Fr. J Michael Venditti

Subj: Hypocrisy in RC Church
Date: 94-06-23 16:46:37 EDT
From: Elijah

Father, I am in the process of leaving my present parish because of the over-emphasis on financial standing, and outward appearances. What can I do to get over the hurt and pain these so called "good Catholics" have caused me and my family? Please don't tell me to just pray, I do that a lot already.

Dear Elijah,

Your experiences and what you feel are not at all unique. A lot of people struggle with the things you mention. Part of dealing with this kind of situation is to recognize that we can't change those around us; we can only change ourselves. It would be nice if a welcoming and inviting sense of community could exude from every parish, but the fact is that it doesn't; and it can often be a great cross to learn to accept the human element in the Church for what it is. Every parish community will seem lacking in some respect to someone.

Our Lord make a conscious decision to entrust his Church to us, and we are simply not perfect. This is part of the mystery of the incarnation. Every week I absolve the sins of people who are much less sinful than myself. And I know that there are many people in my parish who believe I would be a better priest if I did things the way they wanted. But as long as human beings are involved, so will there be faults and flaws. That will never change; what we can change is how we respond to that.

On another note, however, I think it's also important that you take time to evaluate whether your feelings regarding the emphasis on finances in your parish are justified. People like to assume that all large institutions are rich, and the Catholic Church is very large. The fact is that the Catholic Church is in great financial trouble in this point in history, not only at the parish level but also around the world. Twice the Holy Father has convened the College of Cardinals to discuss the impoverished financial situation at the Vatican, and several dioceses in this country have filed for bankruptcy in the last few years. Here in our own parish we have twice had to ask the teachers in our parish school to survive without their monthly pay because there was simply no money left with which to pay them (and our tuition is already far above what many in our working-class parish are able to afford). People often don't realize that *all* parish expenses—electricity, water, gas, maintenance, clergy and lay staff salaries, about 2/3 the expense of running the school, and accident insurance on all buildings and property—must be paid each and every month totally from what people drop in the collection basket on Sunday. I don't know what kind of things are being said about money in your parish; but, my personal opinion is that anyone who is putting less than $10 in the weekly collection has no right to complain when their pastor talks about money.

The issue of stewardship is a very neglected part of Catholic education, and we often forget that one of the precepts of the Church is to contribute financially to her ongoing mission. The Apostles themselves struggled with this, and ultimately imposed a rather strict form of stewardship on the brethren, in which they shared all things in common. The notion of tithing, by which one contributes 10% of all his income to the Church, has it's roots in both Scripture and Tradition. The Catholic Church is the only major Christian denomination that continues to "nickel-and-dime" it's people for it's existence. And, yet, it seems the Catholics are the ones who complain the loudest when their pastors talk about money.

I don't know a lay person who has complained about money talks from the pulpit who's attitude would not change if he spent one month as a pastor.

Subj: Where Am I ?
Date: 94-06-25 01:18:05 EDT
From: Rhoda

Dear Father M.,

I am pleased to have found you here on AOL. I have so many questions. I am a Catholic, and always have been. I love Jesus, and have always felt his presence in my life.

I want, at all times to hear more of his message, and I pray often throughout the day. However, I am puzzled as to why I seem to hear it so differently than those members of my parish obviously so much more knowledgeable than I. Am I heading in the correct direction?

Although my faith is enriched by hearing, reading and understanding parts of the Bible I do not know, I have an overwhelming feeling of peace and harmony emanating from within that sustains me regardless through all.

I hear, I feel, a music, a symphony, in all my interactions. Is it possible to that I am on the correct path even though I am far less "learned" than the others in my Church?

At times I feel as if the entire point of what Jesus said is lost by so many in their attempt to "know " his message.

Thank You for Being Here ! May God bless your efforts, Rhoda

Dear Rhoda,

Probably the people you are describing as "learned" are not nearly as smart as you think they are. Religion and spirituality are subjects in which it is very easy to pretend you know a lot more than you really know. And you are correct that the message of our Lord is often missed by those who's concern for knowing about the Lord is not as important as their concern for knowing the Lord.

Of course, there's no denying that there is a lot for us to learn about the Catholic Church and her deposit of faith, but that must be in the service of a more noble goal: that of our relationship with Jesus. St. Augustine, probably the greatest theological mind the Church has produced, said that he was sure that old ladies with their beads were catapulting into heaven before him. As my old pastor used to say, "Theology is a wonderful thing, but it can't save anyone's soul." I don't believe that you have any reason to be concerned about whether you are on the right path, as long as that path leads to the Lord.

Subj: Changing scripture
Date: 94-06-26 22:22:27 EDT
From: Jerome

Dear Father,

Is it canonically correct for a Lector to change the scriptures to a more "politically correct" form? Also, is it O.K. for a Priest to read the Gospel from an "all inclusive" text?

Dear Jerome,

There are three translations (or versions) on the Holy Scriptures approved for use in public worship in the dioceses of the United States: The New American Bible; the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition; and The Jerusalem Bible. During public worship (particularly the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass) the texts of these may not be altered in any way. The new edition of the NAB has included some elements of "inclusive language," but it is not proper for a lector, priest, or anyone else to change what he finds in the text on his own authority.

Subj: Re: MB: Changing scripture
Date: 94-06-27 22:31:15 EDT
From: Jerome

Dear Father,

Thank you for replying so quickly! The standard text we use in the Archdiocese of Kansas City Kansas is the NAB. I have no objection to the inclusive elements in it. I DO have an objection when Lectors and Priests take words like "men" and such, and change it to "people" or "human beings" when the text says "men". If it is wrong to do it, then why do they still do it?

Another question, if you will indulge me... Is it O.K. for a Priest to change the word "men" to "people" in the Nicene Creed at mass?

The reason these things bother me is simple...It seems like going against the established authority to do these things. If the Magisterium decides these things are O.K., then they are O.K. with me. But to do things on one's own with no Ecclesiastical approval, just to satisfy a few "women"(?) who have obvious problems with men, and the established authority, seems like, at the very least, enabling a behavior which needs psychological treatment, at most, a departure from the faith. I am loyal to Rome. I will obey anything they say. I love my faith. It just seems to cheapen the Truth, to me somehow. Thank you for your patience in this matter, and for being here to just listen. If I have expressed any wrong attitudes, please feel free to correct me.

Thanx once again, Pax et bonum,

Dear Jerome,

About 5 years ago, the Bishops of the United States asked for, and received from Rome, permission to change the translation of the words of institution to read "...It will be shed for you and for all..." rather than "...for all men..." This was the only change authorized, and no priest, deacon, lector, or anyone else is authorized to make any other changes to the texts of the Mass as found in the Roman Missal. This obligation to be faithful to the sacred texts as they have been approved is a serious one, as was emphasized by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council: "Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See, and, as laws may determine, on the bishop" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 4 Dec 1963, #22, n1). "Therefore, no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority" (SC, #22, n3).

On a much more subjective note, remember that the debate over inclusive language is largely an American phenomenon. Certainly the debate would have no meaning at all for those that speak Latin-based languages (such as most of Europe and South America, where most Catholics live), in which every noun has a gender. If you had to use inclusive language in Spanish or Italian, for example, you wouldn't be able to talk. Oddly enough, there is no concern over inclusive language in other English speaking countries.

This has led many people to suspect that the hoopla over inclusive language is really a blind for a more substantive agenda. This becomes clear when you hear people say things like, "Jesus became a person" as opposed to "man," or "In the name of the Parent, and of the Offspring, and of the Holy Spirit." Certainly no human being exists who is not either a man or a woman—there's no such thing as a sexless person—, and Jesus clearly became a man.

But regarding your question of why priests would make liturgical innovations they are not authorized to make, I have no answer to give you. Disobedience of any kind is a phenomenon which has its roots in the interior life (or lack thereof), and is principally a disease of the soul. Such demons, said our Lord, can only be driven out by prayer and fasting.

Subj: Am I still a Catholic?
Date: 94-06-28 22:22:43 EDT
From: Nicodemus

Father, I ask your indulgence.

I have many, many problems with the Church's doctrine on Mary. To me it seems to have had its roots in superstition, and a belief on the part of the faithful that Christ is some how unapproachable. I do not question what is in people's heart, but I just cannot believe in the Assumption of Mary, Mary as co-Redemptrix, and Mary as the Queen of Heaven.

I pray on this, and read, and pray, but cannot reconcile this in my own heart.

Since I do not believe in most of what the Church teaches about Mary, does that spiritually or legally put me out of the Church?

Where do I stand? Thanks for any insight you can give.

Dear Nicodemus,

Cardinal Newman once said, "A thousand difficulties do not make a single doubt." The fact that you are praying and reading on these subjects demonstrates that you are trying to find the truth. Only you can say whether you are open to the truth, or willing to accept the authority given by Christ to his Church to define and teach it.

In the patristic literature of the early Church, both Apostolic and Sub-Apostolic, we find that four approaches were used to reason on dogmatic grounds to Mary's bodily assumption after death. The most fundamental was her freedom from sin. Since the dissolution of the body is the result of sin, and Mary was sinless, she must have been exempt from the common curse, and therefore her body did not corrupt in the grave. Moreover, she was the mother of God. So that as Christ's body took it's existence from her body, she ought to share in his bodily glorification. In present-day language this would mean that the physicomoral relationship of Mary with her Son required special participation in his resurrection before the general resurrection of mankind.

Some of the Doctors and Fathers argue from her virginity, that as her body was preserved in spotless chastity, it should not be subject to natural dissolution after death. But the most cogent reason, later on adopted by Pope Pius XII in his definition of the dogma, was the participation by Christ's mother in his redemption of the world, which you refer to as her "co-Redemptrix" quality, meaning nothing more than the fact that since Christ came into the world through Mary's "fiat" in accepting the commission from the angel Gabriel, so everything we receive from Christ comes to us, in a sense, through Mary.

From 1870 to 1940, over four hundred bishops, eighty thousand priests and religious, and more than eight million of the laity had formally signed requests asking for a definition of Mary's bodily Assumption into heaven. In proclaiming the dogma, Pius XII gave credence to an understanding of tradition that had been gaining momentum since the early 18th century. He said, in "Humani Generis," that the Church's teaching authority is not confined to reflecting or consolidating the past. It is also, and especially, the vital present-day function of an organism animated by the Spirit of God. "Together with the sources of revelation (Scripture and Tradition) God has given to his Church a living magisterium to elucidate and explain what is contained in the deposit of faith only obscurely and, as it were, by implication." Consequently, when Pius XII defined the Assumption, he did more than propose the doctrine for acceptance by the faithful or give them a new motive for devotion. He indicated the Church's right to authorize a legitimate development in doctrine and piety that becomes part of a larger process in which the current problems of the Church and the present needs of souls are being met by the Holy Spirit.

Pius XII summarized his reasoning thus: "These two singular privileges [the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption] bestowed upon the Mother of God stand out in most splendid light as the beginning and the end of her earthly journey. For the greatest possible glorification of her virgin body is the complement, at once appropriate and marvelous, of the absolute innocence of her soul, which was free from all stain. Just as she took part in the struggle of her only-begotten Son with the serpent of hell, so also she shared in his glorious triumph over sin and its sad consequences" (Fulgens Corona, 21).

Thanks for your question.

Subj: Father Gobbi
Date: 94-06-29 19:49:36 EDT
From: Angelica

Dear Father,

I am wondering if you have ever heard of a priest by the name of Father Don Stefano Gobbi. Does the church or bishops approve of his writings? I am reading a book that quotes him often. He sounds well respected and authentic. Do you have an opinion? Thank you!

Dear Angelica,

On the 8th of May, 1972, Don Stefano Gobbi ("Don" being the common way of addressing priests in Italy), was taking part in a pilgrimage to Fatima and was praying in the little Chapel of the Apparitions for some priests he knew of who had left the priesthood and were forming themselves into an organization in rebellion against the Church's authority, when he seemed to hear an interior voice urging him to have confidence in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Believing himself to be the recipient of interior locutions from the Mother of God, Don Stefano obeyed her command to gather around himself a cohort of loyal priests faithful to the Pope and the Church, and consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, forming the nucleus of what today is called the Marian Movement of Priests, with over five thousand registered members world-wide.

Father Gobbi believes that he continues to receive interior locutions from Our Lady, which are collected in book form and distributed among the members of the movement. However—and this is important—Father Gobbi does not require any priest in the movement to accept these meditations as authentic messages from Our Blessed Mother, and leaves that judgment up to the authority of the Church, which, so far, has not chosen to rule on the question. Indeed, I know many priests in the movement who definitely do not accept them as messages from Mary, but who, nonetheless, regard them as valuable aids to their own meditation.

The spirituality of the movement is simple, and consists of three parts: (1) Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; (2) complete fidelity to and unity with the Pope and with the Church in union with him; and (3) a priestly desire to lead the faithful entrusted to one's pastoral care to love the Mother of God and have devotion to her. The movement itself is unstructured, without officers or dues, and does not accept donations of any kind. Regular meetings, called "cenacles," follow a lose plan which consists of sharing priestly fellowship and prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. At most cenacles, the meditations of Don Stefano are read and discussed, though this is not an essential part of the movement. There are also annual retreats, some of which are preached by Father Gobbi himself. Lay people are invited to join the movement as auxiliary members, uniting themselves in prayer with and for the priests of the Church.

Some people, when they read the meditations of Father Gobbi for the first time, become unduly alarmed by their apocalyptic character. Our Lady seems to speak of future events and trials which faithful priests will suffer if they choose to remain loyal to the Pope, but how eventually they will triumph if they remain steadfast. But those who are uncomfortable with the idea of the meditations as actual interior locutions from Mary can nevertheless find much value in them as meditations on the Church in our time. There is nothing in them that adds to or takes away from the teaching of the Church. As Fr. Gobbi himself says, "No locution, not even such as are gathered together in this book, could take the place of, or be put on a par with, an official public statement of the faith of the Church, from which the complete physiognomy of Mary and her mission will become apparent."

Subj: Preaching
Date: 93-06-05 06:16:56 EDT
From: Joshua

Fr. M.,
Over the past year, I've heard fellow parishioners express concerns over homilies. From my own experience I'm pretty much in agreement with what I'm hearing, and that is, as a general rule homilies leave a great deal to be desired in content and delivery. Would you give me some of your thoughts on what could or should be done to correct this?

Dear Joshua,

I couldn't agree with you more: the quality of preaching is—or at least should be—a major concern of any bishop, and is a prime source of dissatisfaction among lay people. Of course, everyone has their own opinion of what's wrong with Catholic preaching today, and my opinion is no more valid than another's; but, here's what I think in any case...

The key problem is one of preparation. The older priest who is currently living with me (he's semi-retired), preaches very long homilies which, by what I hear, are very disjointed. Naturally, I assume no place to critique the preaching of another priest, but did make mention in passing at lunch one day. He replied that, after all, I prepared my homilies. Here is a priest who not only does not prepare his homilies, but sees no need to do so; like many of his generation, preaching is not a particularly important priority.

Of course, I've also been exposed to preaching which is, for lack of a better word, over-prepared; or, perhaps it would be better to say, over-intellectualized. For example, of what practical value could it be to spend the opening lines of one's homily explaining how our reading from Isaiah wasn't written by him at all, but is from "Dueturo-Isaiah," or that the sermon on the mount is really a collection of sayings, not necessarily spoken at any one time?

Other's allow their homilies to wander because they have been convinced that extemporaneous preaching is always better than preaching from notes or a prepared text. "I like to let the spirit move me," is what one often hears priests say. If only the Spirit, in these cases, was a bit more focused. <G> I personally believe that "letting the Spirit move me" is often nothing more than an excuse for laziness in preparation.

A lot of this has to do with whatever is the preachers goal; does he want to dazzle his listeners with learning, shake their consciences to social action, uplift them spiritually, help them into heaven; or, has he even thought at all of what he wants to do?

But, more important than the question of immediate preparation is the question of remote preparation, which, according to St. Francis De Sales, is the fundamental ground of all good preaching, and which refers to the personal union with Christ that the preacher brings to everything he says. For example, Cardinal Newman was, by all accounts, a very boring preacher from the point of view of technique. He read his sermons word for word from prepared texts, and had a high, squeaky voice that wasn't easy to listen to for two hours (the length of most of his sermons). But the little chapel at Littlemore was still packed to overflowing Sunday after Sunday, where Newman used to preach the evening vespers, not because he was a captivating speaker, but because people want to hear the fruits of holiness, and he was known to be a holy man. The most influential preachers in the history of the Church have been the saints, not the orators or theologians. There's a lesson in that, I think.

Subj: Predestination
Date: 94-03-09 09:36:48 EST
From: Henry


What is the church's opinion/stand on predestination? Do we have free will on our choices, or is everything we do preordained by God?

Dear Henry,

Many people have become confused about the notion of salvation they seem to find in Romans 9, which leads to confusion when taken out of the context of Paul's purpose; such was the case with John Calvin in the 16th century in formulating his doctrine of "predestination," which was the central teaching of his Reformed Church (more recently known as the Presbyterians) until the middle of this century, when they more or less abandoned the belief. I put the word predestination in quotes because the meaning ascribed to it by Calvin means something entirely different when used by Catholics or most of the main-line Christian communities.

In the passage in question, Paul points out how all of the events leading up to Israel's election as God's chosen people all happened because of the simple choice of God, and not by any merit on the part of the Hebrews as a people. He then says: "What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, 'I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.' So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills" (Rom. 9:14-18).

You can see right away the problem: it appears as if Paul is saying that people are good or bad because God causes them to be such, without any effort or purpose on their part involved. Traditional Calvinist teaching asserts, therefore—and I emphasize again that few believe this today—, that the human race is divided into two camps: those who are righteous and who are "predestined" for salvation, and those who are corrupt and are "predestined" for damnation. It was much later that the American Baptists, who's roots are found in early Calvinism, would modify this belief into the idea that all of us are unrighteous before God, and it is only due to his mercy that we can be saved; leaving open the possibility of salvation to everyone, but still discounting any idea at all of a possibility of transformation in grace.

A more critical reading of Romans shows this interpretation of "predestination" not part of Paul's message at all, in as much as his whole point is to show that the Hebrews, who had been elected by God as his own special chosen, invalidated the call by rejecting the Son; and the Gentiles, not originally called, became the heirs to this call by their acceptance of Christ. So obviously this "predestination" is not written in stone. This is, in fact, the Catholic notion of predestination: that all of us are called by Christ to glory, but that whether or not that call is fulfilled in us depends on our acceptance of it and our cooperation with grace. It is in this sense that the Catholic Church declares it's belief in predestination, and will use the more accurate word, "predetermination," to describe the old Calvinist idea.

I hope this answers your question; thanks for posting.

Subj: Conscience
Date: 93-06-04 20:00:59 EDT
From: Detractor

Fr M,

I come to this discussion late and I haven't read all the earlier messages. However, I did read yours of 5/29, "Missing Mass on Sundays." I think I agree with your conclusions at the end of the message. But my initial reaction is to disagree with your statement, "She/he must educate her/his conscience in that regard, and if he/she finds that such an act is not sinful, then he/she must determine her/his conscience in the light of the Magisterium of the Church, who teaches otherwise." A Catholic, surely, must listen to the Church's teaching along with whatever information is necessary for determining an approach to a given moral problem. But if, after having done all the appropriate homework, one is still in disagreement with the Church's teaching, one must follow one's conscience. An educated conscience is one's first guide to moral decisions.

Dear Detractor,

I have to respond to your remarks about conscience because they are so wrong, and reflect what is a very common misunderstanding.

You are correct that a person must follow one's conscience, provided that one's conscience is both formed and informed. But the process of reasoning that you describe has nothing to do with conscience.

The Catholic Church defines the conscience as a faculty of the intellect that alerts us as to whether our actions are in conformity with the truth. Whether or not the conscience can do this is determined by whether is it really knows the truth. A conscience which has been misinformed, or is ignorant of the truth, cannot perform it's function and is therefore useless. For example, if a Catholic priest, for whatever reason, tells someone that they may steal money from work and that this is not wrong, the person does not sin in doing it, because their conscience has been misinformed. But that does not make the act right, nor make the conscience infallible. As soon as that person becomes aware of the truth, the excuse of conscience is no longer valid, since the conscience now has a new standard by which to judge. How one feels personally about the issue at hand has absolutely nothing to do with how the conscience operates.

Let's take the more common and controversial case of contraception. People who interpret conscience as "how I feel about it personally" will say that conscience excuses the use of contraception on the basis of personal opinion. But this is not conscience. Conscience can only excuse in such a case if the conscience is either ignorant of the law of God, or if it has been misinformed by "Father Friendly." In such a case, the conscience is wrong through no fault of it's own; and we are obliged to follow even an erroneous conscience provided that we don't know it's erroneous. But once the conscience has been informed as to the reality of what the Church teaches, then the excused no longer exists, and one must now act in accord with the new standard the conscience has received.

Moral theologians refer to this as invincible ignorance, that is, a conscience which is in error about the truth. It is only through invincible ignorance that a person's conscience can excuse from guilt in deviating from the moral order. A conscience that knows what the Church teaches can never be used as an excuse to do what the Church teaches is objectively evil.

Since almost all people have no idea of what the true nature of conscience is, I'm sure that everyone will react negatively to this.

Subj: Conscience
Date: 93-06-06 21:09:26 EDT
From: Detractor

Fr. M.: You write, "The Catholic Church defines the conscience as a faculty of the intellect that alerts us as to whether our actions are in conformity with the truth." That's rather broad. Conscience is a "judgment" about the moral lawfulness/unlawfulness of a particular action. And you continue, ". . .this is determined by whether it really knows the truth." One is able to "know the truth" only to the extent that one has reason to believe that such-and-such IS the truth. Even this is judgment. That judgment may be "misinformed" (through no fault of its own), but conscience, in making its judgment according to the intellectual lights the person has, does what conscience is meant to do. Granted that it may be "objectively wrong in judgment," but it is "subjectively" correct when it judges according to what the mind knows. I disagree with your assessment: it is NOT "therefore useless."

You write, "How one feels personally about the issue at hand has absolutely nothing to do with how the conscience operates." And I disagree, if the word "feels" in your sentence means the informed position a person takes according to the knowledge he has available. Conscience, making its judgment, is only able to use the knowledge the intellect as at hand. Again, the judgment may be objectively wrong because the knowledge used is objectively erroneous; but the judgment of conscience is able to be subjectively correct—and subjectively moral. I certainly never claimed that the conscience is "infallible" nor that the judgment of conscience is always "objectively" accurate. But sin is in the will; and if the conscience does not judge an act to be immoral, the will to do the act cannot be called sin. Your example of contraception and "on the basis of personal opinion" is not what I was talking about, unless you define "opinion" as a reasonable position based on consideration of all relevant sources of knowledge. However, I do not think that is what you mean.

You state, "But once the conscience has been informed as to the reality of what the Church teaches. . . ." and, "A conscience that knows what the Church teaches can never be used as an excuse to do what the Church teaches is objectively evil." One is not an automaton. One must use one's God-given-gift of reason to assess the truth of even a teaching of the Church; and if one determines conscientiously that a teaching is erroneous, one must not follow it. Conscience is one's first guide to morality. A person may reasonably determine that the Church is wrong in its teaching about contraception in your example. Using all the available evidence, including the Church's teaching, one's conscience may judge the Church's teaching to be erroneous. Not everything taught by the Church's hierarchy is free from error, and it is possible to dissent from authoritative, but non-infallible teachings.

Dear Detractor,

Yes, this is the exact reaction I knew I would get. Very few people understand conscience as the Catholic Church defines it. Simply put, the Church does not define conscience as you do.

But, without launching into a treatise on conscience, let me just say when you speak of "a reasonable position based on consideration of all relevant sources of knowledge," you're forgetting the fact one of those source is guided by the Holy Spirit; and the Spirit does not contradict himself, guiding the Church in one direction and individuals in another. The teaching of the Church cannot be regarded as just one of many equal points of view to consider. What you call "one's God-given gift of reason" cannot assess all it's conclusions true when they are different from those of the Author of truth. is NOT "therefore useless." Which brings me to your next point: "Not everything taught by the Church's hierarchy is free from error, and it is possible to dissent from authoritative, but non-infallible teachings." Here, we must remember two points:

First, not all infallible teaching is taught by some "ex cathedra" pronouncement by the Pope. Many people do not understand that the Church teaches infallibly in many ways, ex cathedra decrees being only one. The Second Vatican Council indicates the conditions which can be used to determine whether a particular teaching is to be determined infallible. This important teaching—that the ordinary magisterium, as well as the extra-ordinary, exercises infallibility in certain conditions, is not new. St. Vincent of Lerins, in the 5th century, was the first to suggest the conditions by which the ordinary, everyday teaching of bishops and/or popes can become infallible. For one thing, he states that if you can identify any period of history in which a particular teaching of the Church was not challenged by any bishop and had the manifest approval of all in union with the Bishop of Rome, then, regardless of any current dissension, that teaching is rightly regarded as infallible. Since no Christian group had ever challenged the Church's 6th century teaching that intercourse closed to conception was immoral until the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church in 1930, then certainly the Church's teaching on this matter fulfills those requirement.

The Second point I want to make is that you are mistaken that one may dissent from non-infallible teaching. I refer you to Lumen Gentium, #25, where it states that "the faithful...are obliged to submit to their bishops' decisions, made in the name of Christ, in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind. This loyal submission of BOTH THE WILL AND THE INTELLECT must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does NOT speak ex cathedra..." (emphasis added). A few years ago, our present Holy Father added to the profession of faith that must be made by new bishops, pastors, and teachers of theology in Catholic institutions, a clause in which one must declare submission to all the teachings of the Church, regardless of the manner of that teaching, and also a belief in the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium.

Perhaps by coincidence, I had an experience today that mirrors what Karl spoke about in his post. I had mentioned contraception in my Trinity Sunday homily as an example of a teaching to which we must submit even if we don't understand it or agree with it, in much the same way that we profess our faith in the Trinity, which we know we could never demonstrate. As a result, a couple in my parish who had been contracepting using your understanding of conscience, approached by with a firm desire to change. Karl is right. A priest who is not afraid of upsetting people with the truth can do great good. I have already arranged for them to meet with one of the couples in our diocese who teach symto-thermal birth control. As the wife put it, "Given how much God has done for us, how can we refuse him this effort?"

Subj: Centering Prayer?
Date: 93-11-21 07:07:54 EST
From: Christine

Dear Father, Could you please tell me a little about "Centering Prayer"—for instance, I'm a devout Catholic who is presently a postulant in a Secular Institute, and our director is STRONGLY urging us all to understand, accept and start practicing the activity of Centering Prayer, complete with its 'breathing techniques', etc. Is this okay? Is this compatible with the practice of our true Catholic faith? Or is it a New-Age type of thing? I have to admit this type of thing 'spooks' me and sounds off little caution alarm bells in my head.

Any help or advice you could give me concerning this would be IMMENSELY appreciated! I'm scheduled to become a Novice on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception—but I will regrettably have to forego such a blessed opportunity if my particular director is telling us to get involved in something that might be damaging to our Catholic belief.

Thank you in advance, and God bless you!

Dear Christine,

Centering prayer is nothing new to Christian spirituality, and was first popularized as part of the "devotio moderna" of the late middle ages, not without some criticism. There are really two questions to be answered here regarding centering prayer: (1) whether the method itself is compatible with authentic Christian spirituality, and (2) whether such a method is advised for a particular person.

With regard to the first consideration, it seems to me that any method of prayer can be compatible with the interior life of a Christian provided that it is truly centered on Christ and not on oneself. A method of meditation which focuses inward on oneself rather than outward on God would seem to defeat the purpose of prayer, which is union with Christ. So, with regard to centering prayer, the question is, "What exactly am I centering on?"

The second consideration is, I think, more important. St. Teresa of Avila, in cataloging the effects of bad spiritual direction, mentions the damage done by those directors who "canonize" one approach and force it upon others without any sensitivity to the individual. St. Francis de Sales and Bd. Josemaria Escriva, pioneers in the notion of lay spirituality, both insist on the necessity of the director respecting the freedom of the individual to choose the method of piety best suited to him. In fact, in "The Cloud of Unknowing," a 14th century work which is the principle source for those who advocate centering prayer, the author takes pains to insist that his method should not be applied to everyone, but only to those who have reached the most advanced stages of the interior life, and only after it has been determined by one's director to be beneficial.

Without knowing the director you speak of, and assuming what you say is accurate, I would not hesitate to question the experience or wisdom of any director of souls who would insist that someone practice one particular method of prayer or meditation. Such an approach would go against almost everything that the saints have to say about spiritual direction.