On the Pope, Prudential Judgments, and Responsibility/Irresponsibility


There are a great many people who have opinions on how best to solve whatever the current crisis may be. (Very honestly, I know too little about whatever crisis people are talking about to make any informed comment whatsoever.) Many would probably like to be advisors to the Vatican, and I applaud them for their willingness to advance and defend opinions I can only just begin to understand.

However, one of the great Spiritual Mothers of the Carmelites, St. Teresa of Avila, has some better advice for me, which I have found enormously helpful in these crises--obedience. Obedience is one of the very hardest things in the world--particularly when our judgments on matters that are open to dispute differ. And yet, it is at this time that obedience may be at its most important.

God, for whatever reasons He may have, has placed over us a hierarchy of people who have authority in spiritual matters. In all matters touching on faith, these people are our leaders. Now, this is not to say that if someone suddenly did something in direct defiance of Scripture, Tradition, or sanity, that I would blindly follow their lead. I am not becoming a Pelagian or a Nestorian (I sometimes think the poor bishop was terribly maligned, but I leave that to others) any time soon. However, if the Pope determines that a given Bishop will stay in office, then I assume he has done so for very good reason and that Bishop will remain. Would I like a Charles Chaput in every Bishopric? No question. Will the Pope give me one? Probably not, for more reasons that I will not go into (considering I am already following La Madre in the tacking-on of endless digression).

But Teresa of Avila was adamant in her insistence on obedience. She said that you explicitly and implicitly follow the law of those who are over you spiritually and you pray continually to God about the matter. If it is in His Will to change the heart of your director (or priest, or Bishop, etc.) He will do so. If for some reason it is not, it is better to serve obediently.

Now I'm certain La Madre would not countenance anything that went explicitly against all of Church History and teaching--if, say a Bishop came out and said that all pro-life teaching was null and void. But when it came to matters of individual judgment, she encouraged us in spiritual matters to abandon our own and cling to that of our superiors.

Why might this be? I think it is part and parcel of humility. That is, we abandon ourselves and prefer the judgment of those God has set over us. (Or in the cases of the two diocese that I have recently lived in, the lack of any stated judgments.) Thus, when I became a Carmelite, I promised obedience to the Carmelite Superiors in the Province and in the Order. When they produce a document or revise the rule, my life and my choices are guided by that. I may not like some of the statements or provisions they have made (in point of fact, that is not the case, I delight in the recently promulgated revision to the rule), but I have promised obedience, and that promise is a promise not just to the superiors of the Order, but to God Himself.

What is the point of all of this? I suppose it is to confess what will probably be viewed as irresponsibility on my part. But in the matter of prudential judgments I prefer the judgments of my superiors, in the Order and in the Church. If the Pope says it is wrong, then it is wrong. If the Bishops say one thing or another, that really matters and affects me where I live, then I should prefer their judgment to my own--even in matters that are open to discussion. So on matters of controversy, I try as much as possible to follow our magnificent Pope. I trust his prudential judgments as worthier than my own for several reasons--(1)surely some of that guidance of the Holy Spirit that protects the Church rubs off on other matters of opinion (perhaps not, but a man of deep prayer seems reliable in more than the statements recognized as infallible), (2) deference to age, experience, and intellect--this good man has all three, hands down, over me, (3) track record.

So, when the Pope makes a decision, I do not consider that I have the wherewithal to second guess him. Ditto for most of what the Bishops have to say. When one makes a blatantly idiotic remark on a subject outside his purview, we're talking another matter. But in all matter affecting the Church, the better part seems to be simple obedience and constant prayer for God's guidance of the hierarchy. I'll leave the espousal of differing opinions to others. I'll also say, that in matters where there is some doubt it is important for people who are qualified in the matter to express their opinions. However, until such opinions trickle up to the hierarchy and effect a change, I will decide obedience to the opinion given and not trouble myself with things that doubtlessly beyond me. (Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time knows how unreliable my own judgments and thought can be on disputed issues.)

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on June 22, 2003 8:20 AM.

Thanks to All Who Responded was the previous entry in this blog.

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