It’s an interesting time to be Catholic.
We have a pope some people love for his focus on mercy and others hate due to his seemingly purposeful ambiguity on difficult issues. I put myself between those extremes. I don’t want to form beliefs about people until I have the whole story. But when a filial correction is sent after many attempts at clarification, and you find out about something like this where the intention is so unclear, it might be time to start thinking and talking about this more.
We already know about the ambiguity in Amoris Laeticia which is being interpreted in wildly different ways by different bishops (if you want more details, we can chat!). For any moderately aware Catholic, this can be unsettling and frustrating, which is why we need to talk about it. Ignoring it doesn’t help. These are stormy waters, and the world isn’t exactly for us, so we’ve got to work together to navigate these times.
When you’re a child, at least in my experience, you take many things for granted. Often the faith you do or do not grow up with is a default until one takes ownership over it and transitions into a more adult practice.
I have purposefully chosen and embraced my faith over the past several years by learning more about it and putting it into practice. But as I grow more deeply into the truth of Catholicism, I’ve only grown more aware of the challenges Catholicism has faced throughout history and is currently enduring too. It is deeply unsettling to come to the realization that your church is made of fallen people who are capable of making bad, sometimes evil, decisions. And I will never, ever, defend gravely wrong (or just dumb) decisions made by people just because they may claim the same faith as me.
If you’re aware of any pope, bishop, priest, religious sister, or any other person who represents the Catholic Church who has done confusing or frustrating things, you might be disturbed. You might decide religion isn’t for you. But when things like this happen, I think we need to dig deeper, together, as believers weathering stormy waters. We’re members of a church filled with imperfect people. So what is one to do with this realization?
Educate yourself. I think this is the most empowering action we can take, because regardless of what any mistaken individual might think or confusing thing people might say or do, we will actually know what the truth the Church teaches. There are clear and rich explanations for the tough positions we’re called to take, even if a leader doesn’t recognize that publicly. Looking for resources? Comment or email me and we can talk about where to find info on specific topics.
Don’t assume headlines are true. I want to assume the best of people until or unless they’re proven guilty, but that’s hard when headlines give an unproven verdict. So when people start saying crazy things about Catholicism or any figure within the Church, the facts are what gives the clearest picture – not headlines. Look at what the person actually said or did, not just what people want you to believe. Don’t make assumptions or rely on biased reporting (CNN, MSNBC, and LifeNews being respective extremes). It’s easy to get caught up in rabbit holes of despair and worst case scenarios when we don’t have all the facts. But when we have the facts of the case, it’s easier to see what’s actually happening.
Discuss the issues openly. One of the worst things people who are Catholic can do right now is to ignore this, not learn about it, and refuse to talk about it. We are not perfect and nor are our leaders. Being honest about that and not being afraid to talk about it publicly demonstrates our humanity, which I think is important when people have so many misconceptions about what we believe. We should be talking about the good books and articles we’re reading, the podcasts, songs, and projects that enrich our faith – most importantly, engaging in discussions on these tough topics, and arming ourselves with what we know our faith holds.
I can’t make Pope Francis clarify these issues. Nor do I know how to change the minds of misguided bishops, priests, religious sisters, and other leaders within the Catholic Church. There is only so much I can do about other people. And knowing motives behind confusing actions (or lack thereof) is not one of my super powers.
What I can do is educate myself and grow my faith deeper, because my faith ultimately can’t depend on other flawed people. My faith depends on Jesus Christ, who came and died for each of us personally. He is the rock my church is directly built on. He left a perfect church made of imperfect people.
So do Catholic leaders do confusing things? Things that are hard to imagine in a charitable light? Yes and yes.
Should that push us away from the truth? No.
Seeing other people’s flaws should not drive us away. It should drive us ever deeper into the faith we know holds the treasure not everyone sees. Have you found this pearl of great price? Do you know God loves you, even when people do confusing things? He is the glue that holds our universal Church together. He is the foundation of our belief, especially so when people on the same journey as us fall short. And when they do (because we all will fall short at times), we can’t let that rob us of the peace and steadfastness in our faith God calls us to exercise.
Let’s build our understanding of this foundation we’ve been entrusted with. Because if you grew up with some of the same hymns I did, you know that no storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging.