One of the frustrating things about trying to understand the Church, and where things are going, is that this task is impossible for a finite mind. If you don’t believe me, try it out. Anyone who has spent sometime brewing on this knows this dilemma Where should we put our time and effort in? Education? Seminaries? Catechesis? Evangelization? Politics? Interior life? The poor? The family? Fighting post-modernism? Greater Marian devotion? Going back to the Latin Rite? Critical thinking? On, and on, and on. When we think we have solved it, when we think we have come up with that silver bullet, the problem has morphed into something more complicated. Now, this is not a time for despair, quite the opposite. It is a time to reflect how though we have this zeal, this great desire to “fix” the Church, we have to take a step back and realize that the Lord is aware of all this. Instead of relying on ourselves to solve this problem, we really just have to be humble and realize that He has this figured out. How we play into how He will deal with this, is up to Him.
Now, the focus of this post is more geared towards one point, and that is critical thinking. I claim no expertise in this matter, only personal experience (of which is valuable too). In our post-modernistic, relativistic, materialistic world, this ability to take thoughts to their full conclusion is all but lost. Whether it is genuinely lost or just ignored, this is between an individual soul and God. The dilemma I see is such: many people, when discerning information using the intellect, at times will stop the process of discernment too early to the point of believing (or accepting) a point that is 25% understood vs something closer to 100%. What can aggravate this issue further is that when a person only having a sliver of information, also has a very strong will. This posses a very challenging issue. They can become overzealous on a topic that they really have a very poor understanding of. This is very dangerous, especially when these things relate to the faith. I see this all the time with spiritual theology and the works of the mystics. There are a lot of self-proclaimed “experts” of St. John of the Cross, but I would say only a few really know what they are talking about. Reading a book does not make one understand how contemplation is supposed to feel like (if there are even any sensory experiences associated with pure contemplation), although from St. John’s work, one can understand slightly what it is not. Nevertheless, a person may take such knowledge, which is poorly understood, coupled with a strong, unruly, will and begin to preach to the world the truths of spiritual theology. How absolutely dangerous! I find even with myself at times, I need to pause and make sure that I have done some due diligence in taking thoughts as close to their full conclusion because if one begins to take on a larger teaching or authoritative roles, and you are poorly formed, you can be a stumbling block to others.
Let me stop and state the obvious. Even with regards to our faith, one can never come to a 100% understanding of God. It is impossible. Why? He is infinite, we are finite. This means that certain aspects of our faith, are taken by faith! Else, it would not be faith that we possess, but simply knowledge. Why God ordained it that we have to faith in this life vs. a complete, simple knowledge of Him, is a mystery to me, but perhaps it has to do with Him searching out souls who love Him genuinely. Faith, properly understood, is the intellect submitting to the will without completely comprehending the information presented, and believes. The soul believes, even though it does not posses a full knowledge or understanding. Nevertheless, we must be prudent and take what information we can as far we can. Can one be safe knowing only 50% of a subject? I would say should push our understanding as far as grace enables us, and leave the rest to God.
But don’t we just come to a crisis where we can really trust anyone because we are not sure how far they have taken their thinking? How do we really know that someone is feeding us truth vs. lies? This is a very challenging issue as well. We as Catholics even have to face this in the pews when we hear a priest give a sermon. This can be a very distressing way to live because it almost seems like the only alternative is to live in fear, lest we be thrown into confusion. I really only have two practical solutions to this:
- Saturate yourself with holy writings. Scripture primarily, but also the work’s of the Church Doctors and the saints. I find that this helps to establish a safe foundation from which all other bits of information can be evaluated against
The second point is vastly more important than the first, as there are many theologians these days who claim to be experts of the writings of the saints, yet seem to be sowing more confusion than others! Why? Irrespective if you have this knowledge, humility will always help one to be grounded in Christ and fully dependent on Him. I think if one lacks humility, one will quickly fall into the trap that they are the source and summit of the understanding of these works, and this is a dangerous place to be in. Humility will keep us grounded, it will keep us open to fraternal correction, and I truly believe the Lord will keep us safe from error. We see this time and time again written in the psalms and scripture. Humility also opens us up to dialogue. This whole journey is towards truth, to Christ. This is a life long journey and humble dialogue will enable us to sort through any “minor” points of contention. After all, not every passage in the New Testament has been given an infallible teaching (unlike most of John 6), which means that we can expect at times minor differences in interpretation. Having a dialogue about these things as individuals, submitting to the authority of the Church and the Magisterium, is what we should be aspiring to.
There are countless examples I could give of this, but this will suffice for now. One final warning. As you apply this approach of being a bit more well informed about a certain spiritual topic, be warned. Some of what you might be searching for may cause you more distress than peace. I believe this is a sign (most likely from finding the devil in such topics) to stop the pursuit of such information. Curious about whether Vatican II is valid? Curious about the validity of SSPX? Curious whether Pope Francis is orthodox or a liberal in disguise? Be careful what doors you open. If you find only restlessness and a lack of peace in such pursuits, be warned, you may have stumbled upon the devil.
Blessed Mother, pray for us, and guide us safely to Jesus Christ!