Since the closing of the extraordinary synod there has been a great deal of commentary on the blogosphere about the reception of Holy Communion by Catholics who are divorced and invalidly remarried. The question is not so much as to whether the first marriage was valid and the second is not or the other way around. The question on everyone’s mind seems to be whether or not Pope Francis is pushing for a relaxation of the law that currently exists, which says that people who are conscious of grave sin should not receive Holy Communion. Living with someone as if he or she were your spouse when the person is not, would be one of those occasions when objectively one is culpable a grave sin.
I wouldn’t have written this article, if I thought that this is the only issue on the table. After all, Pope Francis has not said anything that indicates that he is trying to persuade the bishops to change the law or keep the law. What we seem to be hearing from the Holy Father is that he wants every voice to be heard. Sometimes, when one opens the door to every voice one finds discordant voices. Whether it’s prudent to open the door to every voice is an important question. However, in the case of the extraordinary synod on the family, it’s a moot question, because the horse has already left the starting gate.
We have seen cardinals, bishops, theologians, religious and laymen speak on the synod and the documents that were published after. The points that concern most people are whether or not these men and women in invalid marriages should be allowed to receive Holy Communion; whether or not same-sex couples have something positive to contribute to the Church; and whether or not we can find any good in situations where people who are not spouses live as if they were. I certainly can’t claim to have the answers to these questions, because they are above my paygrade. Even if I thought I had the answer, the Holy See is not really interested in my opinion, because it’s not my place in the Church to speak as an authority of matters of faith and morals. That authority is reserved for the local bishop. I can only speak as an authority in my home and in my community with the Franciscans of Life. Even there, I can only repeat what the Church teaches; I cannot teach anything that is outside of Church teaching as if it were the “official” Catholic position.
Here is precisely where we’re having problems today. The blogosphere is overpopulated with voices that not only have something to say about these questions, but want to speak and be heard as if they had the authority to make pronouncements to the rest of the Church. When they speak they sound intelligent, because they can use big words, throw around some citations from previous popes, councils and older catechisms and there are times when their arguments have some logic. To the average layman (not as in non-ordained, but as in newbie to Church politics) these voices can be very impressive and persuasive, to the point that these readers become talking boxes for the bloggers. You hear them repeat, verbatim, what a blogger has written. This is an interesting development, because the blogosphere seems to be giving birth to its own oral tradition within the Catholic Church and some people are beginning to take this tradition seriously.
At the risk of sounding like these voices, I have to state that bloggers are just that and no more. St. Francis of Assisi held that a man is what he is before God, nothing else. This has been part of Franciscan tradition and culture for 800 years. Why? Because it works. Why does it work? Because it’s true.
When we read what someone puts out there, be he a cardinal, bishop, religious, concerned Catholic layman we must keep this person in his or her proper context. He or she is what God sees, not how he presents himself. When God looks at a cardinal, he sees a bishop who has a specific place in the Church, with a specific assignment, specific role and mission. He does not see another Peter, because there can only be one Peter. The Church is built upon the faith of one rock, not an entire quarry.
The same applies to lay writers, who are often very impressive. Nonetheless, they are not Peter. All of these people are commenting on what Peter has said, failed to say, should say, will never say and that’s fine and dandy. They are commentators. We have to take them as such. I do not take the commentator at a Super Bowl show and credit him with the same authority that I credit the referee. At the end of the day, the person who makes the call whether the ball is in or out of bounds is the ref, not the guy at the microphone. The guy at the microphone can call the shot anyway he likes it, but his call is not going to determine the outcome of the game.
Listening to and reading what every blogger in town has to say about divorce, remarriage, Holy Communion, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, cohabitation, the family, sex, and many other topics that fall under the umbrella of “family” can be very interesting and very enlightening. I certainly like knowing what other people are thinking. But I have to remind myself that what I’m reading are the talking points and opinions of others like the sportscaster at the Super Bowl. These are not the officials who call the shots that shape the outcome of the game. The only person who can call those shots is Peter.
So far, in this entire discussion on the family, Pope Francis has only said that a synod of bishops has no authority to make or change rules, much less dogma and that the pope calls a synod under his watchful eye and under his authority. Therefore, he and only he can decide what to keep or throw out from what comes from the synod.
Those people who are saying that the Church is going to do A, B, and C, because the synod fathers said something in favor of A, B, and C can be very mistaken. The Church is going to do whatever Peter decides. It may be A, B, and C or D, E, and F.
Do not take these bloggers too seriously, nor reporters for that matter or people doing interviews. Remember St. Francis of Assisi. A man is what he is before God, nothing else. None of these men is Peter. They have strong opinions and are often very rational. Other times they have very strong opinions and are very illogical. I don’t pledge my support to the former, because as logical as his opinion may be, he lacks the authority to speak for the Church. I listen to his opinion and like Mary; I hold these in my heart. On the flip side, I don’t pledge my allegiance to the latter either, because his opinions are illogical.
Until the Church tells me that what appears illogical to me must be obeyed and held, I have no duty to do so. The key here is “to me”. Just because something seems right or wrong to me, does not make it so. Just because I think I understand what the Church has traditionally said on a specific subject does not mean that I do.
We are very proud of what we think, to the point that we throw our ideas out there as if they were revealed truths and we’re willing to insult, hurt, and ignore others who do not agree with our understanding of the faith, morality or Catholic tradition. Which leads me to ask whether at the end of the day, all of these interviews that people are giving, all of these opinions that people are posting on blogs concerning the Church, the family and the pope, and all of these sound bites are just another temptation to pride and disobedience.
How much of all that is said is about love of God and man and how much is about love of one’s opinion and one’s idea of what “is” means?