How Our Lady's attitude can help us understand how to deal with internal divisions and controversy over scandals
Advent brings the face of Mary to the forefront of our glance: manger scenes, postage stamps, Christmas cards.
Does the Mother of Jesus have any relevance to the present Church crisis? In light of the ubiquitous commentaries questioning obedience to Pope Francis, clerical sex abuse, and the proper role of bishops and laity, it is, perhaps, time to return to basics. It is time to return to Mary.
Mary brings the Divine Redeemer into the world by an obedient fiat. She does so with an obedient faith which, as St. Augustine reminds us, first conceives the Word in her heart, and consequently in her womb. St. John Paul II confirmed that before and beyond the Petrine model of the Church is the Marian model. If no one says, “yes” to the invitation of the Gospel, then there is no one to guide with a hierarchical structure.
What would Mary’s response to Peter’s office have been? Mary was superior to Peter in knowledge of the Gospel, wisdom in its application, and purity in its lived expression. How then would Mary respond to Peter’s authority? In spite of her superiority to Peter in most every conceivable measure, Mary responded to Peter’s office of authority with the same obedient fiat. For Mary saw Jesus in Peter, and thus continually gave the obedience to her Son’s Vicar that which she gave to her Son.
It is somewhat alarming to hear otherwise orthodox Catholic theologians seeming to suggest the possibility of separating the magisterium from the office of the pope. What if the apostles came to a consensus contrary to Jesus? Would that position, then, constitute an authoritative teaching of the early Church?
In regards to clerical sex abuse, turning to the Immaculate Mother, once again, invaluable.
The Church must be purified, all agree. The question is one of means.
If we seek to cleanse the Church with the political spirit similar to the mobs of the French Revolution, with anger begetting anger and blood begetting blood, we will only find ourselves farther away from the interior metanoia demanded to solve the present crisis. Mary, on the other hand, offers us the model of purifying the Body of Christ with an uncompromising zeal for true purity and renewal of life, but in a reverent manner that does no violence to the Body itself. Mary has been cleaning the Body of Jesus since he was an infant. She does so with a maternal thoroughness, but in a manner that does no harm to what is, in its very nature, of divine institution and life. She will do the same, if invited, for her Son’s Mystical Body today.
The relationship between bishops and laity in application to the present crisis can be complicated, but should not be adversarial. The relationship must continue to be guided by their crucial metaphysical and canonical foundations. Pope Francis, in speaking recently to Italian seminarians, reiterated that the bishop must in the first place be a “spiritual father” to his clergy and faithful, not a “padrone” who simply directs his commands. To focus predominantly on external norms of conduct without the appropriate internal disposition of heart could unintentionally lead to a type of episcopal formalism that will fail to get to the root of the problem. For bishops to most effectively oversee seminaries, for example, they must return, as individuals and as a body, to the spiritual and formation practices by which solid seminarians are themselves formed.
For an authentic interior renewal of episcopal and clerical purity and life, our present bishops and clergy must return to and restore the consistent prayer, sacramental, and psychological practices of what should be at the heart of every authentic seminary experience. It may appear ‘unscientific” and “non-pragmatic,” that the foundational solution to the present crisis is spiritual and interior. Nevertheless, it remains true that the renewal of our bishops and priests can only be achieved through a newfound commitment to classic Catholic spiritual practices such as daily Eucharistic holy hours, the faithful praying of the Divine Office, the daily praying of the Rosary, monthly confession, consistent s