Discerning Amidst All the Noise

At first sight, the appearance of so many voices online looks like a sign of a healthy Church. The keeping up to date with what is going on in the Church, the attempts to best approach breaking news from a saintly and orthodox perspective, the concern for the state of the Church and her future: these are clear signs that our Catholic brothers and sisters care about eternal and weighty matters.

There remains, however, quite a bit of confusion, and oftentimes, with the volume turned up so high these last few years, it's been hard to hear myself think, let alone to begin formulating conclusions. None of this alters my own approach to what God is calling me to do here and now in the city of Los Angeles. My concern has always been singular: the evangelization of Los Angeles and the advancement of the Kingdom of God in this great city. What, though, about the voices creeping in, and the remarkable means of communication that allow for others to shape the minds and hearts of the local church here in LA?

This has been, no doubt, a concern of mine for some time. What I would like to do here, then, is to suggest the Church in Los Angeles think through the voices we hear and the claims that they make. Traditionis Custodes is an opportunity for us to stop, pray through our thoughts, think deeply about what is going on and why, and try our best to discern the dawn.

In the case of this recent Motu Proprio, an overwhelming majority of voices would like us to believe that Pope Francis has problematic intentions and so on. When the wind is blowing entirely in one direction, it is difficult to find enough resistance to stand upon a firm surface while deciding upon the next course of action. Instead, it's all too easy to be swept along with everyone else. Wave after wave of reactions and immediate conclusions come rushing headlong upon the beaches of our minds and hearts only to carry us a hundred yards from where we placed our towels and coolers. This is entirely unhelpful. God is demanding more of us, especially here in Los Angeles. And this takes me to my first point:

It's almost always best to let the dust settle. One wonders, given that it has now been a week since the release of Traditionis Custodes (TC), if certain commentators are having second thoughts about what they said in the days (even hours!) after its initial promulgation. Many will double down on their quick responses; that's to be expected. But it seems clear to me, especially given the recent support by Archbishop Di Noia, that Pope Francis was intending (there is that pesky word again) to address a real problem. As the Angelus reports, citing Archbishop Di Noia's interview with Catholic News Services: “The thing has gotten totally out of control and become a movement, especially in the U.S., France and England.” Archbishop Di Noia went on, “[It’s] a movement that aggressively promotes the Traditional Latin Mass among young people and others as if this ‘extraordinary form’ were the true liturgy for the true Church.” My guess is that Di Noia will not be the last conservative bishop to express his support of TC in the days and weeks to come. Letting the dust settle before we make up our minds is prudent and wise. The Church in Los Angeles should mark itself out for being patient, even if some would like to have us react a lot sooner and with the full force of our will (and anger, perhaps).

The second point is a lesson we learn almost daily: not everyone is formally trained in theology and completely understands the issues at hand. It's not a matter of weighing in on a topic for discussion, but it's the presumption that one has all the information at hand to tell others that this is how it should be and there is no other way. Over the last several weeks I have discovered several popular Catholics to have only been practicing the Faith for a few years. One popular commentator had mentioned that he embraced the Faith in 2014, and now he is weighing in on the most complicated and complex issues of our day, telling others, explaining to thousands, what is going on in the Church and why. There is much that could (and should) be said about this point. Let me only say this. Many theological mistakes are made by Catholic commentators, even those who are branded as doctrinal watchdogs. Over the years I have learned to stand in the great Tradition and to think with the Church, and that the impressionable self that I was years ago could now more easily discern the subtle points of truth that are oftentimes obscured by the Catholic commentariat. It's here that Paul's exhortation to the Church in Corinth comes into its own: "Stop thinking like little children" (1 Cor 14:20). "Grow up in your thinking" is a Pauline echo that makes its way down through the ages, even to us today.

The last point is simply to stay on mission locally in Los Angeles. It's all too easy to feel called to speak to the Church and the world. We are living in Los Angeles, and that means, among other things, that the local Church and people in this city need us to be locally focused. Paul unpacks in each of his letters great themes of doctrine and theology, but he always does so for a single purpose: to nourish the local community that he feels attached to and called upon to serve. The apostle to the Gentiles shows himself time and time again to be a local apostle. One of the two pillars of the universal Church was oftentimes concerned with Corinth. That is a point worth taking seriously.

This is perhaps the fiercest thing we could do in the wake of a flood of events and news concerning the Church and the world: stay locally minded, to exercise apostolic subsidiarity, to not forget that we too are called to a people, the people of Los Angeles.

St. Junipero Serra's mission continues here in Los Angeles, because the Church's mission is alive in this great city.

Jesus and Mary, be with us on the way

Christopher Plance

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