Sunday, January 6, 2013

Discernment 101

In the last post I talked for the most part about two groups of persons, Catholic Bishops and women. I named three topics which are of interest in today’s Church: the child sexual abuse scandal, women’s ordination, and abortion. Of course, it is not a given that Catholic females who participate in legal abortion also favor women’s ordination, and I admit I lumped the two together. (And yes, Catholic women do have abortions.) Often we think of those who abort as independent personalities but some are, as I understand, under the pressure of a boyfriend or husband to do so. However, we also hear of females who want their freedom to work or study and feel they don’t have the resources, whether they are time, energy, or money, to have a child.  One expects these types to also desire gender equality. To add to the mix, there are many other issues of contention in the Church today. Among them are contraception, celibacy and marriage of priests. Many issues have caused tensions between nuns and bishops, priests and laypersons.

These themes seem to collide often in discussions of problems of the Church, and are tough to sort out. Of course we are all unique, and anyone could say they think one thing but not another. What we surmise about how people are thinking comes from our own thoughts, the evaluations we read and comments from various sources. In the example above, it seems most women who want equality in all areas of life, including the religion to which they belong, tend to also want the freedom of reproductive rights even if it means abortion. But I myself would like true gender equality in the Church but feel abortion is wrong.

If different people think they are right in totally opposite ways, who is correct? Discernment of the Holy Spirit is difficult, and I think one can be too easily convinced that God agrees with one’s own wishes. Difficulty in discernment is not just a problem for individuals, but for the whole Church. The Church should be the expert in how to discern, and lead and teach its people how to do so.

Most people see that there can be confusion when trying to understand exactly what God wants. Though some say the Bible is inerrant, most notice some contradictions. The existence of many Christian denominations attests to the fact that we interpret Scripture differently. Most of us need the guidance of those who are experts. They gather together to determine the best way forward. The Catholic Magisterium is made up of men who have dedicated their lives to the Church. Though not privy to their meetings, I imagine they pray for guidance from God. The parishes also pray for them. But is it safe to assume that God will give them all they ask for right away? What if the lowly Catholic parishioners, who also ask for guidance for themselves, see things differently?

For example, during the time of Pope Paul VI, a panel of persons worked to determine whether it was allowable for married couples to use contraceptives. They concluded there was no intrinsic evil in using them, but Paul VI ignored them. Some speculate the Pope made a political decision, based on the number of Catholics that could be produced without the barriers. The Pope even made predictions for the problems which contraception would bring, such as loose morals (Humanae Vitae, Sec. 17). Some contend that the existence today of contraceptives produced by drug companies and other factors, such as television and other modern media, would have caused the loose morals to be about the same today as if Pope Paul had accepted the panel’s recommendations. What the Pope didn’t predict was that his own apparent lack of understanding of a certain group of women would drive many of them (along with men) away from the Catholic Church. And now we are all focused on a “New Evangelization,” which, among other things, is supposed to bring lapsed Catholics back.  While the popes decry the influence of the culture and other external factors for this exodus, they do so without evaluating their own part of the reasons for it.

Perhaps bishops think they have more direct access to God than anyone else by virtue of their standing. But how do they evaluate that God bypassed the religious leaders of the day in order to tell Mary directly, through an angel, that He had chosen her to become the mother of Jesus? Through angels He called the shepherds of the fields to come and see the baby. Christ Himself walked with the lowly and criticized the powerful.

Though I’m sure not all bishops agree among themselves on all the Church issues, the fact that these leaders isolate themselves by not allowing women or married men into their tight circle would tend to limit their range of ideas. Sure they think that the next set of priests and bishops should be just like them. Is that really the Holy Spirit talking?

But I’d like to make another point about discernment. The latest confrontation of the Church leaders with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is seen by many as old-fashioned bishops against the crusading efforts of social justice by religious sisters. But that is not all that it encompasses. Though contraception, abortion and women’s ordination is part of the contention, it is only a part.  A more important factor is that many of the nuns are teaching contrary to Catholic doctrine in the area of Christ’s Lordship. He is our Savior from sin and belief in Him is the only way to the Truth. Many religious orders are embracing Universalism in which it doesn’t matter what you believe and everyone will get to heaven. What’s worse, these orders are in the forefront of teaching spirituality to the Catholic laypersons, and many of the religious individuals claim to be Spiritual Directors. If a person does not hold Christ as the Lord and the only way to Truth, he or she is headed in a false direction and is in no position to be guiding anyone else. According to Scripture, the Holy Spirit is present in those who believe in Christ:
On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.” He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. (John 7:37-39, NABRE)
These problems did not necessarily start with religious women. There is a good book out by Malachi Martin about the Jesuits. This order, founded by Ignatius of Loyola, had started as a group with the sole purpose of being obedient to the Pope. Perhaps it would have been a little better to have the goal of being obedient to God. Be that as it may, they got off the track, starting with members who began doubting the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. The book talks about the ensuing fights between the order and the Magisterium. In similar circumstances, the Church leadership has contended with liberal theologians.  History reveals that intellectuals can be just as right or wrong as anyone else when it comes to spiritual matters.

Only through Christ and belief in Him can individuals, orders, the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations find their way. There is one Truth and He is The Truth.

In the 1960’s, The Second Vatican Council called for changes in the Church. People interpret those changes differently. Some took them to mean we could explore other religions and accept that different cultures believe different things. They think it is more loving to let non-Christian people alone in terms of their religion than to tell them about Christianity. This has been quite apparant with some orders of religious, both women and men.  The very people who think they care for others by keeping them in the dark need to evaluate their own faith and, frankly, be re-evangelized.

The most important issue for Catholics is to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who came down as a sacrifice of atonement for our sins. That is the first step in discerning, together, the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

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