Earth to Catholics: It’s Time to Change

IMG_1762For the past week, I have noted with interest and sadness the strong negative reaction of many Catholics to Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Laudato Si. Apparently, the Pope’s call to radical conversion, not only in how we treat the Earth but also in how we deal with the economy and our fellow human beings, has made more than a few people smoking mad. It seems to have caused a particular uproar among those who classify themselves as “conservative,” leading to name calling and accusations that Pope Francis is a “socialist,” “leftist,” or even worse, the Antipope.

Last week I wrote a blog entitled, “Why I Remain Catholic,” which centered primarily on the great gift of Christ in the Eucharist. There wasn’t enough space in that blog to elaborate upon the second major reason that I remain Catholic, but now seems like an opportune time to expound upon that theme. The second reason I remain Catholic is the because of the authority of the Church, which was instituted by Christ for our salvation, our protection, and our good. What a breath of liberating, expansive air it was to discover and submit to the authority that Christ instituted on earth to speak and act in His stead—the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, over which Pope Francis presides.

In “Why I Remain Catholic,” I mentioned that when I was a Protestant, I witnessed two church splits and an ego-showdown between pastors, all in five short years. Some of this division was over doctrine, but much of it was over money, posturing and pride. I personally experienced the unhappy result of having no one who was ultimately in charge, as well as the anarchy to which it leads, as various people with varying opinions competed for dominance in the church. Difference of opinion? Start a new church. Another conflict? Split again. Tragically, this scenario plays itself out over and over again in the Protestant world, hence the vast multitude of denominations.

When I returned to the Catholic Church, it took me a while (okay, years!) to become inculcated in a new way of thinking. That “new way” included coming to believe that a higher authority exists than my own set of opinions, my own interpretation of the Bible, or even my pastor’s interpretation of the Bible, for that matter. It also involved accepting the idea that Jesus Himself established the Catholic Church and its governing hierarchy. The “new way” then involved placing myself in submission to this authority with humility and trust, a wildly radical change for me, not to mention a profoundly counter-cultural maneuver. (I was famous for saying: “I’ll never place myself under the authority of some man,” echoing the voice of popular culture.)

Embracing this uniquely Catholic way of viewing reality grounded me in something so much bigger than myself, namely two thousand plus years of history, Tradition and doctrinal consistency, along with two millennia of papal leadership which continues to this day. While it may seem like blind stupidity to place oneself under the authority of the Church, untold thousands (maybe millions) of Catholic converts and “reverts” like me have found that it is precisely this leap of faith that, paradoxically, leads not to bondage, but to freedom, joy and peace. Submission and assent are part and parcel of what it means to be Catholic, both of which are sorely lacking in the attitudes of today’s Catholic pundits who claim to know more than the Pope, and in fact, more than Holy Spirit, Who guided Pope Francis’ election to the papacy.

But back to the Pope’s encyclical. While an encyclical is not an infallible teaching instrument, it should nonetheless be received with an attitude of reverence, respect and assent. Furthermore, a spirit of humility toward and trust in this exercise of the Pope’s teaching authority is called for and should be expected among Catholics, instead of open dissent against the Pope, his leadership and his guidance.

When did it become vogue for Catholics to challenge every word that comes forth from the Pope’s mouth, encouraging division, rancor, and outright defiance, instead of unity, obedience and just some plain old respect?  It seems that our family pundits have been formed more by Jerry Springer and shock T.V. than by Catholic spirituality, a chief mark of which is unity. And why are people so darn angry in the first place? In short, because Pope Francis is challenging us to change. To change our way of thinking and living and consuming for a return to the simplicity of the Gospel. To change the way we treat the world and its people by ceasing to regard them merely as objects of consumption. And to change the way we interact with nature that we may again realize that we are not its lords, but its stewards. The specifics of the encyclical you may find therein. But its message in no uncertain terms calls each and every one of us to conversion—and apparently that really stings.

It reminds me of the reaction the Pharisees had to the message of Jesus, for which they crucified the Lord. It calls to mind the reaction of King Herod to the message of John the Baptist, over which Herod cut off his head. The time has come for a renewal in the fundamental attitudinal disposition of the faithful—in those who claim to be Catholic, and especially in those who claim to be more Catholic than the Pope. How can we expect to evangelize and transform the secular world when we refuse to be transformed ourselves?

So what’s the bottom line? It ain’t rocket science, and it ain’t about climate change. Instead, it is pointedly about attitude change, about personal change, about heart change.

Earth to Catholics: It’s time to change.

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4 Responses to Earth to Catholics: It’s Time to Change

  1. I’d also point out that in Laudato Sii, only the natural biological heterosexual family has a low enough carbon footprint in procreation to be allowed. Only an authentic human ecology is allowed- no room for gay marriage, contraception, or divorce, all of which are part of the culture of waste.

    • Thank you, Thoedore. I think Pope Francis would agree that human sexuality, as intended by God and taught by the Catholic Church, excludes contraception and gay marriage. No where has he suggested otherwise. Divorce is a modern tragedy that has affected half of the families in America today. Better evangelization, better catechesis on faith and morals, and better formation for sacramental marriage would all help remedy the crisis surrounding marriage and the massive cultural crisis we are facing on all fronts. God bless! Judy

  2. Janet Baker says:

    Dear Judy,

    Please allow me a contrary opinion, writer to writer and Catholic to Catholic. Writers enter ideas into existing arguments, and that includes encyclicals. The dominant question in the environmental movement is about the role of humanity in climate change. It has two parts. One is whether we, not natural physical forces, are causing any change in climate; the other is subsequent, and that is whether humanity must drastically reduce its presence. The latter has enormous implications for Catholics, because our traditional teaching and with the Eucharist at the very heart, at the very core of our Faith, has been that all marriages should be open to all life that result from sexual relations.

    Laudato si has entered that discussion, and it did not reaffirm the traditional Catholic teaching and it did allow that questions of population ‘must be addressed’ (I’m paraphrasing). Since the encyclical does not do the addressing head on, we are left with the present winners of the debate, which I can assure you, you must know this, are those who give incredulous glances (the liberals chief arguing tool) to those who dare to disagree that population control is absolutely necessary. Those voices dominate the debate. So when the Holy Father urges us to change, what do you think is the cognitive take-away? What do readers hear? Surely you must not believe they hear, let us follow even more obediently the teaching of Humanae Vitae! At the very very least, the encyclical leaves that open to question.

    This is not a small issue. This question impacts our economy, as supernatural debates always impact the natural society (including the Eucharist!); it really is the only question impacting our economy, as a Catholic you will be sympathetic, I hope, to the alarm raised by demographers around the world regarding the fertility rate! That Francis would leave this feature in a vague status is to give the momentum to those who wish us to change to a world-wide, enforced version of China’s one-child policy, either official or unofficial (as in the US).

    Furthermore, the failure of the encyclical to address the economics of the situation leave us with the voice that presently has the momentum in that area, and that is the voice for socialism. Surely you realize its ascent in the US? Surely you realize its ascent in Europe at this very moment, regarding Greece? That it is a failed theory, totally crashed, this is irellevant to liberals. Che lives in their hearts (like a lingering infection).

    Perhaps, you will say, can he offer a solution in that area? Perhaps it is his role to criticize the failure of either of the world’s present ‘solutions’ to our economic problems? I mean capitalism or socialism, the kind of capitalism that is presently demanding its payment from Greece, or socialism, the kind that is shouting, Forgive the debt, you meanies! Forgive the debt! When the cry should be, of course, and Francis could have led it, Debts must be honored or society falls, but change the economy to make it possible for people to work and own again.

    There is a third way, not the two false options we are being offered! It lies in the tradition Francis trashes every time he gets the chance. It lies in the restoration he disavows. We must first restore God to our nations. He could have said that, so easily. Not secularism. The Christian God, Francis’ God and our God. Then he could have pointed us toward the economics of the Catholic states, which were 180 degrees different from the economy imposed by the Protestant Rebellion, and whose effects, the final effects, are are suffering now. And how we are suffering. How the poor are suffering now, what they never suffered under a Catholic economy.

    Francis could have said all that, but he left us with that vague (oh so sweet, isn’t it adorable?) demand for change, and it will end just where Obama’s is ending (it was the same platform, do you remember? And do you like where it took us?), with the destruction of visible Catholicism on the Earth. That is the devil’s politics and you may be sure it the devil at work here.

  3. Janet,
    Thanks for your comments. Yes, we must disagree on the message of the encyclical. On your first point, Pope Francis says that a combination of factors has caused the environmental devastation we are witnessing around the world. These include natural physical forces and a number of other factors that are indeed man-made, including emissions from fuel consumption and deforestation, just to name two. It’s a complicated reality for which he doesn’t claim to know the full explanation. But he is clear on the fact that we have a God-given responsibility to use the earth’s resources prudently and respectfully. That shouldn’t be new news to us. On your second point, as to “whether humanity must drastically reduce its presence,” nowhere does Pope Francis suggest population control or anything like it. Nowhere does he suggest that we deviate from the Church’s teaching on human sexuality or human life. He builds on the body of Catholic teaching already given to us be previous popes and the Church’s Magisterium, inviting us to become better stewards of the Earth and its resources and more conscious of our obligation to care for our fellow human beings. Is this socialism or Christianity? My reading of the encyclical says it is Christianity. The Church, through her popes, has already condemned both socialism and unbridled capitalism. Orthodoxy lies in the mean between the two extremes. Yes, Obama called for change (whatever that meant). But Jesus also called for change. It’s called metanoia, conversion, change. That’s what Pope Francis is calling us to. And in my opinion, WE NEED IT! God bless!