I have been reflecting on my journey through the seminary and the question continues coming up from others who are somewhat suspect of the contemporary seminarians around the Western World. There are some who have been pushing a progressive theology that has developed in an autonomous way, not only disjunctive of the magisterium but also from the last two thousand years of tradition.
Often times this type of progressive theology dwells in the realm of ambiguity, because if it does not explicitly or obviously contradict magisterial teaching it cannot be condemned easily. Ambiguity is probably one reality that has harmed the Church the most, and unlike many rigid Traditionalists, I do not believe it is the result of the Vatican II Council.
Vatican II is undoubtedly one of the greatest councils that has ever been introduced to the Church, but what people celebrate is not what it taught, but rather that debate occurred. People call this at times “the spirit of Vatican II,” but we do not celebrate debate, in fact while it is necessary at times, its fruit is far more a reason to rejoice. But alas, people have suspended the Church to debate things that have been “definitively” decided. Once you put one infallible doctrine in question, you necessarily place them all into question because you implicitly challenge the authority that legitimately defined them as such. This places all dogma and all doctrine under the realm of skepticism, leaving it up to preferential judgment rather than faith. This is always the result of treating God like an idea rather than a real person. One can debate and play with an idea, but when dealing with a real person or persons, offering conjecture about who they are according to our preference is simply just offensive. Vatican II is over, its fruit is discovered in the documents, and the lack of fruit after Vatican II is the result of not implementing what the Council taught.
Ambiguity realistically is the result of a lack of coherent thought, and every human being is guilty of it. For instance, Jesus often referred to ambiguity as a sort of lukewarm spirit, where we become content with having one foot in the kingdom of God, and the other one lodged in our own pride. In many ways every person who sins finds themselves tangled into a degree of this, with the exception of being “content.” Meaning that those who are genuinely seeking to live a life that says, absolutely, “yes” to everything about God’s will despite human weakness, is not to be considered lukewarm. But those who attempt to bring some sort of reconciliation between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan are seeking an exaggerated and twisted notion of love and mercy.
To be clear, one must always seek to reconcile a sinner to God, but one ought to never reconcile sin to God, since the two stand in direct opposition to each other. The very act of reconciling a sinner to God is purging him or her of that sin which separates us from each other in the marriage with God we were created for. To be content with ambiguity is ultimately to be content with a relationship with God that will never survive His judgment. We are either for him or against him, we cannot serve both God and mammon, and the goats will be separated from the sheep.
Ambiguity therefore cannot survive God’s judgment because God seeks simplicity of heart, a heart like the Virgin who says yes to God’s will without adding conditions and escape hatches in case it requires sacrifice and blood. As I earlier stated, the greatest force in the Church that allows dissent to continue is the fact that it never admits it is actually dissent. It is difficult to condemn an organization that operates through canonical “loop-holes,” always seeking an interpretation out of the law itself. Now it is far more respectable for someone to say definitively that they disagree with the Church’s teaching, because at least they are not pretending to be something they are not. Just as the man who seeks riches to accomplish happiness is far more respectable than a man who is pious by day and treacherous at night. Why? Because the first man will journey down that road and find it never brings fulfillment and eventually seek after what actually does bring happiness. This man seeks it with everything he is. But the man of ambiguity will never overcome his blunder as he walks through grace like a revolving door, in and out, in and out. He is content with never giving anything 100 percent of his effort, being satisfied with the bare-minimum or what the documents on the New Evangelization call the “status-quo” or “business as usual.”
The more ambiguous the Church is in its presentation of the teaching of the Church the more irrelevant it becomes, the less evangelical. Further, it presents the Church with a sort of low-self esteem, refusing to ever draw the line in the sand (standards), always meeting people where they are, but saying: “Stay there. No one is perfect.” Rather than presenting the Gospel message which after the gift of mercy involves saying, “Get up and sin no more” we say, “You will never overcome sin, sit down, and affirm yourself.”
This realistically denies our Christian dignity given to us at baptism which configures us more to the likeness of Christ. Christ did not seek to honour His Father in a half-hearted way. Everything was about his Father, and in our salvation, he sought to share His Father with us. It was the greatest gift He could give us in the Spirit. As members of Christ it is a scandal to seek honouring the Father in a half-hearted way (with contentment).
The Magisterium of the Church is the voice of Christ in the world, and a conscience that is not obedient to this Magisterium is either misinformed or obstinate. The only way to avoid this conclusion is to redefine what the magisterium is (or perhaps conscience). Perhaps an apathetic “rolling of the eyes” would suffice, but it would lack any sort of integrity to the Catholic Church’s teaching landing such a person right outside of communion with the Holy Church.
You see, seminarians these days are faithful in an “absolute way” to the magisterium (for the most part) because there is this genuine sense of honouring Christ through His body which speaks infallibly through the Magisterium of the Church. So lets apply this to real life for a moment.
Why would a non-faithful (to the magisterium/Christ) person attend a seminary when the end result is making a promise to celibacy, obedience to a Bishop, and strive to lead a life of simplicity? To most liberals, the notion of wearing a habit, celibacy, and most of all obedience (that isn’t regularly negated by the exception-becoming-the-norm of dismissing the Bishop as a legitimate authority), is viewed as a tyrannical, oppressive and limiting establishment of code and ethics.
Furthermore, it goes without saying that one generally tends to swim with the current, and those who have weak faith would probably not swim against the culture which prizes personal liberties over surrender to objective truth defined by God rather than our own attempt to appropriate truth to ourselves.
Today most young men entering deep into their faith are tired and frustrated, and in fact hurt, by ambiguity that says nothing more than: you are called to nothing great. Seminarians today would not enter into the seminary unless Obedience, Celibate-Chastity, and a life of poverty/simplicity where perceived as Evangelical, an expression of zeal for God. The same threefold Evangelical Counsels that have been neglected in years past, have led to a need for a New Evangelization.. Convents have been closing as nuns and brothers own vehicles, plasma screen TVs. The scandal of a Rectory that has leather couches, huge-TV screens, bars that seem to be stalked quite well, a Nice cars in the garage, and the list continues. Rather than following in the footsteps of the Patron of priests who guts the rectory and restores beauty to the common-space (the Church), we as priests and religious live in luxury. We all know how celibate-chastity has not been embraced, but beyond the sexual scandal is the scandal of looking at celibacy as something oppressive rather than a spiritual gift that draws us closer to God through sacred solitude. Becoming bitter or envious of married couples, or bitter and frustrated with the doctrine presented by John Paul II called Theology of the Body all bring to the front a serious problem which is the denial that Christ is the bride-groom of the Church. We would rather marry our idols than God. And finally disobedience which really needs no explanation, there are tons of examples all over the place of this. Although disobedience is often labeled falsely as following one’s own conscience – that topic alone deserves a whole other blog and perhaps a few books; I suggest reading Pope Benedict’s book “On Conscience” for more clarity.
The Irony is this, I have just listed three very important things: the Evangelical Counsels. Is it any wonder that we are faced with a need for a “New-Evangelization?” Is it any wonder that faithful orders which take these Counsels seriously are growing? I have heard it said that this will just “naturally work its way up north” but that is nonsense. God’s grace is born of faithfulness, and if we are really honest with ourselves, the communities that continue to grow, the seminarians that flourish, are those which at the end of the day seek Christ through Obedience, Chastity and Poverty of heart in a radical fashion.
The reason for the fruitfulness is simple – if you seek obedience to God’s will, it implies that good things will happen, since God and his will are both supremely good. Second, that if we are celibate and chaste it implies that we will have a greater and supernatural union with God that becomes a sign of hope pointing others away from their idols but rather for the sake of the Kingdom of God. And thirdly, if we are poor and detached from the world we will find ourselves enjoying the freedom of the Gospel which enables us to seek God first, and solidarity with the poor, where Christ is found in a supreme way. This therefore means that the New Evangelization is not about apologetics, Facebook and programs: its about conversion. And this conversion applies to both the clergy as much as it applies to the laity. (Pounds chest)
Many may not appreciate a lick of what I said, but frankly I just do not care anymore. This is simply the truth, and while a lot more nuances could be added, I would prefer to deal within the realm of theological common-sense first, before over-complicating issues to the point of ambiguity. We have turned far too much into grey, making exceptions the norm and obedience, when easy, commendable.
To those threatened by this growth in the Church, I can only invite you back to grace and a zealous desire to be a Catholic called to greatness: it is in you, and it is never too late to take up your cross and follow him right to the end. Strive with us, because while we all fall short of the glory of God, by his grace all things are possible.
Peace and blessings,