On Counter-Witnessing

Pope Francis was relatively gentle in his Sunday sermon at the Angelus:

We all know in our communities, in our parishes, in our neighborhoods how much hurt they do the church, and give scandal, those persons that call themselves “Very Catholic.”

They go often to church, but after, in their daily life, ignore the family, speak ill of others, and so on. This is that which Jesus condemns because this is a Christian “counter-witness.”

For my part, there’s a hope that this will cause less public consternation, especially on blogs, and more inner reflection. No believer is so perfect that she or he doesn’t provide an occasional counter-witness to Christ from time to time. If Pope Francis were not so gentle, he might well and accurately suggest the “orthodox, faithful” Catholics have been seduced by the goddess of pelagianism. Following the letter of the law does not indicate virtue, loyalty, or a secret word from the Lord that one has been let in on the judicial panel for the Last Judgment.

It is typical of Ignatian spirituality to urge the disciple to look within, to gaze carefully at everything. Absolutely everything.

Caution! With these words, Jesus also wants to put us, today, on guard against considering that the exterior observance of the law may be sufficient to be good Christians.

To be clear: it is not. It certainly isn’t the starting point.

As it was for the Pharisees, there also exists for us the danger of considering our place as better than others for the only fact of observing the rules or customs, even if we do not love our neighbor, [even if] we are hard of heart or prideful.

To be sure: following the rules is not an identifying characteristic of a Pharisee. The telltale quality is not our attitude toward law, but toward persons. Does the adherence to law lead us to compassion, to openness to God’s word, and to a concrete and visible participation with the needy? If a believer uses the law as a bludgeon, it is pretty clear that domination and a lust for superiority have triumphed over Christ’s values of compassion and love.

The lust leads to infertility:

The literal observance of the precepts is something sterile if it does not change the heart and is not translated into concrete attitudes. Opening yourself to the encounter with God and God’s word in prayer, searching for justice and peace, giving help to the poor, the weak and the oppressed.

For those inclined to see the Great Battle as being fought in some far-off Armageddon, or on someone else’s computer browsing Ashley Madison at 2AM, the real battle lines are within us.

The border between good and evil doesn’t pass outside of us but rather inside of us. And we can ask ourselves: Where is my heart?

They are always within us. Remember the message from this past Sunday?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to On Counter-Witnessing

  1. Liam says:

    Americans may have a hard time understanding the Pope’s background in this. This doesn’t only apply to the Precepts of Purity and Obedience but also to the Precepts of The Social Gospel – where Christians are more concerned about The People than actual people (I’ve certainly met folks from both groups on my journey). This is what unnerved some of his confreres in Argentina – they didn’t like the double-edge of this sword.

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