Disagreement with Catholic teaching is something that saints and heretics have in common. The great St. Paul himself, we read about in today’s first reading, was a dissenter and debater. But the difference between the saints and the heretics has always been in how they’ve gone about dissenting.
I’m at Blessed is She today, discussing today’s readings through the lens of Catholic dissent. But, as per usual, I had a lot to say on the subject. One of the beautiful parts of the Blessed is She devotions is that they’re short and sweet. SO, I put the first, more-theoretical half over there, and I’m putting the second, more-practical half over here.
Read this part first, then come right back.
At every step, St. Paul was agitating for change via prayer, study, and intellectual argument, rather than through disobedience, sedition, and personal sin. He didn’t claim that his conscience dictated that he should do as he pleased, and encourage others to do so. He didn’t claim that since not eating shellfish was super hard for him, HE shouldn’t have to do it.
He knew that we are one body, with one set of teaching applicable to all. What he hoped to change was a changeable matter of Church practice,
rather than an infallible teaching on a matter of faith or morals. Since he understood that some within the Church were teaching in error, he set out to correct that error, while maintaining his obedience to the pope.
What St. Paul did not do was rabble-rouse. He didn’t incite those around him to sin and rebellion. He wanted to create peace, not division, and correct, rather than exacerbate, the discord within the Church, “some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind” (Acts 15:24).
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most modern Catholic “dissent” doesn’t really live up to the term. Most modern Catholic “dissent” is just willful disobedience or lazy ignorance.
Let’s avoid that. Let’s dissent like St. Paul.
I’m what folks call a “revert.” I was baptized as an infant and raised Catholic, but without much formation. My whole family and I have been on a journey towards faithful Catholic life together. On that journey, I have encountered plenty of Catholic teaching that seemed crazy, or hard, or wrong.
There were definitely times on my journey in which I disagreed with Church teaching without understanding the whys behind that teaching. There are certainly instances throughout Church history when good faithful Catholics have mindfully and respectfully agitated for meaningful change. But there’s been a lot MORE willful ignorance and petulant disobedience. I was in the latter camp for sure. And it was NOT satisfying.
What HAS been both enlightening and satisfying is a different approach.
NOW, if I’m confused by or in disagreement with a with a teaching of the Church, here’s what I do:
Step 1: Pray about it. I ask God to help me understand that teaching.
Step 2: Keep it quiet. I ponder it in my heart, not on a soapbox. There is no sin in not understanding or in questioning. There is sin in creating scandal and leading others away from the Church. Respectful, scholarly debate with knowledgeable, faithful Catholics is one thing. Finding a bunch of people to pat me on the back as I disagree is another.
Step 3: Learn about it. I research the issue. I read the Bible and the Catechism, and the words of the saints. I consult my elders by reading faithful Catholic blogs and talking with faithful Catholic priests and trusted Catholic friends.
Step 4: Think, rather than act. I can disagree with a teaching of the Church without disobeying it. I can think Catholics have it all wrong on something, I can determine that it isn’t an infallible teaching on faith and morals, I can pray about it and read about it, I can write about it and debate it over the proper channels. I can try to get it changed, all the while without disobeying.
But I gotta say, in all my experience, I’ve never made it past Step 3. Some great saints have. Important policies and positions within the Church have been changed. We have St. Paul to thank for a Church that’s approachable for people from all over the world, and for a holy example of both dissent and obedience; a life spent going from place to place, “strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:41).
And, hey, there’s a new link up in town. Rosie from A Blog for My Mom is hosting an ALL NEW weekly link up called My Sunday Best, to replace another similar link up that had sort of run its course. If you’ve got a blog and you wore something to church today, link it up and share it with the world!
Sooooo, here we are. At Mass this morning, Mary Jane decided to try that thing from the movies where you yank the strand of pearls and they snap, sending pearls cascading towards the marble floor in slow motion, noisily skittering about, being chased by brothers. Consequently, Lulu’s accessory game is way better than mine.
And here are a couple from yesterday. You’ll never guess where we went . . .
And, have you see these cute free downloadable coloring pages from Nancy at Do Small Things With Love? SO cute. Print out these babies and preschool is taken care of!
Happy Feast of St. Joseph the Worker! This print is in the shop, if you’re looking for a quick decoration . . .
Happy Sunday all. And happy dissenting . . .