Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Case for Traditional Principles Part IV: One Body, Many Functions

One of the things I have always found so fascinating about the Catholic faith was that is that despite the caricature provided by those outside the Church, the Church is not some strict organization where there are these draconian disciplines everyone has to follow. Another idea was the one that all Catholics are the same way. This is most certainly true when it comes to matters of belief in doctrine. We are most certainly united in doctrine. Just as there is one God, one Savior, there is one faith that confesses the savior. Yet provided that belief is held, there are a variety of ways to live out the service of the Christian life, and that is something that should truly inspire everyone.

Sadly, in many ways this does not happen today. While this diversity in many cases exists today, I submit that what we have is not a true diversity in the Catholic world, but rather a spirit of factionalism. This spirit is represented in two manners of thought in the opinion of this humble journalist. The first opinion is that of no legitimate variations of Catholicism are permitted other than the one the person practices. The second group consists of those who while loving to proclaim diversity for their particular charism, tend to be very condescending to those with differing charisms, approaches, etc. They exhibit, in the words of Dr. Thomas Sowell following the diversity movement in political thought, "diversity for me, not for thee."

I would like to turn our attention first and foremost to a story from Sacred Scripture, namely the Church of Corinth. Out of all the churches the Apostle Paul visited, I submit that no Church gave him more joy, yet more heartache then the Church of Corinth. Some of the praise he gives this Church is higher than any of the other Churches. On the flip side of that coin, the criticism he gives this Church is some of the most biting criticism he gives in all of his epistles. Their first error in factionalism was that of following certain people, namely those who baptized them, first mentioned in Chapter 1 of the First Epistle:

For it hath been signified unto me, my brethren, of you, by them that are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith: I indeed am of Paul; and I am of Apollo; and I am of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul then crucified for you? or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

The point the Apostle is trying to make is not that we shouldn't admire those who lead us in faith. The point is we should have them in their proper place. All too often, with many figures, the God they represent is forgotten, and instead a personality cult develops around the person. For many out there today, their Catholicism begins and ends with John Paul II. Such a sentiment is understandable, as he was Pope for such a long time, and a well respected and admired Pope. (Indeed, I would not be surprised if this sentiment existed in the 19th century, where three fifths of that century was spent under the reign of two highly popular Popes!) Yet this Pontiff would say the same thing the Apostle said in that Epistle. That it was Christ who was crucified, and it was the Holy Trinity in whose name we were baptized. For John Paul II, he was inheriting a rich pedigree of over two hundred predecessors, starting with the Apostle Peter himself. These popes had varying styles to them, but the one mark that united them was they pointed towards Christ. (Notwithstanding some of the bad Popes we have had.) Such division is utterly pointless and fruitless. For what good is it adhering to one man's set of beliefs over another? Both are sinful men, and are not impeccable. Rather, we follow God's beliefs, and admire and honor the people through whom He has blessed as His messengers. For as Paul continues later in the epistle:

I gave you milk to drink, not meat; for you were not able as yet. But neither indeed are you now able; for you are yet carnal. For, whereas there is among you envying and contention, are you not carnal, and walk according to man? For while one saith, I indeed am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollo; are you not men? What then is Apollo, and what is Paul? The ministers of him whom you have believed; and to every one as the Lord hath given.

I have planted, Apollo watered, but God gave the increase. Therefore, neither he that planteth is any thing, nor he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth, and he that watereth, ate one. And every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour. For we are God's coadjutors: you are God's husbandry; you are God's building. According to the grace of God that is given to me, as a wise architect, I have laid the foundation; and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

Paul starts out by emphasizing something he will continually come back to in this epistle. Far from being the great Christians that the Corinthians think themselves to be, they are extremely childish. In fact, they are so childish, that they are not yet ready for the fullness of Christianity, but rather must be treated as infants, that is completely dependent on others, not strong enough to reason for themselves, etc. Rather than causing pointless division amongst who baptized them, they should rather emphasize what gifts these men had in bringing souls to God, and how all those gifts were necessary. For without the seeds planted, those seeds could not be matured to growth. Without that maturing of the seeds, the seeds eventually become useless in the soil. Both he who watered and he who planted were part of God's plan, and one needed the other. That is how one should look at important figures in our life, what gifts they bring from God in gathering souls, and what other gifts others do in conjunction with them. Why set one part of God's plan against the other?

The next division the Church of Corinth suffered from was in relation to the varying gifts the Spirit had bestowed upon the Christians there. For some, since they spoke in tongues or had these other extraordinary gifts, they were the true Christians, they were the ones the Spirit was truly working in, those people with "lesser gifts" the Spirit did not favor. (Sound familiar to today's landscape?) Yet again, these people deserved harsh rebuke from St. Paul. He proceeds to go about hammering away at their childishness, especially in chapters 12-14. I will stay away from that stuff for now, but instead point out a very salient point Paul makes in chapter 12:

Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit; And there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord; And there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all. And the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man unto profit. To one indeed, by the Spirit, is given the word of wisdom: and to another, the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; To another, faith in the same spirit; to another, the grace of healing in one Spirit; To another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the discerning of spirits; to another, diverse kinds of tongues; to another, interpretation of speeches. But all these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will.

Just as God used different workers for the salvation of souls, so He sends different gifts upon people for the same purpose. For when the Holy Spirit is given to man, He is not given in a monolithic way. Everyone had certain roles, and the Holy Spirit helps that person to perform that role to the best of his ability. All these gifts exist not apart from each other, but rather in many cases depend on each other, or work best when combined with other gifts. So it is within the Church. Many different styles of worship, prayer, spirituality are signs of a vibrant Church, if they are all respected and understood as part of a bigger picture, leading souls to God and the Catholic faith. Your particular movement is not the Catholic faith.

Now there are those people, who while admitting these facts in theory, fail to really apply them in reality, except of course when it applies to them. It reminds me of the parable of the servant who was forgiven of his debt. He begged the king for the mercy that he had shown other people. When the King gives such mercy, what's the first thing he does? Rather than give mercy to others in turn, he is stone cold, obstinate, and uncaring, in a word, unmerciful. You will hear it along the lines of "Well sure it's okay that I attend the Latin Mass and you do not, your mass is good and fine, but the Mass I attend is more objectively pleasing to God, gives more grace." The bottom line, they are more Catholic. In other circles you will here "I'm Charismatic, I'm open to all the differing charisms of the Spirit. What's that you say, support traditionalists? Those nostalgia driven trads need to learn to participate in the Mass, be more like us, truly open to the operation of the Spirit." (I experienced the first sentiment before I attended the Latin Mass, and the latter one once I was a traditionalist visiting some charismatics at Franciscan University of Stuebenville.) You would think for all their harping on the great things grace and the Spirit do for them, that humility would somehow find it's way in. Or a third story "When I'm at Mass and singing in the choir, I'm truly participating, unlike those people sitting there praying in the pews, they probably aren't even praying." This is the soft bigotry of factionalism that exists within the Church today. Very rarely is it flat out said that the people are less Catholic because of this, but that is the logic implication. Besides being a serious case of pride, the remedy being a swift kick from a spiritual director, this mentality completely ignores the teaching of Paul on the body of Christ in 1st Corinthians 12.

But now there are many members indeed, yet one body.

And the eye cannot say to the hand: I need not thy help; nor again the head to the feet: I have no need of you. Yea, much more those that seem to be the more feeble members of the body, are more necessary. And such as we think to be the less honourable members of the body, about these we put more abundant honour; and those that are our uncomely parts, have more abundant comeliness. But our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, giving to that which wanted the more abundant honour, That there might be no schism in the body; but the members might be mutually careful one for another.

And if one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it; or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member

The pride of this soft bigotry is that while yes we have this diversity because we are the body of Christ, my part of the body is more important than yours. Yet any organization requires a wide diversity in it to survive, and all are needed. Rather than pride, this should instill humility, that God has graced us with such gifts, and to appreciate the ways in which God works in others. It is a testament to God's supremacy. Only a weak God would make every individual alike and give them all the same gifts. That is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is so powerful no two individuals are alike, and so no two sets of gifts are identical, yet all work towards His glory. That is the God I want to worship! So when we see those outside of our particular persuasions in the Catholic faith, let us not think of "it's a shame they aren't like me", but rather "Thank you God for being so understanding and allowing such diversity. Help me to further that diversity, and to keep those things in balance and reasonable."

God Bless,
Kevin M. Tierney


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Canon Law Course and Break From Blogging

Even our prime minister has admitted that Canada's government will likely fall within the next month, if not weeks. I've been asked to take on some pretty heavy local responsibilities in this election. This comes as I am putting the final polish on lectures for a distance education course on canon law that Catholic Distance University invited me to write (and for those who are interested, teach this January -- there are still some open spots, but you need to sign up by December 1st).

Therefore, I would ask you to please spare any prayers you can send Canada's way. Additionally, this also means a leave from blogging as well as day-to-day private emails over the next couple of months. Keving Tierney has graciously volunteered to continue administering this blog in the interim. Thanks for your understanding.