Avoid despair over Church problems, even those made worse by the Pope.

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jul 11, 2017

Over at onepeterfive.com, Maike Hickson reports some (alleged) details surrounding Pope Francis’ decision not to renew the term of Gerhard Cardinal Müller as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Nobody knows whether these details are authentic. Indeed, if you read the piece carefully, you will also see that nobody knows what, if anything, these details really mean.

We have a remarkable tendency to interpret according to our own prejudices, offering noble interpretations for those we like, and ignoble ones for those we don’t. This is one reason CatholicCulture.org tries very hard, even when raising questions, not to assume motives that cannot be proved. But my point here is not to question the story, but rather the responses to it.

If you scan through the reader comments, you’ll find some condemning Pope Francis for being a “monster” and others asserting that, since he is a heretic, he cannot really be the Pope. The latter argument, by the way, has always been specious, because nobody is competent to render an authoritative judgment as to whether Pope Francis is a formal heretic who has separated himself from the Church. This theory would, if true, mean that the Magisterium of Pope Francis has lost its divine guarantee. Nothing could be more calculated to prove that Our Lord’s prayer for Peter (Lk 22:32) and His promise to be with the Church until the end of time (Mt 28:20) have failed of their purpose.

Such responses reveal the extreme danger of handling serious concerns about Pope Francis with anything less than the greatest care, and without making sure readers understand what the legitimate implications of a report are, and what they are not. But there is an even more important point than this to make, and one that we all have some control over.

I first recognized this point in an incident very early in the history of Trinity Communications, back in the dark ages, before I (not Al Gore) invented the Internet. A lady had written to me to say she was joining an allegedly Catholic group that was in formal disobedience to Rome, because she was so upset by her current liturgical and doctrinal experiences in her diocese.

She believed that she had no choice but to take this step. In a letter, she wrote: “I have no alternative. What else can I do?”

My reply was simple: “But you do have an alternative. You can suffer.”

All breaks with the Church are in large measure an effort to avoid suffering. I wonder why so many seemingly well-intentioned souls forget this grace-filled option. Why do so many seem to think that personal satisfaction and theological congeniality are necessary to salvation? We ought to know by now that only three things endure. One of them is hope, and the others have nothing to do with our personal comfort zones.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Jul. 12, 2017 6:28 PM ET USA

    Claude-ccc2991: You have it exactly right. The argument that because a pope is a formal heretic he ceases to be pope fails on two grounds: First, there is no way to make an authoritative judgment of the pope; second, it is completely unnecessary, since—as you pointed out—a pope can spout all kinds of nonsense and still be protected by the Holy Spirit from errors in the exercise of his Magisterium. Yet if it were true that a pope who appeared to some or many to be heretical, or who was secretly heretical, actually ceased to be pope ipso facto, then there would be no guarantees at all, and we would be left unable to distinguish between when the Magisterium is being exercised and when it is not, except according to our own judgment. That would indeed invalidate Our Lord's promises. God forbid that our salvation should depend solely on our own judgment!

  • Posted by: claude-ccc2991 - Jul. 12, 2017 4:39 PM ET USA

    Great principle that, no matter the cause, our calling is to suffer well. That doesn't = doing nothing (not that you said so), if there's a specific action that would charitably correct grave injustice. Perhaps I misunderstand, but disagree that the Magisterium of Pope Francis would lose its divine guarantee if he teaches heresy. He could knowingly promote faith-moral errors w/o attaching a declaration of infallibility (other popes have) & retain the divine guarantee on infallible declarations.

  • Posted by: mclom2107 - Jul. 12, 2017 4:23 PM ET USA

    Excellent article. Particularly like the advice to those who break away in despair. Have been tempted myself sometimes, but fortunately, it seems I am doing the right thing by staying :)

  • Posted by: fwhermann3492 - Jul. 12, 2017 3:43 PM ET USA

    I pray the serenity prayer a lot. It always helps. How the church is run at the top is one of those things I have no control over, so why let it disturb my peace?

  • Posted by: johnleocassidy3475 - Jul. 12, 2017 3:27 PM ET USA

    Well said Sir! Let us recall the holy words of Father Faber who pointed out that "Suffering is the greatest of the sacraments".

  • Posted by: brenda22890 - Jul. 12, 2017 6:25 AM ET USA

    Thank you again, Jeff, for grounding some of my responses. I do sometimes verge on despair of this Pope, and wonder how the Church got here.

  • Posted by: Universal - Jul. 12, 2017 5:14 AM ET USA

    Totally agree, Jeff! When in doubt over somebody, choose suffering instead of self-righteousness. So much unnecessary and painful separation (and i.e. useless suffering) could b avoided.

  • Posted by: normnuke - Jul. 11, 2017 11:34 PM ET USA

    Not long ago in a fit of exasperation over the newest murky embarrasasment coming out of the mouth of our Pope I took my concern to Confession. The priest almost skewered me with the flat statement "The Pope is God's problem, not yours" Helps my prayer life no end.

  • Posted by: bill.mureiko5646 - Jul. 11, 2017 9:22 PM ET USA

    Just read this in de Lubac: "Catholic obedience, in its most common form" is to submit to badly exercised authority within the Church: "its inevitably paradoxical character makes it harder to accept willingly, and it inflicts its pain on us at a far deeper level of our being. Yet it is at the same time a source of joy. By humbling us 'under the mighty hand of God' it prepares us for the 'time of visitation.'"

  • Posted by: jimr451 - Jul. 11, 2017 7:47 PM ET USA

    Perfect response, and good reminder to us all.

  • Posted by: winnie - Jul. 11, 2017 6:31 PM ET USA

    Thid is your best analysis yet-THE alternative, suffering. John Psul ll's: "On the Christian Meanong of Suffering" has helped me appreciate the value of uniting my sufferings to Christ's.

  • Posted by: cchapman3385 - Jul. 11, 2017 4:14 PM ET USA

    Amen. Christ gave authority to the Apostles and His Successors knowing all that man would do with that authority, from the most heroic faithfulness to the most base betrayal and yet He did it. He is the Head of the Church. Authority would mean nothing if it could be lost every time someone failed to live up to the demands. It is precisely in living in accord with that authority that helps us prove our faithfulness to the one who gave it, hopefully without conforming to any false witness.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jul. 11, 2017 2:16 PM ET USA

    Thank you for the important reminder about this grace-filled option. "Take up your cross daily and follow me."