“We Have to Remain Faithful”8
March 15, 2014 by lucieromarin
You’ll hear this from the pulpit, sometimes: “When scandal occurs or others fall, we have to remain faithful,” or, “Even when we see others around us losing their faith, we have to remain faithful and continue to practise our faith,” or, “Even when we lose a bishop or a priest, we have to think of the sufferings of Christ on the Cross, and remain faithful.”
I’ve been thinking about why this irks me so much, and figure it’s as follows:
1) It’s obviously not because I think that apostasy or scandal should generate more apostasy and scandal. It’s pretty clear that this isn’t a pro-apostasy blog. However…
2) …scandal and apostasy do hurt their victims, and a hurt soul, no matter how much he wishes to be faithful, needs more than the injunction to be so. “We have to remain faithful,” is fine as a general sort of idea during comfortable times, but a hurt person actually needs an incentive for fidelity. It’s not a sign of weak faith; it’s a natural pyschological need. To me, “We must remain faithful if we wish to become great saints,” makes sense. Again, to me, “Remaining faithful to Our Lord’s example of forgiveness and prayer during suffering can actually break the cycle of suffering that this scandal has caused,” makes sense, but “We have to remain faithful, full stop,” does not.
3) A suffering person asks “Why?” You tell someone that she must remain faithful when she’s experienced the fall or betrayal of a leader, she’ll ask, “Why?” It’s clear, at some level, that people don’t have to remain faithful, because they apostosise all the time. There is a certain freedom to faith; we’ll always be free to choose to reject it; if our choices weren’t free, they wouldn’t be virtuous or sinful.
If you’re guiding someone through spiritual betrayal, you need to realise that they’ve become aware of this freedom in a new and terrible way. They see the possiblity of apostasy in their own lives much more clearly than they did; they compare the apostate’s new life to their own, and they ask questions. Just as bereavement or material loss makes the sufferer question his life and its commitments, so too does spiritual loss.
4) Now, I don’t think that most priests who offer, “We have to remain faithful,” as the sumtotal of pulpit-counsel do so because they have no real answers to give. I think its more the case that they’re busy, and they didn’t read twenty grief manuals before writing the sermon, so they’ve not really had a chance to ponder the lay experience of spiritual loss – I mean, do they even have time to think about its effects on themselves? (How does it feel to a good priest or a hard-working bishop to see one of their own cause scandal? Who gives them any counselling?).
I also think that, because scandal and apostasy are both so serious, that they generate something of a freak-out response. People may feel safer with blanket injunctions, because they’re like slamming a door shut on all the horde of issues suddenly charging up the driveway to jangle the doorbell of the interior castle.
My sermon would go something along these lines:
1) Wow. Isn’t this scandal and/or apostasy horrible? Doesn’t it make us all feel cheated and betrayed? etc
2) Don’t be alarmed if you find yourself so hurt and angry that you want to behave in kind. Something important to you has just died, but it has died through changing, and you’d be abnormal if you didn’t ask yourself if you’d be better off changing in the same way.
3) We’ve always known intellectually that there is an element of freedom to faith. It is a free gift from God first, but it involves your free response. We’re not Calvinists; we don’t believe in double predestination, and we don’t believe that once-saved-is-always-saved. This experience is given to you so you can understand this terrible freedom in your heart as well as in your mind. This is how freedom feels.
4) You have the opportunity now to exercise that freedom in its fullest sense – by choosing fidelity even when it’s difficult, even when it hurts, even when it feels the way it felt to the saints, even when it feels the way it felt to Christ on the Cross. You don’t have to choose this; you do have to choose it if you want to be a saint. You do have to choose it if your faith is grounded in Him, rather than in other people.
5) Go out and do something nice for yourself. He (i.e God, not the apostate!) is everywhere; the world is full of scenery and flavours and books and friendships that this betrayal hasn’t already touched. Find Him in them.
I’m not sure I understand 2). Why would you ask yourself if you’d be better off changing in the same way?
If you’re depressed, you can look at an apostate and all you see is that he gets to sleep in on Sunday and eat what he likes on Friday, and so there appear to be some perks to it. I, too, could sleep in on Sunday mornings! I, too, could do whatever I want! etc etc Yes, it’s not logical if you consider that that means giving up the Blessed Sacrament, but exhaustion isn’t so logical, and you can think, well, he’s not missing the Eucharist, so maybe I wouldn’t either…forgetting, of course, that you don’t actually have the faintest clue what’s really going on in another person’s soul.
I spoke to a priest about a certain recent scandal..and his response was: why should this surprise you? Didn’t Christ say do as they say, do not do as they do?
True, priests are sinners…and have a right to repent and seek forgiveness, just as much as I…
Further, we should never put our trust in “princes”, as St Paul says we are not for Apollo or Peter, but our firm trust should be in the Lord, always and in Him alone. Not in charismatic leaders, well spoken leaders. We do not do things because we want to impress people. We do things before we want to please God.
We have to see that priest and various leaders and even friends are meant for us as pathways to seek God by ways which we know not. Hence the reason to remain faithful to His Church, His commandments, His way. No one else’s.
I think your a bit hard on the priests from a pulpit. No one has the thoughts of the laity on their mind more than these shepherds whose very job it is to nurture and protect their flock, for that is what they will be judged upon. They are not required to read copious grief manuals… their understanding of grief, I believe, is so much greater than ours as they deal with grief so much more than any of us on a level that we will never understand. Let us not forget that they are priests, under constant attack from the evil one, and they do not need the laity to assess them. What makes us think that we would deliver a sermon any better than them? I know if I were to deliver a sermon…the pride-meter would go off the scale. What they do need is that the laity pray for them, constantly.
But these are just my thoughts…
People leave the Faith because of disappointment, shock, or grief associated with clergy and/or pastoral care. If you read the post again you’ll see that it was about choosing fidelity over apostasy. People also leave when they’re given the impression that fidelity to the faith requires enforced silence about bad experiences, because this is cult-behaviour. Part of helping burnt-out and broken-hearted conservatives to retain their faith is allowing them to be truthful about their experiences, within the bounds of courtesy. You’ll note that this blog refers to both trying and traumatic experiences without naming any individuals, parishes or dioceses; this is part of that balance. You’ll also note that the sufferings of priests and their need for support have been discussed in several posts.
in response to Lucieromarin…
in this post, I think you are a little hard on priests who give the one phrase treatment: we must remain faithful etc. And to be honest, I wasn’t too happy with the implication that priests may not have an understanding of grief. Hence my response about priest knowing more than we could ever imagine about the varying levels of grief.
Blogs are an incredibly deceptive forum for so called “healing”. You may obtain some comfort and support from those similarly hurt. No one is diminishing the suffering, the betrayal, the hurt, but I do think that a public blog does not and will not adequately address the healing that needs to be done. I think you would agree? And when scandals are involved, it is better, I think, to keep silence. Mary of the Cross did, just to name one. Your knowledge of the Saints is greater than mine, I am sure that you would come up with more. Now, that is my personal opinion.
Having read many of your recent posts, and in all honesty, I don’t think that you have the right balance of privacy and publicity. There are too many of us out there who can put “two and two” together. Add to this the various other sources of information that makes its way through many different channels, some of them quite surprising and you’ll end up having added to the whole story. I don’t think that that is what you may have wanted. This is just a gentle cautionary note!
Posts on blogs can also be misread, mis-interpretted, misunderstood which is what you are hinting at when you suggest that I read your post again…but I think you too have misread mine.
My post was not an attack, but a gentle reminder, that we should not put our trust in creatures but in the Loving Creator. It is the way I try to deal with hurt that comes my way.
Sometimes we get hurt because we get ourselves involved to such a level in something that may not have been good for us which we may have even suspected that wasn’t good for us. And that’s where the hurt comes from the most. It’s the hurt in pride and the humiliation that we feel when we realise our terrible mistake. All the more reason now than ever, to turn back to the Creator to heal our wounds. Obviously there are other sources of hurt…but I think, I repeat, I think, that most hurt comes from the similar indignation Cain felt when his sacrifice wasn’t accepted by God. And there’s a little bit of Cain in all of us.
Ah blogs…similar to tennis, only virtual, and no ball as such…but just as much to-ing and fro-ing!
The only problem I have is that your English is better than mine…and I have to watch my grammar, spelling and the like! Congratulations on the new job too…may it bring much fulfilment and satisfaction!(and money to pay the bills!!)
‘I do think that a public blog does not and will not adequately address the healing that needs to be done.’
I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. It would be much better if there existed some kind of formal, Church-led outreach to burnt-out or lapsed conservatives. Unfortunately, no such outreach exists (at least, as far as I’m aware!) and the wounded souls are scattered across the globe, which leaves us with my poor blog.
‘There are too many of us out there who can put “two and two” together.’
It’s unlikely you’re arriving at some secret conclusion of mine, as I’m not talking about any particular incident. The last seven to ten years have been marked by repeated scandals and tragedies in the conservative loop, and the four that stand out in my mind all took place in America and are news to no one.
One question that occurs to me is how essential is the ecclesiastical hierarchy to any Catholic and to traditionalist Catholics? You are already making so many choices about when to place any part of the vast range of contemporary clerical and even papal opinion at the centre of how you understand your faith, and having to ignore so much abuse of individuals, manipulative lies by senior clergy and the ongoing abuse of the trust of the laity (and indeed, the rest of the human race) over cover-ups, financial misdeeds, etc. From outside, I find it hard to see that any trust can be accorded to a priest, bishop or even pope by virtue of his office, because so much of the institution’s reaction to problems is directed at protecting the privileges and status of the institution itself. Lies and cover-ups are justified on the grounds that public honesty and contrition would weaken the authority of the church – when any decent person would surely see that the only thing that can preserve a church worth having is honesty and repentance, and an effort to change. In this situation, you can only trust a religious leader on the basis of a personal judgement about their integrity, and of course, you can’t see the inside of a person’s heart or mind, *especially* when they hold a role that prevents them from expressing any serious doubt or uncertainty to those who follow them. This leaves the believer with a great many more choices and personal spiritual responsibility than perhaps they realise or necessarily want to acknowledge. There isn’t much in the bible to suggest that blindly following established religious leaders gets you off the hook of exercising conscience or taking responsibility for the state of your own soul. I think that learning that even trusted leaders are fallible, sometimes very fallible, is part of growing up as a human being and as a believer. Even if you value arriving at a state when you can genuinely forgive a betrayal, it is only a forgiveness worth having or giving if it comes after a full acceptance of the truth as you see it.
I disagree very strongly with some of Teresa’s post above because I think that keeping silent and trusting that priests know better is an abdication of moral responsibility. I’m not talking about gossip – but that is the opposite of what this blog is doing. Thinking through hard topics as honestly as you can bear to and acknowledging the full effects of your experiences is the only way to be the best sort of person you can be – this is true in faith and in other aspects of life.
Yes, it’s a good question, and one with no easy answer, which is why there’s such intense disagreement (sometimes) between trads and conservatives about it. We all respect the ordained ministry insofar as we believe it was established by Our Lord and therefore we don’t go off and become Quakers, but we disagree about the right or best way to exercise that respect. The disagreement is complicated by each side seeing the worst of the other’s position – the neocon sees that the trad willingness to critique the hierarchy can, unchecked, end up as pride, nastiness, and the reduction of religion to ‘I’m right; you’re wrong.’ At the same time, the trad sees that the neo-con fear of ever, ever saying anything negative at all can turn into an abdication of personal responsiblity and an insult to people who have been hurt.
I find the saints useful (!) here, because they offer real-life examples of negotiating the parallel claims of obedience, faith, responsibility, and freedom. It’s simply not the case that they Always Chose Silence for the Sake of the Church’s Reputation. They certainly eschewed gossip, backbiting, vengeance, personality cults, and public acts of disobedience or respect, and never practised them under the guise of reform. But that doesn’t mean they eschewed reform itself; and, seriously, people who quote St Mary of the Cross at me need to remember a) that her choice to not publicly fight the bishop didn’t stop her from recording her side of the story in her letters, and b) the reason she got into trouble in the first place was because she was reporting the behaviour of an immoral priest.
Besides, you can’t say, “Hurray for St Francis and his reform,” without admitting that something needed reforming. You can’t say, “Hurray for St Anthony Mary Claret and his fight against corrruption” without admitting that there was a corruption to fight. If we’re not afraid to read about the mistakes of authority figures in the lives of the saints, there’s no need to be afraid of confronting those mistakes in our own lives.
Thank you for making a distinction between gossip and this blog!