For a lapsed Catholic, Brian Moore has a good deal to tell those of us who remain staunchly within the confines of the Church:
from Cold Heaven
"I don't believe in God. I am your opposite," Marie said. "Happiness, for me, is knowing that I am in charge of my own life, that I can do as I choose. Don't you see that you're a victim, as I am a victim? What sort of love is it that's withdrawn from someone as good as you, sending you into despair? What sort of love could I possibly feel for a force which has done these things to me and to my husband?"
The room was still. The question hung in the air. Then Mother St. Jude said, "I know nothing of God's intentions. But I can tell you what St. John of the Cross has written. 'I am not made or unmade by the things which happen to me but by my reaction to them. That is all God cares about.' Do you understand, Marie?"
"No," Marie said. "No, I don't."
The old nun took Marie's hand in hers. "If Reverend Mother orders me to do something, I do it, not because I want to, or because I think it is right. I do it because she represents Christ in our community. It is Christ who commands me. St. John tells us that to do things because you want to do them or because you think they are right are simply human considerations. He tells us that obedience influenced by human considerations is almost worthless in the eyes of God. I obey--always--because God commands me." She smiled. "So I am not a victim, Marie. . . ."
In the matter of Church teaching is this our first thought? I have received a word from the Vicar of Christ on Earth--his word requires special consideration for me because it is God speaking through him. Now, it is always possible that in prudential matters a fallible human has misjudged and so might be wrong. However, I find it more likely that one who is truly seeking to follow God is more likely to be attuned to His Will even in prudential matters. That is, one who spends much time with God seems a more trustworthy guide than one who spends very little time.
However, I often see critiques of encyclicals and teachings that seem more designed to deconstruct them and make them a matter of personal preference rather than a matter for obedience. I will admit (again) that I rant and rave, but I take a certain amount of comfort from the parable in which Jesus asks which son has done the Father's will--the one who says yes and stays at home in comfort and leisure, or the one who says no, but goes out to work the fields as his Father requested. I may rant and rave, but by God's will, I am eventually able to say yes and enter those fields once again.
Accepting another's will is not easy, particularly when we've become overly used to "things as they are." But like that mysterious blue guitar of Wallace Stevens, "Things as they are are changed" when the vicar of Christ or those who wield legitimate authority over us in the spiritual realm promulgate a teaching. It is our duty and responsibility to understand a teaching from the magisterium and to the extent possible incorporate that understanding into our own way of living out the Christian vocation. And, there is a certain comfort in knowing that God has laid a special responsibility on the shoulders of those who watch over us:
Ezekiel 33:2-6, KJV
Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman:
If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people;
Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.
He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.
But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand.
If the watchman sees evil and does not identify it and people fall because of it, they fall because of iniquity, but the fault lies with the watchman. However, if he does see and reports it and we choose to ignore what he has reported, then we fail of ourselves, and he is considered innocent.
The shepherds of souls have enormous responsibilities before God. And I have no doubt that this responsibility is always made manifest. Therefore, it is not in their best interest to issue ill-conceived, inappropriate, or miscalculated teachings in the matter of faith and morals. The teachings may be insufficient at times--perhaps unclear. But knowing the terrible responsibility of the shepherding of souls, and knowing that they will account for all those they have lost, I see that the teaching of the Church is to be trusted as a faithful guide. While I may not always understand why the truth is as it is, I know that I can trust it because my obedience is to those in legitimate authority. They speak with God's voice.