As Catholics, we’re called to a love of souls. We support our brothers and sisters in faith through prayer and fellowship, and every one of us has a vocation to evangelize, to whatever degree we are able. We are meant to bring the light of Christ into the darkness of the world.
There’s a flip side to this equation, however. When I was a younger man, I did missionary work. I’d go door to door, talking to people about the faith, trying to get them to go back to their local parish and give it another shot. One of my friends at the time told me the story of seeing another missionary, after a long, contentious, and fruitless discussion with someone, walk away sadly, and literally shake the dust from his sandals. Suddenly, the man he was speaking to recognized the gesture, yelled, “Wait!” and called him back.
The story may be apocryphal. But the message resonates. And it’s not simply a theme directed at obstinate non-believers. It applies to obstinate dissenters within the Church as well. For a very long time, I’ve wondered why, if people are so opposed to Catholic teaching, they bother staying and causing trouble. It’s a pretty immutable organization, and I’d think they’d be better off starting their own religion than trying to remake Catholicism in their own image.
He didn’t say it in quite so many words, but there is reason to believe that perhaps the Holy Father agrees:
In his Angelus address Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of Judas’ betrayal of Christ, saying that Judas’ problem was failing to leave Christ when he no longer believed – a “falsehood,” said the Pope, “which is a mark of the devil.”
“Judas,” said Pope Benedict, “could have left, as many of the disciples did; indeed, he would have left if he were honest. Instead he remained with Jesus. He did not remain because of faith, or because of love, but with the secret intention of taking vengeance on the Master.”
According to Human Life International Rome Director, Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro, the comments are very relevant to the current situation in the Catholic Church. Msgr. Barreiro, who holds a doctorate in Dogmatic theology, told LifeSiteNews that “for those Catholics who cannot bring themselves to believe the formal teachings of the Church on life and family matters it would be more honest to leave the Church rather than betraying Her.”
But, he added, “We regret very much that the person is so inclined and we wish they would have a conversion to truly believe.”
Pope Benedict, in his remarks, drew a distinction between believing and understanding, noting that some disciples walked away from Christ because they did not believe. However, he said, even those who remained believed before they fully understood.
The HLI Rome Director commented, “Intellectual difficulty is not disobedience.” He explained, “You might have teachings you find difficult to accept. However, (in those circumstances) it is virtuous to believe since you make a sacrifice of your own will, taking as your own the mind of the Church.”
I remember distinctly an experience I had when I worked as the floor manager for Franciscan University: Presents. The show that day was about the “Fifth Marian Dogma” and the guests were Dr. Mark Miravale — the greatest advocate for the cause — and Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, who was somewhat less enthusiastic. Dr. von Hildebrand, despite appreciating Dr. Miravale’s passion for Mary, believed fervently that in a Church riddled with troubles, not least among which was a failing belief in the Eucharist, introducing a theologically controversial Marian dogma would do more to undermine the faith than to bolster it. And then she said something that surprised me, something that has stuck with me ever since. After arguing persuasively and with conviction that it was absolutely the wrong time for such a pronouncement, she proclaimed, “But if tomorrow, the Holy Father declared this dogma, I would fall to my knees and say ‘credo!’ “
That’s it. End of story. Docility to the magisterial authority of Holy Mother Church is a hallmark of the faithful Catholic. Even brilliant and opinionated ones like Dr. von Hildebrand. Her example has been a consolation to me at times when I have struggled with my own issues with the Faith. As John Henry Cardinal Newman famously said of our life of faith: “A thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” The desire to be faithful to Christ and His Church should, in moments of intellectual revolt, lead us to give our assent to even the “hardest of sayings”, as it were. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question. It only means that if we want to stay within the Church, our questioning should be submitted to Her authority. If that’s too tall of an order, there are plenty of other of places to worship. Or not. Our choice.
As I find myself at times engaged in debate with people who identify themselves as Catholics but devote enormous quantities of energy to bashing Church teachings or acting in direct disobedience of them, I can’t help but wonder why they stay. If they were honest, maybe they would leave. And if they won’t, perhaps it’s not a stretch to suspect that they, too, may have the “secret intention of taking vengeance on the Master.”