The other day, a news agency posted opinion polls on Facebook asking whether or not the new Pope should “change the Church,” “allow women to be priests,” “approve contraception,” etc. Such opinion polls reveal at least two important things. First, society is generally clueless about authentic Catholic teaching and the Pope’s authority. Secondly, people tend to believe that Christ should serve them, not that they should serve Christ.
The Catholic Church (including the Pope) does not possess the authority to change Natural Law or the Law of Christ. Certain things have already been established by Christ. Some things the Church has deemed immoral and/or unnatural within the physical realm and the supernatural realm. The Church cannot say, “OK, those things are now considered moral and natural.” Morality and nature are not subject to public opinion. Catholic doctrine is not subject to public opinion. (Incidentally, there is a difference between Church doctrine and Church disciplines, a distinction many don’t consider). Christ’s Church is not a democracy. Catholic Christians are subject to the Church, because the Church is subject to Christ. The Pope has been given authority to protect the Deposit of Faith, not change it. Hence, the Catholic Church stands fast on matters of Faith and morals, even while other Christian churches cave in to public pressure.
We live in a fast food, have-it-your-way world. This is why so many people “church hop” and look for a church that agrees with their own opinions. People want to worship a Jesus that fits nicely within their zone of comfort. People want to shape God and the Church into their own images. This is upside down. Christians are supposed to be conformed to Christ, not to the world. Nevertheless, they often use the world’s standards to push for change in the Church. When those changes do not happen, they are indignant. This is not the humility of servants of Christ. It is ignorance at best, and rebellion at worst.
Very nice post!
I am not catholic (at least not in a way you and I would both agree to!) but find your points very cogent and reasonably presented. Being Anglican/Episcopalian, there are a fair number of things with which I would quibble -but I won’t, because there are so many more, and deeper, things which find us exactly in step.
I especially value your comment about wanting to shape the church to suit us, to effectually create our god in our own image. Many in my little corner of the Episcopal church valued tremendously the resistance of then Cardinal Ratzinger (of course, later Benedict XVI) to this trend.
Even in “Church Hopping” as you note. In my particular case, “parish hopping” as I have felt a strong urge that it is time to leave my parish of the last 15+ years for a much smaller one in the same area, it becomes a bit of a discernment issue to clear away the part about searching for a place that agrees with me, lest I be challenged, and instead hear God’s voice in the move. I have written a couple of posts on the process, with a conclusion coming.
You strike me as self-aware enough to know that even your own return to Rome could lay you open to such an interpretation -that you were somehow seeking a church that fit you well enough to not challenge areas you wanted left alone. I do NOT make that charge! But I would be interested in knowing if it was an issue you needed to examine in your discernment process, and if you had any words for others making similar steps.
Of course, you may well point out that my own (Anglican) history contains exactly that sort of “making the church-to-order” writ large with the story of Henry VIII. And for today (today only!) I will yield the point without comment.
But again, thanks for a great post !
R. Eric Sawyer
Thank you for your response and for reading my blog. I did indeed question my own motives for a while when returning to Catholicism. I had to ask myself if I was simply being my own “ultimate authority” by choosing between various options. In other words, If I say, “Yes, Rome is right,” am I not also saying, “I am right?” I got stuck there for a while. Then I realized that the same would be true if I had lived 2000 years ago and stood before Christ. He would have given me ample opportunity to follow Him or to leave Him whether or not I completely understood or accepted what He taught. John 6 is a good example. Many quit following Jesus that day. He turned to those that remained and, rather than asking, “Do you understand what I am teaching,” or “Do you agree with what I said?” he asked them, “Will you also leave?” Peter’s reply, as you know, was, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” There were really only two choices: Jesus, and everything else (including one’s own feelings and opinions).
So, I decided that choosing Catholicism was not a matter of me being my own, ultimate authority on matters of Faith and morals. It was a matter of me deciding where to place my own will (i.e. above or below Church authority). Where else could I go? There were really only two choices: the Church that could demonstrate a direct link of succession to Christ and the apostles, and everything else. There are things I still struggle with when it comes to Church teachings. I am not “comfortable” with everything, nor am I always compliant (hence, my exceeding gratitude for the Sacrament of Reconciliation). I have come to terms with the notion that when a person takes issue with official Church teaching, it is a deficit within the heart and/or mind of the person, not the teaching. This mirrors the events of John 6, I think. We all have room to grow. We often have to trust God and “lean not on our own understanding.”
I was also helped by some words of Blessed John Henry Newman as he explained that the early Christians were subject to the Apostles, and were not at liberty to exert their own opinions and interpretations. Again, there were two choices: the Apostles and everything else. This showed me that the Apostles had to trust Christ, and that the Christians had to trust the Apostles. The offices of the Apostles were not left vacant upon their deaths, thereby perpetuating this principle to today.
Anyway, that’s how my thinking was. Hope it answers your question. Thanks for your kind words (and for not quibbling). May God direct you in your own process of discernment.
Actually, I think the pope can indeed approve contraception. It would take some intellectual and theological gymnastics to get around Humanae Vitae but there’s nothing preventing him from doing that. After all, Pope Pius XII allowed NFP which weakened, somewhat, the absolute prohibition on bc.
I think it goes back much farther than Humanae Vitae. http://www.catholic.com/tracts/birth-control
Yeah, I’m not a big CA fan. Consider this:
“But sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation.”
Which is EXACTLY what NFP — approved by Pius XII – does. Which is why many rad trads even refuse to consider IT as an option.
There are ways around all sorts of traditions as the Church as shown during the last 50 years. For instance, the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I, although butchered) was considered apostolic and inviolate. Rather than abolish it, the reformers merely added new eucharistic prayers.
By, “Not a big fan,” are you saying CA is wrong about birth control?
As I understand, the Church would say that NFP itself can be abused by bad or misguided intentions and really is supposed to be a natural, last resort option for spacing births. It does not entirely “exclude” the possibility of procreation or alter the physical body of either partner, which is the sole intent of any type of artificial birth control. Choosing when to have sex or not is intrinsically different than having sex whenever you want and placing a previously, non-existent, artificial “block” in the way of the natural state of things. Even if the “end” is the same, the “means” is entirely different. The means is the point.
But my post was not intended to debate birth control. Even if I were to concede your point on this issue it does not change the fact that Catholicism is not a democracy and is not subject to the will of the people. We are called to be servants and to trust that God places His leaders where He intends them to be. We are not called to scrutinize the decisions of the popes as if they are politicians in our governments.
What I’m really wondering is, why would you even want the Pope to let you contracept?
Yes, I’m saying they’re wrong. The commission Paul VI appointed to study the question was the direct result of a request from the Council Fathers. Commission recommended changes – Paul VI chose otherwise. That the question could be studied; was studied; and changes were recommended clearly indicates that we’re not discussing anything approaching defide truth.
No, God doesn’t place his leaders where he wants them to be. God may inspire but He’s not responsible for an Alexander VI or a Julius II or a Rog Mahony. We have every right to question and disagree with the prudential judgment of any ecclesiastic. We are not dumb animals.
Anyway, Happy Easter my brother!
Well, we are supposed to be sheep, and they’re pretty dumb from what I hear. 🙂 But seriously, questioning authority has its place, certainly. And, if we don’t question or have doubts we don’t learn and grow. But, having been around the Protestant block already, I’m wary of that world of authoritative confusion and protest. It’s a very small step to “every man his own pope” (not saying that you are there, but I once was). As far as the leaders are concerned, I partly had Romans 13 in mind, and partly the idea that God protects the Church from error through infalibility (probably could have phrased it better).
Thank you for the Easter wishes, my brother, and I sincerely hope that yours is a time of wonder and blessings. Check back any time.