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Monday Musing – Faith, Doubt, Doctrine, Dogma… and Respect for Office

(I apologize if this is too long… I had a lot on my mind!)

This morning I woke up, not at all sure what I would write about. I was sick for most of the weekend, so I did not begin this sooner, as I typically try (emphasis – try!) to do.  My morning routine includes prayer and some reading and I came across this paragraph, in a homily for the Second Sunday of Easter, and it has really struck me…

So where does that place good Catholic people who, after prayer and consultation with spouses, partners, friends and pastoral leaders, honestly doubt the certainty of some doctrines taught by their religion? Note for the Blog: Dissent against a dogma of the church is impossible for a Catholic.  [5]

5 McBrien, Richard. Catholicism: Study Edition (Minneapolis, MN: Winston Press, 1981. See pages 67 ff.

I realize that many people have strong feelings about the priest who offered this homily, Fr. Richard Vosko. I have known Fr. Vosko for four years, and he has been a friend and mentor to me. Do I always agree with him? No, I do not. Do I respect him? Yes, I do. Do I have respect for his office, as an ordained priest in good standing, of the Roman Catholic Church? Yes I do. More on that in a minute…

One of the reasons that I really liked reading his homily is because I appreciate how he elucidated the difference between dissent from doctrine and from dogma. Dogma, if you read that snippet above, is impossible for a Catholic. (I included Vosko’s footnote in case anyone wants to go look it up.) Doctrine is to be obeyed as well, but many of us wrestle with various doctrines.

If you ask me, I will happily and clearly tell you that my faith, which is a great gift from God, is filled with questions. Are those questions doubts? Sometimes, yes they are. For me – how else can I dive deeper into and discover the great gift of faith?

As I have written before, obedience is based in deep, authentic listening, and therefore it can take time. If we just march in lockstep, without engaging our hearts and minds, that is not obedience at all, but something else. God is forever asking us to be in relationship, not bondage! It is bondage that God seeks to free us from.

This Sunday we did hear about how Thomas very boldly doubted Jesus. And if he had not done so, would he have gone further in his faith? Who knows? But he did doubt and he expressed it and this is part of the Gospel  and we are invited into our own doubt – and faith – as a result! (I wrote about yesterday’s Gospel at my TU blog, if you wish to read it; no subscription or registration required.)

In any case, we can all get into some fine arguments about who is a “good Catholic,” but I am pretty sure that we all dissent on something. For me, I try to be honest about that, engage in good faith and pray, study and strive for a deeper and more committed life as in this Body.

If we can’t doubt, if we can’t – like Thomas – ask questions, then we are lost. The questions can and should be asked, because the answers are there. Believe it! There are many issues that we are asked to submit to… issues about life, which include positions about abortion, contraception, torture, war, the death penalty, euthanasia, and health care, which are not as easily adhered to as one might think. And health care is especially contentious, because while we have challenges with what is mandated, we must also understand that the Holy Father calls for universal health care. In the linked article it reads,  “Pope Benedict XVI and other church leaders said it was the moral responsibility of nations to guarantee access to health care for all of their citizens, regardless of social and economic status or their ability to pay.(Which many Catholics, good Catholics, would disagree with.) This is all very challenging ground, so we should respect our doubts, explore them, find priests and others that we can talk to about these things, but also understand what the Truth and the truth are.

So what about respect for office?

As someone who considers social media part of their ministerial call, I read a lot of blogs, Facebook posts and Tweets from Twitter. It is getting uglier and uglier out there; in politics and in church talk.

If we are going to speak about obedience, we must be obedient – if it means struggling and disagreeing. If we have to hold our dissent in tension with our disobedience, then so be it.  A life of faith is not a destination, although it leads us to a destination; it is a constant journey. And a journey that makes great demands of us!

If you think that Fr. Vosko, or any other priest for that matter, is an apostate, that is yours to work out. However, I do believe that Fr. Vosko, Fr. Jerry for that matter, Bishop Hubbard – or any validly ordained person for that matter, deserves the respect of that office.

Recently I saw a video going around, of Glenn Beck telling us that if we don’t like what’s going on in our churches, to tell the priest. If you don’t like what the priest says, then he more or less said, go to the bishop. If you don’t like what the bishop said, then go to the top, write to Rome. (I am not linking to this video because it was so personally offensive and deeply un-Catholic to me. If you really want to see it, I suggest the wonders of the Google search.)

While I would not rule out such activity, I would reserve such things for the very gravest matters. It is actually apostasy to say or do otherwise, and I think that Mr. Beck is treading a dangerous path…. and encouraging Catholics to do the same.  The Church does not stand for our personal “likes” and “dislikes,” but is the actual re-membering (think, opposite of dismembering) of the Body of Christ.

The Church has always known terrible priests, bishops and even popes; a glance at Church history reveals that clearly. Yet the Church prevails, even in the darkest hours. Sometimes we might be engaged in the worst struggle of our lives, but no single one of us owns the truth.

If you really think that it is OK to go against the priests, bishops or even popes that you do not like, what prevents others – others who may have a different point of view than you do – from doing the same?

Please respect the office of those who stand in persona Christi. Trust me, there are plenty of priests, bishops and even popes, that I could really challenge, but I actively choose not to do so publicly. What I struggle in my heart with, I offer in prayer.(Please see this link to the Vatican’s Catechism pages for more.)

One thing that you should never doubt is this… the Church is neither democracy – or anarchy, based on personal preference. Doubt in and of itself is a vehicle for greater faith, but like all things of great power, it should be applied wisely.


9 Responses

  1. So much here, Fran…
    I will just go back to Thomas expressing his doubt. My own experience with God is that the expression of my feelings, positive and negative, toward the Divine is most important to have a ‘real’ relationship. My faith started blossoming after I told Jesus on the cross (well, I yelled at Him really), one Sunday morning during mass, that I had never asked Him to die for me, that I would never be able to repay Him for it…
    I guess loving God means, like in any love relationship, taking risks, showing Him my warts and all.
    Twenty-five years later, my relationship with God is undoubtedly the most extraordinary I have. It’s an adventure, an exploration, a revelation, etc etc
    To end, I don’t think God cares whether I agree with the Church or not, but whether I am true to our relationship…

  2. Fran, first of all, I hope you are feeling better than you were on the weekend.

    Claire is right that there is so much in your post on which to feast. God created us with a brain and we need to work through our faith ourselves and embrace our doubts and bring them to God in conversation. Never has God asked us to put our brains in park; but we are asked to engage our entire beings in our faith. What an amazing journey results from being in relationship with God!

  3. Fran, I really liked your thoughts here: “obedience is based in deep, authentic listening, and therefore it can take time. If we just march in lockstep, without engaging our hearts and minds, that is not obedience at all, but something else. God is forever asking us to be in relationship, not bondage! It is bondage that God seeks to free us from.” To obey, one must first know what one is doing/not doing to obey and also who it is we are obeying!

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