“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come" Matthew 18: 6-7
On two occasions, I like every other priest, placed my folded hands in the hands of my bishop, who asked if I promised respect and obedience to him and his successors. Both times I said , "I do". No where was that respect and obedience conditional. To be honest, it is a struggle as I try to navigate ministry day in and day out. It would be easier to be disrespectful in some times, especially when playing to the crowds. It is easy to try to pass the buck to cover my own incompetence and push blame away from myself. It is a constant temptation to play the hero for a person who is confused by or in rebellion towards the Church. It is easy to dispense with teachings when I might gain some personal attention or approval. It is easy to nuance, explain away, or deceive myself into conditional obedience and respect. However, as one given care of a flock that is not mine, it is not without good reason that I obey those in authority over me. I cannot ask for that which I am unwilling to give.
Why say this? I have seen much written by clerics of the Church on the Synod on the Family. They seem to be rallying a side or playing to a loyal crowd...all in the name of defending Holy Mother Church. Some have found it within themselves to chastise the synod which has yet to put out one document. Polarizing clans fight over perceptions that the Synod Fathers want to be too this or too that. Scapegoats are being lined up for future use...pinatas being readied lest an outcome not favorable should appear. Defenders of orthodoxy versus defenders of compassion (as if the two were opposites). Social media and the blogosphere only add to the venues to which raging opinion can be bloviated. Eating this up is a wide eyed audience expecting the spectacle of it all. To what end?!
To what end indeed! Control! A Church that does what I want it to do! A Church that teaches what I want to believe! I can in my heart of hearts believe that what I want is what Christ wants. Should I be so bold! Yet in sowing the seeds of disrespect to this prelate, that bishop, that cardinal, and so forth...I must ask, "How are my actions and words in union with the four marks of the Church which we profess as a matter of faith whenever we pray the Creed?" Do my words and actions support or rend asunder the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" to which I have been ordained as a member of her clergy? If they do not, how can I have the audacity to demand unquestioning respect and obedience from my flock or partisans? In breeding discontent and conditional obedience, will I not be slain with the same sword? It is scandalous that a cleric of the Church should engage in the petty war of words so common in our political sphere!
So what of the synod? I sit back and wait. I try to understand. I don't jump to conclusions one way or the other. I know the basis of this synod is the same as all things with the teachings of the Church: understanding that there is right and wrong, but that mercy needs to be applied to heal those who are engaging in detrimental behaviors and sins. That mercy may well be pushed aside, but it is what we do. It is not mercy to condone behavior that might well jeopardize eternal life. It is not mercy to tell others to get their act together then come in. It is no secret that the topics of marriage, sexuality, and family life have become a societal war zone. It is not secret that we as a Church have demonstrably failed in preaching and teaching the depth and beauty of our beliefs. These teachings can neither be ignored nor used as weapons to beat sinners. I suspect that this is what the synod fathers are struggling with. I doubt my snapping at their heels or openly vilifying will offer any good. I do know that should I engage in that, I am openly welcoming those placed in my care to give the same disrespect.
To those engage in such behavior, I plead, stop it! You are giving scandal..even if what you are doing is well meaning. To those rallying around such talking clerical heads...perhaps prayer and mortifications for the Holy Spirit's guidance over these proceedings might be a better use of time. Our enemies laugh as we become a circular firing squad. They rejoice in our division. I know that Jesus gave Peter and His successors the keys to the Kingdom, not because of their worthiness, but because they are called to be the chief shepherd of the flock after Christ Himself. We tread into very dangerous waters when we entertain disrespect...for it is a sword that will fall on our head eventually.