from Romans 14:
1: As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions.
2: One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables.
3: Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him.
4: Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand.
Now, this would seem the perfect opportunity to jump back on my soapbox of a few days ago and talk about judging, particularly with verses later in the letter; but, I promise you, that is NOT the point of this entry--at least not in essence. While it will be about judging, I will not contend as I did the other day.
One of the problems we often face in Catholicism is strong difference of opinion on matters where there is liberty. For example, I have yet to see a liturgical dance in North America that I thought anything less than abhorrent and distracting. However, except for provisions in liturgical documents that I do not claim to know or understand, I see nothing wrong in theory with liturgical dance. I recall at the canonization of Juan Diego half of St. Blogs went apoplectic over the fact that the Holy Father allowed liturgical dance as part of the celebration. I had no opinion on the matter whatsoever, assuming that the Holy Father knew what he was doing and why. So here is a place where we can disagree amicably over our preferences and interpret the documents to come to a correct understanding of Church teaching on the matter.
On the discipline of an unmarried Priesthood--I am largely indifferent to the matter. I know of married Catholic Priests (usually converts whose faculties have been recognized, restored, or whatever the term one uses for this procedure).They have made perfectly fine priests. Just as with deacons, the wives must consent to this and understand the nature of the obligation--but many wives live similarly stressed lives for different or lesser rewards. I understand that it is a long and valued tradition of the church and that there are certain advantages. But if the Pope were to declare tomorrow that married men would be eligible for the priesthood, I wouldn't bat an eyelash. And in fact, I would be praying hard to hear what the Lord had to say to me in the matter. As that is not the present discipline, I choose not to worry about it.
The issue of female priests has been settled for me. I do not fully understand all the arguments for the fact that it may not be so settled as I think--they are subtle and turn on points of canon law and other issues I do not understand, and frankly don't much care about. But, at the same time, I don't look down upon those who think there should be female priests. I think they may be incorrect, but often they have their hearts in the right place--so it seems to me.
As brothers and sisters in Christ, it is important to pick our battles very carefully. We should not be judging one another on doubtful issues. For example, everyone knows by now that I make a very close approach to pacifism, if I am not actually a pacifist. A verse a bit later in the chapter addresses this directly.
22: The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God; happy is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves.
23: But he who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
In other words, even if I acknowledge the teaching of the Church on just war, were I to participate in any action of a war, I would be condemned by my own conscience if not by the Church. Thus, conscience may add to what the Church teaches, but it is never free to take from it. That is, the conscience must be conformable to the teaching of the church, not vice versa.
I have spent much time thinking about how one should respond to "Catholics for Kerry" and other such enterprises. My conclusion is that outright error should be corrected, healthy debate should be pursued to determine the truth of the matter of what the Church teaches, but that no Catholic has the right, duty, or responsibility to accuse another of being less than Catholic for his or her stand on this issue. I personally find some amazing flaws in the reasoning used to support Mr. Kerry's candidacy, some of which may be culpable, but most of which are simply bad reasoning, or reasoning based on false premises. I will not question Bishops who refuse to extend communion to Mr. Kerry--this is an extremely important part of the teaching mission of the Church. By refusing communion they say not that they are ousting Mr. Kerry, but that he has chosen to remove himself from our communion. So too with others of different communions who are not allowed to partake of our Eucharist. They may not have chosen this individually, but it has been chosen for them historically.
The meaning of Romans for me is that I need to think very carefully about how I look at others' positions on issues. For example, a "Catholic for Choice" may be a very good Catholic in all other dimensions, but has a woefully warped and misinformed conscience on this one matter. Too often, we are ready to deep-six such people as beyond the reach of redemption. This passage from Romans is a slap in the face to those who would do so. "How dare you judge between servant and master." The person is in error, but they have the ability to be moved to the correct view and should never be treated as "sub-Catholic." Neither should their authentically anti-Catholic teaching be allowed to stand unassailed. Our duty is to welcome the misinformed and to correct all his or her error. That may be one of the hardest things in the world.
And strangely, it is so much more difficult with matters that are significantly less serious. Think about how riled some people become when someone dares to suggest that there might be a married priesthood and it might help resolve the vocation crisis. (I'm exceedingly dubious that it would have had any effect whatsoever on the scandals of recent years.) There are good reasons for opposing a married priesthood and those cases may be made. But there is nothing in Catholic Doctrine that requires an unmarried priesthood. So too with a great many issues. If we simply allow people the freedom they have been given under God to make these choices in dubious matters and come together in a more certain unity on the issues that really count--for example abortion and euthanasia (about which there can be no doubt as the Church teaching is abundantly clear and straightforward). Or more importantly in the truth of Jesus Christ, crucified, died, buried, descended to Hell, resurrected, and Ascended to heaven as our Lord, Savior, and the center of our lives. These are the issues that matter. We must correct all error along the way, but the error we correct should be real error and not merely difference of opinion.