Last week, the Dominican House of Studies was on lockdown. Fences were put up in front of the priory. And beside the priory. And around the back of the priory. We were forbidden to go out into our backyard or even to open our blinds. The front entrance was still accessible for us, but we had to pass through metal detectors on the way out. The reason? Pope Francis was visiting Northeast DC. In order to ensure the safety of the Holy Father and the thousands who attended the Mass across the street at The Catholic University of America, the U.S. Secret Service had set up a secure perimeter which we were not allowed to transgress. While the inconvenience was certainly real for us, the precautions were understandable. We knew as long as we observed the rules given to us, we would be fine.
The Church often operates in a similar way. In her wisdom, she sets up boundaries in order to keep us safe. However, not all appreciate these boundaries as they ought. The Church is accused of being “restrictive” or “closed off.” Dogmas are criticized for obstructing potential avenues of inquiry within specific fields. Anything that is perceived to put limits on what we can investigate, believe, or practice is thought to be contrary to our desires and human searching. But the Church’s motivations have to be kept in mind. Why exactly are we taught to follow Church teaching? Why can’t we just venture into any field or territory that we wish to? Shouldn’t we be free to reach our own conclusions? To this, the Church responds that the only way we, and the rest of the faithful, can be kept safe is to stay within the parameters that she has set forth.
We each have been given specific talents and responsibilities that are to be put at the service of the Church. Just as we Dominicans were unable to cross the secure perimeter surrounding the House of Studies, but government agents were, it is only for those who are given authority to judge how to keep us safe.
It can be a tendency of blogs and other outlets to openly criticize and complain about Church teaching, practices, and even the clergy and hierarchy. While legitimate questioning can certainly be allowed, the danger comes when one encourages the faithful to doubt in the Church. We ourselves become the arbiters of what is safe and what is harmful. It would be as if we convinced each other that we could transgress the secure area because the Secret Service really was mistaken in its judgments. Even if not all decisions are thought out perfectly, disobeying the directives would likely cause harm and confusion along the way. Sowing discontent and discord among the faithful serves no constructive purpose.
Most of us are not government agents, nor are we the Magisterium. We recognize our roles as the faithful people of God, and trust that God will continue to guide and shepherd His Church. Even if certain opinions and praxes can be called into question, we know that we shall be kept safe within the confines of the Church. As a particular Act of Faith reminds us, “We believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, for you have revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.” It is in faith that we come to know and to believe that we are kept safe from real error.
Image: Sandro Botticelli, Esther at the Palace Gate