Singleness: Is It a Vocation

Lay-led Ecclesial communities: a solution to the singleness vocation

Introduction

The term vocation calls to mind either sacramental marriage or religious life. As I get older, I find myself wondering, is God calling me to marriage or religious life. I’ve briefly considered consecrated virginity. However, more often I wonder if there room in Catholic theology for singleness as a vocation. In order to address this question, I first have to explore the Catholic notion of vocation. Second, I will explore a common argument against singleness as a vocation. Third, I will explore how lay-led ecclesial communities to help address singleness.

What is Vocation

Catholicculture.org defines vocation as a call from God to a distinctive state of life, in which the person can reach holiness. Note that the definition never defines a particular state in life. Hence, one can be single and still reach holiness. A quote from Lumen Gentium supports this viewpoint.

Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity;(4*) by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society.

Regardless of our station in life, we are all striving for holiness. Thus, holiness is my ultimate vocation. The church services everyone, but has a special compassion for those with no family. In Famillaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II writes,

No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who “labor and are heavy laden.”

Yet, there seem to be distinct differences between the sacramental vocations and singleness. These differences have led many to believe that singleness cannot be a vocation.

Differences Between Singleness and The Sacramental Vocations

Msgr. Charles Pope in his article, “Is There a Vocation to the Single Life? I Think Not and Here’s Why,” describes his objections to singleness as a vocation. He begins by highlighting the basic differences between tradition vocations and singleness.

Basic Differences

1. Make Vows and Promises

Msgr. Charles Pope states that in marriage and in religious life, the party or parties make promises to themselves and the church. He argues that the state of being single does not require the person to make any vows or promises. They can choose to make vows and promises. Yet the vocation is found in the vows and promises they make, not in their singleness.

2. Commit to the Life They Enter Stably

Singleness is open to change. A person remains single until something better comes along. Thus they find the right person and become married or they make a commitment to the church.

3. Exclusivity

Traditional vocations offer exclusivity. When you are married, you promise to be with your partner forever. If you take religious vows, you promise not to date anybody. Yet when you are single, you are not required to be exclusive. You can form relationships with multiple people.

4. Communal Relationship

When one enters into religious life, one makes a lasting bond. Similarly, in marriage, a couple pledges to be in communion with each other until death. Singles are not bound to form lifelong communal relationships with others.

5. Live Under Rules

Priest and those in religious life have a structure to their day. They cannot merely do what they please. For example, a priest must pray the liturgy of the hours. Similarly, married couples have rules that govern their family. For example, they cannot wake up and decide to go on vacation. They need to consult the needs and desires of their spouse and children. A single person does have rules they live by. Yet these rules were arbitrarily picked by themselves or given to them.

6. Under Authority

When a priest enters into religious life, he subjects himself to the authority of the bishop. Similarly, a married person subjects themselves to the authority of their spouse. A person, who is single, does not subject himself to anyone’s authority. A person, who is single, does not need to report to anybody.

Theological Reason

According to Msgr. Charles Pope, all these basic differences point to a theological principle. This principle is called Nuptial Meaning of the Body. This states that God made the body for others. In marriage, this happens during the sexual union. In religious life, those individuals give their bodies to the church in a symbolic way.

So can one reconcile both viewpoints? Is it a matter of interrupting vocation to broadly or narrowly? What can singles do?

Vocations verses vocation: Where Does Singleness Fit in Catholic Teaching.

I think the confusion comes when we conflate vocations. In reality, every good Catholic has a vocation to holiness. However, we also have gifts and talents that can affect our vocations. Last we have a vocation as a committed life. Msgr. Charles Pope is right to suggest that singleness cannot be considered a committed way of life. Yet he is wrong to imply that singleness has no vocation. Although I believe people are reading that into the article. Singleness is a state of being, where a person is called to be holy. Religious life or marriage are options and are not guaranteed to the individual. Single life has a vocation but is not a vocation by itself.

Singleness and Lay Led Ecclesial Communities:

So how can a person, who is single, find a vocation in the Church. Lay lead ecclesial communities such as the ones founded in the renewal can help those, who are single. In my community, we have a commitment to one another. One cannot break this commitment without discernment from the whole community. Furthermore, we, as a community, have a pattern of life and community rhythm that governs our life. I am required to respect and obey the leadership in the community. Thus these communities offer commitment and stability. Singleness by itself fails to offer.

Catholicism: 5 things I love

Introduction

In this post, I will be writing about the five things I like about Catholicism. I was inspired to write this while watching LizzieAnswers youtube channel. For those who don’t know, Lizzieanswers was a popular youtube channel, who became Catholic famous when she announced her conversion. On September 1st, 2018, she posted a video titled What I still hate about Catholicism. As a convert, I find it easy to look at my past experiences through rose-colored glasses. Instead of critiquing the Church, I thought I would describe the five things that I appreciate about Catholicism and then next week talk about the things I miss about Protestantism.

1. Eucharistic adoration

I remember my first Eucharistic adoration. I was a non-catholic at the time. My Catholic friend had invited me. I had wanted to meet a blind priest, Fr. Mike Joly. Unfortunately, at the time we went the priest was unavailable to do adoration. Thus instead of the usual benediction, they offered an hour of silent prayer. In my protestant church, silent prayer was not a thing. I saw how everyone was kneeling and praying. It felt reverent and holy. I would grow to love adoration. I have my most spiritual encounters in the adoration chapel. It’s like a date with Jesus, who is the present body, blood, soul, and divinity.

2. Silence

Protestant. churches are very loud. Music is everywhere: before the service, during the service, and after the service. On top of the music, people are greeting each other and chatting. There’s not much room for silence. Catholic church’s prioritize silence. In the past, sanctuaries have been so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Over the years, churches have gotten laxer about noise, but you can always find a quiet place to pray.

3. Universal lectionary

A lectionary is a collection of readings for every Mass. I can go to any Catholic Church around the world and hear the same readings. This is not true of Baptist churches and most other Protestant churches. The Universal lectionary enables me to hear more of the Bible. I also can read ahead of time. I love reading the scripture and praying about it before Sunday mass. I like hearing different priest’s perspective on the same story.

4. The Rosary

I started praying the rosary even before I was Catholic. I challenged myself to memorize and recite 150 prayers of the rosary. I began meditating on the mysteries of the rosary. I fell in love with the sorrowful mysteries: Jesus’ agony, pain, suffering, and crucifixion. I found it easy to place myself in the events and to learn from them. This is extremely different then the prayer taught in Protestant circles. Rather, Protestant prayers are more vocalized.

5. The concept of Saints

Hebrews 12: 1 states

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,

The idea behind the communion of Saints is that those, who have died and are with God can intercede for us on earth. There is a beauty to the idea that death cannot separate the body of Christ from one another. We know that those, who went before us can make it through, and thus we can as well. My favorite saint is st. Monica. Through prayers and tears, she was able to convert her husband and son to Christianity. Her son would be no other than St. Augustine.

Conclusion

As converts, we have a unique ability to see the areas where Catholicism may be lacking relative to other thriving Christian denominations. However, we came into Catholicism to experience the true, beautiful, and the good. Let us not lose sight of how Catholicism offers the true, the beautiful, and the good through various devotions and practices and teachings.

Why Mass under 40 Min?

Why Mass under 40 Min, Pope Francis’ unusual request

Introduction

I attend the 9am Sunday mass on 9/16/18. I got out at 10:05am. I guess I should alert my bishop. My parish is refusing to adhere to Pope Francis’ guidelines about the Mass. Cindy Wood, Catholic News Service’s Rome Bureau Chief, tweeted out the following:

#PopeFrancis in Sicily garners big applause when he says a homily shouldn’t last more than 8 minutes. “A 40-minute homily? NO. The whole Mass should last about 40 minutes!

When I saw this, my blood began to boil. This tweet gave me the inspiration to address the elephant in the room. Why is there a pervasive apathy in Catholic culture to the Mass?

This apathy stems from two intertwined issues. First, the Mass as an obligation and second a lack of understanding about the point behind Mass.

Mass as Obligation

I must admit there are days, where I do not want to attend Sunday Mass. I find it especially hard when I have not slept well or I do not feel well. Yet I choose to still attend, why? Sometimes I feel guilty. However, the guilt is not because I would be neglecting an obligation imposed on me by the church. Rather my guilt is the same response I would have if I neglected a friend. Mass is one of the only times Jesus gets to feed me through his word and body. Just like you wouldn’t want to rush time spent with a friend, why do you want to rush spending time with Jesus.

Yet so many Catholics attend Mass out of obligation. They attend because it is something they’ve always done or because they are afraid of sinning. Now fear of hell is not necessarily a bad reason. After all, fear of hell is an important motivator for imperfect contrition. Yet we should strive for perfect contrition or the idea that we can motivate ourselves out of pure love for God. We should strive to attend Mass out of pure love for God. If that is our motivation then we should be able to spend at least an hour with God.

Protestant Experience

As a convert, I attended Protestant worship services. The top criticisms I heard about those services from Catholics is that 1. They express interest in entertainment only and 2. The attitude of the people are fake. In response to the latter, I know from my own personal experience that I did not fake my attitude. I was genuinely happy to be there. I think a major difference was that I actively chose to be there. I didn’t need it. Most Protestant churches either live stream their services or record it. One does not need to attend to hear the message. If so, then why do so many people attend. I know for myself I attended for the community; I felt like the church wanted me.

Shortening the Mass to 40 minutes is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Catholics need to reclaim a desire for the liturgy and community. Shortening the Mass may make it more convenient, but it will not change hearts. Catholics need to feel like they’re wanted at church. They need to feel like Church is feeding them.

The dual purpose of Mass

The church divides Mass into two parts: The Liturgy of The Word, and The Liturgy of The Eucharist. During the Liturgy of the Word, The lector reads scripture and the priest gives the homily. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist one brings up the gifts. Then, the priest consecrates the host. Finally The extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist distribute the host to the faithful. The priest gives the homily from the ambo and consecrates from the altar. The ambo and the altar represent the two tables by which the church feeds faithful. Hence the point of mass is to feed on the word of God and the Eucharist

The Homily

The Homily assists in the overarching goal of Mass. According to the General Instructions on the Roman Missal,

“Although in the readings from Sacred Scripture the Word of God is addressed to all people of whatever era and is understandable to them, a fuller understanding and a greater efficaciousness of the word is nevertheless fostered by a living commentary on the word, that is, by the Homily, as part of the liturgical action.”

Thus the homily offers a living commentary. This commentary includes a reflection on all the readings, not just the gospels. Priests have the responsibility to present us with this commentary regardless of time-constants. I would rather hear a well-researched well-articulated- passionate long homily, than a short 8-minute reflection. We, as Catholics, should not concern ourselves with the length of the homily. Rather, we should ask does it speak the truth, does it help me understand the scriptures, and does it convict.

Conclusion

The tweet reminded me of the story in Acts 20:9-10

“And a certain young man named Eutychus, seated by the window, was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell from the third story and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, threw himself on the young man, and embraced him. “Do not be alarmed!” he said. “He is still alive!”…”

I wonder if Pope Francis would criticize St. Paul. His homilies were so long that a parishioner fainted out a window and died. We need to have a hunger and desire for the word of God. We need to demand living commentary regardless of how long they take.

The Charismatic Renewal: The Unique History

The Charismatic Renewal: The Unique History

Introduction

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The Bible describes miraculous encounters with the divine. These include healing, proclamation, visions, and speaking in tongues. Yet a person living the modern Christian life does not experience these events. Christians often fail to have a divine encounter with God and fail to exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The sacramental life provides empowerment to Catholics. It strengthens them to live as Priest, Prophet, and King. Likewise, The sacraments increase love, joy, peace patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control. Catholics should read scripture and spiritual books. One should do spiritual activities not out of obligation, but out of a growing love for God. Sadly so many Catholics live their faith out of obligation. The Charismatic Renewal began with the genuine desire to revitalize the church. The Renewal seeks to promote spiritual works as in the book of Acts

Reception

Most Catholics do not understand the Renewal. To outsiders, it appears as a weird group of people with bad taste in music. They come together to “speak in tongues” and undermine the church’s authority. Others describe it as another way protestant influence has seeped into the church. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the subsequent movement is not Catholic.

I will explore the Renewal in two parts: The History, and Nature.

History of the Charismatic Renewal

The beginning

The Renewal began at Duquesne University. It had focused on the book of Acts. The professors had already experienced the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” They had shared their testimony. The students had decided to pray “Veni Spritus” at the conclusion of the retreat. As they were praying, the students began to experience the Holy Spirit’s presence.

The Spread

After the Duquesne retreat, the word began to spread about the “Baptism of The Holy Spirit.” Today, the movement has spread to 238 countries and 100 million Catholics1. Despite the rapid growth, certain people questioned the legitimacy of the movement. Some Catholics questioned how Baptism of the Holy Spirit co-existed with Catholic theology

Papel endorsement

Both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II supported the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Pope Paul VI stated,

the miracle of Pentecost should continue in history’ . . . How could this ‘spiritual renewal’ not be ‘good fortune’ for the Church and the world?”1

He saw The Charismatic Renewal as an extension of Pentecost. He reaffirmed the idea that Pentecost was not a one time experience in history. Rather Pentecost is a lived experience that should continue.

Pope John Paul spoke about the Renewal in 1979. He stated that

I am convinced that this movement is a sign of the Spirit’s action . . . a very important component in the total renewal of the Church.”1

Hence, Pope John Paul II saw the Renewal as one of the main components in the overall renewal of the Church.

Not only did the papacy give their opinions on the topic, but so did The U.S bishops. The bishops released a document called, Grace for a New Springtime, published in 1997. It affirmed the renewal.1

Despite the above affirmation, Catholics still question the Renewal’s legitimacy. Often Catholics think of the movement as a separate devotion. Thus they fail to understand the nature of the Charismatic Movement. It’s unique nature separates it from other ecclesiastical communities.

The Nature of The Charismatic Renewal

Personal experience

Charles Whitehead describes The Charismatic Renewal as

a personal experience of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who brings alive in new ways the graces of our baptism. The Holy Spirit not only sets on fire all that we have already received but comes again in power to equip us with his gifts for service and mission.2

Most Catholics object to the idea of bringing the graces of baptism to life. It seems to deny the efficiency of the sacraments. However, a person’s spiritual muscle may become weakened. One may require an additional encounter with the Holy Spirit to make the muscle useful again.

This makes The Charismatic Renewal, less of a moment, and more of the work of The Holy Spirit.

Common Characteristics

Despite being the work of the Holy Spirit, a genuine pattern begins to emerge. Charismatic communities typically have no formal structure or hierarchy. These communities associated with one another by relationships. They know that they are all members of the larger church community. These communities offer diversity. This diversity exists, not only in membership but also in the types of ministries offered. All communities strive to experience the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. The communities differ in their execution of this goal.2

Two modes of being Charismatic

The term “Charismatic” can denote either the work of the Holy Spirit or the communities itself. The former refers to the ways in which the Holy Spirit is bringing about the renewal of the Church. The communities, on the other hand, refer to organizations within the church. These organizations “emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit. Their role entails being a reminder and witness in the Church of the importance of the Holy Spirit.”3. A person can have had an encounter with The Holy Spirit and not be a member of a charismatic community. However, there are “special graces for those who affirm membership in communities.

Conclusion

A ‘Charismatic’ person is one, who claims to have had a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit. The Charismatic renewal has emerged to make this encounter a reality. Vatican II stresses that the church is both hierarchical and charismatic. Thus, the Charismatic Renewal helps strengthen and renew Catholic theology. Every Catholic must grow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This growth can only come through an encounter with the Holy Spirit.

Caution These Stereotypical Labels We Use Destroy Unity

Caution These Stereotypical Labels We Use Destroy Unity

Introduction

Labels and stereotypes are funny things. People use them in-jokes to make fun of a person different than them. Sometimes people create true stereotypes. Yet most of the time, People create stereotypes based on exaggeration. One can use labels to divide or put down. Even in the Catholic Church, one uses labels to create division. The Catholic Church’s appeals to unity. Yet. the Church divides through labels such as traditional, Charismatic, or cafeteria. The essence of Catholic spirituality is both traditional and charismatic

Personal experience with labels

In my own life, I don’t fit into the cookie-cutter boxes that social media wants to place me in. Am I Charismatic because I’ve had a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit? Am I tradition because I desire to adhere to the liturgical guidelines of the church. Catholics might label me because I appreciate the vast artistic tradition of the church? I question a church’s liturgical practice, Catholics label me a hater and Pharisee. I lift my hands to pray or speak about a personal relationship with Jesus, Catholics label me Charismatic. For these reasons, I want to explore each label. I’ve already discussed what the label charismatic means. In this post, I am going to define what it means to be a traditional Catholic.

The Stereotypical Characteristics of a Traditional Catholic

1. An adherence to one liturgical style

Traditional Catholic can describe someone who prefers and attends an extraordinary form Mass. For those who don’t know, the extraordinary form mass refers to a mass celebrated before Vatican II. The council of Vatican II revised the liturgy to be more receptive to the modern world.

Changes in the Liturgy

The most profound change was the transition from Latin to the vernacular. Those, who attend the Extraordinary Form liturgy, still hear the scripture readings in Latin. The second change was the cycle of readings. Those who attend Novus Ordo hear more scripture and sometimes different scripture. Priest faces the congregation in Novus Ordo as opposed to facing the tabernacle in the extraordinary form. Lastly, the Novus Ordo reinstates the sign of peace. In *Novus Ordo*, the laity takes an active role including the distributing of the Eucharist.

Misconception

Since most traditionalists have a deep appreciation for the Mass, most resist change. They would like to see a liturgy that contained pre-Vatican II elements. However, one cannot assume that a traditional Catholic must attend an extraordinary form mass. For me at least, it’s not a matter of the form, Novus Ordo is fine. Rather, I have a problem with blatant liturgical abuses.

2. Cares more about the rules rather than Mercy

Often times traditional Catholics and modern day Pharisees go hand in hand. Traditional Catholics care more about the letter of the law rather than making people feel welcome. People often cite,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.- Mathew 23:24

I know that I’ve been guilty of this argument. I used to think that silent sanctuaries were cold and uninviting. But, the longer I stay Catholic, the more I begin to appreciate the respect and reverence. This seems missing from Novus Ordo parishes. We should heed the advice of Jesus and not neglect the respect and reverence due to the Eucharist while still practicing love for neighbor.

3. Nit-picky

Sometimes understanding and articulating the rules comes across as nit-picky. Some people object to the frustration with hand-holding during our father as a nit-picky complaint. However, hand holding introduces a new liturgical gesture into the Mass. In order to introduce a new gesture into the Mass, the council of bishops must approve it by 2/3rd vote. The hand holding gesture has not received the necessary support from the bishops. Thus most traditionalist would argue that one should not hold hands. In my own view, I feel that while one should not hold hands, silence regarding the proper posture leaves room for change. However, as a traditional Catholic, I desire that change comes from the proper authority.

4. Hater of Vatican II

While extreme traditional Catholics exist that deny the legitimacy of Vatican II, I welcome the changes. I believe that reading scripture and having personal participation is important. Vatican II helped open up the church to the modern age and helps promote ecumenicalism. I do object to the “spirit of Vatican II,” which priest used as an excuse to introduce liturgical abuses. In other words, Vatican II is not a problem, rather the implementation is problematic.

Conclusion

Thus, a traditional Catholic as myself possess the following

  1. Loyal to the Catholic Church and the teachings of the Magisterium

     

  2. Lives the life according to The teachings of the Church

  3. admires the beauty of the rich history of the Church

The reality is that all Catholics are called to uphold the traditions of the Catholic Church and to care about the liturgy. Labeling a person, “traditional” due to liturgical preference undermines this call. As someone, who doesn’t fit into these categories, I want to know that I am a part of the Universal Church. We should be uniformly Catholic and not destroy unity through the labeling of the other.

Evangelization Barriers: a call for messy authentic Christianity

New Evangelization

The Pope has called for a New Evangelization or a re-evangelization, where we win back those fallen away Catholics. Cradle Catholics are not equipped for this type of evangelization and most parishes are not equipped either. The reason has to do with the walls we built around us, and our reluctance to leave our fortified parishes to embrace the other. Bishop Barron, in Getting out of the Sacristy  writes about how parish life needs to be revitalized to focus on missional oriented activities rather than existing parish structures. Gone are the days where we can expect people to show up. Rather than do the messy work of reaching the lost, we would rather protect our own through fostering divisive labels.

The Parable of The Lost sheep: How to Evangelize

Luke 15:1-7 gives us the parable of the lost sheep, and this parable gives us an important lesson on evangelization. In this parable, the shepherd is concerned about his lost sheep so he leaves the 99 sheep, which symbolizes the righteous Pharisees and goes to the lost sheep, the sinner. There is a lot to unpack here, but I think that when we use labels to describe one another, we put us in the righteous Pharisee camp.

Three labels commonly used

When I think about the Catholic church I think three labels come to mind, Traditional Catholic, Charismatic Catholic, liberal Catholic. Let us break each one down.

Traditional Catholic

The traditional Catholic prefers pre-Vatican II style worship and attends Latin Mass exclusively. At best these persons care deeply for the liturgy and reverence that it deserves. I think a desire to preserve the traditions of the Catholic church is a well-intentioned noble goal and a worthwhile pursuit. The more I learn about Catholicism, the more I went the incense, the chanting, and the beauty of more traditional churches. I think my desire comes from wanting liturgical excellence. The danger comes when we fence ourselves in and we say that the Mass is not valid and licit unless it conforms to pre-Vatican II standards. This is dangerous because the beautiful traditions of the church become a fence that prevents a person from going out into the world. Rather than engaging with other equally beautiful and valid traditions, traditional Catholics would rather label it as wrong. Also, Tradition Catholics dangerously over emphasize right practice over right belief.

Charismatic Catholics

Charismatic Catholics are completely the opposite. They emphasize obedience to the Holy Spirit and right relationship. They desire to foster an encounter with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I would say that charismatic masses have an exuberant quality to them. They emphasize scripture reading and praying for one another. Praise and worship and community are the focus. At best Charismatics help revitalize the parish by placing the focus back where it belongs, which is Jesus. They can help unlock scripture and foster community. The danger becomes when private revelation contradicts church authority. Private revelation should never take the place of church obligations. Likewise, there is the danger of emotionalism in which a person is constantly seeking the mountaintop experiences. Thus Mass becomes mundane. Because of these dangers, it is very easy for one to make the charismatic community the sole bases of their spirituality.

Liberal Catholics

The last category is liberals. These Catholics care about social justice, so much so that the oftentimes pick and choose to ignore certain teachings in favor of inclusivity. The benefit is that it reminds the church to be compassionate and merciful. The danger is that ignoring church teachings gives way to complacency, where people are not compelled to live according to the truth.

Conclusion

The reality is that the parish needs people who go beyond the labels.  The church needs to be traditionally minded to help safeguard the parish from liturgical abuses and to help safeguard the traditions of the church. The parish needs to be Charismatic because the parish needs to be reminded that God is still working, is still performing miracles, and is still speaking outside the sacraments. The parish needs to be liberal because the church needs to balance mercy with justice and to always show compassion. Furthermore, we need to have all three types as our spirituality. Rather we should break down the labels and be authentically Catholic. To do that though requires us to be uncomfortable and messy. When we accept and love each other, we can embrace and love those who have walked away.

Church Infallibility: Does Corruption Limit Authority?

Dear readers, I apologize for not posting last week; life became crazy.

Church Infallibility: Does Corruption Limit Authority?

So I was talking to my mom the other day regarding my recent blog post about the dancing snakes. She says that even if she buys that Jesus gave the disciples authority to define the church doctrine; this authority became corrupt after popes began to behave immorally. My mom like so many other fallen away Catholics, question the doctrine of church infallibility. It is here that I would like to make an analogy.

School analogy: Why behavior does not affect the truth

Let’s say that you have a math teacher. He teaches you the basic principles of math correctly, but you find out later that he behaved immorally such as molesting children. You wouldn’t deny that he taught you true math principles because you can verify independently the truth of these principles and you can see that society has historically held the truth of these principles. Similarly, the church can teach historically held truths about faith and morals regardless of the outward behavior.

Some would argue that this analogy breaks down because unlike math principles, faith and morals directly relate to how one should behave. Let’s tweak the analogy a bit. Let’s say that your math teacher is not a horribly immoral person, but instead can’t add numbers without a calculator.  Once again, you wouldn’t question the principles your math teacher taught; although, you may question the efficiency of the math teacher. In other words, the ability to teach does not affect the subject taught by the teacher; the subject remains true. Papel infallibility works the same way. It states that when it comes to faith and morals the Pope can teach no wrong. I would like to explore the biblical bases for this and explore how infallibility works practically.

Biblical Bases For Infallibility

Let’s start with the obvious, Mark 16:17-19.

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.

Scripture Interpretation of Mark 16:17-19

We’ve talked about this scripture before, but I want to emphasize the verse, “The gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The ‘it’ in this quote refers to the church. Now I don’t know about you, but I believe when God promises something, He keeps his word. So why would God through Jesus promise to protect his church only to allow it to be corrupted? It’s also important to note that Jesus establishes his church on a rock aka something visible. He changes Simon’s name to Peter, which in Greek means rock. In the old testament, name changes are important. For example, Abram is changed to Abraham to signify a change in God’s covenant relationship with him. Jesus is doing the same thing with Peter.

Mathew 18:18, How the Church Handles Conflict

When Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep, it is not only a moment of repentance for Peter after his denial but also strengthening the covenantal bond established in Matthew 16:17-19. This promise of authority is repeated in Matthew 18:18 and Luke 10:16. Mathew 18:18 Jesus states,

 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. Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.

It’s important to note the context of this passage. Here Jesus is instructing the apostles on how to handle conflict. He says that people should tell the church and listen to the church. If they don’t listen to the authority of the church they will be cut off like Gentiles and tax collectors. In verse 18 he gives context for this authority by reestablishing his promise to bind eternally what the Apostles bind on earth. In Luke 10:16, Jesus says that whoever rejects the authority of the Apostles rejects Jesus himself.

Acts 15:  A Model for the Church

The bible even provides an example of how this works. In Acts 15 we have the first recorded dispute in the church. Paul and Barnabas were arguing with certain teachers about whether the Gentiles should follow Jewish dietary restrictions. Because there was a dispute, they went up to Jerusalem to seek the opinion of the apostles. Note that they didn’t hold an individual Bible study or search the scriptures for their own interpretation nor did they establish their own church, rather they came together and formed a council and allowed Peter and James to have the final say.

It’s also important to note that Peter was not always faithful to his own teaching. In Gal 2:11-16 Paul describes how he need to correct Peter, who was not eating with the Gentiles. This goes to show that even the first pope was not immune to hypocrisy and yet Paul stills states in 1st Tim 3:15 that the church of the living God is the pillar and foundation of truth. A hypocritical action does not negate a person’s authority to teach the truth. So if Acts 15 is the model, the question remains does the church retain this model or is the pope’s infallibility unrestricted?

The Magisterium: modern day Acts 15

Sacred scripture and sacred tradition

There are three tiers of church infallibility that makes up the Magisterium. The first is Sacred scripture and sacred tradition. These are not two separate teaching but rather a single teaching under two modes. It encompasses everything the apostle’s taught either by word of mouth or by writing. This makes sense when one considers sacred scripture to be a product of tradition. An example would be establishing the canon of scripture. Even the most staunch supporters of sola scripture have to admit that the bible does not establish its own canon, rather one must rely on outside theological experts. In fact, the Catholic church established the New Testament canon in 325AD during the council of Nicaea. No proclamation can contradict sacred scripture or tradition.

Extraordinary Magisterium

The second tier of infallibility is the extraordinary Magisterium. This consists of solemn definitions by the pope or ecumenical council ratified by the pope. The most recent example would be the council of Trent, which sought to clarify Catholic teachings in light of the Protestant Reformation. This tier seeks to clarify consistently held doctrine and elevated it to dogma. For a review of the difference between Dogma and doctrine see this.

Universal Magisterium

The last tier of infallibility is the ordinary and universal Magisterium. This includes the ordinary teaching of the Church, accomplished via papal pronouncements, statements of bishops, catechisms, homilies, etc. By ordinary and universal, it means that the decision must be in agreement in time and space. In other words, you must have the agreement of all bishops and this agreement must be consistent with all the bishops throughout history. This makes it extremely hard to create brand new doctrine from a papal pronouncement or Bishop’s statement.

When assessing the Magisterium, it is important to remember that this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it with regards to faith and morals.

 

The Church as the Pillar of Truth

So to answer the question, Can the church teach faith and morals wrongly? The answer would be no because to say yes would make Jesus a liar. To say yes would mean that Jesus’ promise to protect the church from the gates of hell remains unfulfilled. To say yes, would mean that that the Magisterium has taught something that was not handed down to it. Just like math principles are handed down and taught historically, the church has been entrusted with teaching faith and morals. This began with Peter and the Council of Jerusalem and continues with the Council of Trent. Just like Peter’s hypocrisy did not stop Paul from declaring the church as a pillar of truth, we shouldn’t let people’s hypocrisy keep us from believing the truth of the Church.

Why does God care

Birth Control: a Defense of the Church’s teachings

Most opposition to church infallibility comes from an unwillingness to accept the papal pronouncements. Many Catholics struggled to accept The Encyclical Humanae Vitae mainly the teachings against birth control. We must remember that church authority extends to moral proclamations consistent with scripture and tradition. Scripture teaches and tradition concurs that marriage is a union of ‘one flesh.’ Humanae vitae merely issued moral guidance on what it means to be ‘one flesh’ and concluded that artificial contraceptives hinder a couple’s ability to become ‘one flesh.’ To conclude that the pope reached this judgment in error is to show a lack of faith in the promise Jesus gave to the church, which was to protect it from error.

Objection: no Authority Over Private Life

One objection might be that the church has no authority over private life. After all, God only cares about whether I am a good person. This couldn’t be further from the truth. God loves us and cares about every aspect of our lives. Yes, God wants us to love others, but He also wants to obey his will. God for better or worse entrusted his apostles to carry out his will and build his church. This means that the church can extend on the word of God. Scripture was not created in a vacuum but was fostered and preserved by the traditions of the church. If we trust the church to define the canon of scripture, then we also have to trust that God is continuously guiding the church when it defines other moral truths.

Imagine for a moment that we are walking a dog. The dog sees a car and wants to chase it. However, the dog is constrained by a leash. We as rational being know that the leash is for the dog’s own good and wellbeing. However, to the dog, it keeps it from being free. In a similar way, the church’s moral judgments act as a leash. We, like the dog, may not understand why we are being constrained, but out of obedience and love for our master, we learn to obey.