Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I think it’s so exciting that Pope Francis has asked us all to vote on what we think of gay marriage and remarriage and artificial birth control and living together before marriage and all that sort of thing. Personally, if you want to know what I think, the Church needs “to wake up and smell the coffee” on cohabitation. It is commonplace and there are some reasons for it which cannot be summarily dismissed, such as economic realities. On the matter of artificial contraception my responses might be characterized by the saying, “that train left the station long ago”. Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium suggests the rejection of Church teaching on this subject. What do you think?
Mary Kay Lastima
Dear Ms. Lastima,
I think you are nuts. First of all, I doubt that the Roman Pontiff, Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome has suddenly become a Congregationalist who wants us to vote on the truth. Second of all, you seem to have no understanding, or perhaps a convenient modern American understanding of the “Sensus Fidelium”.
The Sensus Fidelium (sense of the faithful) is the understanding held by the whole body of the faithful. It is “the supernatural appreciation of faith 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.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 92) Lumen Gentium, a document of the Second Vatican Council says: “By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority... receives... the faith, once for all delivered to the saints... the People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life.”
It is important to note that the Sensus Fidelium is not a vote, not a two thirds majority, and it is led by the teaching authority of the Church. By that it is meant, I assume, the bishops of the Universal Church especially the Pope, the Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ. It is not the faithful leading the bishops. The call of the bishops is to lead the faithful.
The Sensus Fidelium is an expression of the whole Church, spread out through space and time. It does not just belong to the modern American/European Church which is careening toward extinction. It belongs to the whole Church, including Africans, Asian, (especially Vietnamese, Korean, Filipinos), and Mexicans and other Latin’s, these are people who still seem to love their children more than they love their poodles and their large flat screen TVs. The Sensus Fidelium includes the faithful of two thousand years, not just the faithful born since the sixties. The Sensus Fidelium is the authentic sense of what we have held and believed universally and consistently since the beginning. It is not the church catching up with the latest trends or coming to terms with day time talk TV show on which over-the-hill actresses grace us with their personal infallibility and superior acumen.
For instance, we have always believed that abortion is wrong. The Bible doesn't even mention abortion as far as I can tell. I don’t recall any pope having to make infallible pronouncements about abortion, but from the Fathers of the Church until now, we have always known that abortion is just wrong. That is the Sensus Fidelium.
I am a bit bemused by your belief that the Church needs “…to wake up and smell the coffee” regarding cohabitation before marriage for economic reasons. In my limited pastoral experience a lot of couples who are (in the common phrase) “shacking up”, tell themselves and their grandparents that they are going to make it legal — eventually. They usually go through two or three cohabitations before they marry, (and then divorce). Which of the cohabitations are we to condone as a legitimate source of grace? The first, the second or the third? If by “economic reasons” you mean the expense of the big white wedding at 40,000 smackers, you have as little regard for the permanence and sanctity of marriage as most marriage planners and divorce lawyers. For them multiple marriage is a boon. They get to fleece the same people over and over. I suggest you go to your computer and look up “Cohabitor’s vows” on YouTube. And now the big one: ARTIFICIAL BIRTH CONTROL. In essence you are equating the Sensus Fidelium with the saying, “If everybody is doing it, it must be right.” I can imagine Germans said that to themselves in the stadium at Nuremberg as everyone raised their arms in a salute to Hitler. After all, everybody was doing it.
Traditionalist, restorationist, curmudgeonly, reactionary old uber-Catholic geezers like myself, often disparage Venerable Pope Paul VI. I do not. I think he was among the great hero’s of Christian history. None of us really know what overwhelming pressure he was under to cave in regarding two unchangeable points of Catholic Truth. By these I mean the sacrificial nature of the Mass and the unbreakable bond between the unitive and procreative elements of marriage. In English, these are the truths that the Catholic Mass is a true sacrifice, the re-presentation of Calvary, and that marriage is not just about a relationship, but that it is a relationship between a man and a woman that is open to the creation of new human life. No abortion and no artificial birth control. That poor little scholarly nebbish who occupied the throne of St. Peter from 1963 to 1978, the poor little sad sack who brought the Vatican Council to its close in 1965 is, in my opinion, one of the great popes of history. He was bullied by theologians, politicians, the press and by progressive liturgists and yet that frail, bookish fellow managed to cling to the essentials in the midst of a demonic hurricane. The Venerable Paul once said that “the smoke of Satan has entered the church.” One hears the quote but never the context. Here is a fuller version of his words.
Referring to the situation of the Church today, the Holy Father (the Venerable Paul speaking of himself in the third person) affirms that he has a sense that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.” There is doubt, incertitude, problematic, disquiet, dissatisfaction, confrontation. There is no longer trust of the Church; they trust the first profane prophet who speaks in some journal or some social movement, and they run after him and ask him if he has the formula of true life. And we are not alert to the fact that we are already the owners and masters of the formula of true life. Doubt has entered our consciences, and it entered by windows that should have been open to the light. Science exists to give us truths that do not separate from God, but make us seek him all the more and celebrate him. But they end up teaching us: “I don’t know, we don’t know, we cannot know.” The school becomes the gymnasium of confusion and sometimes of absurd contradictions. Progress is celebrated, only so that it can then be demolished with revolutions that are more radical and more strange, so as to negate everything that has been achieved, and to come away as primitives after having so exalted the advances of the modern world.
We certainly are seeing some strange things promoted by the prophets of journalism and social; change. It’s okay to kill the child in the womb. It’s okay to live a life that is just about the two of us and denies life and love to others, and we should all be supportive of the distasteful and brutally primitive tastes of certain sexual minorities, which are as good as and as respectable as the natural intimacy between a man and woman that creates that most beautiful of creatures, the human infant. These are strange inversions indeed and certainly seem to fall under the rubric of “revolutions that are more radical and more strange.”
Next Week: Sex, the Devil and the Second Vatican Council
(I bet you’ll read that one!)