There is much out there these days about the eventuality of an SSPX “reconciliation” yet still at this point in time and sadly yet what might still militate against it. The ever popular “Roman Curia conspiracy” theories with numerous twists are legion and in their variations, with their almost wild-eyed descriptions of attempts to scuttle “the deal”. While the common reflection and awareness within the community of the Church is increasingly cognizant that not only 40+ years of liturgical excesses and abuse are indicative of a high-jacking of the post-conciliar implementation process of liturgical renewal, this is not to say that we have not become increasingly aware that outrageous fortune hasn’t also battered the barque of Peter over these years on many other accounts as well (viz. misconceptions of what the Church means by ecumenism, not to mention other topics).
In the last weeks, however, I have begun to get the impression that some people cannot see the differences which have arisen on various topics, between popular presentation of official Church teaching and the stance of the SSPX, as comparable to some of the school differences from once upon a time between Jesuits and Dominicans, allowing the Holy Father as chief arbiter to establish the rules for respectful and continued fraternal disagreement within the community of the Church. I am beginning to fear that some people don’t appreciate the urgency of “coming in” or “coming back”. The facility with which some folk fling their unqualified anathemas would seem reminiscent of the so-called “gospel holiness tradition” which saw separation as a way of preserving both sanctity and orthodoxy. It is not the Catholic way for working out our differences. Whatever happened to the sheep and the goats or the wheat and the weeds growing together until the harvest?
A homily of St. Augustine, cited in today’s Office of Readings is a helpful reminder to me and to all who share the shepherding task. Let me quote from it briefly:
“And so, my brothers, let us listen to the words with which the Lord upbraids the wicked sheep and to the promises he makes to his own flock. You are my sheep, he says. Even in the midst of this life of tears and tribulations, what happiness, what great joy it is to realise that we are God’s flock! To him were spoken the words: You are the shepherd of Israel. Of him it was said: The guardian of Israel will not slumber, nor will he sleep. He keeps watch over us when we are awake; he keeps watch over us when we sleep. A flock belonging to a man feels secure in the care of its human shepherd; how much safer should we feel when our shepherd is God. Not only does he lead us to pasture, but he even created us.
You are my sheep, says the Lord God. See, I judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. What are goats doing here in the flock of God? In the same pastures, at the same springs, goats – though destined for the left – mingle with those on the right. They are tolerated now, but will be separated later. In this way the patience of the flock develops and becomes like God’s own patience. For it is he who will do the separating, placing some on the left and others on the right.”
I am particularly moved by the notion that the patience of the flock should become like God’s own patience. Patience is our calling, our God-like calling. We cannot turn our backs on others. We do indeed need to live together in this life as visible Church cum et sub Petro. We need to struggle, not so much with our differences, but with our injustices, with the wrongs we do and that we do unto one another. The patience of the Good Shepherd is what we owe to each other for His greater glory and honor.
History teaches us that church councils are not packaged commodities but rather moments which initiate processes in the life of the Church, going on for decades or perhaps centuries, and whose yield may be greater or smaller. The issue may be neither doctrinal nor pastoral but rather one of analysis and application as yield. Lateran IV or Trent: objectively we can point to which had the greater yield, if you will. It is shared opinion that councils are risky business both in their celebration and in their implementation. I think however that it would be grievously wrong for any true Catholic to attribute error in matters of faith or morals to the promulgated documents of an ecumenical council. Formulations might be dated and even tainted by a certain world view, but as a departure from what the Church must believe and teach as coming to us from the Apostles... no!