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Catholic controversy and serenity of faith

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Nov 07, 2014

We have just gone through a month or so of rather heated controversy in the Church, primarily surrounding the Synod of Bishops. This was amply reflected in our writings and discussions here. Sometimes tensions ran high. In some quarters they are still running high.

For example, in the last eighteen hours I’ve received two wild emails from registered users in response to the article I posted yesterday entitled Bergoglio’s List: Pope Francis and political oppression in Argentina. I mentioned this article in a fundraising message and stated that Pope Francis had been heroic in his response to the Argentinian crisis.

One lady wrote, “PLEASE DO NOT SEND ANY MORE MESSAGES. UNPOPE FRANCIS IS DESTROYING THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, ALL BY HIMSELF. HE IS A HERETIC. GOD FORGIVE HIM!” About the same time, a man on our list wrote: “Who? the 6th pope of the 2nd-vaticanic church? I don't think so.”

If you’ve ever wondered where I get my crazy ideas about what people are thinking, now you know. The more important point is that even those of us who keep ourselves better in hand are prone to anxiety about one issue or another.

Those who read Scripture or study Church history ought to know that membership in the Church is not a picnic. There will always be dangers, tensions, alarms, and misunderstandings. None of us, as members of the Body of Christ, ever measures up to the high standards of the Church as Bride of Christ. Moreover, each age has its own general deficiencies, and there is no question that the great struggle of the past fifty years has been to overcome secularism inside and outside the Church through authentic renewal and a powerful New Evangelization.

We can also see that the laity are more involved in Church controversies than at any other time in history, with little or no training in how to handle the pressure. Even beyond that, the ubiquity of media in our time tends to engulf us in a rising sea of confused ideas. It is sometimes hard to find even a tiny island of peace.

The Serenity of Faith

St. Catherine of Siena, whom I love, would have said that peace can be found only with Christ in a kind of monastic cell—not the physically private sleeping place in an actual monastery, but the space in the center of our souls, purged of worldly attachments, where we must learn to abide in Christ. This is the secret of the serenity of faith, and while all of us lose our serenity at times, frequent agitation is a classic sign of the need for spiritual growth.

There are a variety of things to consider in developing this spiritual serenity. I will present seven of them, to make a Biblical perfect number.

The first two are taken from the very content of our Faith, points of doctrine which ought to reassure us. Number one is Christ’s promise to be with the Church until the end of time, so that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Put another way, the wise man who builds his home on rock need not fear the storm. Those in the Church have a firm foundation. The Church cannot be swept away, and neither can her members, if they keep within.

Number two is the Catholic understanding of Divine Providence. Nothing—absolutely nothing—happens outside of God’s Providential plan. For His own good purpose, He has either ordained or permitted everything that happens. There are no coincidences, and there is no evil out of which He cannot bring good. Worry, as Our Lord repeatedly explained, is useless. Worse still, it is rooted in a lack of Faith.

Virtues

The next three considerations revolve around the virtues we must always exercise in controversy. My third item is humility. None of us sees reality whole. Our perceptions and judgments are all skewed in various ways. In most cases we are not even called upon to make any sort of definitive judgment. For these reasons, the humble person, while firmly committed to the truth, always proceeds cautiously, recognizing in himself the possibilities of mistaken perception, erroneous judgment, and exceeding his brief.

Fourth, and in the same vein, we are required by the virtue of charity to be as generous as possible in assessing the faults, and especially the motives, of those with whom we disagree. The ideas and actions of others should always be given the most generous interpretation possible. Even if we must resist or answer some error, we should strive to present our opponents in the best possible light, discerning what is good in their position.

We also need to recognize how much we depend on God to practice such virtues, to strengthen our faith, and to overcome with grace the weaknesses of our human nature. When we find ourselves excessively perturbed, agitated, stressed or angry, we must recognize that this does not come from God—as all the saints and doctors of the Church attest. The fifth point, then, is prayer. We need to retire from the fray for a bit, and place these things before Our Lord.

Such considerations are powerful aids against useless agitation, not to mention verbal sins.

Practical Reflections

Let me make just two more suggestions, one supernatural and one natural. Sixth, then, is our need to remember how short this life is as compared with how long we will have to do good if we live in Christ. It was the Little Flower, I think, who said she would spend her eternity in Heaven doing good on earth. Just so. We must do what we can here below, but if we truly put on Christ, we can continue to do even greater good after we die. Spiritually, we must never be “in a rush”. It is even true that prayers after the fact are heard before it is “too late”, for our eternal God is outside time.

Finally, my seventh point is a natural one. When we get wound up we tend to obsess over things, including perhaps over the news and commentary on CatholicCulture.org. Prudence demands that we take periodic breaks from the things we find upsetting, in order to find genuine recreation in activities that we enjoy. This too, my very dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is a part of spiritual wisdom.

For we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose (Rm 8:28).

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: marianjohn7861 - Nov. 08, 2014 9:53 AM ET USA

    from meditation in The Word Among Us July/August 2014 issue: an idol is anything that we allow to influence our thoughts, emotions, and actions more than it should. Tricky idols, don't appear that. Just try to be aware of the thoughts that grip your imagination, see where they lead you. Try to redirect thoughts making you more agitated or self-focused. Where you find fear or gridlock in your heart, take it to your heavenly Father. Remember that he sent his Son to give you freedom and peace!

  • Posted by: dowd9585 - Nov. 08, 2014 4:36 AM ET USA

    Good advice Jeff. It is so easy to jump on Pope Francis for some of the things he says as I have certainly done. However, when doing so I am left with an empty feeling that when something is just torn down nothing is left. I am now of the opinion that the Cardinals are the ones who should correct Pope Francis if that needs to be done. After all they are the ones who elected him.

  • Posted by: johnk64 - Nov. 07, 2014 7:39 PM ET USA

    I agree with all Dr. Mirus has said. It may be helpful to read & hear Cardinal Burke himself assess the current situation. He has definite opinions, but seems rather serene. Here is an excerpt from his recent talk in Vienna: http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2014/11/burke-in-vienna-on-synods-midterm.html#more And here is an audio of his Vienna talk: http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2014/11/burke-in-vienna-audio.html#more