At the conclusion of our interview on “The Journey Home” on September 10, I said these words: “I love being a layperson. Being pope was too much. It was above my pay grade.” And it’s true, I don’t regret not being a Protestant pastor at this stage of my life. It was a lot of pressure to always be trying to figure out what was what and having to speak authoritatively to my congregation on every topic–on my authority as it turned out.
That being said, it’s sometimes very hard to let old habits die, or to teach an old dog new tricks. I discover this on a regular basis as I struggle with wanting to “pontificate” about every issue that comes up.
As Catholics we have a “three-legged stool” of authority: 1) Sacred Scripture, 2) Sacred Tradition, and 3) the Magisterium. The Vatican II document Dei Verbum (Word of God) addresses the relationship of these three “legs” as they relate to our Catholic faith. Allow me to quote from Chapter 2, paragraphs 9 and 10.
9. “Hence sacred tradition and scripture are bound together in a close and reciprocal relationship. They both flow from the same divine wellspring, merge together to some extent, and are on course towards the same end. Scripture is the utterance of God as it is set down in writing under the guidance of God’s Spirit; tradition preserves the word of God as it was entrusted to the apostles by Christ our lord and the holy Spirit, and transmits it to their successors, so that these in turn, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, may faithfully preserve, expound and disseminate the word by their preaching. Consequently, the church’s certainty about all that is revealed is not drawn from holy scripture alone; both scripture and tradition are to be accepted and honoured with like devotion and reverence.”
10. “The task of authentically interpreting the word of God , whether in its written form or in that of tradition, has been entrusted only to those charged with the church’s ongoing teaching function, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching function is not above the word of God but stands at its service, teaching nothing but what is handed down, according as it devotedly listens, reverently preserves and faithfully transmits the word of God, by divine command with the help of the holy Spirit. All that it proposes for belief, as being divinely revealed, is drawn from the one deposit of faith.”
A three-legged stool is stable and can hold weight. A two-legged stool, based only on scripture and tradition, will be less stable, lacking the authoritative magisterium. And even less stable is the one-legged stool that is based only one of these, usually scripture alone. I came to see that was largely the problem faced in the Protestant expressions that take one scripture and interpret and apply it in multiple ways. Common examples of these issues include the “security of the believer,” “the meaning of baptism and to whom it is administered,” and the “role of women in ministry,” among many others.
So when I no longer had to make those calls after serving eight years in a non-denominational setting where there was no final word on these and other issues, I felt a weight lifted and realized that “pontificating” was no longer in my job description, nor was it meant to be.
So back to my tendency to fall back into said practice. I didn’t, nor does any Catholic, surrender our brain and our reason at our baptism and confirmation. We are called to trust scripture, tradition and the magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church, yet we are still able to discern and acknowledge that sometimes a deacon, a priest, a bishop, a cardinal, yea even a pope, God forbid, can teach or preach something that doesn’t jibe with what St. Jude wrote about in his epistle:
Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (verse 3).
This is where as Catholics in the pew, in our apostolates, and our vocations, we must be prayerfully alert and live into what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraph 92:
“The whole body of the faithful…cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful,’ they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.” (Lumen Gentium, 12).
In blogs to come I will touch upon the freedom and responsibility these truths put on us as Catholic Christians. For now, let’s contend for the faith that has been entrusted to us!