A few people have chided some Alaskan Catholic bloggers for expressing their opinions about the visitation at Holy Family Cathedral. Fair enough — the 1st Amendment abides, for the time being. However, most of these comments have little to do with addressing the issues brought up by the bloggers – such as why a “problem parish” dominates the community life section of the diocesan newspaper – and instead choose to level personal attacks at the bloggers, doubtless embodying the real Spirit of Vatican II. A typical combox critic demands blind obedience to the Archbishop or else casts aspersions upon the personal prayer life of the blogger. This latter tactic ranks as one of the more curious traits among Spirit ‘O’ Vatican II’ers. Although most of the Kumbaya crowd can’t much give you a straight answer on how to pray, they certainly know how to tell when you are praying wrong, and helpfully offer a vaguely transcendental or Buddhist valediction, e.g. “real conversion begins within” or “you must find yourself before helping others find themselves.” As if that was how St. Patrick converted the Irish or Our Lady won the hearts of the Aztecs! In any event, his latter type of attack deserves no further discussion, but the idea of blind obedience really has some merit. I am speaking now of the type of blind obedience as practiced by Padre Pio when his corrupt Bishop persecuted his ministry, removing all St. Pio’s faculties sans a daily private Mass:
The local bishop, whose reputation was quite bad, had some priests and parishioners sign an accusation of supposed scandal at the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo, which led to long legal proceedings at the Court in Rome. As a consequence of serious calumnies, severe measures were taken against Padre Pio, by the abused ecclesiastical authority, starting in June 1922. He was forbidden all spiritual correspondence, even with his spiritual directors; he was forbidden to celebrate Mass in public; he was to be transferred to another monastery. In fact, the last two measures could not be enforced due to the outcry of the local population.
You can read more about St. Pio here. Two things strike me about this episode in St. Pio’s life:
1) St. Pio, like St. Jean Vianney and innumerable other saints, was meekly, cheerfully, and blindly obedient to his bishop; “I only act to obey you, since the Good Lord has made me realize that that is the only thing that pleases Him, and for me the only way to hope for salvation and to sing victory.” This was because he saw the test before him – should he choose to disobey the bishop for the sake of saving hundreds of souls who made pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo to be confessed by Pio? Or should he be obedient TO HIS VOWS TAKEN AS A RELIGIOUS, and follow the will of God acting through his lawful ordinary AS FAR AS IT KEPT HIM FROM SIN? Saint that he was, he chose the latter, and we are all better for it.
2) The outcry of the local population prevented some of the bishop’s orders. Not because the Church was more democratic in 1920’s Italy than 21st century America (now that’s a funny thought), but because of a long and sacred truth revered by the likes of tyrants and despots such as Nero, and that is this: you can only mess with the mob so long before the mob messes with you. Put another way, injustice eventually becomes intolerable.
So how does obedience apply here?
It could well be that Fr. Francis and the other Dominicans, with desire to fulfill their vows and in imitation of holy saints such as Padre Pio, will blindly obey the Archbishop up to and over the precipice of the Chilkoot and back down to the Lower 48. If such a thing were to occur, who could say anything but that we have been in the presence of men who courageously seek holiness, to their self-abasement and in imitation of our Crowned Savior? That is the sort of blind obedience that bespeaks the theological virtue of faith even more than an Education Center or a renewed catechesis and CCD program.
Fathers have vows too. And those vows include the rearing of children. And a father must ensure for the spiritual welfare of their children as they are able. Therefore, as long as he is able, a father is obligated to tell his Ordinary, and his Ordinary’s chancery minions, and any other interested parties that something is rotten when necessary changes in catechesis are attacked as disrespecting “parish heritage.” In doing so, a father obeys not only his own baptismal vows, but also those that were laid upon him at his child’s baptism.