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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dangerous Prayer of Blessing

The Anchoress writes this excellent post about what it truly means to let go and let God. She asks the truly confronting question: what does it really mean to be able to say “not my will, but thine be done…”?

While the Anchoress and the Happy Catholic are dealing with this question as it concerns, for example, homosexuality, the idea tickled something else at the back of my mind. Protestants and Orthodox alike have gripes about the Catholic Church. Lots of gripes. Limited to specific settings and incidents, or specific actions done by specific people, I'd have to say that many of those gripes are valid gripes. But I've thought about this a lot, and rather than defend the Church in those instances, it dawned on me that it wasn't a question of the Church being right all the time. No, I don't mean that papal infallibility doesn't exist, because it does. But those valid gripes were not about Church doctrines going all wrong, but members and leaders of the Church doing wrong. I will, however, defend the Church the way Christ and the Apostles built it up, with one truly crucial foundation holding up the household of the living God: obedience. It's about obedience to the Apostles (he who hears you..). By transitivity, this is about obedience to Christ (.. hears me). This goes further, however. For as Christ sent the Apostles, the Apostles sent out their successors, the bishops, e.g., St. Timothy, St. Matthias. If the Apostles are to be obeyed by Christ's authority, what are we to do about those that the Apostles command us to obey? Obey them, of course. But what if they go wrong? The sex abuse scandals of the American Catholic Church makes it clear that bishops do err. But Christ never promised that error was impossible. What he promised was that the authority of the Apostles was unquestionable (he who rejects you, rejects me). So how does this dilemma play out, when nobody suggests that the Apostles themselves were impeccable? The answer is fairly simple, and the Lord himself told us:

 "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice." (Matthew 23:2-3).

The Lord minces no words about authorized teachers and their erroneous ways, but nowhere does he tell his disciples to supplant them. How can this be tolerated by Christ? Simple: it isn't for us to supplant corrupt leaders; God himself will take them down and raise up new leaders. The history of the people of Israel includes many accounts of corrupt leaders, notably among her kings, but nowhere does God abolish the royal line, and certainly not the tradition of kingship. The same goes for prophets, but God does not anywhere say "let there be no more prophets!" It is most notable that the most celebrated bishop in Catholic history, whom we call the prince of the Apostles, actually inherits an office that runs along the same rules. Our Lord installs Simon Peter as his prime minister, embodied in the giving of the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16:18-19), which harkens back to the office of master of the palace, attached to the Davidic kingship, as related about a newly appointed Eliakim. The latter is chosen by God to replace the previous holder of that office, Shebna (Isaiah 22:20-22). So should we come under shabby leadership of the same ilk as Shebna, we are not to lose hope, for God will pull Shebna down, and replace him with Eliakim, whom he appoints decisively:

 Thus says the Lord, the GOD of hosts: Up, go to that official, Shebna, master of the palace,
Who has hewn for himself a sepulcher on a height and carved his tomb in the rock: "What are you doing here, and what people have you here, that here you have hewn for yourself a tomb?"
The LORD shall hurl you down headlong, mortal man! He shall grip you firmly
And roll you up and toss you like a ball into an open land To perish there, you and the chariots you glory in, you disgrace to your master's house!
I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station.
On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah;
I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.
I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.
I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family;

So how should our attitude be towards the leadership of the Church? It should be of calm and hopeful obedience. We are not naive enough to think that they never err. We are not presumptious enough, however, to think that it is up to us to take their offices forcibly in schism. Sure we should complain, to rave against lack of fidelity to their office. We are obliged, in fact, to speak out in truth and justice. However, we are not to stage an uprising. We are not without hope, to believe that God would abandon us indefinitely among wolves dressed in shepherd's clothings. It is God who grants the charism of leadership, it is God who calls new pastors of his flock, and it is God who takes them down when necessary. To claim otherwise is to belittle God's promises.

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