the only path to salvation and who leave are able to be held accountable to the fullest extent of God‘s infinite justice (don’t believe me, check out the Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium, Chapter 2, Paragraph 14). Personally, I don’t want anyone to go to hell. Like many and like all should, I try to emulate St. Paul especially where he says God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). Instead of booting these people out of the Church, I would rather they assent to the divine and sacred truths, the fullness of the truth, as taught by Christ’s one church, the Catholic Church. I want all to avoid Hell by being in communion with Christ's Vicar on earth. In order for all to achieve that communion, it is better to remain on terms with them, defending and explaining, and praying for conversion. However in order to agree it must be clear where we don't agree. There must be prayers for full conversion by full assent rather than looking the other way. There must be that co-union of full belief and full assenting to creed and doctrine before there is, among other things, Sacramental Communion.

Fr. Jim has said, quite rightly, that even if one is not living in communion with the Church, this does not mean we should stop altogether doing what we can. This post is not an exhortation to never step foot into a church or to dare look at a statue of a saint, thy unholy scum, but a plea to realize that the whole, true, and full Catholic identity comes through full assenting to the Church. We break doctrines by sinning, of course, and vice-versa, but this does not mean we should not strive for perfection. Never be satisfied with the status quo. Never say "this is as far as I can go" and not try, through prayer and open-mindedness, to realize the mystical relationship there is between Christ and His Church, a relationship which gives the Church her doctrines and her creed, and listen to the Church. The Church cares about you too damn much to just let you stay in a severely disadvantaged state of imperfect communion. The Church cares about you too damn much to be silent and allow you to fall into the pomps of the devil and the follies of this world, pomps and follies which lead to nothing but misery.

So pray. Trust. Listen. Obey. Love.
“Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb 13:17)

With that accomplished, can you imagine the power and glory that would come from that? From Catholic brethren being able to profess full communion with the Church and being able to stand up shoulder-to-shoulder with a Catholic brethren, even if that is standing up against the world and even if that brother is not even of the same continent, let alone the same tongue, and to say "we are Catholic; THIS WE BELIEVE." We could change the world.

Lastly, and for crying out loud, this is not political extremism. This is simply what the Church has always taught. Maybe it’s hard to believe, but I do post this out of charity. This isn’t the spirit of “I wish the silly gumps would listen to me." I don’t mean this as a praising of myself, but I believe it also needs to be said as well; my motivation for this post was to encourage people to the fullness of the truth, but you can't do that until you take everything back to square one and know what we are and what we aren’t. So let’s pray for some conversions, eh?

For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry." (2 Tim 4:1-5)