Clearing the Heart to See the Truth

Sense of the Faith-Lacking

The latest Extraordinary Synod of Bishops has captured the attention of the world in its discussions on marriage and family, but the reasons behind this interest are questionable. St. John Paul II once said that the way of society goes by way of the family. Thus, decisions regarding the family have a universal impact. The interest of what appears to be the entire world can be interpreted as a good thing, provided that the interest comes from a genuine desire to promote and protect the sanctity of the family. To the extent that they come from desires to redefine and/or lower the moral expectations of the family, the interest is misleading, dangerous, and futile.vatican-1

This past year, bishops from around the world gathered information from the pews to help guide their pastoral responses to the issues faced by Catholic families worldwide. The Bishops are also receiving testimonies from couples and families during the synod to further assist their decision-making. From these sources, we discover that many, many Catholics are cohabiting, divorcing and remarrying without receiving a declaration of nullity from their previous marriage, are acting on same sex attractions, and expect to receive communion while in these relationships. Surprise! Surprise! This data, many are arguing, captures the Sensus Fidei, or Sense of the Faith. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Sense of the Faithful is understood as a “supernatural appreciation of the faith, shown by the universal consent in matters of faith and morals manifested by the whole body of the faithful under the guidance of the Magisterium. (cf. the glossary, and #92 CCC.)” It has been traditionally  understood to be a reliable litmus test for sound doctrine. Changing the teachings of the Church, some argue, is not so much a change in doctrine, but a recognition of what the true doctrine is, according to this sense of the faith possessed by the faithful.

This argument appears plausible. However, upon closer examination, the errors become easily apparent. First, the faithful include the whole people of God, “from the bishops to the last of the faithful…who manifest universal consent in matters of faith and morals.” (#92 CCC) I know many, many Catholics, including myself, who don’t agree that we can accept non-marital sexual living arrangements as consistent with the teaching of Christ, and thus extend Holy Communion to individuals who have chosen or find themselves in such situations. Moreover, understanding what the Church means by the word faithful discloses the second error. To be faithful, one must be full of faith. According to the Catechism, faith is “both a gift of God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God who invites his response, and feely assents to the whole truth that God has revealed.” (Emphasis mine.) The Sensus Fidei is not just a straw poll of the world’s Catholics regarding what they want and how they are currently living. Rather, it is a personal response to Divine Revelation—truths which come in the form of intellectual propositions, to which one freely adheres. If one feely chooses not to adhere, then, by definition, that person does not reflect this supernatural sense of the faith(ful). Perhaps things like ignorance reduce personal culpability, but ignorance can’t be an ingredient in the Sense of the Faithful because understanding is an integral component of faith!

I have been teaching Catholic adults for 20 years in four different dioceses in the United States. I can tell you from my own experience that there is much ignorance in the laity and clergy alike. Many adult Catholics lack clarity, knowledge, and understanding of the most basic tenets of our faith. They also lack an appreciation of the organic unity of the doctrines of the Church, and how these relate to Christ. Ignorance in basic doctrinal beliefs affects how one lives the faith.

Before we accept the responses to the Bishops queries regarding marital and sexual morals as representative of the Sensus Fidei, perhaps it would be wise to see how those same respondents would react to questions on other aspects of Church teaching. For instance, what do these respondents believe about Christ? Would they agree that He is the one Savior of the world? Do they believe that the Catholic Church is the Universal Sacrament of Salvation instituted by Christ so as to live and act in the world today? How would they respond to the teaching that the Holy Eucharist is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ? Do they profess and firmly belief this, or would they want to change that, too? Do they believe that they are to confess their sins to a priest, and to do so with regularity? Do they practice daily meditation?

It has been my experience that Catholics who answer that the Church should change her teachings in the sexual sphere would also answer that the Church should change her teachings in the doctrinal and spiritual spheres as well. If I am right, then those who want to change the Church’s sexual teachings do not express the Sense of the Faith, but rather the Sense of the Faith-lacking, or, worse, Faithless. With all the voices competing to give direction to the Church’s life, let’s not waste too much time listening to the voices who clearly don’t know what they’re talking about

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6 Responses to “Sense of the Faith-Lacking”

  1. squishee says:

    Very well said.

  2. Jea says:

    Many Catholics don’t even know the Catholic Church doesn’t teach sola scriptura like the protestants do. Their sense of Catholicism might be too under informed to be reliable.

  3. Margaret O says:

    Interestingly, much of the groundswell of protest seems to come from the laity. Imo we are living in times when we have to align ourselves with the good cardinals and add our voices – loud and strong! We are living in times when so many of our priests and bishops lack true formation of the Faith – and some cardinals appear to have lost whatever Catholic intelligence they might have possessed. We need to write to our Nuncios – everyone! We need people to orchestrate this protest.

  4. jenny says:

    “..those same respondents would react to questions on other aspects of Church teaching. ..”

    Questions on the Church teaching , that some of the Synod “fathers” may ask themselves:
    – why fathers abandon to death their children – 1 in 4 children in USA are fatherless
    – why fathers , grand-fathers hardly come to church – on a weekday, almost all Mass attendees are mothers , grand-mothers , working mothers.
    – why fathers have unplanned impregnations ?

  5. Thomas Lynch says:

    Perhaps the Bishops should consult the Holy Spirit and the Word of Jesus Christ and not give too much credence to what is said from people who have prior convictions on the subject, which includes ME.

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