When Godly People Do Ungodly Things
Scandal, scandal everywhere. As, then, Cardinal Ratzinger prayed, [The] Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side
"Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers." When the Church seems like a boat about to sink, like a boat taking in water on all sides, there is safety in obedience, and it is the measure and mark of the Saints.
Scandal, scandal everywhere. As, then, Cardinal Ratzinger prayed, "[The] Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion." (Cardinal Ratzinger's Meditations for the Stations of the Cross, Prayer at Ninth Station).
"Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers" (CCC 675). A sign of the times, even orthodox Catholics grow anxious and faint while the enemy - in seemingly too many forms to fight - surges and exalts within the ranks.
What better way to "deceive even the elect" (Matt. 24:24) than to cast doubt on the leadership? "All of you will be scandalized...for it is written, 'Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter'" (Matt. 26:31). The sheep race in every direction, terrorized into fleeing the safety of the flock so they are easily devoured.
"Be sober. Be watchful. For your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet. 5:8).
What is our duty when the sin of our fathers and leaders is on full display, when we are sick with grief over their real or perceived falls from grace, when we are subject to a disappointing or even treacherous leader who raises questions of legitimacy in our hearts?
Deceiving ourselves into thinking we are fully on the side of purity and truth, their sins often draw forth self-righteousness from us. They provoke us to division, to a lack of charity and to gossip, when we are, instead, instructed to pray fervently: "He that knows his brother to sin a sin which is not to death, let him ask: and life shall be given to him who sins not unto death" (1John 5:16).
The temptation is, like Martin Luther, to abandon ship and do our own thing, to stop discerning the Providence and direction of God through the authority, or to place our orthodoxy above our obedience. According to the Saints, this is a grave mistake. To do this is to follow the false doctrine of Satan, whose sin was rebellion.
"Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves" (Rom. 13:1-2).
Obedience is the measure and mark of the Saints. When there is sin in the ranks of the authorities we are instructed, "[I]f your brother offends you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church" (18:15-17). As far up the hierarchy as is appropriate and necessary, we can avail ourselves of the authority of the Church.
And then? The Lord has providentially spoken. Sit down in sackcloth and ashes. Shut your mouth. Pray. And wait on God's deliverance. Jesus was led like a lamb to the slaughter by the hierarchy of his faith, yet "He opened not His mouth" (Is. 53:7). He obeyed unto death, "even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8). Why? Because they occupied the position of legitimate authority, even in their sin.
Don't stone me. I didn't say it. Jesus did:
"The scribes and Pharisees sit on the Chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach and do not practice" (Matt. 23:1-3). Until they have been legitimately removed, they are legitimately in authority. We are commanded to obey legitimately placed leaders and submit to them, for they are responsible for our souls and will have to give an account to God for those under their leadership (Heb. 13:17).
Look, my whole life has been one loooong, painful instruction in authority and obedience (see Healing the Father Wound. I know this is difficult. But what is faith, if not this? We worry we will be treated unjustly and abandoned. Do we not trust God will provide for and deliver us? We worry that others will be led astray. Do we think God does not care for those? We worry the sin of our leaders will scandalize others. Do we not trust that God leads His Church, and that He can and will remove "bad" leaders when and ...
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