Les Femmes

Dear Readers,

Let’s think about trust – how important it is, how easy to lose, how difficult to regain. An Irish Catholic friend of mine who grew up poor in the Bronx told me once about how embarrassing it was to kneel at the Communion rail. Her mom bought their shoes at a thrift store where prices were marked on the soles with black grease pencil, impossible to get off. She laughed (as an adult) and asked, “Did you ever try to kneel at the Communion rail keeping your feet flat on the floor?” (Those were pre-Vatican II days when we still knelt for Communion.) But that isn’t the sad part of the story. One Christmas my friend’s dad built her a beautiful doll house. She was thrilled and played with it all day. Late Christmas night her dad came home drunk (a regular event), picked up the doll house, and smashed it to bits. What a crushing experience for a little girl who grew up with a loving Daddy who often became an angry stranger.

My friend’s childhood was off balance. How many Catholics feel the same way today wondering if we can trust our spiritual fathers? We call the pope “Holy Father” and our priests “Father” as well. The local bishop is father to his priests, his spiritual sons. They put their hands between his on ordination day and vow obedience. He is also father to every soul in the diocese. We hope for clergy to be faithful spiritual dads who love us with the love of Christ. We expect them to teach us the truth, counsel us in our struggles, absolve us when we sin, etc.. But how many clergy are like my friend’s dad and can’t really be trusted because they respect the world and its honors more than God?

Cardinal Raymond Burke alluded to this problem in an October 31st interview with the Spanish weekly, Vida Nueva: “Many have expressed their concerns to me. At this very critical moment, there is a strong sense that the Church is like a ship without a helm, whatever the reason for this may be; now, it is more important than ever to examine our faith, have a healthy spiritual leader and give powerful witness to the faith.”

"The times are bad! The times are troublesome!" This is what humans say. But we are our times. Let us live well and our times will be good. Such as we are, Such are our times.

St. Augustine

“I fully respect the Petrine ministry and I do not wish it to seem like I am speaking out against the Pope. I would like to be a master of the faith, with all my weaknesses, telling a truth that many currently perceive. They are feeling a bit seasick because they feel the Church’s ship has lost its bearings. We need to set aside the reason for this disorientation because we have not lost our bearings. We have the enduring tradition of the Church, its teachings, the liturgy, its morality. The catechism remains the same.

“The Pope rightly speaks of the need to go out to the peripheries. The people have responded very warmly to this. But we cannot go to the peripheries empty-handed. We go with the Word of God, with the Sacraments, with the virtuous life of the Holy Spirit. I am not saying the Pope does this, but there is a risk of the encounter with culture being misinterpreted. Faith cannot adapt to culture but, must call to it to convert. We are a counter-cultural movement, not a popular one.”

Cardinal Burke is spot on! We can only keep our bearings if we are firmly anchored to the rock, the infallible authority of the Catholic Church reflected in unchangable doctrine. Today, however, doctrine is called into question by clergy under the guise of mercy. The “rule book is too rigid,” they say, and those who insist it is God’s unchangeable law are Pharisees beating people with the law. Many siren voices call for change to authoritative teachings because “the ideal” is too difficult. Are they right? Are those upholding Church doctrine rigid and unmerciful? Should one follow those who say love rules all? Who can be trusted? I recently wrote a blog post about my moral theology class at Trinity College in D.C. (a scandalous Catholic school even in the 60s). It was total immersion in moral relativism. The only law was love (never defined). Lying, fornication, adultery, even murder could be justified by love. We read Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics with its example of the mother in the wagon train smothering her baby to save everyone from an Indian massacre. The desired good end and the motivation of love could transform any evil into a moral good.

It was a lie! “Put not your trust in princes…in whom there is no salvation,” (Psalm 146) Blind trust is no virtue. We need to discern who deserves trust and flee those who don’t. How can we tell the difference? St. Paul gives the answer. “Some who wish to alter the gospel of Christ must have confused you. For even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel not in accord with the one we delivered to you, let a curse be upon him!”

Unfortunately, today there are successors of Paul and the other apostles wearing Roman collars who teach a strange gospel that conflicts with the teachings of Christ. We saw its sad reality at the recent Synod. Clergy can’t all be trusted. We can recognize those who can by their fidelity to the authoritative and unchanging doctrines of the Church. Even popes can mislead the faithful, a fact well illustrated in Church history. Pray for the pope and the hierarchy that they will be worthy of the authority given them by the Holy Spirit.

Les Femmes is a founding member of the Catholic Media Coalition a group of print and electronic publishers. See www.catholicmediacoalition.org

Table of Contents