Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
Several people have asked what I think of Anne Rice unfriending the Church on Facebook.
I can’t say I’m too surprised. She’s always made it clear that she didn’t really grok Jesus’ own teaching about his intimate union with the body of Christ. The entire understanding of Paul, the New Testament, and the Church following these about the relationship of Christ the head and his body is summed up in Jesus’ words to Saul of Tarsus. They are not “Why are you persecuting my disciples?” They are “Why you persecuting me?” All of Paul’s subsequent writing about the nature of the Church consists of a life long labor of unpacking that statement (of which Ephesians is the highest expression).
All of this is invisible to Rice. She treats Jesus as her own private boyfriend and the Church as a bothersome collection of riffraff punctuated by an elite of chosen souls who agree with her. Now, to be sure, fellow Christians can be annoying as hell. They can stab you in the back, live lives of exasperating mediocrity, and even be miserable SOBs that you are rightly uncomfortable sitting next to and would not want your daughter around. They can be small-minded, vindictive, dumb and just plain evil.
But so what? The kingdom of heaven is like a great net that catches the good fish and the bad. It’s like field filled with wheat and tares. And besides, who says you are such hot stuff? Anne Rice was not saved because she graciously permitted Jesus into her life. None of us are. We are all sinners in need of redemption—all in the same boat (and the boat is leaking). The great Catholic proposition is “You can pick your friends, but you are stuck with your family.” Rice reeled off a list of gripes against the Church, most of which are empty. Somehow the Church is “anti-life”. Huh? Anti-science? Wha? Some of it was political tribalism. But I think the emotional core of the diatribe was her complaint that the Church was anti-gay. Her son is gay. I think that’s what’s driving this. It’s a pity that she seems to be unaware of what the Church actually teaches about homosexuality. But in our culture most people “know” what they “know” from whatever they pick up on TV.
At any rate, Carl Olson, I thought, analyzed the basic problem pretty well when he posted a quote from St. Thomas on the difference between what the Church understand the virtue of Faith to be and what often passes for faith in ordinary human parlance:
I answer that, Neither living nor lifeless faith remains in a heretic who disbelieves one article of faith.
The reason of this is that the species of every habit depends on the formal aspect of the object, without which the species of the habit cannot remain. Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. Even so, it is evident that a man whose mind holds a conclusion without knowing how it is proved, has not scientific knowledge, but merely an opinion about it. Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things; but if he is not obstinate, he is no longer in heresy but only in error. Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will.
This phenomenon of a sort of human faith that somehow remains closed to grace can be seen, for instance, in John 8 (which I discuss in great detail here). What’s striking about the conversation is that Jesus is addressing “the Jews who had believed in him” when he warns them that they are of their father, the devil. Why the harsh language? Because this is catechesis about the reality of original sin and their radical need for a savior. They are approaching Jesus as peers, curious onlookers, integrated Adult Personalities who Have it Together and who think that Jesus may be an interesting addition to their circle of self-admiration. He shocks them by informing them that they are slaves to radical evil and that they need salvation, not affirmation in their okayness. By the end of the conversation, they are cursing him as demon-possessed and trying to murder him, which rather proves his point. Rice wants Jesus, but on her terms. Not for her is Jesus’ identification with all those tacky people she dislikes. Not for her is Jesus’ word to the Church: “He who listens to you listens to me”.
I hope one of the things we learn from this sad but not unpredictable train wreck is to break the habit of thrusting new converts into the spotlight the moment they announce they are Catholic. God, in his wisdom, took his greatest convert, Saul of Tarsus, and sent him up to Antioch for years and years to just learn the ropes, undertake basic catechisis, learn to be a servant, and learn to master his pride. It was only after this that Paul the apostle was sent on his mission. Not surprisingly, he wrote years later that while it’s great to aspire to be a bishop, still a bishop “must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (1 Tim 3:6-7). Much the same thing can be said for the peculiar age we live in, which allows lay loudmouths like yours truly to sound off, as though God somehow entrusted us with the office of bishop. This is why I warn strenously against anointing any fave rave media hero as an alternative magisterium to the Church.