FROM THE PRESIDENT'S KITCHEN TABLE
Obedience, what a crucial virtue! When I cuddle my grandkids I tell them always to obey mommy and daddy. “They love you and know what’s best.” Then I whisper, “God promises if you honor your mom and dad He will ‘give you long life on the land’ (with the cookie trees).” It’s a message I gave my fourth grade CCD class (without the cookies) before I was fired for refusing to be fingerprinted.
Which brings me to another issue. Must Catholics blindly obey a bishop’s every decree if they want to be obedient to God’s will? Some critics say yes. They tell me one may NEVER criticize a bishop or priest, that loving your bishop requires obeying him in all things. Since I take all criticism seriously, I always do my best to weigh a person’s judgment in the light of the Holy Spirit. Here’s how I see it.
First of all, every Catholic has an absolute obligation to honor and obey God – not in a grudging or fatalistic way – “Darn! I hate God’s laws. They spoil my fun, but I better obey or else.” No, no, no! Our obedience should be eager like a drowning man gasping for air! “I gasp with open mouth in my yearning for your commands.… My eyes shed streams of tears because your law has not been kept.” (Psalm 119) If I have the psalmist’s attitude, truly God’s decrees will be “my delight.” It’s what God wants and what Mary’s fiat teaches us.
God transmits his law through the sacred Deposit of the Faith protected by Holy Mother Church. He never hides his will. It is clearly outlined in Scripture, the catechism, the writings of the Church Fathers, the councils (note the plural, there were councils before Vatican II), the encyclicals, etc. Obedience to God is easy if you love Him and love the Church.
But things get sticky when those with the authority to “teach, govern, and sanctify” can’t be trusted. Trust is closely linked to obedience. To trust someone you need to know he desires your good, tells the truth, is consistent and reliable, and never betrays your confidence. Unfortunately, many bishops don’t qualify. They allow heresy in our churches and schools, rewrite the past if it suits them, are inconsistent in their treatment of the faithful (and priests), vilify the orthodox while pampering dissenters, and betray us in too many ways to list in a short column. You would have to be a fool to trust them. The rising list of abuse victims testifies to the cost of blind trust.
So if you can’t trust your bishop what do you do? Pray for him, of course! Every Catholic should make praying for the bishop and his staff a top priority. Every Mass, every rosary, every holy hour should include prayers for the bishop. No child is ever justified in cutting himself off from a relationship with his earthly father and the same holds true for our spiritual fathers.
Second, prayerfully discern how God wants you to respond to problems in your diocese. When you feel righteous anger, a good first strategy is to take a deep breath (“Come, Holy Spirit”) and say a Hail Mary. Then put on the armor of God along with a big smile and a soft voice. Justified anger is too easy to blow off when it’s expressed with hostility or yelling. Besides, St. Paul tells us, “Love is patient; love is kind…love is never rude.” He doesn’t, however, say love is blindly obedient.
I’m deeply troubled about our situation in Arlington. We have seen the persecution of good priests, some of whom have left or been driven out. (I do not include Fr. Steve Leva in this group. His exit for Pennsylvania is a blessing. Pray for him and his new parishioners.) Other priests still here (five that I know of) believe they will never be pastors. I wish I thought they were wrong.
One note of cautious optimism: Fr. Paul deLadurantaye sent a letter to the priests of the diocese in the bishop’s name telling them not to finance or support Dr. William Tobin’s expansion of the Grinnell Lenten Lecture Series, now the “Christian Development Institute.” The series, which has always featured notorious dissenters, may not be promoted as diocesan-approved and parishes may not contribute financially. (Dr. Tobin is asking pastors for three to five thousand dollars per parish as well as the use of church property for this training in heresy.)
Unfortunately, the bishop stopped short of banning the group from parish facilities or advertising in bulletins and the Catholic Herald, so unsuspecting Catholics in the pew will still think this dissent-ridden group is approved. St. Charles in Arlington, described as a “participating parish,” advertised it in their bulletin of July 24. As of August 2 St. Ann’s featured it as “parish news” on their website and included locations for fall courses: the Dominican Retreat House, St. Anthony’s, St. Bernadette’s, and Bishop O’Connell. The Herald ran a large ad in the August 4 issue. If the Institute takes place at these locations and the advertising continues it will be a serious scandal. Orthodox laity are being banned from the classroom for refusing to be fingerprinted. If dissenters are given free rein, how will anyone be able to take seriously the bishop’s assurances that he cares about the children? Spiritual abuse that kills the soul is every bit as serious as physical abuse that harms the body. Stay tuned for developments, and obey God and Holy Mother Church.