Struggling with the Church
Last summer, after the pope issued Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of the Tradition), his ruling that put restrictions on the celebration of the pre-Vatican II liturgy, I saw a lot of Catholics struggling to accept this decision. They struggled to reconcile Francis’s teaching with the teaching of his predecessor. They struggled to reconcile Traditionis Custodes with their own positive experience of the old Mass.
This struggle to assent to the teaching and governing authority of the Church is not a new or unique experience. I would go so far to say that pretty much every Catholic has, at one time or another, disagreed with the Church.
I regularly see this struggle in Catholics who disagree with the Church’s teaching about contraception, capital punishment, same-sex relationships, war, immigration, and the list goes on. I am very aware of this struggle within myself.
Such disagreements can be deeply uncomfortable and difficult to experience. It can be especially difficult the first time someone has felt it. It’s even more difficult when this teaching or discipline makes tangible demands on your life or your political beliefs. Perhaps it is most difficult when you are convinced that this teaching or discipline is actually harmful to the Church or to people in your life.
How do we navigate these disagreements? How do we reconcile our love for the Church with rulings that we believe are harmful? How do we reconcile our belief that the Holy Spirit guides and protects the Church with what we know from our own experiences? When, like some great saints and theologians, do we suffer injustice at the ends of Church authorities out of obedience? When, like some great saints and theologians, do we work for change?
I believe that the only way we are able to navigate these disagreements is with a well-formed conscience. Only when we can clearly hear the “aboriginal Vicar of Christ” can we know how walk through this struggle without causing division in the Church or falling into anger and bitterness.
This is precisely what Dominic and I discuss in the newest episode of the Pope Francis Generation podcast. Watch it on Youtube or check it out wherever you listen to podcasts.
In this episode, Paul and Dominic dive into a discussion about conscience and disagreeing with the Church. They talk about some of the faulty beliefs they have had about conscience and then turn to what the Church actually teaches about it. Finally, they end with some ideas on how to navigate disagreement with the Church.
Part of this episode was based on Paul’s article on Where Peter Is, Disagreeing with the Church.
“We can wonder if God is demanding too much of us, asking for a decision which we are not yet prepared to make. This leads many people to stop taking pleasure in the encounter with God’s word; but this would mean forgetting that no one is more patient than God our Father, that no one is more understanding and willing to wait. He always invites us to take a step forward, but does not demand a full response if we are not yet ready. He simply asks that we sincerely look at our life and present ourselves honestly before him, and that we be willing to continue to grow, asking from him what we ourselves cannot as yet achieve” (153).
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