Today’s feast honors St. Felix of Valois, a 13th century saint who gave himself to be the ransom (replacement) of Christians taken hostage by Muslims. At Mass tonight, I preached my sermon on St. Felix and the theology of both Christianity and Islam.
In this short video, Stephen Colbert (comedian-turned-theologian) says “Faith ultimately can’t be argued; faith has to be felt.” Let’s cut through his poor philosophy and consider reality:
1) Feelings are often no different from biochemical pleasures. God uses feelings in all stages of prayer, but it is not central to the substance of the soul where the Blessed Trinity resides. If faith must be “felt” as Colbert said, then where does that leave Mother Teresa who couldn’t feel anything for 60 years of prayer? But false-positives abound, too: If I drink an enormous Chemex hipster coffee and feel like a saint who could take on the world, did I just “feel” an increase in my faith? Of course not. That is because there is some correlation between good spiritual “feelings” and the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norephinephrine. That’s why we called coffee in seminary “liquid consolation.” But we were joking. Sadly, Colbert was not. Back to neurotransmitters: These reuptake mechanisms are also found in more intense pleasures (like cocaine.) So, “feeling your faith” doesn’t increase faith anymore than cocaine. Even atheistic scientists will agree with me here: Spiritual “feelings” are frequently nothing more than the release of biochemicals in the brain. I make no moral judgment against either feelings or pleasure here. God created both and can affect both in prayer, but it’s not the central tenet of faith.
2) One’s opinion of truth is only as good as the evidence that one has to support it. Few doubt this truth in science, but if religion refers to truth, then this is true in religion also. Regarding feelings and logic together, Colbert does admit that “they do not defy each other but complement each other. ” He then says, “Logic itself will not lead me to God.” This is partly true,1 but there’s a glaring omission in the above video: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical binary event (true or not true) upon which hinges our entire creed. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”—1 Cor 15:17. Colbert inadvertently disparages the starting point of Christianity, namely, that the Resurrection and Divinity of Jesus Christ can be given some real evidence. Or rather, we can not prove that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, but we can disprove the contrary with pretty air-tight historical arguments found in books like Kreeft/Tacelli’s Handbook of Catholic Apologetics.
For all the Social Justice Catholics that promote Colbert, we have to admit it’s ironic that Colbert puts the emphasis on feelings—something the poor don’t have the luxury of always enjoying in their daily walk with Christ. The Christians being crucified by ISIS may not “feel” their faith, but they have a hope in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ based in a historical event. But I guess feelings are good for a multi-millionaire hanging with the Jesuits of Manhattan.
Yes, for Colbert, “faith ultimately can’t be argued; faith has to be felt.” In this philosophy, random biochemicals in the brain must take precedent over truth. Besides this conclusion being false for both Jesus on the cross (not good feelings but lots of truth) and St. Thomas Aquinas (who says very little of feelings and lots of truth) there’s actually another odd problem with Colbert Catholicism: It’s the most boring version of Catholicism we have heard since the 1970s. Almost all of my Gen-X friends raised by progressive-Catholic baby-boomers have left the Catholic Church. Inclusive-Catholicism turned out to be exclusive-Catholicism, precisely because it was founded on the feelings of a few ex-hippies instead of the Truth.
Most normal people long for one of two ways of life:
Feelings=Pleasure=Religion of hedonism (max out on pleasure.)
Logic=Truth=Religion of Catholicism (max out on truth and love, but it hurts just a little on the way to heaven.)
At the end of the day, here are our best two options: An-unbridled-pleasure-fiend or a total saint. I don’t believe in a middle-ground—practical or theological—where you get neither.
This isn’t to say that Catholicism is cold-cut syllogisms without any affections of love of Jesus Christ. Nor does it mean that all pleasure is bad. God made feelings and God made pleasure. But at the end of the day, we have to decide if we’re going to live for feelings or the truth. 2
So, what is faith, then? “Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.”—Heb 11:1. Evidence means just that—evidence, as I wrote above in regards to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ. But if Colbert wants this at a more personal level, the word “faith” in Greek (πιστις) is actually also the same as trust. It means a trust-of-life, not just a single statement of salvation. It means daily decisions, not just a single act of consent of the intellect (Protestantism) or emotions (Colberism.) You see, if faith is trust, then this includes loving and hard decisions in the body all day long, including chastity, for “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”—2 Cor 5:10.
Jesus rarely said “Believe in me.” He frequently said “Follow me.”
Mother Teresa’s faith went deeper than both emotions and logic. For 60 years she did not “feel her faith.” Yet she got up at 3am or 4am to pray for two hours before her Eucharistic Lord and served Jesus in the poorest of the poor in the streets of Kolkata for decade after decade. Mother Teresa was living trust in the body when the feelings weren’t there. These were decisions she lived out in her body, and yet her emotions were so dark that she had to make constant acts of faith in God via her will—acts that were above and beyond the dark night of the soul that lasted a grueling 60 years. This is a tough marriage to a Divine Spouse! She often complained lovingly of her silent lover…
In fact, at the risk of scandalizing my readers, I’ll point out what she once wrote to a friend: “Pray for me, pray that I may have the courage to keep on smiling at Jesus—I understand a little the tortures of hell—without God.” I used the word “scandalized” because you should be surprised that Mother Teresa felt herself (not made herself, but felt herself) to be “without God.” And yet, she made constant acts of faith—essentially hope against hope—of having no feelings of God, yet seeking Him anyway.
Since her death, many people who felt on the verge of suicide have since found strength in the ways of Mother Teresa. People who had struggled their whole life with very personal sins and thought God abandoned them found hope in Mother Teresa. Why? Because, they reason, if God loved Mother Teresa even when she couldn’t feel Him, then His love must still be there. If God could love Mother Teresa as she was, maybe He loves me in my serious sin. They are right. And it is still His kindness that leads us to repentance.
In fact, in that same letter, Mother Teresa explained her suffering for the life of the world: “I have no words to express what I want to say, and yet last First Friday—knowingly and willingly I offered to the Sacred Heart—to pass even eternity in this terrible suffering, if this would give Him now a little more pleasure—or the love of a single soul.”
St. Thomas Aquinas found this debate so important that it’s his very first response in his 3000 page “summary” of the Catholic Faith: “It was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man’s whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation.”—ST I.1.1 respondeo ↩
Colbert, if you ever read this, I’ll happily discuss this on or off the air in your studio. Our mutual friend, Fr. Z (not the blogger), can hook us up. ↩
Every Christian is called to do the “Works of Mercy,” upon which our final judgment will be based, as seen in Matthew 25: 1 Did you know that St. Thomas Aquinas considered one of them to be the greatest and most encapsulating? Before scrolling down to see the answer, see if you can guess which one:
The Corporal Works of Mercy are:
- To feed the hungry;
- To give drink to the thirsty;
- To clothe the naked;
- To shelter the homeless;
- To visit the sick;
- To ransom the captive;
- To bury the dead.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy are:
- To instruct the ignorant;
- To counsel the doubtful;
- To admonish sinners;
- To bear wrongs patiently;
- To forgive offences willingly;
- To comfort the afflicted;
- To pray for the living and the dead.
Answer to my quiz: St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Of all prayers, the most meritorious, the most acceptable to God, are prayers for the dead, because they imply all the works of charity, both corporal and spiritual.”
As if the picture didn’t give it away…In any case, the last one of all fourteen is considered the most important: Praying for the dead.
How beautiful that a person in a wheelchair on earth can do the greatest work of mercy that entails all of the other ones! To pray for the souls in purgatory is considered the greatest deed a human can do, according to St. Thomas Aquinas. It is the greatest petitionary prayer we can utter on earth, in which we do all 14 works of mercy. (No time to explain right now, but you can probably figure it out.)
I am convinced that never in the history of the Church have the Holy Souls of Purgatory been so ignored. As you probably know, they cannot pray for themselves, but they can pray for us. This is one of the reasons we must pray for them. Are they in the millions? billions? I hope so, because that means a lot are saved. Some saints have claimed that their power to intercede for you and for me is greater than the intercession of the saints.
Love the souls in purgatory by praying for them a lot. That is my resolution at my new parish, for I have utterly failed up to this point.
The early Church documents I have read seem to say that the earliest Christians prayed more for the dead than they even prayed for the living. Love the souls in purgatory by praying and offering sacrifice for them a lot. If you don’t love the souls in purgatory as a lover (for the others’ sake) then love them as a mercenary, for in praying for them they will reward you a thousandfold while you are on earth and/or purgatory one day…a speedy exit will be assured, they say.
The Final Judgment
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
(Matthew 25:31-46 ESV)↩
I’m on the traditional calendar with an older “Divine Office.” But today, Pope Francis and every synod bishop in Rome should have read Malachi chapter one in their new Divine Office. It’s the Scripture readings that every priest has promised to pray on the day of his ordination. In Malachi 1, God Himself tells what He thinks about the priesthood, the worthiness of a sacrifice, divorce, and false-mercy becoming a mockery of God. If everyone at the synod has their mind made up (for better or for worse) then perhaps this is a last offer of unity…or even a last offer of mercy for those who would tamper with Scripture, timed impeccably by God, as always:
The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi: And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name? ’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you? ’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations…And this second thing you do: You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
—Malachi 1:1-14, 2:13-16
God said “My name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised,” and “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence.” Combine these two and you have a clear injunction against sacrileging the altar of sacrifice with divorce-and-remarriage. And yet Pope Francis’ men are promoting open communion with the sole restriction being a false understanding of conscience. 1
But I mention Malachi 1 because I imagine God is still merciful to Pope Francis and the synod Fathers “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” But if they don’t listen, what would justice look like? Of course, God only wills the good of His children, but if we, His beloved children reject His hand, we also reject His protection. Justice entails losing God’s protection. Primarily, this would mean the loss of souls to Satan, especially if the Pope’s moral theology statements remain purposefully vague.
But there is something at the physical level, too. I am reminded that the number one goal of ISIS is not the destruction of the USA but the physical destruction of Rome. This is not some ultra-conservative doomsday prophesy. In fact, the best article I read on ISIS comes from the left-leaning Atlantic Magazine. Graeme Wood’s What Isis Really Wants has over half-million FB likes. Do a quick search for the word “Rome” in this article, and you will see that Rome appears 10 times. ISIS wants to destroy Rome. We need God’s protection. Now is no time to mock His doctrine or discipline on marriage. 2
No Pope or bishop can ever change God’s Word. Their job is to aid in the interpretation of Scripture in concert with Sacred Tradition. So when bishops conceal heresy with mercy, or give the theological wink-and-nod to kill consciences, Divine Justice is being tested. How are these men more merciful than Jesus who died for sinners like me? They’re not. They have overlooked the fact that there is no mercy without repentance. In a Vatican-approved apparition called Our Lady of La Salette, Mary said in 1846 to the French children: “Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of the Antichrist.” Pope Pius IX approved and promoted this apparition.
I’m not saying we’re there yet. But I do know that Mary’s call to the faithful transcends this silly synod…just as timeless and infallible Catholic teaching transcends this synod, too. There will always be good bishops and bad bishops. We worship neither. That’s why it’s still awesome to be Catholic, regardless of certain bishops trying in vain to change Church teaching. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not worth reading any more news on the synod. Why get flustered? God will protect us from evil or from this evil He will bring good (and open schism would indeed be better than the current silent-smiley-schism.) Either way, Our Lady of La Salette showed us the way to Her Son:
Finally, I call on the Apostles of the Last Days, the faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, who have lived in scorn for the world and for themselves, in poverty and in humility, in scorn and in silence, in prayer and in mortification, in chastity and in union with God, in suffering and unknown to the world. It is time they came out and filled the world with light. Go and reveal yourselves to be my cherished children. I am at your side and within you, provided that your faith is the light which shines upon you in these unhappy days. May your zeal make you famished for the glory and the honor of Jesus Christ. Fight, children of the light, you, the few who can see.
The Archbishop of Chicago is theologically correct in his statement that conscience is “inviolable.” But if conscience itself can self-absolve from the grave sins he discussed in that link, then there is no longer a need for a Magisterium nor the sacrament of confession. Archbishop Cupich is not a party-crasher. He said: “I came here at the request of the Holy Father. In fact, I was not elected. I was appointed by the Pope to come here.” Although open communion will probably not be promoted explicitly next year by Pope Francis, the notion of “inviolable conscience” seems well on its way to replace (at least at the level of discipline if not doctrine) both the Scriptures and the Magisterium. It’s important to note that a post-synod statement is not to be considered ex-cathedra infallible nor considered to be articulated faith and morals of the ordinary Magisterium. Thus, although Pope Francis’ continued errors would not overturn the indefectibility promised by Christ to Peter in Matthew 16 regarding the Catholic Church, this would lead to an unprecedented loss of souls. We must pray for nothing short of conversion or intervention. Error has indeed been spoken. In May of 2013, Pope Francis preached at the Domus Santae Martae. While speaking of atheists at Mass, Pope Francis said: “We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.” By “there,” Pope Francis meant heaven. Hebrews 11:6 is very clear on belief and salvation. ↩
A faithful bishop from Poland attending the synod said: “Practically all are repeating that there will be no doctrinal change, but this is understood in different ways. For if you add to this first group that disciplinary changes are possible, this means, in practice, that doctrinal stability is being nullified. In my opinion one cannot speak of the separation of the practice of the Church from her doctrine, from her teachings. The two are inseparable. I have the impression that many supporters of this modernity, are in fact thinking about changing doctrine, yet calling it a change in Church discipline. It is a disturbing point in these discussions, for it is strongly emphasized: “we accept the entire doctrine”, but there immediately follows a suggestion that doctrine has nothing to do with it. This is greatly worrying me, for one and the other are saying that they want no change in doctrine. From where then, are arising these practices opposed to doctrine?”—Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, translation from Toronto Catholic Witness. ↩
One of the surprising things I have found among priests and laity during the Pontificate of Pope Francis is that certain people who used to despise the word “obedience,” say ten years ago, now go on quoting “obedience” as if they were St. John of the Cross.
I walked into a tea-house yesterday and I got surrounded by three adults older than me who first wanted to know what I was, why I had a long black robe on and what I thought of Pope Francis. As to the third, I simply said that the first public words of Jesus and John the Baptist were “Repent and Believe” and that the measure of a Pope is to the extent that the people have heard that same call to repentance and faith (as repentance and faith are the only two portals towards hope of loving Jesus Christ as He deserves.)
Now that I think about it, judgment of a Pope does not belong to a priest like me, but to God…and maybe a bit to history, many centuries in the future: A pope will ultimately not be judged on his popularity, but whether he is bringing consciences to life—or allaying consciences to remain asleep. Thus, it’s my job as a priest not to judge the Pope, but to remain obedient and to preach the Gospel.
There is excitement and concern, from the left and right respectively, that the October 2015 “Synod on the Family” will change Church teaching on divorced and remarried receiving Holy Communion as well as those in homosexual unions being allowed to receive Holy Communion. You might imagine that I don’t participate in the excitement of “the left” that doctrine might change, but did you know that I don’t participate in the worry to “the right” either?
Here’s why: A synod does not carry the weight of infallibility. In my last post, I explained the levels of infallibility, the highest being the Sacred Scriptures, which speak clearly on the above issues of sexuality and worthy communion in Matthew 19:9 and 1 Cor 11:26-29. The Council of Trent is another example of an aspect of Divine Revelation that is also infallible. It too speaks clearly on the sacraments of Marriage and the Eucharist.
However, a synod does not only not have the weight of infallibility, but there is precedent for error in a synod! This false-synod was the 18th century Synod of Pistoia where Jansenism was promoted. Jansenism is the heresy of despair of God’s mercy. It’s sneaky that Satan may now be tempting the Church hierarchy towards presumption of God’s mercy, the opposite of the above. The devil’s tricky with that pendulum swing!
Thus, if the bishops go against the Bible in October, the Bible wins. This is not Protestantism.
I hope I’m wrong, but I predict error coming in the October 2015 Synod of the Family, followed by some form of beautiful or powerful Divine Intervention. This is not because I’m a Savonarola prophet of doom. It’s simply because of the manifest and public, shameless teaching of the Cardinals who have been recently promoted in these “family matters,” as reported by Life Site News:
Cardinal Godfried Danneels: The retired former archbishop of Brussels was a special appointment by Pope Francis to the 2014 Synod of Bishops. In addition to wearing rainbow liturgical vestments and being caught on tape concealing sexual abuse, Danneels said in 2013 of the passage of gay “marriage”: “I think it’s a positive development that states are free to open up civil marriage for gays if they want.”
Cardinal Walter Kasper: A few days into his pontificate Pope Francis praised one of Cardinal Kasper’s books, and then selected the cardinal to deliver the controversial keynote address to the consistory of cardinals advocating his proposal to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive communion in some circumstances. This proposal led to the high-profile debate at the first Synod of Bishops on the Family. Cardinal Kasper has again been selected as a personal appointee of the pope to the second Synod and regularly meets with Pope Francis. Kasper defended the vote of the Irish in favor of homosexual “marriages”, saying: “A democratic state has the duty to respect the will of the people; and it seems clear that, if the majority of the people wants such homosexual unions, the state has a duty to recognize such rights.”
Archbishop Bruno Forte: The archbishop of Chieti-Vasto was appointed Special Secretary to the 2014 Synod by Pope Francis. He is the Italian theologian who was credited with drafting the controversial homosexuality section of the infamous midterm report of the Synod which spoke of “accepting and valuing [homosexuals’] sexual orientation.” When questioned about the language, Forte said homosexual unions have “rights that should be protected,” calling it an “issue of civilization and respect of those people.”
Father Timothy Radcliffe: In May, Pope Francis appointed the former Master of the Dominican Order as a consultor for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace despite his well-known support for homosexuality. Writing on homosexuality in 2013, he said: “We must ask what it means, and how far it is Eucharistic. Certainly it can be generous, vulnerable, tender, mutual and non-violent. So in many ways, I would think that it can be expressive of Christ’s self-gift.” In a 2006 lecture he advocated “accompanying” homosexuals, which he defined as “watching ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ reading gay novels, living with our gay friends and listening with them as they listen to the Lord.”
Let me (Fr. Nix, now) be very clear that I am obedient to Rome and the bishops, but no bishop can change the words of Jesus Christ and what He said about divorce or what the Holy Spirit has said through the Apostle Paul on acting out any sexual sin (heterosexual or homosexual.) Pray hard that I’m wrong about error coming down the pipes of this October Synod, but if I’m not, just remember that a synod can not change the words of Jesus Christ. This is not a Protestant who believes in Sola Scriptura. That is why I wrote on the hierarchy of doctrine in my last post, quoting Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical on the Sacred Scriptures and Councils (part of the Magisterium.)
I hope I’m wrong, but if I’m right and the synod disseminates error, “the right” will frenzy on how to explain the doctrinal confusion and “the left” will frenzy on how to rejoice over the doctrinal confusion. Either approach would be both unnecessary and superfluous. That’s because this synod is pastoral in nature, not doctrinal.
Speaking of “pastoral” men at the pre-synod last year, I wish I could have told them all that it’s not that hard to present the words of Love-Incarnate-Himself as “merciful and pastoral,” even on topics of marriage. I could have assured them of this by recounting many conversations I’ve had in bars, taxis and shady streets. So, why didn’t anyone at the pre-Synod (to my knowledge) present on how to reach real people with a real Gospel? I fear they know neither a concrete Gospel nor any real people.
So, unfortunately there is precedent for error in a synod. And, again, we have to be thankful that no synod can change the faith or morals of Holy Mother Church, especially that Faith articulated in Scripture, Councils, Creeds, Church Fathers and the Ex-Cathedra statements made by two Popes. These five things (not synods of pastoral discussion) are the transmissions of faith and morals that fall under Christ’s promise of the indefectibility to the Church:
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”—Matthew 16:18-19
The upcoming synod is not bound in heaven. It’s doctrinally Little League…but…It could still cause millions of souls to go to hell through misguidance towards presumption of God’s mercy on sexual matters. Thus, it could become the Major League for Satan.
That’s why we have to pray so hard.
As Padre Pio said, “Pray, Hope and Don’t worry.” God will straighten it out, even if things go down bad in October.
Many Protestants believe that Catholics believe that anything the Pope says is infallible. This is a superstition. Strangely, some “progressive” priests have recently been promoting this superstition.
We must return to the sources of revelation, especially those sources which the Church considers to be “without error.” Pope Leo XIII wrote that the following five aspects of Catholic Revelation can be held to be definitely without any error:
1) Sacred Scripture
2) Councils (eg. the Council of Trent)
3) Creeds (eg. Nicene Constantinopolitan Creed.)
4) Anytime the Church Fathers speak in union.
5) Ex-Cathedra Statements by the Pope (only done twice in history, on Mary’s Immaculate Conception  and Mary’s Assumption [1950.])
All five of the above are without error (a negative charism) but only one of them is considered to be word-for-word, no-more and no-less exactly as God willed it, functioning as a positive charism: The Sacred Scriptures.
This may smack of Protestantism or fundamentalistism even to the best of Catholics. It is not. It is Our Faith:
“For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Spirit.”—Pope Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, #20.
After reading this 1893 encyclical by Pope Leo XIII, the analogy I choose to describe his description of doctrine is a dart board: Every part of the Creeds or Councils are guaranteed by the Holy Ghost to land on the dart board. But Scripture hits the bull’s eye every time.
Some of the greatest preaching and miracle-working saints had the entire Bible memorized. An example would be St. Anthony of Padua. St. Thomas Aquinas also had the whole Bible memorized. In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas’ gives two sides of a theological argument. He settles the argument not by his own authority as an innovator (as some Scholastics seem to imply) but by the Bible, rightly interpreted by the Magisterium and Church Fathers. (The Church later put her stamp on St. Thomas as the clearest and most reliable interpreter of Scripture.) But Scripture remained the fountain, and St. Thomas the fountain-keeper.
Thus, neither St. Thomas Aquinas nor a Pope nor a synod can contradict Scripture, the highest source of Divine Revelation flowing directly from the Divine Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ. Even then, the only topics considered infallible are articulated faith and morals.
John Allen (who writes for the liberal National Catholic Reporter) actually has an excellent article on Pope Francis, where Pope Francis admits he is a bit rusty on modern topics:
Notice that within 65-minutes with reporters, Pope Francis explained his lack of surety at least seven times with phrases like: “I don’t understand it very well”; “I don’t know if it’s true”; “It’s an error of mine not to think about this,”; “If I make a mistake, with a bit of shame I ask forgiveness and go forward”; “I don’t want to say something wrong” and “one sentence can be manipulated.”
I appreciate the humility on economic topics, but I could have told you “I don’t know.” (I only found out what a mortgage was last year at the age of 35.)
But as to far-reaching theological statements of Pope Francis, let me say only say that I’m tired of semi-orthodox theologians and bloggers telling us that Pope Francis didn’t really mean what Pope Francis said. It was fair to give that odd grammatical clean-up team in Rome (and the neo-con Catholic blogs in the USA) a bit of modification-leeway at the beginning of his Pontificate. But now the liberals are probably right about one thing: Pope Francis means very much what he says, and he believes what he promotes. If a man should be taken at his word, shouldn’t the Pope? In pre-kindergarten, monitors would make peace between children, saying things like “Frenchy didn’t mean what he said…” Pope Francis means what he says. He is an adult who officially sits on the seat of Peter. The Pope (like St. Thomas Aquinas) has always been called to be the interpreter of the Faith, not the interpreted.
We must respect the Pope, but that doesn’t mean everything the Pope says is without error, as the Holy Father readily admits. John Allen points out that for a Pope’s words to be considered infallible, there are three requirements outlined by Vatican I that must be met with precision for a Pope to make an infallible ex-cathdra decision:
- It pertains to faith and morals.
- It does not contradict Scripture or Divine Revelation.
- It’s intended to be held by the whole Church.
No such doctrinal proclamation has ever been made by Pope Francis, or any Pope for that matter since 1950.