A Pascalesque Wager
Everybody’s talking at me, jive talking, telling me lies. A ball of confusion, that's what the world is today, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. Ok, somebody has got to give me some props for that one. I don’t know if you noticed but I managed to quote three songs and Shakespeare in my first two sentences. Of course, a lot of the youngsters might not recognize the lyrics of Nilssen, The Bee Gees and The Temptations. My witty banter aside the point is baby, baby it’s a wild world and a lot of nice things turn bad out there but just remember there's a lot of bad and beware.
As may be apparent by some of my most recent posts, I have been quite distressed by what seems to be an overly harsh, and often defamatory, critical view of our Pope. So a-Googling I went over the last couple of days and I have come across evidence of many, who consider themselves good Catholics, that advocate not only criticism, but resistance and disobedience, to our dear Holy Father. They quote theologians and past Popes, the sheer volume of which is meant to give an intimidating credibility. They even invoke St. Paul and St. Catherine of Sienna as their models, giving evidence to the argument in favor of an individual right and duty to resist and disobey a Pope deemed errant and heretical. The evidence is presented in a way that infers a conclusion of nobility, that by so doing we are preserving the Truth and the true Church. That when faced with such error and heresy we cannot, in a well formed and good conscience, do other than resist and disobey.
I am aware that I risk an onslaught of angry com boxes but here goes. These arguments be jive talking, telling us lies. They are no more than a ball of confusion full of sound and fury signifying nothing. What sounds good and noble can turn bad and we need to beware. This is a dangerous and slippery slope. I will remind us of Proverbs 11:29. “He who upsets his household will inherit only wind.” Let us be careful that in upsetting the household of the Church we are not calling upon ourselves a legacy of empty air or, worse yet, a destructive force that would have us yearning for the gentle caress of the most intense tornado recorded on the Fujita scale.
I cannot speak to the quotes from the theologians and past Popes. I do not know the context of those statements. It is possible, however, that although respectful in their source they are but opinion and theory and have not been declared. What I will present will be statements of Jesus, something about St. Paul, and a fuller understanding of St. Catherine of Sienna. At the end of my article I will be presenting a challenge. An experiment. A wager of the Pascal kind. So if indignation has not yet caused the mind and heart to close and harden, I ask your continued forbearance and restraint for a Sister in Christ.
Jesus said to and about Peter and the apostles that “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”(Mt 16:17-19) He said “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”(Mt 18:17) He said “Whoever receives you, receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me”(Mt 10:40) and “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”(Lk 16:10) “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me” (Jn13:20, echoed as well in Jn 5:23, Jn 12:44 and Jn 15:20-25). Jesus has made it very clear that the office that has been given to Peter and the apostles is to be considered as equal in authority to Jesus himself. That this office deserves the respect and obedience that we would give to Jesus whether the men in that office are deserving of it or not. As for those men whose actions are unworthy of their office Jesus said this: “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.”(Mt 23:1-4) Although, Jesus was harsh in his words concerning the scribes and Pharisees, calling them hypocrites, serpents and a brood of vipers, we are told to respect them and obey them by virtue of their position of authority. Jesus never taught resistance through disobedience. And when accused himself of having demonic origin Jesus said: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does no gather with me scatters. Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Mt 12:30-32, Mk3:28-30). Many of you will say that not every Pope has been chosen by the Holy Spirit, or they don’t always listens to the Spirit in performing their duties. But be aware, that the Holy Spirit has been in the office of every single Pope. Defame the man, defame the office if we choose, but woe to us who may be willing to take even the slightest risk of treading on unforgivable ground.
St Paul may have corrected Peter “to his face”, (Gal 2:11) but I cannot find any evidence that he resisted his authority or disobeyed him. On the contrary, Paul writes “Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those what exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil. Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on evildoers” (Rm 13:1-2) and “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do. We ask you, brothers, to respect those who are laboring among you and who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you, and to show esteem for them with special love on account of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1Thess 5:11-13) And speaking of St. Peter, this is what he had to say: “Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king as supreme or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the approval of those who do good. For it is the will of God that by doing good you may silence the ignorance of foolish people. Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil, but as slaves of God. Give honor to all, love the community, fear God, honor the king. (1Pt 2:13-15) and “then the Lord knows how to rescue the devout from trial and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who follow the flesh with its depraved desire and show contempt for lordship” (2 Pt 2:9-10)
Now we come to St. Catherine of Sienna. I am distressed by the use of St. Catherine’s words and actions to uphold resistance and disobedience for this was far, far from her intent and purpose. I feel that St. Catherine herself would be greatly afflicted, as well, to have her mission so completely misrepresented. For her intent and purpose was unequivocally not to resist through disobedience, but rather to uphold, exhort, edify and strengthen with her prayers, sacrifices, penances, tears and words, the office and person of the Pope. Her letters, through candid, forthright and unafraid of the truth, are full of the utmost respect for the Holy Father. Her language is even affectionate, using terms such as Babbo (daddy) and most reverend and beloved father in Christ Jesus. Her harshest words, from what I have read so far, are reserved for those who will not support the Pope. In a letter to Cardinals who are not supporting Pope Urban VI she writes “with desire to see you turn back to the true and most perfect light, leaving the deep shadows of blindness into which you are fallen. Then you shall be fathers to me; otherwise not. Yes, indeed, I call you fathers in so far as you shall leave death and turn back to life (for, as things go now, you are parted from the life of grace, limbs cut off from your head from which you drew life), when you shall stand united in faith, and in that perfect obedience to Pope Urban VI., in which those abide who have the light, and in light know the truth, and knowing it love it.”
Concerning St. Catherine at this time “Catherine had ardently wished to see in the Seat of Peter a reformer, who should have courage to apply surgery to the festering wounds of the Church. She had her desire; Urban began at once a drastic policy of Church reform. But his domineering asperity proved unbearable to the College of Cardinals, and schism broke upon a horrified world.
Catherine rose to the occasion. The rest of her tempestuous life was spent in the desperate defense of the cause of Urban--a man whom she rightly believed to be the lawful successor of Peter, yet concerning whose unlovely character she was, as we have already seen, under no illusions. The many letters which she wrote with the aim of convincing important personages of the validity of Urban's claims, are historical documents of high value. One feels in them all the amazement with which a woman whose native air was the mystical conception of an infallible Church, faced the realities of the ecclesiastical machine. But loyalty stood the test, and while never leaving the highest ground, Catherine proved herself capable of a statesmanlike treatment of the actual situation.” (Saint Catherine of Siena as Seen In Her Letters)
And so we have reached the end of my long and winding road. For those of you with the patience to journey with me…thank you. I do not know if what I have presented has convinced anyone of how potentially treacherous, what reckless folly the arguments for disobedience are. What a gamble we could be taking with ourselves by choosing this path. Especially when there is an alternative that could be more prudent, productive and effective. Hence my wager in the style of Pascal. As St. Catherine of Sienna has been offered up as a model, I propose that we follow her model in truth. We offer our prayers, sacrifices and penances to uphold, exhort, edify and strengthen the Pope while speaking of him in respectful words, in respectful tones…maybe even with affection. We do this for the next month. If at the end of that time our attitude about the Holy Father has not been changed, we will have gained for the Pope much grace to help him in the exercise of his office. It is a win, win endeavor. I ask that not just Catholics join in my experiment but other Christians as well. You may not recognize the authority of the Pope but I ask in Christian charity to aid your brothers and sisters in prayer for their leader that we may “be at peace among ourselves”. I humbly ask, my dear friends, as well, that as many as possible share this post to increase the prayers for our Church.
Who is with me? Who are willing to walk the walk as well as talk the talk? Who has the courage to bet their convictions on the powerful, effective, availing prayer of the righteous? (James 5:16)
Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble. Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing. For:
Whoever would love life
And see good days
Must keep the tongue from evil
And the lips from speaking deceit,
Must turn from evil and do good,
Seek peace and follow after it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the
And his ears turned to their prayer,
But the face of the Lord is against evildoers.
1 Peter 3:8-12