Saturday, July 9, 2011

Priorities: Man Or Message?

I'm submitting this as part of the Fr. Corapi saga, again with the intent of making a point without discussing the issue directly. Others can talk about it better than I anyway. My only comment remains that we should pray for all parties involved, as well as for the priests, bishops, and religious all over the world.

As for my attempt at a point:

One of the things that is supposed to set Catholicism apart from false religions is that it is insulated from the moral short-comings of its leaders. We all know, for example, that there have been bad popes. Rather than being a weakness, we instead can look upon it as a sign of the Church's divine constitution. If the Church were a purely human construct, having so many incompetent and immoral leaders would have destroyed Her a long time ago. Based on The Master's promise in Matthew 16:18, we know that the message of the Gospel and the proclamation of the One Faith (Ephesians 4) is not subordinate to the whims of men. Quite the opposite, actually. The leaders safeguard and protect the Faith and are therefore subservient to it.

It is a very sad thing when Catholics (or anyone else, I suppose) forgets this. The fact that I really like a person isn't determinative on whether or not their words are true or their actions appropriate. A refusal to acknowledge this is especially dangerous in spiritual matters. We cannot allow a personality, no matter how strong or charismatic to blind us to the realities of their actions. Sometimes, this can be easy. Nobody is going to write any kind of glowing memoir of Benedict IX. Other times, it's more difficult. Consider Tertullian.

Tertullian is one of my favorite Church Fathers. He's a decent enough theologian, but his apologetic works are phenomenal. If you haven't read his Prescription Against Heretics, you are seriously missing out. He was one of the greatest defenders of the Faith for his time and faced down any and all threats that came around.

But he lost his way. Tertullian was seduced by the "new revelations" of the Montanist sect. He wrote works defending these teachings and was therefore likely to have led others astray as well. People would have followed him just because he was Tertullian and had always been trustworthy in matters of faith and had given Montanus & Co. his stamp of approval. In other words, he put people's souls in danger and might have contributed to someone's damnation, for no other reason than his pride got away with him.

I've heard some say that he reconciled with the Church before he died. I very much hope that is the case. It doesn't change the big issue. Affection for a person cannot be an excuse for submitting to sin of any kind. This might come up with public figures like Tertullian was. It could be the case with a parish priest accused of some crime. The response to such things should be to embrace the reality that the Church remains a hospital for sinners, rather than a hotel for saints. It will be so until the End of Days. Pray for these people. Understand their weakness and that it is the further weakness of pride that draws them away from Holy Mother Church or that inspires them to conflict instead of submission.

The Gospel is the Truth. It is the priority. It's messengers come and go, with some going by very wrong paths. Do not follow them there.

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