OBEDIENCE TO LAWFUL SUPERIORS
9.1: In All That Is Not Sin
"Honor thy father and mother," is an expression of one of the most fundamental obligations under the heading of respect and obedience, and serves as a reminder that we have those obligations not only to parents but to all other representatives of God on earth. And in God's plan, there are not only obligations on the part of inferiors toward superiors but also corresponding duties on the part of those in authority. 12p53 etc.
Every person owes his parents obedience in all that is not sinful. Parents have on their side the duty to give proper good examples to their children, and are obliged to provide for the spiritual and temporal welfare of those under their charge.
All must respect and obey ecclesiastical superiors in their sphere. On their side, bishops, priests and all those holding ecclesiastical authority must conscientiously guide, govern and instruct those under them and take care of their spiritual welfare.
Citizens have obligations toward civil and temporal authorities, duties under the virtue of patriotism. Temporal authorities must rule justly and see to the natural rights of all.
Employees must fulfill their obligations reasonably, justly and conscientiously, while employers on their side must pay a just wage and treat their employees as their brothers with God as their common Father.
9.2: Humility - the True Visionary
After the perfect example of Christ, the saints in heaven were obedient to all lawful superiors in all things but sin. Obedience is not only one of the most necessary virtues but it is one of the greatest virtues due to its very close alliance with the virtue of humility.
No quality in the subject (visionary) of a revelation bears clearer testimony to his or her authenticity than does deep humility. All experts insist upon this virtue. Gerson puts it at the head of five criteria of discernment which he recommends in his treatise upon the distinction between true and false visions. It is not difficult to see why humility is so important for discernment. It is because the man who possesses it is not seeking his own glory: he seeks self-effacement. He is, as a consequence, excellently disposed to receive revelations without including therein anything of his own. Praising humility, Our Lord Himself declared: "He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh the glory of him that sent him, he is true, and there is no injustice in him" (Jn 7:18) lp164-166 etc.
Humility in the Christian sense is not a diminution of man. It has certainly a negative aspect: it takes away false greatness and glory from the person who seeks it. But it is above all the vision and the life of truth. The humble man sees himself as insignificant; he is so as the result of his relationship with God. That is why imposture or lying is not in such a man. That is why the heavenly Father reveals Himself to "little ones" (Lk 10:21). And history shows that God continues to reveal Himself to little ones, that is to say, most of the time to those who by nature and their own state are little - in any case only to those who recognize themselves as little ones, in short, to the humble.
For similar reasons obedience may constitute a criterion of discernment, or at least provide a strong support to someone already grounded in humility. It is, obviously, less intimately bound up with the revelation itself than is humility. It proves that the visionary, even in the spheres of will and of action, is not seeking his own interests. As Christ said, "I do not my own will but the will of my Father," so the fact that the visionary proves himself to be submissive to the authority which comes from God cannot help but be a testimony in favor of the revelation which he may have had. This obedience may not have been so strongly evidenced before the occurrence of the revelation as was the subject's humility, which predisposed him to receive that revelation, but displays itself effectively during and after this revelation has taken place.
In regard to this matter there is scarcely a more instructive case than the following which is related in the 'Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila’ (chap. 29, 5-6) in which she recounts how the Lord manifested Himself to her. She considers the visions which she has received from Him as signal favors from God, and adds that she would not have wished to change one of them for all the riches and pleasures of the world. But since these visions became more and more frequent, her confessors began to see in them the work of the devil.
"They bade me," writes the saint, "to reject them every time by the sign of the cross and by derision, and the devil - for this was he, I was to be certain of that - would return no more; but it was necessary to banish all fear from my soul; besides, God would watch over me and would deliver me. Their command caused me very deep grief. As it was impossible for me to admit that these visions did not come from God, it was a fearful thing for me to obey. I could not wish, as I said before, that the visions should be withheld. But despite everything, I did as I was bidden....
"It was for me a most painful thing to make a show of contempt when I was being favored by the vision of the Lord. When I saw Him before me, if I were cut to pieces, I could not believe it was Satan.... It reminded me of the insults which the Jews had heaped upon Him, and so I prayed Him to forgive me, seeing that I did so in obedience to him who stood in His stead, and not to lay the blame on me, seeing that he was one of those whom He had placed as His ministers in His Church. He said to me, that I was not to distress myself, that I did well to obey; but that He would make them see the truth of the matter."
Here we are dealing with a matter of obedience to God in the mystery of Christ and of the Church. To offer opposition to the obedience owed to the Church is to set oneself upon the wrong path. Disobedience is a negative criterion of discernment and emphasized by theologians. And one of the reasons which bishops and other ecclesiastical authorities have given for condemning this or that apparition has been precisely the disobedience of the visionaries or even, of members of the Church who believed in the apparitions in question and disobeyed the instructions given upon the matter, as happened at Exquioga and on other occasions. 1p166
9.3: Obedience To The Church
The first thing to do with regard to revelations of every kind is to submit them to the Church and to await her decision. This is not always possible. For the revelations may require the visionary to take instantaneous action. When the Lady of the Grotto at Massabiele said to Bernadette: "Now, my child, go and drink and wash yourself in the spring," the visionary had not the time to reflect. She thought only of obeying at all costs, even to the extent of performing strange actions which endangered her good name. "As there was no spring at Massabielle," Bernadette told M. Extrade, "I went off toward the cave: the Lady called me back and gave me a sign with her finger repeating her order that I had to go in under the grotto. Seeing no water, I scratched the earth; a little came out of it and I drank." 1p264
But every time that it is possible, the first thought should be to inform fully a representative of the Church. Actually the history of revelations teaches us that visionaries of every type and their associates have understood that they were obliged to tell everything to the priests.
It goes without saying that one must in such cases follow the directives of the representatives of the Church. Even if these are opposed to the strongest convictions of the visionary, they must be obeyed. God will always arrange things for the best, and, if necessary, change the feelings of His representatives. We recall the case of St. Teresa - through obedience she was made to deride the visions of the Lord, and He told her that she had been perfectly right to act obediently. The Lord blesses all obedient people.
As a general procedure one must display prudence and reserve, at least as long as one is not fully enlightened either by personal experience or by the approval of the Church.
St. Teresa of Avila writes in the `Interior Castle' (VI, 3, note 3): "It is always necessary to distrust these things (the words which God addresses to the soul) until one understands their spirit. So I say that, at the beginning, the best thing to do is to fight them unceasingly. If they come from God this resistance will be a means of achieving further notable progress; the more one tests out these favors the more they increase; yes, that is truly the way with them."
To be detached in the matter of these graces - even of the best of then - is the first condition of enjoying them without peril. That is one of the reasons why St. John of the Cross declares that it is a sin to desire divine communications.
Father J.G. Arintero states that there is in this position "a certain exaggeration, or a dangerous confusion": it is not illicit, he says, to desire them, if one does so solely as a means of getting to know God better and to love Him more and to increase in ourselves a horror of the spirit of the world.
The visionaries use their privileges well if they are and remain humble. Humility, more than any other virtue, draws down God's graces; and here in particular it helps to avoid the dangers of illusion and of abuse. "If we are humble the vision, should it be the work of the devil, will not do us any harm; if, on the other hand, we are not humble, the vision, should it have God for its Author, will not produce any good fruit in us. Our Lord in His mercy wishes to manifest Himself to a soul so that it may know Him and love Him more. He discloses to it some of His secrets or He accords it some graces or special favors. But if the soul, I repeat this, considering that which should make it wholly abashed and aware, in its lowliness, of how unworthy it is to receive such a favor, thinks itself immediately a saint, if it seems to it that this grace is the reward of some service it has rendered, it is evident that the great benefit which it should derive from the vision will be converted to evil" (Foundations, VIII, 3-4). 1p265
9.4: Different Realms of Authority
It is good for us to realize that a true visionary or mystic is a normal person like you or I which God has chosen to use as an instrument or a channel of communication to man. Almost invariably, a true mystic has reached a high degree of holiness already before the, extraordinary communication from God.
Certainly we should pay heed to private revelations that have been investigated by the Church and at least implicitly approved or to private revelations that we ourselves have logically discerned to the best of our ability as being apparently from heaven even though the Church has not been able to investigate it yet. We should be very grateful to God for mercifully communicating to us in this extraordinary way through private revelation to help us. But just as the prophets of the Old Testament or an advisor to a certain group with no official jurisdiction or power of jurisdiction over others, a mystic or visionary, has no more divinely given authority over other people (besides his children) than any other human being does. This is one of the basic reasons why no one is bound or ever will be bound under pain of sin to believe and accept any or all private revelation. But parents, ecclesiastical superiors, and civil and temporal authorities do have divinely given authority over those in their respective charge. To out rightly disobey an explicit command within their jurisdiction of a lawful superior would be materially sinful; mortal or venial depending on the intention and circumstances.
Thus, if a mystic or visionary or one of his followers disobeys or disregards a valid ecclesiastical superior's command within his proper jurisdiction, even if the command seems imprudent or unjust, the disobedience would be sinful. The same conclusion would follow if a son disobeyed or willfully disregarded his father's command, which was not sinful, and within his naturally God-given broad jurisdiction. This juridical set up proceeds not only from God's revealed supernatural law but also from the natural law of God who created all things including us and the world we live in. Heaven may prudently and tactfully point out some basic abuses through a mystic which reflect on lawful authority, but heaven will never advocate unlawful disobedience to a lawfully seated authority since it was heaven who gave the valid authority to the person to begin with. This would upset and contradict the whole natural and supernatural order established by God Himself! Obedience in all things but sin! Thus, since we were made by the one true God, it makes sense that without this natural set-up of various lawful authorities each with their own respective realm of jurisdiction, our world and all its different societies would be in complete and total chaos. The rule would be "survival of the fittest" or "the stronger shall conquer". There would be no respect of rights or human dignity or God and His Laws since due to Original Sin, man is basically selfish and prone to laziness, pride and rebellion.
9.5: The Pit of Cynical Self-Deception
But one of the most self devastating talents of rebellious man is the art of making rationalizations, excuses and exceptions for himself even though he subjectively thinks he is objective. What a deep pit of blind and proud self deception! Who can help such a one or such a group all stampeding in the name of God or Mary or holiness in the same perilous direction ironically away from God and His representatives? It is so easy and such a strong human temptation and tendency to seek to observe and dwell on the faults and abuses of a lawful superior. After dwelling on these so-called faults and abuses of a superior over a period of time along with listening to and hearing support from our agreeable peers and (busy-body?) 'friends', is it any wonder that when we receive a hard and disagreeable command from this superior that we are able to easily disregard and subjectively justify disobedience to such a command? It would be very difficult for two sons to obey a hard or perhaps even an easy command from their father whom they had so frequently undermined and degraded in their own minds by idle talk about what they determined as the faults and abuses of their father. In the same way, what are the logical consequences of imprudent and frequent derogatory detraction or calumny about a priest, or a seated bishop or the Pope or even an organization such as a government or the Holy Catholic Church herself?
9.6: Destructive Propaganda
How did the communists undermine and effectively destroy the trust and confidence of the Vietnamese and other peoples in their friendly ally, the U.S. government? They promoted the idea with massive propaganda that the Americans were imperialists and only wanted to control and take over their country. How do the Communists attempt to convince their millions of enslaved citizens that their government and economic system is the best? By denying to them the truth and facts about the outside world along with massive brainwashing type propaganda. What is one of the basic ways of destroying the USA from within? By massive doses on the mass media of detraction and calumny about our government officials and our inspired constitution itself and the virtue of patriotism. We may say that we do not like anti-patriotic demonstrations against our country but are we guilty of undermining some other lawful authority or organization? What is one of the most powerful ways of greatly undermining the effectiveness of our great divine gift and only infallible guide on earth, our Holy Mother the Church? By public and private calumny and detraction directed toward the various facets of the Church herself but most especially toward Christ's lawful and direct representatives on earth the Pope, bishops, priests and all lawful Church authorities and superiors.
But one might prudently and justifiably ask, "I realize the great damage done by undermining lawful authority, but when and how should one prudently speak up about seemingly dangerous or sinful abuses and policies of lawful authority?"
9.7: Prudent Action of a Son
Let us again return to and examine the basic divinely structured unit of the family in order to better understand the prudent path or safeguards to take regarding the similar and parallel structured of, for example, a government or even the entire Catholic Church. If an imprudent father encourages one of his sons to read and fill his mind with pornographic material, how should a prudent son handle the situation? When talking to his brother, should not the prudent brother do all he can in the line of charity to get his brother not to accept and read the destructive material and yet at the same time not undermine the forth commandment in any way? Should the prudent son immediately resort to blatant defamation of his father in order to convince his brother of the truth of this evil or should he do all he can to solve the problem including privately admonishing his father in charity and humility and yet instill into his brother a prudent respect for the office of fatherhood or parenthood? There is a point when the prudent son would have to speak out against his father, but what should be done first and in what manner in order to cause the least amount of scandal or deterioration of the God-given authority and dignity of his father and authority in general in the eyes of himself and his brothers and sisters.
Should not a prudent teacher support his fellow teachers on the staff when talking with complaining students? Or should he take sides with the students and point out many faults and abuses of a particular fellow teacher? Would not the vast majority of students be delighted to acquire the defamatory support of a teacher especially since fallen human nature likes to gather fellow human support especially from some type of authority for their unwarranted or even warranted complaints? "After all, this teacher gives us too much homework, he grades hard, he has a weird personality and he doesn't care to see our side of the coin!"
If students spend much time knocking teachers in conversation, it can become more difficult for them to apply themselves eagerly to their class work to be able to get a lot out of their classes since they have allowed themselves to "down" or undermine their teachers or other authority in their own minds and attitudes. It is human nature to want to be critical or cynical. Due to pride, we tend to want to down others to seemingly boost ourselves especially if there is some irritation from some God-given authority such as a parent, teacher, priest or bishop. Subconsciously, we feel if we can gang up against such an authority (figure) by getting others to agree with us (since we are not man enough to think and stand alone on our own thought out convictions), then it is easier to rationalize prudence away and convince ourselves that we are right and justified for our degrading and undermining an authority. God does not go by "majority rules" or by numbers, but by what is right or wrong.
9.8: Fundamental Imprudence Within a Family
Consider also the damage done to a child whose Dad or Mom take the side of their complaining child against some authority figure such as a teacher (or a police officer) without talking to the teacher first and getting all the facts and explanations. Even if the teacher also seems imprudent in some areas in the opinion of the parent, would it not be normally damaging to the child for the parent to take sides with the child or defame the teacher (or police officer) in front of the child? Most children (and adults) would prefer to make their life easier, even when imprudent, and avoid "taking the wrap" for their own mistakes and sins. If children can manipulate and enlist human support especially from those in authority for their imprudent desires or actions, they tend to feel justified and can more easily disregard their weakened conscience. This happens frequently within a family in which a spoiled selfish child attempts to manipulate one or both of his (unwise?) parents using "guilt trips" and other manipulations or attempts to pit the parents against each other in order to achieve his selfish egotistical or lazy whims. Even if the child turned out to be totally justified in his complaint, the prudent parent should try to solve the problem with the teacher or within the school system among adults rather than risking hurting the good and industrious attitude of his child by forming a "scapegoat" type attitude or habit. When the child is older and mature enough, then the parents could explain to the child in a prudent way the facts of life regarding good and bad authority figures.
9.9: Authority Destroying Authority
Another example of undermining or destroying the necessary structure of authority could be caused by the superior himself by not supporting the superiors under him. An example of this would be if a principal of a school ignored a report from a teacher about a delinquent student and then sided with the delinquent child due to favoritism or some other unfounded motive. Another example of this would be if an owner of a business sided with an irresponsible employee rather than his foreman for unfounded or imprudent reasons. Or how about a father imprudently taking the side of his son over his wife? In these examples, we can see that the student would tend to always run to the principal when the student did not like doing what the teacher asked him to do and thus strip the necessary disciplinary power away from the teacher rendering the teacher ineffective and powerless to enforce his necessary class rules etc. This would likewise be true with the business and family example also. This imprudent action of such superiors very effectively undermines or even destroys the very necessary structure of the organization.
What would happen to the Church if the Pope imprudently supported or gave more credence to the words of priests under a bishop rather than to his seated bishops? What would happen to a diocese if a seated bishop supported and gave more credence to the arguments of laymen rather than to his priests? The bishops around the world are, in a very real sense, an extension of the Pope's jurisdiction while the priests are an extension of their bishop's jurisdiction under the Pope. When one imprudently attacks or criticizes a priest or a bishop, he is also attacking and criticizing the Pope, the visible head of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. This is why one of the great and unique marks of the Church is oneness or unity. It is incompatible to seek (or mouth) unity and yet undermine the true unity of the same Church by defamation of Church members through detraction, calumny, disobedience, and using imprudent self styled procedures to try to "impeach" a priest or bishop.
9.10: St. Thomas and Fraternal Correction
St. Thomas tells us that fraternal correction is the spiritual alms deed of reproving a sinner; it is an act of charity. 3p209 etc.
Sometimes we are under obligation of giving fraternal correction. This is always so when a discreet word of ours could lead a grievous sinner to amend his ways.
Correction as an act of justice is the duty of those whose place and station require them to direct others spiritually. Correction as an act of charity is a warning properly given on due occasion by anyone who can prudently prevent sin or cause a sinner to repent and amend.
Fraternal correction can be given by anyone to any other person, be that person's place high or low. Indeed, sometimes conditions make it the duty of a subject to correct his superior. Yet correction must always be given with prudence and discretion, and never with insolence. 3p209
St. Thomas tells us: " A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction.... Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with imprudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the Apostle says (1Tim 5:1): "An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as a father". Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep. 8), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning him out of the Church."
"It would seem that a subject touches his prelate inordinately when he upbraids him with insolence, as also when he speaks ill of him: and this is signified by God's condemnation of those who touched the mount and the ark" (signifying our prelates - Ex 19:12).
One who is not an equal can reprove privately and respectfully. Hence the Apostle in writing to the Colossians (4:17) tells them to admonish their prelate: "Say to Archippus: Fulfill thy ministry." It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter's subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Gal 2:11, "Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects." 4p1336
One sinner cannot justly rebuke another in such a way that his own sin seems less to be condemned than that of the person he rebukes. Yet, if the thing be done humbly, one sinner may correct another, even though he condemns himself at the same time. The good thief at the Crucifixion humbly acknowledged his own sin as he rebuked the bad thief for upbraiding Christ. 3p209
Fraternal correction, to deserve the name, must be an act of charity, not of officiousness, or meddling, or pride, or hypocrisy. It is to be given in the spirit of loving friendship in God. And when such correction is necessary, those bound to administer it, by reason either of justice or of charity, are not to refrain from it for fear that the person corrected may be angry or resentful, or may be worse in conduct because of what is said to him in correction. 3p209
Certainly, fraternal correction is always to be given in a manner befitting the exercise of charity. It is to be given privately at least, at first. Some evils may call for public denunciation, but private admonition should be given first. Sacred Scripture directs that this course be taken. (See Mt 18:15) 3p209
After private admonition has proved fruitless, the sinner should be corrected before "one or two more" prudent witnesses, and thus every opportunity should be given him to amend without suffering public dishonor. 3p210
Catholic moral theology tells us that "revelations about public officials or candidates for public office are lawful when the public good calls for them (e.g., when a man has used corrupt practices in order to be elected, or when he is incompetent, or when he has been guilty of malfeasance in office), and the conditions of the previous paragraph are observed." 19p246
"These revelations are unlawful when the public good suffers from them (e.g., when the safety or dignity of government), or when the due conditions are not observed (e.g., when one resorts to personalities about a deserving public official, or practices muckraking because of mere prejudice or partisanship). The law permits fair comment on public persons or works, but it also grants an action for criticism that contains unfair aspersions of personal character or unjust accusations about public conduct." 19p246
9.11: Danger of (Extreme) Traditional Groups
Thus we can see that we must be very careful with respect to the eighth commandment of God especially regarding lawful authority due to the great probability of also seriously undermining the observance of the fourth commandment. It is fine and prudent to talk about faults and abuses of public officials and candidates for public office for the proper reason and in the proper non-destructive circumstances and context as discussed above. But we as adults may presumptuously think that there is no harm done by gossiping to our neighbor about the faults and abuses of some one in authority, such as a priest or a bishop; we must consider the awesome power of good and bad propaganda. Even if we mouth our love of God and country but we tend to only listen to and talk about the faults and abuses of civil and Church officials at the wrong time and in the wrong circumstances and with the wrong people, it is not too far down the road that we could very easily loose our confidence in our great country and our precious and delicate faith in our only infallible and indefectible authority on earth, the Holy Catholic Church. This may seem impossible but if we only listen to talk about the bad side, even if seemingly true, or listen to talk that is unsubstantiated rumors even from the mass media or speculations of idle gossip about so-called "traitorous" bishops and heretical cardinals or “Black Popes", or supposed "modernist" or "liberals" is it any wonder that there are numerous disjoint (traditional and extreme traditional) groups who boastfully refer to themselves as the last "last remnant" and the salvation of the Church and claim that we have had no valid Pope since Plus XII and that the 'Novis Ordo' is invalid and sinful to attend?
It is a cop out to label a person "bad" from a little (read or hear-say?) information and then interpret everything he does in our own personal infallible assessment of the person. He's a Communist of a bad bishop or a bad group etc. It seems that most of the members in these hypocritical traditional groups tend to do this to each other. People who treat us bad must be bad, but what about the plank in our own eye? There is a tendency in traditional groups to observe and self righteously judge "extreme traditional” groups so that they can justify and prove (?) that their "traditional" group is not guilty of the extremes and abuses of the "other guys". But are the members of "traditional" groups able to deductively and logically analyze the plank in their own eyes to see if they also are guilty of tearing down the Body of Christ by self righteously defaming or calumniating the liberal clergy as well as their close kins, the "extreme traditionalists"? The traditionalists accuse the liberals of not extending Christian charity and the true spirit of ecumenism toward them. But are they understanding, kind, or ecumenical toward the liberals, the "extreme traditionalists" or anyone not in their group or cult? Every person is not all bad or not all good etc. We keep looking for that perfect person (at least as holy as we are) or priest or bishop or friend. As we get to know a person well, the more we see irksome defects. We tend to also label large organizations as all bad or all good and yet moral theology and basic common sense tell us that there are varying degrees of guilt or innocence due to differences in circumstances, intention, habits, background knowledge, grace, etc. Sometimes we even might tend to think that evil forces have complete control of the world. But we must remember that no one has control over each person's free will except the person himself if he works at it. Satan himself does not have complete control of his close followers and cohorts because they can always fluctuate or change as long as they are alive. God Himself will not interfere with our free will because He wants to know if we love Him or not. God does not want a bunch of robots or irrational creatures in heaven with Him for all eternity. God wants all those rational creatures made in His own image and likeness who have freely chosen to love Him to be with Him for all eternity.
9.12: False Notions of Modernism
The destructive traditionalist and non-ecumenicalists in the prudent sense of the word, may tell you to violate the fifth Precept of the Church by not tithing to "Modernist" priests or bishops since, after all, "Pope St. Pius X said that anyone who promotes Modernism is ipso facto excommunicated".
But who is to decide what Modernism is and what Modernism is not? There is a growing misconception of what Modernism really is. Modernism is not vestments with overlay stoles or servers carrying ciboriums or the Mass and other sacraments in the vernacular or shortening various sacramental rites or priests facing the people at Mass or nuns in short habits. These examples are in the realm of discipline not doctrine. These things have been misconstrued as being Modernism. Modernism is the "evolution of religion through `New Revelation'" (Pius X). Modernism is the intrinsic changing of the doctrines of faith and morals to suit the whims of the people. Doctrines on faith and morals cannot change since they are the implicit or explicit definitions (or descriptions) given to us by our infallible guide on earth, the Church. They are definitions of the natural law from God's creation or the laws from Divine Revelation from Holy Scripture or Divine Tradition. Throughout her history, the Church has at various times changed her disciplines for the overall benefit of her millions of children. Some recent examples of this would be the changes in discipline given to us by the Church from Vatican Council II. Sometimes these changes are not always implemented prudently or there may be some Catholics who imprudently and stubbornly hold on to the abrogated Church disciplines after the Church has changed some of her disciplines. These changes have always caused reactions in the Church, both positive and negative. It is fine to be conservative, for the word means to conserve what is good and useful. But we must be patient and not too quick to judge according to our limited experiences and personal insights into the situation.
9.13: Cause of Disunity
Various imprudent traditionalists groups wonder why they cannot unite with each other. These groups are typically based on pride, the critical spirit, and presumptuous cynicism rather than the foundations of unity and harmony such as humility, charity, and prudence. Certainly there is a time to stand up and be counted and even to rebuke someone or an organization. But there is also a time for understanding and charity. It is sometimes difficult to know when to rebuke or extend our open arms in charity and understanding especially in difficult and confusing times. If we are truly humble and charitable, the soft whisperings of the Holy Spirit will penetrate our ignorant prone minds to guide us, but only if we are docile. The unifying spirit is of God. The disunifying spirit is of Satan. One of the great marks of the true Church is oneness. Of which spirit are the critical traditionalist or extreme traditionalist groups or the non-ecumenical or uncharitable or imprudent "liberal" groups? "By their fruits you shall know them". Are these groups part of the solution of unity or part of the problem of disunity and tearing down the Mystical Body of Christ?
9.14: "Holier-Than-Thou" Movements
There have been many heresies throughout the history of the Church with a strong prideful base. For example, in the twelfth century some Manichean and Gnostic errors surviving from early days crept in from the East and, uniting with a "holier-than-thou" attitude, gave rise to the Cathari who boasted of their holiness and penances. They rejected the sacraments, believed in a god of good and a god of evil and other errors. In southern France they became known as the Albigensians, from the city of Albi. Another heretical sect, the Waldensians, founded in Lyons, France, by a certain man named Waldes, was also excessively "holy". Its members took vows of poverty, chastity, and "obedience," but rejected purgatory, the sacraments, indulgences, and prayers for the dead. Some of these heretics persisted even into the sixteenth century. 6p319
In the thirteenth century and succeeding centuries a fanatical and heretical sect called the 'Flagellants' flourished. The movement was characterized by imprudent self imposed disciplines drawing all ages and conditions of people into this mental epidemic. Clergy and laity, men and women, even children of tender years, scourged themselves supposedly in reparation for the sins of the whole world. Great processions, amounting sometimes to 16,000, passed through the cities, beating themselves, and calling the faithful to repentance. After the Pope forbade these processions, the movement quickly died off for the most part. The 'Flagellants' appeared later at various times up through the nineteenth century usually due to false prophesies of the end of the world along with turbulent times in Church and state. 9p89-92
Another recent example of ultra-rigorous Catholics were the Jansenists. Their doctrines resembled Calvinism in some points, maintaining that Christ died to save only a chosen few and requiring almost superhuman sanctity and purity of life for frequent Communion. The effects of this heresy were widespread and lasting. They included postponement of First Communion and neglect of the sacraments. Jansenism's call for excessive austerities brought discouragement and loss of love of God. 6p351
Pride and ignorance take on many forms. Many imprudent religious groups have strict rules concerning eating or dressing or concerning conduct but are not based on charity or virtue but are rather a pharisaical type attitude. Their strict rules are very often motivated by a drive to convince themselves and others, consciously or unconsciously, that they are holy or "saved" and yet they look down upon others as the Pharisees of old did.
This attitude of deception is similar to a person who is meticulously obedient in small things for "show" or to convince himself that he is going to heaven, and yet he is able to rationalize or ignore disobedience in major things of his own self will and infallibly holy ideals.
Christ came to offer salvation to all men but He had a much easier time with this mission with the tax collectors and prostitutes than He did with the hypocritical Pharisees and proud Jews. The foundation of all virtues is humility and the crown of all virtues is charity, but all virtues must be governed by prudence.
9.15: Earth - A Battle Ground
Times have always been rough on this testing ground called earth even in the times of Martin Luther and before. Consider the difficult times in the first three centuries of Church history when thousands upon thousands refused to abandon their precious faith and chose rather to suffer and die at the hands of vicious emperors and their henchmen. How about the thousands of loyal Christians who died in the fourth century due to the devastating Arian heresy? Consider how difficult it was when the entire Eastern Church broke away in the middle ages due many uncharitable people as well as to the pride and envy of the eastern hierarchy who felt it beneath their dignity to give their proper allegiance to the Pope. Consider the confusion and turmoil in England in the sixteenth century when King Henry VIII threatened death to anyone who would not sign allegiance to him rather than to the true Church headed by the true Pope. There were few courageous souls in England at that time willing to follow the example of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher.
Although the Church has the divine attributes of infallibility, indefectibility, and authority to teach, to rule, and to sanctify all men until the end of time, she is made up of human beings with a free will at all levels of her God-given structure. The Church on earth, the Church Militant, is not made up of angels or confirmed saints but men like you and me. The dignity of a priest is awesome, but he is still human and his eternal destiny is still to be determined. We must be mindful of the distinction between the great dignity of a human being or his office and the man himself as a sinner just as (in a similar way) Christ gives us the example of loving the sinner but hating the sin. God chose to save men by using men rather than saving us directly as He did the angels.
Yes, it is true, times are tremulous and confusing now. But do difficult and confusing times warrant any of us to become protestant and leave our divinely guided and indefectible Ark on the turbulent sea of life, our Holy Mother Church, as so many other thousands of souls have done in the past both through heresy and schism? Only in heaven will we find no confusion and perfect peace!
9.16: Prudently Separate the Office From the Man
Recalling the parallel example of the family, the proper overall effect or results of the two brothers talking together about their Dad and his faults or scandalous conduct should be that both of the two brothers will come to realize from their conversation with each other the necessity to avoid sin at all cost but also the importance of maintaining or developing a deep down supernatural respect for at least the God-given office of fatherhood. This is the difficult but prudent middle of the road, the straight and narrow ideal and goal that we must strive for as true Christians. The two sons must separate the dignity of fatherhood from the human sinner who is their father. They must love the sinner but hate the sin. The two sons must always remind themselves that their parents represent God on earth just as a good religious obeys and sees Christ in his lawfully appointed superior who might even be fat or ugly or not too bright or even uncouth. If we do not remind ourselves frequently of this God-given dignity of our superiors, we will soon not respect or obey them as we should due to the weakness of human nature with the help of the world and the devil.
One of the basic tenets or characteristics of Protestantism is the denial or rejection of authority. Most Protestants, who dislike a minister's sermons or personality or hairdo or whatever, will either go to another church or try to vote in another minister. This attitude toward authority is one of the basic foundations of Protestantism since, after all, Protestantism began due to protesting against God's number one lawful authority and representative on earth, His Church, and then starting a man-made religion or their own. But in reality, there is no valid essential reason for a Protestant to treat a minister as a lawful authority anymore than an elected representative since the minister was basically chosen by men or by himself. If a thousand protestant ministers all said the words and followed the rubrics of a Catholic Mass together, the unleavened bread would remain unleavened bread as they all said, "This is my body," since none of them were validly ordained by a consecrated bishop who received his authority and power from an unbroken chain of validly consecrated bishops all the way back to the Apostles who received their authority and power from Christ Himself. No doubt, many Protestant ministers are more virtuous than many Catholic priests and bishops. As Church history reveals, many sons of the holy Catholic Church in the ranks of the clergy and even in the ranks of the hierarchy and a few in the ranks of the papacy have disgraced their position of authority and scandalized the divine organization that they represented. But does such conduct of weak men warrant leaving Christ's Church with all her precious treasures of graces and helps to get to heaven? Should a Catholic leave the life giving sacraments and disregard the sure guidance of the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church because of a supposed or alleged or even a truly scandalous priest or bishop? The Holy Catholic Church is divinely founded by Christ with the attributes of authority, infallibility and indefectibility. These attributes are divine attributes not human attributes. Thus these attributes do not depend on the virtues or vices of the members of the Catholic Church as do human religions.
9.18: Protestant Clergy
There are many priests and religious under vows (and even a few schismatic bishops) who have been able to rationalize their distorted consciences to the point of justifying major disobedient actions (or at least attempting to circumvent their immediate superiors). These priests or religious may have been carefully obedient in small things even to the point of asking permission to do things even when it was not required by prudence or common sense. This is similar to the sickness of scruples. But these same outwardly obedient religious have no qualms of conscience or remorse to put their self-formed ideals or illogic above even their vows to God who is represented by their bishop or immediate superior. An example of this would be ex-cardination or leaving one's bishop or superior without permission. In the name of God's glory or holiness or defense of the faith or salvation of the Church or Saving the last remnant of the Church (which of course they apply to themselves) or whatever, these self righteous priests and religious either imprudently undermine and tear down God's lawful representative (their bishop or superior) or simply disregard or leave their bishop.
God chose to use men to save men. That is why he founded His Church made up of men to carry on after He Ascended into heaven. He could have made us, tested us, and saved or condemned us as He did the angels - individually without a Church. But He did not! Most Protestants feel they can go straight to Jesus, their just Judge, the all-perfect and all powerful God. They feel they do not need intercessors given special power before God such as a priest, a bishop, or the Church herself. They do not need the Blessed Virgin Mary or the angels and saints or their fellow humans to intercede to God for them by prayer. But is this not exactly what individual Protestant Catholic laymen or priests or even bishops are doing who cut themselves off from the VINE, the Holy Mother Church? Is this not the same attitude as that of Martin Luther who preached salvation by faith alone, rejected all but two sacraments, and made private interpretation of the Bible the sole rule of faith. 6p342
9.19: Protestant Son
Perhaps to illustrate the imprudence of such behavior of disobedience, consider the prudent relationship of a father and his son. Is the son to honor and obey his father in all non-sinful commands except those commands that the son disagrees with or does not feel like doing? If his father is fat or uncoordinated or not intelligent or..., are these proper reasons to not obey his father? What are the limits of a father's authority over his children? Every person owes his parents obedience in all that is not sinful. We have the perfect example of Christ who was obedient to Mary and Joseph. His life at Nazareth was summed up in those words in the second chapter of Luke, "He was obedient".
Kind feelings are not enough. Love is not a humanistic emotional feeling of joy or some kind of a subjective religious experience, but rather a joy stemming from a true intellectual knowledge and faith of union with our Creator based on objective truth. Real love is measured not by word or feeling so much as by doing. Obedience toward our parents means fulfilling all their commands (as long as they are not sinful and one is still a child living under their parents roof). St. Paul's reminder in his letter to his Catholic friends at Colossia was: "Children, obey your parents in everything" (Col 3:20).
9.20: Proper Procedures
If we have been given the supernatural gift of faith and believe in Jesus Christ and in the one true Church that He founded, then we should abide by her rules and work with the system not against her. Heretics have always hurt the Church. But over reaction to heretics or dealing with supposed heretics in the wrong way not within the normal framework and procedures of the Church have also hurt the Church and often end up in heresy or schism. If we think we know of a priest or bishop who, according to our judgment, is scandalizing souls to the point that we feel something should be done, then we should act prudently as shown by St. Thomas and Catholic moral theology and within the framework of the divinely guided Church. Words and actions of a priest or a bishop which we feel are seriously scandalous should be recorded and documented with signed witnesses and sent to the priest or bishop and to Rome and the Apostolic delegate. Then we should continue our prayers and wait patiently and let the proper Church officials do the job that they have been appointed to do rather than defaming the priest or bishop and the Church he represents by word or letter.
The Church structure, as Christ set it up, is not democratic. Neither is the structure of the family. Nowhere in Scripture does it indicate that the family or Church is to be democratic. God stands by His lawful authority even if they are sinners. An imprudent authority may be removed only by lawful means, not by back biting etc. Very rarely do we have all the facts or circumstances about the reason for the conduct of superiors or laws. It is prideful presumption to conclude that the Pope is bad, the Apostolic delegate is bad, most bishops are bad and therefore we the people have to save the Church. God will keep the Ark afloat using the divinely given structure of the Church despite bad clergy or imprudent and self-righteous laymen who think they are called by God to save the Church by exposing the self-proclaimed "faults and abuses" of priests and bishops.
This same prudent line of action holds true for our U.S. government with our inspired constitution. At least in this country we can worship God as we each see fit and we have basic freedoms that most human beings do not enjoy right now on the face of the earth. So let us vote in the right candidate or run for office ourselves. But above all, let us be builders and uniters for freedom and love of God and country and neighbor not cynical parasites and smug defamers of others.
9.21: "New Things and Old"
It is important for us to be patient. For "in your patience you shall possess your souls" (Lk 21:19). The Church has always acted slowly and prudently. Each era in the history of the Mystical Body of Christ has its own needs for the salvation of souls. Holy Mother Church, the Ark of the New Testament, guided by the Dove, changes her disciplines when needed. But these disciplines are always based on her infallible doctrines. Thus, our Heavenly Mother on earth takes care of us, her children. Sometimes we, her children, do not understand why she makes the changes that she does. But we can be sure of one thing, no other organization on the face of the earth can boast of her three attributes and four marks identifying her as the true divine Ark on the sea of life. The Church can truly be compared to that wise scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven: "Therefore every scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven, is like to a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure new things and old." (Mt 13:52)
9.22: Disobedience - Our Great Moral Disease
One of the great moral diseases of our times is that we are disobedient. And that is a pity, because God commands us to obey all lawful superiors in all things save sin. 12p63 etc.
Modern men often complain that they have no peace of mind. One of the greatest steps toward peace of mind is just plain, simple, old-fashioned obedience.
The will of God is manifested to us in the orders of our superiors. The virtue of obedience does not merely consist in doing what is commanded, but in being ready and willing to do what is commanded.
St. Augustine calls obedience the greatest of virtues, because it is the parent and source of every other virtue. The Bible tells us that obedience is better than sacrifices.
Even the Son of God Himself gave us the example of obedience, because he was subject to two human beings, Mary and Joseph.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Ch. IX: Obedience To Lawful Superiors