At the Last Supper Jesus announced something that shocked his disciples, one of them, he said, would betray him and deliver him up to death at the hands of the Roman authorities. Consider for a moment what you would expect to happen if you were sitting at a dinner table and someone announced one of your fellow dinner guests was a murderer, like an old whodunnit murder mystery. What would happen? You’d expect everyone to look around the room shiftily to figure out which of their fellow guests was the culprit, right? Certainly this would be the natural reaction for the vast majority of people, including myself, so you could easily forgive the disciples for doing the same. However, they didn’t. What actually happened?
20 When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve. 21 Now as they were eating, He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.”Matthew 26:20-22
22 And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, “Lord, is it I?”
Each of the disciples looked inwards, their first thought was not to look around the room and try to discern which of their fellow disciples was the traitor but instead asked “Is it I?”. This simple act, often overlooked showed the character of the disciples after three years of following Jesus, and exemplifies why they were chosen. All of them would rather look at themselves and consider “Could it be me? Could I be the one who betrays my Lord?” before they would ever consider pointing the finger at anyone else.
There’s an awful lot to point the finger at these days and it’s easy to get swallowed up fighting the culture war, but I often need to remind myself that it’s even more important to point the finger at myself and examine my conscience regularly as well as take an honest look at my thoughts and behaviors that I should be attempting to correct. After all one of the things that initially drew me to Catholicism was that it’s doctrines are an incredibly robust path for bettering myself and developing virtue. We cannot become so engrossed in pointing out the speck in others eyes that we forget to mind the beam in our own. A keen awareness of ones own moral failings is absolutely necessary before any criticism against anyone else’s can be reasonably made.
What are some of the key problems that we need to be aware of as traditionalist Catholics? Well the first and most obvious is pharisee-ism. One can easily picture trad Caths praying in front of the blessed sacrament saying “Thank you Lord for I am not like other Catholics, I attend mass every Sunday, know the catechism by heart and read every Papal encyclical, unlike those cafeteria Catholics.” If not in those words then certainly in the attitude that we project. The entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven is not predicated on doing an exam where you can recite as many dogmas as you can off the top of your head, it’s predicated on your faith in Christ and your actions that show you’re a devoted and true follower of His teachings. Acts of charity, humility and penance are of more worth than any Catholic trivia we can recite. While a thirst for more knowledge of the Church and its doctrines should be lauded, knowledge itself means nothing without our actions being guided by that knowledge.
Secondly there’s the temptation to make ourselves the judges of the Church and her Bishops. With more knowledge of Church history and doctrine comes the temptation to make ourselves the judges of whether the Bishops are correctly teaching that doctrine. Certainly there are a lot of Bishops these days who are straying wildly from correct doctrine but our response needs to be mediated by the desire for harmony and peace within the Church, something Paul was strongly trying to convey to the communities of Christians he wrote to. People will always have disagreements, it’s in our nature. We need to find the right line where we can regulate the need to correct ourselves and others to maintain the teachings of the faith passed down to us without becoming so belligerent that we shatter the unity of the Church. Rather we need to make a commitment to live in peace with each other as much as possible and smooth over these disagreements as much as is practicable. The extent to which you can tolerate some doctrinal disagreements without allowing outright heresy is a messy one and a discussion for another time, the main point is that an overeagerness to correct others teaching often overshadows our very real need to maintain peace and harmony within the body of believers and not allow quarrels to rip us apart.
Lastly there is the obligation for Catholics who have sound knowledge of doctrine to live by it all the more and to avoid hypocrisy as much as possible. As Paul says:
9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? 11 And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? 12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.1 Corinthians 8:9-13
If I gain knowledge then I must be aware that this knowledge also confers a special responsibility to provide a good example for other followers of Christ. If other Catholics see the one who has such knowledge of the faith acting in a manner contrary to all his knowledge of the faith then what message does it send? Paul’s exhortation is reinforced by Christs warning against those who would take on a teaching role for others.
47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48 But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.Luke 12:47-48
It should be a sobering thought for all of us who take pleasure in researching and knowing our Faith. We are held to a higher standard and if we fail to meet that standard then our knowledge is worthless, even worse than worthless if it causes us to act belligerently towards other Catholics who have no interest in such things and merely want to practice the faith to the extent their Priest teaches (which is, after all the Priests responsibility). This fact makes it all the more important that we make special efforts to live Christs teachings as best we can.
Ultimately I feel like I should be spending far more time in my Christian life developing my own virtue and doing charitable works. Fighting in the culture war and against the current crisis in the Church might be more appealing (as slacktivism and internet outrage always is) but at the moment at the forefront of my mind is that when I stand before Jesus Christ on His throne can I truthfully say I ran my race as best I could? At the moment I’m not sure I could.