“But some Popes were so bad…”

Yesterday’s Gospel reading was Matthew 23:1-12. The reading begins:

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.

This is the proper response when people ask how Catholics can have so much faith in the Papacy when so many bad men have sat on the Chair of St. Peter. So many bad men sat in the Chair of Moses, but the Jews were still obliged to obey them, according to this part of the Gospel. Jesus said this even as He knew they would soon plot to kill Him. We obey these men by virtue of the position they hold, not on account of their personal goodness.

In fact, the vanity and corruption of so many of those Popes is an argument in favor of the Papacy. If these awful men still taught the truth of the Faith, not changing doctrine and not destroying the Church from within, isn’t that a strong indications that what the we believe about the Church is true? That it is the one true Church founded by Christ and protected and guided by the Holy Spirit?

You’ll notice later in the same reading, this line:

Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.

This is often used against Catholics as well. After all, we address our priests as “Father.” Here’s a good response to that criticism, showing how elsewhere in the Bible the Apostles refer to themselves as spiritual fathers to Christians. And that’s where Catholics draw their tradition of referring to priests as Father; they are our spiritual fathers. So what did Jesus mean? I’ll just quote from the article linked above:

Jesus criticized Jewish leaders who love “the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called ‘rabbi’ by men” (Matt. 23:6–7). His admonition here is a response to the Pharisees’ proud hearts and their grasping after marks of status and prestige.

He was using hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point) to show the scribes and Pharisees how sinful and proud they were for not looking humbly to God as the source of all authority and fatherhood and teaching, and instead setting themselves up as the ultimate authorities, father figures, and teachers.

Even though we Catholics refer to our priests as Father, we always must keep in mind that they are no the source of their teaching, but rather Our Father in Heaven is.

Choosing Between Evils

Willard Whyte wrote the following in response to one of my earlier posts:

I have not visited in a bit, but this post coming so close to the quote reel with the Walmart passage struck me to write.
Your point is critical it seems to me, when all is said. The heart and what is written on it when faith rules there. And then, of course, the actions that follow that inner voice.
For what Jesus said was, even to a non-lawyer, very vague. For each of those things we all shalt not do are before us each day, some in small measure, some all too large and clear.
I shalt not steal, which is clear when standing at the Wawa counter with a clerk with his back turned and the gumball in my face. But the rule is much tougher when I am the CEO of Walmart and I have a choice of buying from a vendor who is cheapest because his product is assembled by an all-but-slave workforce in a building filled with toxic fumes from glue which pours poison into the stream an entire village draws its water from, rather than the more expensive vendor who loves his neighbor as he loves himself.
Am I stealing as I contribute to the taking of 8 hours of labor from those faraway people for a pittance, even as I contribute to the thriving of a venture that surely will kill many, if slowly?
Only if the words Jesus spoke rule in my heart will I strive to measure such complex equations. And then act as I believe He would want me to. Of course, I secretly thank Him for charging me with far simpler tasks.
WalMart is just one of many of our institutions in the clutches of the moneychangers, reaping gluttonous profits with ruthlessly effective purchasing, outsourcing and low-wage, no-benefit labor policies. Is that theft? Is that loving they neighbor (cashier) as thyself (CEO)?
A judgment of that — and if there is an indictment, any subsequent measure of what is “right” — must come from the heart. And I think I would find it to be a difficult assessment, and not be too quick to attack the motives of those who criticize the company’s behavior. For they may be following that voice in their hearts and striving to “discover and live the truth” — and act upon it.
They may be members of a union, or an executive with W.L. Gore who have chosen a different, less lucrative path in life because those words instructed them to seek more than silver and act as a just man.
Our world is a difficult place and the Way is hard to discern. The way ahead is even more difficult if we see only the darkness in our fellow man, rather than look for and nurture signs of Light.
When Jesus said thou shall not steal, he meant thou shall not take a commodity without justly compensating its owner. Surely, he would extend the same calculus to compensation for a man’s
labor — in Smyrna or Bangkok.
And what of the quick wink as the company contracts with, and otherwise fosters, “arms length” firms exploiting illegal immigrant labor to clean hundreds of stores at night, also for a profitable pittance?
I too shop at Wal-Mart — and someday I may count my blessings for the opportunity to also earn that $9.17 an hour. But I feel guilty every time I do so — because of that voice in my heart.
I’m getting a cheap and easy gumball and there are oh so many reasons why I do this.
And that clerk with his back turned is so many miles away — and he’ll never know it was me and millions like me shaving a few cents here or there at his expense.
Ah, the web is endless and we all are sinners. Perhaps it is not our place to seek more from the WalMarts of the world. They’re no worse than any of the others.

First, Willard , I’ve got a complaint. I can’t read your handle without thinking of the worst Bond movie. There’s so little good to say about it. Not your fault, though. (Moonraker runs a close second. Ugh.)

Your point hits on a big reason I’m conservative. Sometimes we just don’t what the right thing to do is. Yes, people who run factories with poor working conditions in foreign countries could take better care of their employees. But does that run the risk of causing them to lose money and necessitate closing the factories down? Having talked to some immigrants, they’ve been unanimous: Please don’t take those jobs away from our nations. Even with the poor conditions, we know those people are better off than they otherwise would be since they work there and not somewhere else.

Take a similar issue: the “fair trade” coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I can’t say for sure that if I were, I’d drink fair trade coffee. If these coffee farmers can’t compete with other, lower priced competitors, perhaps we’re better off devoting our charitable efforts toward retraining them with skills in an area where they could compete.

I’ve never shopped at WalMart myself, but probably would if I needed to. As a conservative, I do have a general preference for small, local business so I tend to avoid the larger nationwide chains. Unfortunately, the large number of government regulations favors large business since they can more easily absorb the cost of said regulations.

I just read a quote about Catholic Social Teaching: essentially it said “Until you know the facts, side with the poor.” It’s sometime expressed as a “positive preference for the poor.” But even there, there is a wide gray area in how best to help them. Some argue for an increase in the minimum wage, in order to increase the incomes of the working poor. Other (like myself) worry about the effect that would have on the working poor, costing some jobs and preventing others from being created. Both are acceptable approaches under Catholic thought, since they’re in keeping with the general principle of help the poor, but only one can be right.

And it’s that principle that supports my conservatism: in things where there are two (or more) approaches and we aren’t sure which is correct, let people figure it out for themselves. I have more faith in the 700,000 Delawareans making their own decisions than I do in the 62 of them that legislate in Dover making decisions for everyone

And as Willard pointed out, we do live in a fallen world where people are selfish and greedy. Which is another reason to decrease the power of government. WalMart can’t make you buy their product. They can’t come into your house and grab you and make you shop there; they can’t force K-Mart to close. But government, through the police and military can do such a thing. WalMart needs to make us happy, the government doesn’t.

There is a finite amount of power in the earthly world. We can concentrate it in the hands of a few or allow many more to share it. I’m conservative because I want all to share in it, rather than a privileged few.