How to Protest Dissent in the Church

Don’t. Be Joyful!

Mark Shea, in an article for the National Catholic Register, has some sage advice for an orthodox Catholic graduate student in a less than faithful Pastoral Ministry program in a, sigh, Catholic University.

“The trick will be not so much to remain orthodox (that’s fairly easy, considering how dreadfully dull the theological legacy of the Pepsi Generation is).  Rather, the trick will be avoiding becoming a bitter Pharisee who turns Catholic faith into a particularly nasty and uninviting sort of Protestantism.

What do I mean?  I mean that you cannot build a life on protest, not even a protest against heresy.  If your Catholic faith is primarily a reaction against Those People Over There (whoever They are) then it is not about Jesus Christ, but about anger over some human hurt you have received (like the hurt of getting drivel from teachers who have betrayed their office and used it to subvert the gospel).  The Catholic faith is not a mere reaction to this world.  It is about God breaking into this world with joy in order to save it.  It is hell, not the Faith, that is on the defensive.  That’s why “the gates of hell” (a defensive image from siege warfare) shall not prevail against the Church.  So the trick is to be joyful, not angry and bitter, in your work of subverting the dominant paradigm.  Have worldly teachers sold the Faith for a pot of heterodox message?  Sure!  What did you expect the world to do?

But the good news is, not only is that project failing, but the gospel is emerging stronger than ever because Jesus Christ lives.  Brickbats and crosses it shall endure till That Day, but it remains full of joy, not bitterness, till then.  So the approach we take is not the mere anger of the Revolutionary against the Old Regime, but the gladness of the saint.  As Jesus put it:

I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20)
This mistaken focus on defeating the spirits rather than rejoicing in Heaven is the central mistake that many of those concerned about retrieving the Tradition from the vandals have made.  They have become so focused on their anger over the vandalism that they have forgotten that it’s not about defeating Hell, but about rejoicing over the triumph of a Heaven that has already defeated Hell on Easter.

So do your subversive work joyfully, fixing your eyes on heavenly things and not on earthly ones.  You will receive all the opposition and hostility that are the saint’s badge of honor.  Take it to God and do not let Hell take away your joy.  It’s your birthright in Baptism.”

Read the entire article here.

Mark’s advice is the only way that I survived four years of a program led by dissident Catholics. It wasn’t fun, but it toughened up by spiritual muscles. Anger does not change hearts. But joy and steadfast faith often can.

About Susan Kehoe

I am the wife of a Catholic deacon living in Des Moines Iowa. My husband Larry was ordained in 2006. We have two children and five grandchildren.. Our daughter and her family live in Ireland, and our son and his family live in Franklin Massachusetts.
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