An open letter to those on the ledge…

[A few hours after posting this, I made a few minor revisions. I also recommend this comment by Dale.]

“6 Give strong drink to anyone who is perishing, and wine to the embittered; 7 When they drink, they will forget their misery, and think no more of their troubles. 8 Open your mouth in behalf of the mute, and for the rights of the destitute; 9 Open your mouth, judge justly, defend the needy and the poor!”

Proverbs 31

I began this post as a reply to a comment on a recent post, but it quickly expanded into a post in its own right. In speaking to this truly pitiable reader, I am speaking to all fellow Catholics who, despite all the pressure to conform and every reminder to “relax”, genuinely feel “lost at sea” these days. Since I am speaking on behalf of others as well as on my own behalf, please bear in mind that I may not hold or suffer every sentiment and idea expressed below, though I have experience all of them at one time or another since Benedict XVI abdicated.

To business…

Dear Lost Sheep,

I really appreciate your candor. I won’t try to sugarcoat your case with a rehearsed pep talk, much less an elaborate theological retort. You know how hard things have been in your faith-life, so I can only comment from the outside; to do otherwise, would be as presumptuous as it is obnoxious (think of Job’s friends). Whatever exactly Pope Francis stands for, and whatever he ultimately portends for the Church, he seems to be the apotheosis of the majority’s hopes, and the embodiment of the minority’s fears. To most of his supporters, he’s the epitome of what a pope, and contemporary Catholic witness, should be. To those of us unsettled by his leadership, he’s the distilled, animated version of much of what has gone off track in the last half-century. Make no mistake, those of us who can’t wholeheartedly embrace the pope’s leadership approach are a minority (of only about 7%), but we are still coheirs in Christ. To recall a maxim I’ve cited before:

“Peter has no need of our lies or flattery. Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the Supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See—they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations.”

Orthodox Catholics know that papal infallibility does not entail papal impeccability, but I am not alone in worrying at the emergence of a reflex among most Catholics these days to ascribe to Pope Francis a kind of personality impeccability. He’s just such a swell guy–he’s not just God’s man, he’s the man of the year! He’s the world’s man, too! (“What makes this pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church,” Time said in its cover story.) Even non-Catholics see how awesome this guy is! Is he perfect? Well, no, but–what? What are some specific examples of his personal imperfections? Oh, I don’t know, haters gonna hate. He’s so pastoral and charismatic!

The constant fawning over “The People’s Pope” is at times literally nauseating [NB: dizzying was my first word choice, but it is what it is] to those of us who can’t help but wonder if he’s not as interested in being, well, the Man of the Year, as he is in being the Universal Pastor. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way” (Luke 6:26). Believe it or not but there are actually some of us who would like for the pope to be unpopular in the world’s eyes. To recall that magisterial passage from Abp. Fulton Sheen (found in the preface to Volume 1 of Radio Replies):

“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be. … As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do. …

“If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hates. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh. If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church that is hated by the world, as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church which is accused of being behind the times, as Our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from Nazareth. Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because he called Himself the Truth. Look for the Church which amid the confusion of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly, it is other-worldly. Since it is other-worldly, it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself.”

Having said all that, I will be blunt: you have no coherent basis for leaving the Church, and to do so would be apostasy, plain and simple. Certainly there are pastoral factors in your case which ameliorate the act, but we realists should not whitewash reality. To leave the Church because of a bad pope, much less because of the bad potential we portend in a pope, is simply to leave the Church. I am also a convert, and I assure you that I was sorely tempted to hit the exit when I got my first full picture of Pope Francis a couple of months ago. It’s the fairly open-faced indifferentism that gnaws at me, and I know that I’m not the only faithful Catholic beset by this. To hear most leading clerics tell it, the Church is not that essential for virtue and salvation. If that’s the case, though, why bother sticking around to endure mushy preaching, decadent liturgy, sloppy catechesis, and widespread doctrinal defection (on the lay and clerical levels)? Whereupon we panicky bedwetters are always given the reminder that, ontologically speaking, the Church is “necessary for salvation,” in the sense that without the Incarnation and its spatiotemporal extension qua Church, no one is saved.

Well and good, but when you inquire into the concrete mechanics of how salvation is wrought solely “in” the Church, the usual reflex is to say that “God is not bound by the sacraments, we are.” In that case, if immersing myself in the world and in other religious traditions would not only reflect the perpetual missionary openness which Pope Francis desires (cf. Evangelii Gaudium 25-28), but also not deprive me of God’s grace (for He can be found in all good things), then why must I immerse myself in the Church as some kind of absolute, legalistic condition for “salvation”? If God decrees that non-Catholics are best illuminated by God’s grace “where they are” (i.e., in their own traditions and spiritual milieux), then how do I know I am not to be similarly enriched by partaking of those non-Catholic graces, as well? All truth is God’s truth, so if conversion is bunk (“No, no, no!”) and if the “art of accompaniment” (viz., “remov[ing] our sandals before the sacred ground of the other”, EG 169) is the summit of Christian perfection, then I might as well rack up as much of that Universal Truthiness as I can. We all know that picky Cafeteria Catholicism is taboo, so, All-You-Can-Eat Catholicism, here I come!

Diagnosis? Day by day. As the affronted former aide to Benedict XVI, Abp. Gaenswein, put it recently, “I start each day afresh wondering what will be changed today.” It sounds cliche, Dear Ledger Dweller, but “I feel your pain”–I have been there. It’s a hard time for many of us to be Catholic, because, paradoxically it is such an “easy” time to be Catholic these days. Our Pope is the Man of the Year, we very likely will escape persecution under the ACA in the USA, the Muzak all around us is provided by Jeremiah the Bullfrog.

“________ was a good friend of mine; I never understood a single word he said, but I helped him drink his wine. … Joy to the world!”

Unfortunately, joy is not something you can cajole people into. Giving a discourse about joy, no matter how sincere, comes off as badly as “explaining the joke” when no one gets it. Being hectored interminably to burst with joy and decapitate ourselves with a Real Christian Smile™, is as smarmy as it is condescending. But, well, we have our orders. So, I am “happy” to say that the Catholic Church seems hip again, precisely because it seems to be “in tune with” the Zeitgeist. Alas, some of us continue to struggle with this newest New Springtime, since we are cognizant of the flip side of Sheen’s quotation. In his day, the problem may have been hatred based on erroneous perceptions, but in our day we face the opposite problem: “There are not one hundred people in the United States who love The Catholic Church, but there are millions who love what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

I’m sorry, Pope Francis, but the Church’s teaching is not clear, and to presume otherwise is to imperil young souls and to trivialize the precisely magisterial authority of the papacy. We do not need a fresh wind; we do not need new wine. We need consistent clarity; we need time-tested, effective shepherding. Some of us quite literally desperately need a pope who gives us bread over stones, while we seem to have a pope more inclined to give interviews and make photo ops. It is because of such great need that we must embrace one more: we need to pray for our brethren, for each other, and for Pope Francis.

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About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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54 Responses to An open letter to those on the ledge…

  1. Pingback: A Response to the Codgitator’s Open Letter | Malcolm the Cynic

  2. Brian Ortiz says:

    I sympathize with those who are having a difficult time with the Pope’s ambiguous remarks, but I am dismayed that their faith is so weak that they would seriously consider apostasy. If your faith cannot withstand this light fair, what will happen to your faith when the end of time comes and everything is truly burning? Toughen up!

    For me, the problem with the pope’s many ambiguous remarks is that non-Catholics and poorly-catechized Catholics get the wrong impression about Church teaching. I think everything the Pope has said can be interpreted as orthodox, but what good does that do if everyone thinks the Church is now ‘okay with gays?’ And it bothers me that the Pope Francis does not seem to be aware about the confusion, or if he is aware, is not doing anything about it.

  3. I sympathize with those who are having a difficult time with the Pope’s ambiguous remarks, but I am dismayed that their faith is so weak that they would seriously consider apostasy. If your faith cannot withstand this light fair, what will happen to your faith when the end of time comes and everything is truly burning? Toughen up!

    Yep. If this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, you either need to brush up on Church theology or you need to man up. It’s no different than atheists who left the Church because they had a bad experience in the Confessional when they were questioning their faith.

  4. Brian:

    I agree, but in the case of the commenter who prompted me to write this, his struggle goes back years, and is being waged on more than one front. Pope Francis is just a catalyst for him, I think. He’s a catalyst for a lot of things, actually.

  5. trof4st says:

    One responds to the good and humble Bishop’s insights by holding fast to the Tradition of the indefectible Church.

    Mann Kann nicht anders.

  6. I agree, but in the case of the commenter who prompted me to write this, his struggle goes back years, and is being waged on more than one front.

    While this is true, it still needs to be made clear (which you did in one section, so good job with that) that apostasy is apostasy, period. I sympathize with having a very difficult time for years, I’ve had tough times too and nearly became a Protestant, then an atheist at one point (though I’m probably just too young to have struggled like Lost Sheep). But I was wrong. In my case, I misunderstood the theology entirely, and people who just told me empty platitudes, or showed too much sympathy without enough truth, would have had absolutely no effect on me – indeed, people giving me a squishy happy-go-lucky Catechism is why I nearly left. Now that I know the theology I know that a bad Pope is absolutely no excuse for leaving, nor are bad experiences.

    It’s tough to hear, but it has to be heard and said.

  7. To paraphrase Mother Teresa, “If you are a Catholic, be a very good Catholic.”

    C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

    “I have met with little of the fabled odium theologicum from convinced members of communions different from my own. Hostility has come more from borderline people whether within the Church of England or without it: men not exactly obedient to any communion. This I find curiously consoling. It is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit, if not in doctrine. And this suggests that at the centre of each there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.”

  8. “…empty platitudes … too much sympathy without enough truth, … a squishy happy-go-lucky Catechism is why I nearly left.”

    In this context, I think you can appreciate how ironic your above choice of words is. 😉

  9. wewjude says:

    Francis is the coolest Pope eva!! Don’t believe me?? Check out what MTV College sez…
    http://www.mtvu.com/shows/mtvus-2013-man-woman-of-the-year/

  10. Dale Price says:

    Unless you are familiar with the battle raging within another man, or know him well enough to speak to his spiritual state, “buck up, wuss” (or its equivalent) just might not be what the doctor ordered. I’ve heard that from some of this Pope’s most intransigent defenders, which is an irony I can now appreciate. As well as laugh at.

    But it ought to be deployed sparingly, if at all. And then, only if you know the person in question well enough. There’s a term for liability in civil law that says “you take the plaintiff as you find him.” Meaning, it doesn’t matter if he has an eggshell for a skull and your negligence leaves him brain-damaged whereas a person with a normal skull would have ended up with less than a migraine–you’re still responsible for the consequences. The same obtains in our interactions with others on the spiritual plane.

  11. Brock Fowler says:

    “Apostasy is apostasy, period.”

    Malcolm, what could possibly be wrong with apostasy? You make is sound so negative! 🙂

    Look, YOU say apostasy is bad, and I say the same: but when Cardinal Dolan was asked how he felt about one of his flock becoming Jewish, he said that he was glad. You NEVER even hear the word “apostasy” used by the Vatican (nor by the vast majority of bishops).

    You and I and others claim that it is so terribly important to be Catholic: but that simply is not the message from the Church in the last 50 years. Popes participate in all kinds of interfaith services–including non-Christian ones–and simply gush about other faiths and churches…without a single negative warning. There is hardly a day that goes by but that somebody in the Vatican, or officially approved by the Vatican to speak on ecumenical or inter-religious matters, doesn’t make some statement that certainly seems to say that it really doesn’t matter much if you are Catholic or not. Vatican II issued unqualified praise of other religions and Protestant churches. We even gush about atheists!

    Nor are the stakes significant: for the Church no longer warns of the very grave danger–the very real possibility…even the likelihood–of going to hell. Christ did, as did the saints and Church documents prior to Vatican II, but we know better now! Because we have iPhones!

    
This all harms evangelization terribly: but even more, it facilitates apostasy.

    Now, I grant you that out of that OCEAN of words, you will find a very few to the contrary–usually mildly stated and obscurely located. But the overwhelming message is that you need not worry about hell…unless perhaps you are a traditional Catholic!

    Pope Francis is continuing an approach (although possibly taking it to the next level).

  12. IbnYaqob says:

    Augustine said rather clearly that there is no excuse for schism or apostasy even upon the admission the Church is being ruled by wicked and sinful men.

    IMHO ” fawning” is just a word used by some apparent irrational knee-jerk reactionaries who admit no middle ground at the simple revulsion some people feel on a matter of simple justice.

    Francis hasn’t even been Pope for a year and some morons are acting like he is the precursor to the apocalypse. He is going to wage war on the Latin Mass or give aide and comfort to liberal heretics or promote anti-freemarket socialism.

    Calm the F-word down people! Most if not all the crap the usual suspects are spewing against Francis I’ve heard said about John Paul II. It’s not only annoying it is not even original.

    Doubt is sometimes born in pride but when you accept God doesn’t really owe you anything it does take the pressure off unrealistic expectation of pie in the sky religious utopianism.

    Pope Francis will do really well in some ways and will suck in other ways. JUST LIKE EVERY POPE BEFORE HIM sans the unambiguously bad Popes.

    I don’t understand this fussbudget fest over the Pope?

  13. You’re missing the point – to leave the Church because of my experiences was more than even a mistake – it was, in itself, bad theology, and it would have been a grave sin. All of this stuff isn’t an excuse, no matter how much we dislike it.

    Once again, this should clarify somewhat how I think – I actually don’t disagree with everything you’re saying, but you know what? Apostasy is apostasy, and when you reach the Pearly Gates YOU’RE going to have to answer to it.

    I also question, and I gave you a long, well thought-out response in my ping-backed post, how writing two sentences about how apostasy is bad and then spending the rest of the letter criticizing the Church and complaining about how much you really, really hate Francis’s papacy,is supposed to convince anybody not to leave the Church – if anything you just summarized all the reasons somebody should leave into one, nicely organized letter.

  14. Unless you are familiar with the battle raging within another man, or know him well enough to speak to his spiritual state, “buck up, wuss” (or its equivalent) just might not be what the doctor ordered.

    Okay, but when somebody is considering apostasy, you can say you “understand” until the cow’s come home…but ultimately, you’re going to need to “buck up, wuss” or risk your immortal soul.

    Indeed, I find it rather ironic that everybody here talks big about how horrible apostasy is, but then apparently are worried about offending somebody if you point out to them that there is LITERALLY NO EXCUSE to apostasize.

    You’ve had a tough spiritual struggle? That’s terrible, but apostasy is a grave sin that puts you in serious danger of being tortured for all of eternity. If you think it’s an option, your theology is wrong and you need to learn more before you leave.

  15. Mother Teresa also said she wants to help Hindus be better Hindus and Muslims be better Muslims.

  16. Considering the priesthood, eh? Fr. Vinegar? 😉

    Commiserating with a fellow struggler is not by any means condoning apostasy, though, as Brock has noted, you can find very much that kind of tolerance in the majority of contemporary clergy.

  17. Hence, “to paraphrase”.

  18. I get what you’re saying, but in this whole letter you spend, I think, three sentences actually condemning the sin of apostasy and the rest of the letter commiserating.

  19. Leo says:

    Unless you are familiar with the battle raging within another man, or know him well enough to speak to his spiritual state, “buck up, wuss” (or its equivalent) just might not be what the doctor ordered. I’ve heard that from some of this Pope’s most intransigent defenders, which is an irony I can now appreciate. As well as laugh at.

    Very much this. There’s something deeply disturbing that we must all be “pastoral” to perverts and atheists who are disturbed by previous Popess mild exhortations to be obedient to the ancient teachings of the Church, but now that some Catholic folk are disturbed by the present Pope’s equivocations, well, they can go to Hell. Pope Francis, lesbians, divorcees, and high-powered politicians who serially desecrate the Eucharist aren’t the only ones entitled to pastoral treatment.

  20. I think Dale’s comment that Codg linked too is great. I don’t think Codg’s letter is anything close to that,

  21. Branch says:

    “Unfortunately, joy is not something you can cajole people into. Giving a discourse about joy, no matter how sincere, comes off as badly as “explaining the joke” when no one gets it. Being hectored interminably to burst with joy and decapitate ourselves with a Real Christian Smile™, is as smarmy as it is condescending.”

    This is absolutely right. I was once told by a priest, “Now, go be joyful” – it was as if there was a magic joy switch somewhere within me that I could flick on at will.

    Do you know what this kind of thinking is? It is Pelagian. It is self-sufficient willfulness. If anything, the counsel could be: now, go and seek God, open yourself to Him, pray that you may experience the joy of knowing Him. That was Benedict’s teaching on prayer, basically, if I recall correctly.

  22. c matt says:

    Well, what more than these three words needs to be said:

    “Apostasy is inexcusable.”*

    Sure, the post could have droned on and on, but that was not the point of it.

    *The only exception would be if Christ’s resurrection, and hence, divinity, were somehow disproven beyond any shadow of a doubt. But then, the Faith would have been in vain, so I don’t know if that would actually qualify as apostasy – the faith would have had no basis to begin with.

  23. Pingback: Dead men don’t struggle… | FideCogitActio : "Omnis per gratiam"

  24. c matt says:

    [T]he usual reflex is to say that “God is not bound by the sacraments, we are.”

    Exactly. WE are not GOD, therefore WE are bound by the sacraments, and really have no right to presume otherwise.

  25. Yet, those outside the Church are not bound by the sacraments, either. So if, perhaps in the spirit of investing in the peripheries, I happen to find myself outside the Church, apparently I have good reason to expect God’s grace despite being without the sacraments.

    I, of course, don’t believe this, but the impression that’s been transmitted for a generation is much murkier.

  26. Leo says:

    It’s actually a little worse than Pelagianism, which at least concerns relevant things (i.e., the performance of good works and the appropriation of salvation). It’s clerics fixating on external appearances to the exclusion of interior realities — i.e., Pharisaism.

  27. Well, what more than these three words needs to be said:

    “Apostasy is inexcusable.”*

    Sure, the post could have droned on and on, but that was not the point of it.

    You do realize that this was the exact point I was making, right?

  28. Branch says:

    Can you imagine?: Guilt-tripping someone into being “joyful”! Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s a gift. We ought to yearn for it, humbly. Those of good will (nuns can probably be included) would want nothing more than authentic Christian joy. Where is the mercy towards those who may be having a struggle to be in union with the Spirit? And, to conflate joy with the superficial “happy”, “smiling” Christian. It isn’t new with Pope Francis, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.

  29. Leo says:

    Imagine? I’ve lived it. “Don’t worry be happy” homilies abound in my benighted diocese.

  30. Dale Price says:

    At some point, yes, the line has to be drawn and noted that the consequences of such a decision are eternal.

    But two thoughts:

    1. I strongly suspect you agree with this, but let me state it openly–accusations of heresy and apostasy are not opening lines. But I’ve seen them used as the opener a few times. To be blunt, that’s a dick move, but it is usually rationalised as “tough love.” The concepts share letters and the same number of syllables, and nothing else.

    2. I’m not sure how effective it is to a mind in turmoil. If the person is sufficiently het up, then he or she is not buying much of what the Church is selling at that point. Doubt has grown to the point where canon law and EENS aren’t really in the mix any more. The only Church teachings that are still in play are those about conscience, and, ironically, the nods to ecumenism. “Hey, even the Catholic Church admits the Orthodox have valid sacraments…yeah, they do!”

    If anything, the reminders of the perils of defection are better used when your troubled acquaintance is more stable and a little less in turmoil.

  31. c matt says:

    What do you mean by “we” kimosabe?

    Why would those outside the Church not also be bound by the sacraments? If the retort is “God is not bound by the sacraments, we are” then each person must fall into one of two categories: we, or God. Being outside the Church does not make you God, so you must still be part of the “we” and likewise bound.

  32. I’m talking about the Church’s widespread *effective* on EENS these days, not about dogma. If my pagan neighbor has a good likelihood of being saved apart from the sacraments, then I do too––so why should I stick around? I would not be denying the dogma that the Church is necessary for salvation, since, wherever I ended up qua saved member of “the human family,” I would still maintain that my salvation was achieved necessarily by the graces dispensed via the Church. Knowing that the Church’s boundaries extend who knows where and how far beyond the sacramental life of the Church, to hear the majority of pastors and apologists tell it these days, I have very good hope of being saved, even if, for my own unique, pastoral reasons I find it “difficult” to abide by the legalistic parameters of the Church’s sacramental economy.

    I don’t endorse this logic, mind you, but whatever worries I had about the temptation to defect into the wider grace of God, as it were, has only come into laser focus under Pope Francis. Honestly, he’s the most defeatist, deflationary pastor I’ve ever known. To hear him tell it, non-Catholics have every assurance that God is on their side, while those who take their Catholicism a little too seriously for the are in real danger of being outed as Pharisees and Pelagians.

    To be blunt: give me a fucking break.

    To be literal: give me a period of respite from this harrying, emotive indifferentism wafting from HQ.

  33. Dale Price says:

    Despite being a guide on the joy of the Gospel and how to share it, it doesn’t offer much of a rationale for seeing non-Christians convert and become Catholic. EG 250-54 encourages dialogue with them and to appreciate their inherent goodness, yes. Actually convert? It seems almost rude to pull them away from the riches of the own faiths.

    Evangelization in EG comes across more as a process of sanctification of members within the Church, first and foremost an act of ecclesial purification. I’m beginning to think Rabbi Skorka has it nailed on this point.

    “When he speaks about evangelization, the idea is to evangelize Christians or Catholics,” to reach “higher dimensions of faith” and a deepened commitment to social justice, Skorka said. “This is the idea of evangelization that Bergoglio is stressing — not to evangelize Jews. This he told me, on several opportunities.”

    http://www.timesofisrael.com/the-popes-rabbi/

  34. Brock Fowler says:

    Malcom, every post does not have to be on every subject.

    To get directly to your point, as I indicated, I agree with you on apostasy. As to your claim that YOU’RE going to be the one judged, perhaps we disagree there in part: I think that those in the Church that almost constantly have given the impression that apostasy does not matter–that all religions are more or less praiseworthy…as is atheism for that matter–are going to be right there being judged as well.

    Finally, my letter said NOTHING about the reasons to leave the Church: NONE of my statements had ANYTHING to do with that subject. There are no reasons to leave the Church.

  35. Wait, Brock, are you also the Codgitator?

    Anyway:

    Malcom, every post does not have to be on every subject.

    I honestly have no idea how this has to do with anything I said.

    As to your claim that YOU’RE going to be the one judged, perhaps we disagree there in part: I think that those in the Church that almost constantly have given the impression that apostasy does not matter–that all religions are more or less praiseworthy…as is atheism for that matter–are going to be right there being judged as well.

    Maybe so, but if I’m the one who committed the sin of apostasy myself, they’re not going to concern me much at the time.

    Finally, my letter said NOTHING about the reasons to leave the Church: NONE of my statements had ANYTHING to do with that subject. There are no reasons to leave the Church.

    No, you didn’t give any reasons to leave the Church, but you did write a long letter that seemed to start off as an attempt to convince somebody not to commit apostasy and ended up being a list of complaints about the papacy and the modern Church. There are no good reasons to leave the Church…well, okay, all of this stuff is pretty horrible, but STILL! No good reasons!”.

    I think Dale’s comment that you linked to is a lot better.

  36. Brock Fowler says:

    Malcom, I made some statement which require no response. However, if you have meaningful ones, great! But most of your response is pointless and tiresome.

    There is one point that may be worth addressing: how important is truth? Of course, we should not lie, but how about dissembling, spin, rationalizing, etc.? For a good cause?

    I think that God is truth, and the truth always leads you to God. You can’t convert somebody to Catholicism by hiding the truth, and you can’t convince somebody not to leave by hiding the truth: it is counterproductive to even try. It is disrespectful and discrediting.

    I urge everybody to become, or stay, Catholic: but NEVER do I do so by trying to hide the reality of our situation.

    Now, I understand your position: I really do. I don’t agree. Nor will I agree by your further repetition of the same points.

  37. Brock Fowler says:

    I have been busy, but I have wanted to address why I am not on the ledge before this discussion gets too stale.

    Do the math. Is there a God? Is Christ His Son? Did Christ found a Church? Is that Church the Catholic Church? I have no intention of running down these questions: we are all well-formed Catholics here–including those on the ledge. Besides, Chesterton was right: it is really beyond argument. The Church is an intricate key: it either opens the lock or it doesn’t. It does. It is the only thing that does.

    So, given that, how could we be in this mess? Because that happens sometimes. It happened in the Arian crises. It happened at least locally many other times as well. And it does not violate the guarantees of the Church, so it does not create any crises. There is nothing to explain or defend.

    But it does create a cross. I remember as a dewy-eyed convert thinking how…almost romantic…it would be to contest for Christ at such a time as the Arian crisis. To my utter astonishment, I came to find out that I live in a time of roughly equal crisis: and it is not romantic at all. It is disgusting and heartbreaking.

    So, how to bear the cross? The answer for me is to follow traditional Catholic practices. Think in centuries. Pay less attention to the present (as St. Benedict advised). Attend the timeless liturgy, and pray the timeless prayers. A benefit from that is that you come to realize that there were lots of Popes with problems, and lots of Councils with prudential issues–serious ones. It gives perspective.

    I am on the internet more than I should be, but I am writing a paper concerning the divide among orthodox Catholics, and I’m gathering references: but I have to take breaks from it. And I already have enough that I can spare myself from reading the likes of Mark Shea, and others who seem to be seeking conflict and controversy.

    This is the only issue that all this poses to me: heaven and hell. Because the Church itself has been implying for some 50 years that you don’t need to be Catholic or even Christian or even believe in God to be pretty darn confident of heaven: yet for nearly 2 thousand years before that, the Church essentially taught that people who believe that nonsense (absent invincible ignorance and extraordinary virtue) are going to hell, that hell should be understood to be a very common destination, and that the Church should talk of these things frequently. This raises the questions: are the recent Popes and bishops leading souls to hell? Or does God grade on the curve? Obviously, I don’t know.

    But this is what I’m starting to wonder. Of course we could never EARN eternal bliss in a finite life time, but maybe God really does expect us to give our ALL if we are to go to heaven. I’m reminded of my Scripture professor, Tim Gray, who claimed that heaven was hotter than hell due to the consuming fire of God’s love: it is just that the fire feels good to the pure. Hell is hot, but it is removed as far as possible from that fire as an act of mercy. Looking at it that way, how many people really even WANT to go to heaven? To be with God eternally? I mean, God as he really is…which to our culture means “homophobic” and “sexist” and…and…

    How bad is hell? Well, to the SAINTS it seemed truly horrific. Of course. But how about an ordinary person? It could be that the pain comes largely from it being eternal. An analogy: what would it be like to live forever on earth? On the surface of it, it doesn’t sound so bad. But wouldn’t we start gaging on our own BS after a millennium or so? Be physically sickened by stewing in our own rationalizations and self-deception? And all of those trifling fools with you!

    I don’t know. But it has seemed to me that what I really need to do–what we all really need to do–is pursue holiness. The holy can change themselves, change their family, change their community, change the Church, and change the world. They can accept their cross while maintaining their recollection. They can get to heaven.

    More prayer. More Scripture. More spiritual reading. Less internet and controversies.

  38. Brock Fowler says:

    PS: We have HAD to choose between past authority (tradition) and current authority in some important ways. This is destabilizing, and either answer bring serious problems unless you are authentically holy (which I am not).

    For those who choose (current) authority, there are a series of implications from that choice that are too complicated for a post. But it seems to tend to create a brittle faith where CURRENT authority is regarded as being EFFECTIVELY infallible in almost ever respect…and when you cannot fool yourself any longer, that creates a crisis of faith when you are forced to admit that current Popes and Councils make very serious errors too–just not errors which bind the faithful regarding faith and morals.

  39. Malcom, I made some statement which require no response. However, if you have meaningful ones, great! But most of your response is pointless and tiresome.

    Fair enough. Last comment on this thread and then I promise I’ll shut up.

    I urge everybody to become, or stay, Catholic: but NEVER do I do so by trying to hide the reality of our situation.

    Okay. But you urge somebody to stay Catholic for three lines and then spread the rest talking about how much you dislike the papacy. You weren’t urging somebody to stay, you were commiserating. Most of what you wrote doesn’t have anything to do with your supposed original topic.

    Now, I understand your position: I really do.

    Perhaps; perhaps not. A couple of times you certainly responded to me in ways that puzzled me.

    I don’t agree. Nor will I agree by your further repetition of the same points.

    Okay then, I’ll drop it, though not without pointing out the irony of you of all people talking about how futile it is to continually repeat the same points.

  40. …In that case, I’m a lot more confused than I thought. If anything particularly insulted you Codg, my sincere apologies.

    Tell you what, I’ll leave now anyway. *Slinks off, tail between legs.*

  41. Particularly insulted me? Dude, I’m a traditionalist, so EVERYTHING insults me, right! ;p

  42. Brock Fowler says:

    No, I am not Codg: he writes much better than I, and much faster. I’m not in his league.

  43. ErnstThalmann says:

    Since it would seem that it is my circumstances that are under consideration here – and I hope I’m not being egotistical – allow me first to thank everyone for their contributions to this discussion.

    It occurs to me that if the question is really one of apostacy, two related questions need to be addressed: (1) Apostacy from what, and (2) who is it that has apostasized? As to the first, the whole notion of “Church” is central to the question. One is an apostate in relation to the Church, of course, and by the definition of the Second Vatican Council it would seem clear enough that what I’ve had in mind – severing the connection with the Catholic community – may be a narrow enough step to avoid such an appraisal. “Church” as presently understood is a broad enough idea to encompass all those that have to a greater or lesser degree overlapping beliefs. One is still considered to share the faith as a Protestant, for example, its just that the fullness of the faith is said to “subsist” in the Roman Catholic Church. Where is the apostasy if the system of belief is maintained but only the social connection severed? As to the second quetion, apostasy requires a departure, but by whom? In a departure from the Catholic community is it me that can be considered the active party or the Catholic community itself? Who has left whom, one might ask. Just a couple of thoughts.

  44. wewjude says:

    Brock Fowler – Beautifully stated….thank you for sharing.

  45. Yes, we mustn’t give grist to the anti-Catholic mill, which would say that, just as Protestants have their “sola scriptura”, Catholics have their “sola pontifica.” The Pope is a SERVANT and CUSTODIAN of the Tradition, not its redactor or airbrusher. The Tradition is the lens by which a pope, and any Catholic, must be judged, not vice versa.

  46. Brock Fowler says:

    It seems to me that we are intellectually OK with either blind obedience or complete private judgment–but we do have to struggle with the Catholic middle. It is hard! We want easy!

  47. Brock Fowler says:

    ErnstThalmann, you raise very good questions. I’ll post something at the bottom (rather than here) when I can.

  48. Brock Fowler says:

    Dear ErnstThalmann, these are my thoughts…

    1. The Bible. The “church” is the “pillar of truth.” It is the Kingdom of God/heaven: and you are either inside or outside of it.

    You can see it painstakingly laid out in the New Testament: it is hierarchical and on Earth it is visible. It has local priests and deacons and bishops (by whatever name). It has congregations. It has inter-relationship. It is not purely spiritual, and it is more than merely social. What you see in the Bible is the early Catholic Church: “Catholic” of course meaning “universal.”

    2. Between the Bible and Vatican II: there was never any confusion about the meaning of the “Church” nor its visible nature on Earth.

    3. Vatican II and after: nothing changed, because it couldn’t change–the Holy Spirit would not permit it. So, the hierarchy has not left, and has not apostatized. Nothing substantial has happened: although many things horrifying have.

    Vatican II was billed as a pastoral council, AND WHEN THE VOTES WERE TAKEN, AND CONCERNS WERE RAISED ABOUT THE DOCUMENTS’ WORDINGS, THE COUNCIL FATHERS WERE TOLD THAT THE COUNCIL WAS ONLY PASTORAL–that was the basis upon which they voted. The council refused–or perhaps was not permitted by the Holy Spirit–to hurl anathamas at the world: no defined dogma, and Pope Benedict claimed no NEW doctrine. (But certainly some new APPROACHES.)

    A. “Subsists in” can be understood in an entirely orthodox manner, and the document goes onto clarify it–it was just an unnecessarily confusing term that was presumably inserted for the purpose of confusing.

    B. “Ecumenism” is too vague to be a doctrine, as is dialogue, collegiality, etc.

    C. Vatican II often achieved orthodoxy only through footnotes: they are obscure, but critical.

    And so on…

    4. So why does it SEEM that there have been vast changes? Because it has aside from the Magisterium. We are in the Arian crisis. We are facing what the English faced, in a way, after Henry VIII. Etc.

    5. So, if 5 Popes in a row (not counting JP I), and most bishops, have certainly seem to be nearly constantly claiming that it doesn’t really matter if you leave the Church, or are even Christian, how culpable are you if you do leave?

    I don’t know, but that is why I’ve been increasingly wondering if we need to show heroic virtue to go to heaven–at least without very long stops in purgatory. But the Church teachings simply haven’t changed.

    6. So, how far out can you go and still be “in the Church”? If you just can’t stand it any more? In other words, faced with a limited number of real word options, should you stick with a parish whose teachings sometimes seem to be designed to kill orthodox faith? And if not, what other options do you have?

    I don’t know, and I have no authority to say. This is my best guess: no matter what, don’t ever leave the sacraments. Don’t even think of doing so. And don’t ever reject Rome in your prayers and your heart: follow the Magisterium even when bishops and religious congregations and even, at times, the Pope do not seem to… And do not go it alone.

    So, how far out do valid sacraments go? I don’t know. Obviously, Eastern rite Churches in communion with Rome raise no issues. What of others?

    I think that the Vatican has been perfectly clear that SSPX masses are valid. In fact, they clearly are not in “schism.” I think it is clear they are part of the Church. (There is at least some debate over whether their confessions are valid, but since that issue does not impact me, I have given it no thought.)

    How about sedevacantists and Orthodox churches not in communion with Rome? I don’t know. They would be a last resort for me, but I certainly would take them over staying home or going to a Protestant church.

  49. ErnstThalmann says:

    Well, all of the talk here of apostasy notwithstanding, here is the Catechism with a definition:

    (2089) Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

    In no way have I ever considered a total repudiation of the Christian faith. I am not an apostate. Over a long period of time, the conduct of the hierarchy both toward me personally and Catholics generally has left me feeling at no small distance from the community of the Church. If one even had appeal to other communicants on the matters in question it would have been enough but we have a ruling class, do we not, priests, bishops and popes, running the establishment and they’re the ones with all the say. In a very imperfect sense, I suppose I can understand the feeling of those who as youngsters were abused by priests. I too feel abused in a way and you don’t approach the source of your abuse with feelings of comfort after the experience. I haven’t been to Mass in a couple of years now. I no longer feel part of the community. The thought of a clown like Francis equivocating on questions of homosexuality merely inspires disgust. I have no respect for him whatsoever. One wonders how to cuddle up to the sacraments feeling this way. Happily, I’ve found spiritual satisfaction in a life of service anyway, no thanks to the priesthood in this diocese.

    I thank you for your well considered thoughts and comments, Brock, and appreciate your concern. I do think we can close the book on the question of apostasy, however. There been no apostasy here.

  50. Brock Fowler says:

    Very interesting! To make a long discussion short, the fact remains that not attending mass, and rejecting some parts of Church teachings, would be a serious problem–whatever label you put on it.

    If I read you correctly, you have a problem with earthy authority–hierarchy. That’s a problem: the Kingdom of God is a hierarchy, and the Bible is clear on obeying religious authority (with exceptions being limited and needing a long discussion). It is part of natural law we see even in secular matters.

    To go back to the basics, is there a God? Did he send Christ? Did Christ found a Church? If he did, it is the Catholic Church–and the Bible is a creature of the Church which lovingly preserved it. No Church, no Bible–or a corrupted one.

    You seem to attribute your attitude to specific treatment that you have received: I certainly understand how that could be entirely possible. I also understand how loyalty to a hierarchy which does not seem to care about loyalty (e.g., doesn’t seem to care whether somebody is Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, or even atheist) poses issues…as do other things… This is a tough time to be a Catholic. It is not the first tough time, and probably won’t be the last, but that doesn’t make it easy to deal with.

    A life of service will eventually become twisted if you are a lone ranger. You need God, and his Church, and His sacraments.

    I don’t know where you live, but it is rare for a person to live in a place with only one sacramental community available within driving distance. I would encourage you to explore others if they are there.

    I will pray for you to find joy.

  51. ErnstThalmann says:

    Brock Fowler,

    “If I read you correctly, you have a problem with earthy authority–hierarchy.”

    Not quite. I have no problem with earthly authority – heirarchy – per se. But I’ve had problems with how the heirarchy has understood itself and its responsibility to service of Jesus Christ, God The Son. There are issues as to my personal treatment as a committed Catholic in this connection. There are also issues as to my treatment in a pastoral sense. Together these have been sufficiently off-putting to make me feel at a distance from the Catholic community in general, a distance now great enough that I don’t much care anymore whether I participate in the life of the community or I don’t. Francis is simply the icing on the cake. I will serve God The Son with or without this parish, this diocese, this Church. The Church would seem to have made the choice that they’d rather proceed without me. While regretable, I’ll find a way to manage in a manner pleasing to Jesus, I feel quite confident. The choice has been the Church’s. When I’ve attempted to make these sentiments known to local authority, my telephone messages aren’t even returned. A one point or another you stop trying.

    Thanks, Brock. I’ve appreciated your concern and the discussion with you. Would that the Church care as you have.

  52. Brock Fowler says:

    Ernst, I spent some time with Regnim Christi before the truth about their founder came out: my group did a lot of thinking about the meaning of the word “reactionary.” Specifically it includes:

    1. To permit one or more persons to determine your internal happiness. The notion that those outside of you “make” you unhappy…or “make” you do things. Those outside of us can certainly make unhappiness and/or distortions in our actions very UNDERSTANDABLE: but we make the final decision and we are responsible for it to God.

    2. To adopt positions based upon opposition to others rather than upon what is true. For example, we see that some who support “social justice” seem to reject/neglect some fundamental Catholic teachings: it does not follow from that that we should be in favor of social INJUSTICE! Rather, we should adopt our views based upon the teachings of the Church and our own best analysis of their application–completely without regard to those who may sometimes oppose or vex us.

    You seem to have gotten into the Protestant “just Jesus and me” approach. That’s not what the Bible teaches! But never mind, let’s go with that for a minute.

    John 6 talks about the Real Presence in the Eucharist (as we term the concepts today). That is a command directly from Jesus to you (and to me), and it seems to link it to going to heaven. That is how JESUS wants you to please him (in part). Jesus does not say, “Unless, of course, one or more priests vex you!” The requirement is directly from Christ to you, and has nothing at all to do with whatever priests/bishops may do.

    I again say to you that there are any number of sacramental communities within driving distance of almost all of us–and not necessarily CONVENIENT driving distance, it is OK to be inconvenience for Christ who was crucified for each of us.

    Now, if each and every priest and bishop–without any exception–seems horrid to you, then you need to examine your own behavior. The Church is is horrible shape right now, but not so horrible that every single sacramental Christian is horrible…nor every priest.

    The sacraments are from God to whom we owe all. It is God who is Lord of the universe, not ourselves. We must conform to the ways of God, not God to our ways. God has told use to go to communion and in a state of grace. There are no other considerations which could change that without defying Him to whom we owe all.

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