As the Church marches toward the October Synod, let’s not forget that the Synod was called by Pope Francis with an explicit goal of revising the Church’s discipline on communion for the civilly divorced and remarried. This was announced to the world during the infamous airplane interview following World Youth Day, in which the pope called for a more “merciful” approach to those living objectively in a state of adultery. He has already stacked the event and its preliminaries with leading prelates who favor relaxing the discipline. The international survey of parishes, which the Synod has been ordered to consider, was also a clever move towards that end, as Pope Francis knows full well that our barely catechized laity and often malformed clergy are frequently at odds with Catholic teaching (at least in the West; there is reason to believe he may have underestimated the more orthodox third world outside of Latin America). In doing this he may be relying on a false notion of the sensus fidelium as a pretext for making the changes he wants.
Ordinarily, when bad things happen in the Church, the charitable and prudent thing to do is to look for explanations that do not imply any grave fault on the part of the Supreme Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ. And if some prominent fault is found in the Holy Father, we do not dwell on it, but put the best construction on things and cling to the goodness and faithfulness we know is there. It’s also true that the pope’s governing decisions can be complicated and must take into account many things we aren’t even aware of, so our judgments can easily be mistaken. In any case – aside from the influence of our prayers – the governance of the Church is entirely out of our hands as laity. Normally it is a healthy Catholic impulse to avoid passing judgment on the prudential decisions of a pope.
But this pope is different, and this crisis is different. Catholicism is, above all, a religion that faces reality square in the face – let the chips fall where they may. We adore the crucifix, we make the stations, we examine our consciences and confess our sins. The truth can hurt but it must not be avoided. For reasons I have been documenting over the past year (please see the archives) it is impossible to give Pope Francis the “benefit of the doubt” anymore. We know his eucharistic and sacerdotal theology is gravely defective, to say the least. We know the irrepressible heterodox ideas that are floating around in his head. We know that he is the pope of experience and good feelings, with nothing but contempt for doctrinal concerns that get in the way of experience and good feelings. It’s not that Pope Francis is being manipulated or undermined by cunning advisors, or is being radically misinterpreted by the media, or is the constant victim of bad translations; and it’s not that he hasn’t been on the job long enough. No, Pope Francis himself tells us who he is and what he wants. One of his virtues – and I mean that sincerely – is that he is very much a “what you see is what you get” kind of man. Not that he’s entirely above duplicity, of course, but he genuinely prefers everything to be above board. It’s true that he speaks in progressivist code language a lot, but he’s been doing that for so long that it isn’t code to him anymore: everyone who counts, no matter their views, knows exactly what he means even if they are afraid to say it openly. He called the October Synod in order to finally capture what has long been considered “low hanging fruit” by the progressivist element in the Church. That’s the long and the short of it. We have a crisis because the discipline under consideration, once it falls, will not only open the floodgates to sacrilege but will undermine the Church’s theology and discipline across the board. The implications are enormous and, if the pope succeeds, will almost certainly lead to schism.
How are good Catholics supposed to survive this crisis? The first thing is to know your Catholic Faith, especially Our Lord’s teaching on marriage and the eucharist as infallibly taught by the Church from the beginning. The second thing is to have your eyes open wide. Perhaps disaster will be averted, and perhaps it won’t, but the danger is real and imminent. You may have to make some excruciating choices in the near future. You may need to re-think some of your old prejudices. You may suffer more divisions within your family and among your friends. It’s good to try to be ready for such things. The truth will not change, but it’s possible that Catholic prelates will abandon the truth in droves – even at the highest levels. Our Lady promises that all such evils can be avoided with sufficient prayer and penance, so we know what we should be doing. Most of us have contributed to this crisis in some way already, so there’s no room for pride or haughtiness.
Still, we need more than knowledge, prudence, and piety. Dr. Peter Kwasniewski offers some timeless spiritual advice in his latest contribution at the New Liturgical Movement, “There But for the Grace of God”. (My original intention was just to provide a link and a quote from this essay, but I got carried away with my introduction.) In summary …
Modernity is a terribly confused time, and the Church, in her human members, will not escape at least some of that confusion. It is one of the crosses we are asked to bear in our lives: the cross of a confused world that is careening out of control. We don’t know when the end of time will come, but we do know that it will be like purgatory on earth. As our Lord prophesies, it will be a time of momentous upheavals, massive apostasy, vast deception, horrible crime: “Will the Son of Man find faith left on earth?” The barque of the Church will be tossed on the waves of this storm, and some of the raging sea will come overboard, not to mention plenty of shot and cannonballs. To play our part well, we need to be full of faith, equipped and ready for anything, gritty, determined, ever obedient to high command and not overwhelmed by the casualties or the confusion. And to do that, we need, more than ever, a serious interior life.
St. Alphonsus Liguori once said: “Short of a miracle, a man who does not practice mental prayer will end up in mortal sin.” Even fifteen minutes of quiet prayer each day, abiding in the presence of our Lord, will make the difference between sanity and insanity. According to the saints, daily mental prayer, jealously guarded, makes the difference between a frantic activism that terminates in despair and a peaceful reliance on God’s grace that renders our activities fruitful, even when humanly unsuccessful. The deeper our interior life, the more we can handle adversity of any kind. The shallower it is, the harder life seems for us—indeed, the harder it really becomes. It is a truth taught quite clearly by our Lord: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these other things shall be given unto you.” “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”