This question above was made to Father John Zuhlsdorf on his popular blog in his ‘ASK FATHER’ series a couple of days ago. The suffering Catholic, struggling to lead an honest life obedient to his Faith in a world seemingly gone completely mad – even within the Church Herself – is one each of us can surely identify with. Father Z’s brilliantly reasoned reply could help many who find themselves asking the same question a hundred times a day.
From a reader…
“How are we supposed to remain Catholic in these days?
A commission to study women deacons, after 2-3 previous studies said no? Beg forgiveness from gays? As if the Church was ever wrong to oppose the vice I’ve struggled with my whole Catholic life? Move away from “medieval, authoritarian, clericalist monologue” to “sisterly dialogue” (Cardinal König)?!
Was 1900 years of opposing error not good enough? Whence the change to the Church of Nice? At least you could tell Arians from Catholics in the 4th century. Now it’s the Church herself who speaks ambiguously — and she seems to be unsure that she’s even the true Church anymore, ecumenically coddling everyone (except faithful Catholics). What does tradition matter if we smash it?
I’m sorry for my non-question, but I’m a man who desires to serve the Church as a priest, and I can’t tell if I’d even be working with the Truth anymore, under any given bishop, cardinal or even (God forbid) Pope. I struggled for years to accept Catholicism (especially the Magisterium), only to convert and realize that the whole Church has become an Episcopalians-lite club with seemingly no functioning teaching office. My heart is being broken by this “spirit of Vatican II” that just won’t go away.
What the heck are we supposed to do? Who do we trust? How do we live?”
Father Z responds:
Not long after my conversion I wrote in an article for Sacred Music that no sooner had I entered my new home and settled into a comfortable chair, I realized that the other tenants were tearing the place apart and even calling in the wrecking ball.
Haven’t we always had trouble in the Church? Satan hates the Church, and all of us. The Enemy is really good at stirring up trouble. For example…
In 359 three hundred bishops, including the majority from Italy and France, met at Rimini. They denied the teaching of the Council of Nicaea. Pope Liberius may have rejected this Council, but he made no move to replace or to discipline these heretical bishops, leaving thousands of the faithful in the care of bishops who preached an incorrect version of the Gospel. The Emperor appointed another man, Felix, as pope, leading to chaos and confusion as to who should be obeyed.
When Pope Liberius died the clergy and the faithful of Rome gathered in two places to elect a successor. The upper class supporters of the antipope Felix supported the election of Damasus. Many of the deacons and the lower classes supported Ursinus, a deacon under Pope Liberius. Riots broke out and the Emperor had to send troops into Rome to stop the killing. (People took these things seriously. In N. Africa people rioted when they heard an unknown Latin version of Scripture.) They propped up Damasus and banished Ursinus, who continued for years to contest the election. Damasus was even accused of murder and, when he died, Ursinus made a final move to assert that he had been duly elected pope.
We could go through crisis after crisis for a very long time. We’ve always had trouble in the Church. From our perspective, we can look back through history and make a call about who was right and who was wrong, though in some cases there are legitimate scholarly disputes. In the midst of it, in the hugger-mugger, things were much less clear then than they are to us now.
And you can bet that many people were troubled, just as you can bet that many were blithely unfocused. Just. Like. Today.
It has never been easy to be a faithful Catholic. There have always been heretical bishops. After all, on the very night of their “ordination” 1/12 of the bishops sold the Lord and, later in the evening, in their first act as a body, all but one abandoned Him. There have always been those entrusted with the teaching authority, the Magisterium, of the Church who do and say really stupid things. Being ordained a priest or a bishop guarantees neither holiness nor intelligence.
Getting down to it, how do we remain Catholic when things are confusing, when those who should teach with clarity and conviction are, instead, feckless, vague and craven (when they aren’t downright dumb)?
We put on our big boy pants and we stick to the Catholic Faith as it has always been taught.
We adhere to the solid teachings of the Church as found in the Fathers, the Doctors, the Councils.
We cling with hope-filled tenacity to Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, present to us in the Blessed Sacrament, for there is no other source of salvation than Him.
We clutch lovingly the hem of the garment of Our Blessed Mother, praying our rosary, turning to her for consolation and guidance.
We GO TO CONFESSION!
This is not the time for weak Catholics. There was never a time for weak Catholics, of course. But now, more than ever, we are in serious straights. We’ve got trouble, my friends.
“But Father! But Father!”, some of you who are actually causing the trouble will bellyache, “You are exaggerating as usual! People always think that the troubles of their times are the worst. Things are GREAT! We are finally heading the right direction. We are spirit-filled and in tune with nature again. You are fear-mongering! Why? You know why. You HATE VATICAN II!”
I respond: Satan. Get behind. Out of my sight.
The times we are in now are… different. There is a qualitative difference to the trials we collective face. That’s the stuff of another post.
Back to the perspective of history, our times, and how we move forward.
GK Chesterton wrote,
“This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom–that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”
Hence, in answer to the question: How do you remain Catholic, how do you keep to the straight and narrow, when storms rage and the very earth shifts?
You step out onto the highwire of orthodox Catholic Faith with the rest of us, friend, and, with your eyes fixed on Christ Jesus, you put one foot in front of the other.
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There was a great Scottish comedian called Chic Murray (1919-85) who was, admittedly, an acquired taste. One of his famous one-liners, delivered “dead-pan” was: “I was walking down the street, just putting one foot in front of the other. It’s the best way, you know.” And that is all your interlocutor and the rest of us can do! No matter how we get jostled.
Dear God, this article is good!
Hugh, your Chic Murray made a wise, pedestrian (little pun) observation. Acquired taste though he may be, I find him far more to mine than Jack Chick – who is also a comedian, but in a different way – as illustrated by this extract from his Collected Works:
Thank you for reminding me of Jack Chick. He’s always good for a laugh.
Yes, Robert John, “this article is good”! Question is: will you now quit your over-the-top bellyaching about the Supreme Pontiff?
When I first read this article of Father Z I was feeling much in the same vein as the querist here, asking myself how was I to keep being a faithful Catholic, to spread the hope and joy of our wonderful Catholic Faith (a Gospel duty) when all around me, both in my own personal life, local parish, in the cyber world where we all spend so much of our time, and in the news coming from the Church around the world, all I could see were disputes, criticisms, errors against the Faith, and a downward spiral (once again) after all the theologically uplifting, spiritual and liturgical gains of the previous two Papacies.
I was becoming (unawares) what Father Z called a “weak Catholic” – those who had taken off their metaphorical “big boy pants” – lovely description! – and was giving in to despondency!
Amazing! It took only one rational, pull-yourself-together type of post of Catholic teaching from Father Z to raise my spirits and (according to the comments on his blog) those of many other Catholics too. (Which is why I re-blogged the article here on CP&S.)
Fr Z is so right: there may have been times of greater peace and harmony in the Church (as my parents and grandparents affirm) but there has never been a time when there have been no ‘Judases’ to tackle, enemies of the Faith to combat and evangelise, or difficulties and strife in one form or the other, and even often periods of violent persecution. (Well, that might still be in store for us, both from Militant Islamists and the growing threats from a radical Secularism in the West!)
If you and I, and all Catholics alive today have been called to live in these times, rather than when things were more harmonious, it is because we have a job to do! It is our great challenge that God saw fit to handpick us for, rather than the billions of other baptised men or women throughout the ages, of the past and future. And these times are truly very hard to remain a faithful Catholic in, because the gravest of the many attacks or problems are not from without, but are right among us IN THE CHURCH today. They have infiltrated the Holy Bride of Christ to destroy her from within!
So what must we do? We must pick up our ‘cross’ and march forwards behind Our Saviour, preparing ourselves with prayer and the Sacraments for plenty of jostling (pace Hugh) along the way, taking each day as it comes.
Brilliant Kathleen! Thanks to Father Z and you for a much needed ‘wake-up call’!
I can’t recall where I heard or read that some of the Saints would love to have lived in our times of trial in order to give even greater witness to the Faith.