Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Papl Vist to USA, the wrong and right questions

Eques writes from his annual spiritual retreat guided by the Fathers of the Priestly Fraternity of the Holy Cross. It is during these very days that our dear Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI is making his first visit as Pope to these United States.

There is a heightened apprehension and speculation on the part of the secular media, as to what political impact the Holy Father’s pastoral visit will have on the imminent primary election, in the largely Catholic state of Pennsylvania, and on the Presidential election itself.

It is indicative of the nature of secular journalism in our times that the first and foremost question, the fundamental question is not being asked, the question that would assist them and the nation in answering the above secondary questions. The Holy Father is making a pastoral visit to the members of his flock and like Christ to those who are not of his flock to whom Christ and hence his Vicar is also sent, “that there may be one flock one shepherd.” The primary question is what impact the pastoral visit of the Pope will have on the faith of Catholics here in these United States.

If this question was asked and answered the secular media would have a considerably improved opportunity to comprehend and predict the answers to the secondary political questions.

The Roman Catholics in the United States have generally embraced the popes of their times with love, affection and respect. However, they have not always listened to the voice of Peter or followed his teachings. Americans have all too often incorrectly applied their love for democracy and national anti-authoritarian political principles to their relationship with the church and its anointed leaders. The relationship of a Catholic to the teaching Magisterium of the church, to his pastor, bishop, and pope, has been culturally adulterated. The relationship of a Catholic to his church is and ought to be of an entirely different nature from his relationship to his state.

The state is a human creation and entity, properly governed by the citizens, for citizens. Its laws are humanely established and may be humanly disestablished. It is a thoroughly natural institution. It derives its authority from the people and is ultimately responsible to the people. It has no authority that the people have not granted it. It is a rational enterprise hierarchical in structure but horizontal in nature.

The Catholic (universal) Church is an entity of an entirely different order than the state. The model of dealing and thinking about the state by its Catholic citizens cannot properly be applied to their relationship with their Church. Several organizations of lay folks have sprung up around the Church and the contemporary fault line of hot button political and human issues such as same-sex unions, abortion, and the clergy-sex-abuse crisis, as well as around internal church controversies such as the ordination of women, and married clergy.

All of these organizations claim to be Catholic because their membership is Catholic. All of them wrongly attempt to apply the secular model of political philosophy to the governance of the Church. Americans believe they can alter the nature of the church the way they influence the actions of the state by bringing political pressure on church authorities.

What is wrong with this assumption? Actually, there is a great deal wrong with it. The Church is by nature a divinely constituted entity. Our Lord and savior Jesus Christ himself established the church on Peter the rock, (Mat 16:16-19).

Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

The Holy Spirit guides and governs the church through its anointed leaders. The church is a Faith and Reason enterprise hierarchical in nature and vertical in orientation. Through the ministry of the church sacramental and sanctifying grace is mediated and administered to all the faithful. Its role is to bring God to man and man to God; it is thus vertically oriented. It is hierarchical in that Christ himself chose the twelve and the seventy-two and placed Peter at their head and the head therefore all disciples. The church is the preeminent top down institution for it comes from the Holy Trinity to man to save, serve, teach, and govern. The divine law has been revealed in and through Jesus Christ. It is the role of its hierarchy to deliver this revelation to the faithful in pristine form. The authority of the Church comes directly from God, not form the ordained or lay members. The mission of the Church was mandated by Christ himself before he ascended to the Father, go and teach all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 29:19-20

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."

and (Mark 16 :15-16)

He said to them, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.

The Church can only be reformed by the Holy Spirit working through the structure mandated by Christ himself that is through the Holy Father, who holds the Petrine office and thus the power of he keys, in collegial union with the Bishops of the church.

No self appointed or free association of Lay or Ordained faithful have the divine mandate to change either the structure of the church, it doctrine, or dogma. Catholics for Pro-Choice can not possible be a Catholic organization, because it has not been divinely constituted nor has it received the approbation of the Holy Father and Bishops in council. The members are by definition dissenting from the authentic teaching of the Church, and have no standing within the church, apart from their baptismal dignity, which they themselves jeopardize by their public defiance of the moral and implicitly ecclesiastical teachings of the church.

Similar conclusions can be drawn concerning other reforming and dissenting organizations that campaign for the ordination of women and sacramental same-sex marriage.

A special word of warning is in order for another self-appointed reform minded organization, the so-called Voice of the Faithful, or VOTF. It is particularly note worthy concerning this organization that they sprang from a sincere concern for the victims of sexual abuse by clergy. This was a praiseworthy concern and advocating for the human well-being of the children of God is both a spiritual and corporal work of mercy, indeed a road to holiness.

The VOTF, however, even in its gestation process began to mutate in to a self-appointed deconstruction corporation dedicated to the democratization of the church and lobbyists for lay-investiture. In the first instance, the name Voice of the Faithful was a self-aggrandizing appellation. The members of the VOTF were not elected by the majority of the faithful to represent or speak for them. The VOTF is no more the “voice of the faithful” than “the Democratic People’s Republic of China” is democracy for or by the people or a Republic. It is not without irony that an organization that desires to democratize the Catholic Church and claims to have the mandate of the Second Vatican Council to do, essentially non-democratic.

When Vatican II expressed a desire for lay experts to share their knowledge and experience with the bishops of the church, it hastened to include the directive “through existing structure.” The hierarchy of the Catholic Church should not hesitate to consult those laity with particular skills, arts, and knowledge that will further its mission as church to the world. Lay experts should seek to work with their bishops to enhance the mission of the church through the existing structures established by the bishops for this purpose. These structures are canonical such as Finance Committees, and ecclesiastical such as Pastoral Councils. They are not organizations that establish themselves without any hierarchical or canonical connection to the church. The expressed goal of the VOTF and other such organizations is to alter the teachings or the structure of the church. The logical conclusion that the VOTF, Catholics for Pro-choice, Call to Action, or any like minded organization is not Catholic must be drawn.

Now we rightly pose the question, what effect will the papal visit have on the Roman Catholic Church in these United States; this is the essential question. We Catholic citizens are challenged by the presence of our Holy Father to examine our consciences, asking ourselves if we are Catholic citizens or Citizens who happen to be Catholic. Have we become so American that we believe the American way must also be the Catholic way? Are we capable of renewing our Catholic Perspective? Are we able to order our priorities? Our nation would be enriched by Catholics bring their unique Catholic perspective to bear on the myriad of issues and crises facing it today.

In Pope Benedict XVI, we have Peter in our midst. He brings to us the authentic teaching of Christ and His Church. He brings a special presence of Christ in our midst as His Vicar on earth. Let us embrace both with love. Let us follow the admonition of his wise and saintly predecessor John Paul the Great, “be not afraid” opening wide the doors of our hearts and minds to Christ.