Some crazy things are coming out of Germany lately. For instance, a norm was issued in a diocese permitting those who were divorced and remarried to receive Holy Communion – that is, to do so without first obtaining a declaration of nullity concerning their previous marriage(s). The Vatican acted fairly quickly on it and ordered that diocese to revoke the norm, which was unlawful and a source of great scandal. Later, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a 4,000 word article in L’Osservatore Romano (the Pope’s newspaper) defending the Church’s traditional teaching on this matter, which comes from Christ Himself: it is not open to debate. But now there are indications that the German bishops intend to move in this direction anyhow (that is, engaging in debate and/or issuing unlawful norms), and there are further reports that groups of priests and deacons, totaling around 800 at least, intend to oppose the Church on all number of issues. It’s all a huge mess. And, let’s face it, it’s all a result of a spirit of disobedience in the Church: disobedience to Christ, and disobedience to the legitimate authority that he established.
In this regard, the following words from a homily by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, which he delivered at the Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in April of 2012, are suited for our profitable consideration. Disobedience is never the path of true reform in the Church. The issues surrounding those who have divorced and remarried are surely very difficult and sensitive, and living as we do in a culture marked by a divorce mentality, they are very prevalent issues. We always have to find new ways to respond to these challenges, which necessarily includes reaffirming what our Savior taught – with patience, with charity, with understanding, and so forth. But none of us has the right to disobey what Christ taught and his Church authoritatively proclaims. None of us!
After the image, the excerpt from the Pope Emeritus’ homily.
Recently a group of priests from a European country issued a summons to disobedience, and at the same time gave concrete examples of the forms this disobedience might take, even to the point of disregarding definitive decisions of the Church’s Magisterium, such as the question of women’s ordination, for which Blessed Pope John Paul II stated irrevocably that the Church has received no authority from the Lord. Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church? We would like to believe that the authors of this summons are motivated by concern for the Church, that they are convinced that the slow pace of institutions has to be overcome by drastic measures, in order to open up new paths and to bring the Church up to date. But is disobedience really a way to do this? Do we sense here anything of that configuration to Christ which is the precondition for all true renewal, or do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?
But let us not oversimplify matters. Surely Christ himself corrected human traditions which threatened to stifle the word and the will of God? Indeed he did, so as to rekindle obedience to the true will of God, to his ever enduring word. His concern was for true obedience, as opposed to human caprice. Nor must we forget: he was the Son, possessed of singular authority and responsibility to reveal the authentic will of God, so as to open up the path for God’s word to the world of the nations. And finally: he lived out his task with obedience and humility all the way to the Cross, and so gave credibility to his mission. Not my will, but thine be done: these words reveal to us the Son, in his humility and his divinity, and they show us the true path.
Let us ask again: do not such reflections serve simply to defend inertia, the fossilization of traditions? No. Anyone who considers the history of the post-conciliar era can recognize the process of true renewal, which often took unexpected forms in living movements and made almost tangible the inexhaustible vitality of holy Church, the presence and effectiveness of the Holy Spirit. And if we look at the people from whom these fresh currents of life burst forth and continue to burst forth, then we see that this new fruitfulness requires being filled with the joy of faith, the radicalism of obedience, the dynamic of hope and the power of love.