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.