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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Papal Power and the Obedience of the Faithful

Follow the link to a very important article by Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap.

I agree with Archbishop about all the wonderful gifts Pope Francis has given the Church. In particular, I appreciate his love for the poor, his defense of life, and his admonitions against wasteful materialism. I also agree with the Archbishop that the Holy Father is heavy handed and relies too much on Jesuit authorities in his own pastoral discernment. He has been harsh in his judgments toward Americans and Traditional Mass Catholics. He has also been derogatory toward those who disagree with him. While he has not behaved as poorly as did the Renaissance Popes, his papacy is a departure from the professionalism and competency of recent pontificates. Sadly, this has undermined his leadership of the Church at a time where we need a true spiritual father who cares for all his spiritual children.

Obedience is never supposed to be blind. Fideism is a grave sin against the faith. Christ demands that we open the eyes of our hearts and discern how the Holy Spirit is working and respond with the fullness of mature freedom in love. This means the faithful are to exercise a pious thoughtfulness guided by an interior sense of the faith. This means time spent in prayer, in deep silence, baptizing the intellect and imagination in the Word as we discern difficult to receive teachings and even pastoral directions in the Church. Such prayer is necessary to render right obedience to Christ in responding to the contemporary efforts of synodality no less than it has to all the other efforts of the magisterium through history. If, after careful study, prayer and discernment, a teaching seems wrong, it probably is, and one should not feel bound to it—if the teaching is gravely wrong and a source of scandal (as was Arianism), the faithful should even feel bound to repudiate it.

The Holy Father needs our prayers and gratitude for the many good things God has accomplished through his courage and diligence. He also needs us to take responsibility for our faith. The magisterium has the responsibility to persuade us in truth and charity if our judgment is wrong. Belittling or attempting to manipulate thoughtful people is not very persuasive—and the effort is gravely misplaced during a time of severe crisis in the world. So when these tactics are employed, we must not allow the Evil One to stir up contention in our hearts. Instead, we must pray for our persecutors, do good to those who despise us, and hold fast to our faith.

Additional Reflection in Response to a Comment: One comment asks what happens when two people pray over something and come up with two different (even opposing) conclusions. Sometimes, there are simply legitimate disagreements and so we respect each other's positions even if the disagreement is fierce. Yet, we should strive to be of one heart and one mind to each other. We should not write each other off but we should reach out and explore if some shared understanding can be arrived at. This does not always happen even on important matters, but it pleases the Lord when we strive for it.

Even more, when the matter is serious, meaning a mistake puts another's salvation on the line, we must fast and pray for each other. Only as we are converted can we correct, admonish, and rebuke in a way that gives glory to God—and sometimes all these actions are necessary too. If we feel we must correct another, ask in your heart what in your own life must be converted to the truth if you are to help your friend see the truth.

We must continually fast and pray also for our own understanding that it might deepen and the judgments we have reached might be further purified. The Holy Spirit will guide us to all truth and He can overcome even a hardened heart—so we trust in the Spirit of Truth. He will provide what is necessary for salvation with we persevere in seeking him in sincerity and truth. Because of pride is such a widespread problem, we must all humbly admit that we too can be privy to obstinacy when it comes to erroneously held judgments, and so we fast and pray that the Lord protect us and deliver us from an obstinate heart. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving dispose us to humility and truth.

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