When I woke up on August 2 to a tweet that Pope Francis had made changes to paragraph 2267 of the Catechism, I knew that I was in for an exhausting phase in my post-conversion life. Without even reading the text in full, or examining the letter to the bishops, or comparing the new wording to past documents, or digging into the historical teachings on the applicability of the death penalty for expiation of sins versus future protection of the innocent, I knew.
“Eye on the ball,” said many a Catholic in the wake of this latest controversy. To an extent, I agree with them – we must not let anything the Vatican does, no matter how egregious, distract us from dealing actively with the present homosexual sex abuse crisis. However, I argued from the beginning that this is the ball.
Pope Francis’s decision cannot be seen in isolation. It must be taken as part of the whole, and as I and many others have argued, it seems this was an obvious “test,” using an already unpopular (and to the average parishioner, irrelevant) issue to gauge how a change to the Catechism will be received. It was never about the death penalty for me. Frankly, I care little about it in the present context of my life in a country that doesn’t even employ it.
No, this is about no less than the very preservation of the authoritative nature of the Church.
The more I turn over this past event in my mind, considering the machinations of the enemies below and their various witting and unwitting helpers above, the more I realize that every bit of toxicity in the Church can be laid at the feet of the crisis of faith within the episcopacy, the clergy, and the majority of the laity.
More specifically, I see that crisis of faith reflected in the crisis of evangelism.
When people don’t have a true supernatural faith, why would they evangelize? Why would they call people to a faith that is a mere set of flimsy humanist doctrines with some Jesus? Why should they care that Pope Francis’s actions have had a real, profound impact on the souls of potential converts, when I would bet that many of them don’t even believe in the reality of eternal damnation or eternal salvation for said souls?
I wish I could show the @USCCB my DMs right now and the number of people contacting me for advice on what to think of everything going on in the Church right now. I respect each and every one of them, and I do my best to respond truthfully and accurately, but this is not my job.
— Radical Catholic (@RadicalCath) August 2, 2018
People who evangelize know there is a crisis. We know this is a crisis rivaled by only the Arian heresy. We live each day of our lives picking up the pieces, on the ground, of those earnestly seeking Our Savior.
People who don’t evangelize don’t see it, or they don’t think it extends beyond lack of Mass attendance and sex abuse scandals.
It’s really that simple. Even the neo-con JPII types who cringe at my proclaiming that Pope Francis crossed my red line with this change know there is a crisis of clarity, at the very least. I would argue that it’s largely because they evangelize. If you talk about the faith frequently, you simply cannot choose to avoid the crisis.
I have received many messages from people who have read my frustrated posts on the death penalty, people presuming that I myself am experiencing a crisis of faith due to Pope Francis’s actions, and either encouraging me in my faith (I am thankful for this – one can always use encouragement!) or seeking to tempt me toward Protestantism or back to Eastern Orthodoxy.
My initial reaction to these messages was bafflement. All of these people missed entirely the point of my frustration.
I didn’t talk about this crisis for my own sake. Nor do I enjoy the chaos within the Church, nor do I want Pope Francis’s pontificate to be a failure.
I spent so many hours researching and speaking out about this crisis because I felt that I had to for the sake of others. I care about these crises within the Church because, unfortunately, these crises in the Church have a direct impact on the safety of the precious souls I seek to help.
I know this because I evangelize every single day.
By the grace of God, I have the gift of supernatural faith. Pope Francis’s recent actions, like McCarrick’s actions, have had no impact on my belief in the fact that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, nor on my love for her. This isn’t about me. My faith is more than fine – not for anything I did, let alone deserved, but by the reception of the gift of faith from God.
Though I admit I am a bit of a Catholic wonk and find the Church politics and scandals and ecclesial minutiae interesting on a personal level, my “mission” at this point has never been to cover them in depth, and it’s simply not the best use of my time. I want to know Scripture better. I want to improve my debate skills. I want to be able to answer individual questions in a more timely fashion. I want to put more time into the things that I have found to “work” in opening people’s hearts and minds to the moving of the Holy Spirit. Not on staying up until one in the morning reading about Ott’s eight levels of theological certainty, as fascinating as it may be!
From the earliest days of my conversion, I have been given the opportunity by God to engage in the primary mission of the Church: to bring all men to saving faith in Jesus Christ. That’s what my passion is: encouraging people in their lives to seek out the good, teaching the basics of the faith to non-Christians, overcoming objections to the hard teachings of the Church from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and actively “going on the offensive” in friendly debate with our non-Catholic Christian brethren to bring them to the fullness of a life for Jesus Christ in His Church.
So it has been an exhausting couple of weeks, because instead of talking about the Eucharist and the road to Emmaus, or explaining the Protoevangelium and Mary, or discussing the Old Testament prefigurement of the papal office, I was trying to explain whether or not people have to follow the Holy Father in his latest teaching.
No pressure. It’s not as though souls are at stake or anything!
This isn’t my job, and it really does not amuse me that it has become my job due to the near total cowardice of the shepherds. I am not alone in this feeling of betrayal. This latest act was the same old story for people who have been evangelizing longer than I have. Though I have experienced some smaller scandals since my conversion (and, of course the ongoing sex abuse problems), this was the first time I had to tweet at people and tell them I could not answer whether or not they should obey Pope Francis.
It was the first time I realized that though I know for myself where the truth lies in this instance – the eternal teaching of the Church that the death penalty is morally permissible – I felt that it would be going too far out of my wheelhouse spiritually if I were to directly exhort another person to hold the same position.
It’s one thing for me to tell someone to ignore the Pope’s stupid tweets about banning guns. It’s another to tell someone to ignore the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
I am a small-e evangelist. There is a right order to the members of the Body of Christ, and I believe that my role as a laywoman should be to respectfully submit to higher authority. Heck, I want to be able to let male members of the laity take the lead over me in a lot of these matters, let alone priests and bishops!
And yet, what else am I to do? Saint Catherine of Siena, ora pro nobis.
I encourage people to read what other reputable folks have to say and prayerfully consider it, and, when appropriate, I share my own overall position on this chaotic Church to which I came home: that I will follow the eternal doctrines of the Church; be confident that one day, the mainstream documents of the Church such as the Catechism will again reflect them; and pray for the Holy Father each and every day.
We are in a time of crisis. We are in a time where we as laypeople must ask ourselves: if not us, who? While right order and submission to authority is important, we can never allow that desire to follow order to supersede our imperative to follow Christ first as the giver of authority.
So we do our best to be the simple women who stayed with Jesus during his Passion. We stay close to Our Blessed Mother. We look to Saint John – to the rare faithful, brave shepherds.
We don’t stop evangelizing the truth, any more than the early Christians did while being persecuted by the external physical enemies of Nero, Diocletian, et al. In many ways, our enemies may be of a worse sort (interior and spiritual), but at least we have the blood of our forefathers and their faith that God would give those new converts faith to appeal to.
Most of all, we pray. We beg for God’s mercy upon us that we may never lead one of His little ones astray.
We have no other choice.
Stefanie Nicholas is an unexpected Catholic convert from a (very lapsed) Greek Orthodox background. The history of the Crusades played a positive role in her faith journey, and she believes firmly that the Rosary will save the world. Readers can connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @StefMNicholas.