Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


In the Matter of Lay Discernment

July 22nd, 2019, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Last week it seemed that the prayer of the Collect at Mass had been building to a crescendo, begging a question and also attempting to answer it. It brought to focus so much that remains almost unspoken to us, and among us, in these times of confusion:


“O God, Who show the light of Your truth

to those who go astray,

so that they may return to the right path,

give all who for the faith they profess

are accounted Christians

the grace to reject whatever is contrary to

     the Name of Christ

and to strive after all that does it honor.

Through our Lord, Jesus Christ, Your Son,

Who lives and reigns with You in the unity

     of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.”

This Collect text seems clearly applicable to the questions, concerns and risks of both laity and clergy since early 2013, regarding Pope Benedict XVI’s resigning the papacy, and the election of Pope Francis (Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina) to the Chair of St. Peter. The words which seem to “jump off the page” from the Collect and for these times are bolded above, i.e. our asking God for “the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the Name of Christ and to strive after all that does it honor.”

A basis for discernment?

This Collect would seem to be a very good basis on which to approach so much of the angst associated with more recent threats to the Deposit of Faith. And it would seem to be the basis of the heroic resistance of some princes of the Church in response to papal ‘liberties’ assumed. It would also seem to be foundational to the writings of the four Dubia cardinals, and to the forthrightness of some fearless bishops. But one cannot apply the guidance of this Collect without a measure of discernment. Unfortunately, even many Catholics, with a fairly solid grounding in Church Teaching, have received little training in the way of discernment, and we are breaking new ground together, generally  with little guidance. But if our motives are those described in the Collect, perhaps we are on solid enough ground, nevertheless.

The necessary work of the laity

The necessary work of the laity was anticipated in Bp. Fulton J. Sheen’s prophetic words: ”Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops, and your religious act like religious.” – Fulton J. Sheen


In the beginning of Pope Francis’ reign it seemed that negative reactions were more like personal reactions, such as to the new Pope’s washing and kissing the feet of women and men (not necessarily Catholic) in a prison in Rome. Was the upset about changing a procedure or about a real threat to the Faith? Then there were reactions to comments aloft, which seemed not well thought out, potentially implying a tolerance toward a sinful lifestyle. “Who am I to judge?” asked the new pope, to which Catholics seemed to answer: “You are the Pope; you should be able to judge.” One noted Cardinal defended the Pope, treating the matter as a misunderstanding, and being very sure what Pope Francis must have meant, had to have meant. However, we later came to understand that he’d meant exactly what he said and didn’t want to be explained away. Were we reading signs of a future rift or even a potential schism? Or were we just witnessing cultural mis-communications?  As one issue after another became revealed, similar questions continued to arise – charges of rigging the Synod? A papal right, or a duplicitous machination?

To some of the laity, there was the matter of trying to understand why the new Pope seemed to be taking antagonistic views against the policies of the newly elected American President, who was the most anti-abortion POTUS ever! Why? Was it just papal politics? Or socialism?  The point is not to offer a complete list of Pope Francis’ stumbling blocks. Lifesite News has an excellent list here: . It is one thing to look back and see the “signs” we might even feel we missed; it is quite another to have been reined in by the obligations of discernment, right judgment and charity. But, subsequently, the catalog of problems grew over the years, into more serious accusations, documented with increasing Catholic media attention from sources already known for their accuracy and truthful reporting.

Concerns of the Laity

And, so, the offenses built up to a point where the laity’s ignoring what Bp. Sheen calls their “minds, eyes and ears” becomes a dereliction of duty. It is no pleasure for a Catholic to see a statue of Martin Luther in the Vatican. How does that do honor to the Name of Christ? Or to see a Pope questioned by Cardinals on matters of doctrine and find the Pope unwilling to reply. Or to see a threat to the Eucharist in giving Communion to the divorced and remarried? Different Catholics reach the point of decision at different times, based on how much we’ve prayed, how well informed we make ourselves, and where-in we might have any expertise. But it seems realistic to say that over the first few years of Pope Francis’ reign, the tilting point brought more people to a point of seeing a problem issue than were given relief from their early concerns. A number of friends have asked the question: “How can I pray for the Pope’s Intentions? I’m scared what he might do!”

Catholics in the pew have some experience with taking political or social action on matters such as abortion, for example. But we tend to have very little expertise in recognizing the error or corruption within the hierarchy of the Church, let alone organizing to take action in the context of Church. Would the sexual abuse of minors have gone as far as it did if we had our eyes open? And the seminarian recruits to the priesthood who were abused weren’t the ones who complained about their abusive superiors, lest they not be ordained. They were the ones who still went to the beach house and grabbed the single beds, letting the newbie contend for himself with Mr. McC. When does that reckoning come?

The issues are different for the laity, but not without concern. For those who are well informed in understanding what the Church has always taught, who accept the impossibility of change, and have a certain courage to examine the challenges and follow where the Spirit leads, it may not seem all that difficult. But disagreeing with a pope, resisting instruction one finds morally wrong, risking separation from the very source and summit of our lives is no light matter. And if we are caring for other souls at the same time, like raising children, it is even more challenging.

The sins so badly plaguing the world today

The sins so badly plaguing the world today did not originate out of obedience to any prior pope, let alone to the Word of God. We need only recognize the widespread sexual sins of illicit marriages, abortion, contraception, homosexual activism and lifestyle, gender confusion, sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults, pornography and – soon—euthanasia to realize that the Catholic world has long been out of sync with historic papal and scriptural teachings. It’s called sin. The ‘self-esteem’ of the blatant sinner is sometimes treated as a higher value than saving souls; there is a reason “pride” is linked to the visible proclamation of sin.

But what is also different now is the assessment in some quarters, fear in other quarters, that papal teaching itself may be out of sync (or creeping toward a position out of sync) with generations of teaching the Deposit of the Faith. We have a very different problem from prior centuries, when people couldn’t find the answers to their concerns and were principally limited to input and guidance from a single available priest, sometimes with a less than stellar education.  Today, we have (in a sense) too much information, too many sources, a plethora of media, and far too many people too willing to give their opinions as if they were doctrine, with credibility weighted sometimes toward the loudest voice or the fattest purse. Our ability to discern is diluted by the flood of information, and complicated by lack of proper training to discern and decide, and with the seeming reluctance of some pastors to actually address the issues out of confusion, fear, or even personal tolerance of the sin.

It’s about souls

In such an environment, especially with apparent contradiction of unchangeable tenets of the Faith, how do souls retain clarity, stay committed to the faith, help others who are confused, and still trust in the hierarchy to the extent necessary? For those who deny there is an issue, there’s not much to say. But for those who slowly and reluctantly came to realize the risk to the Deposit of Faith, they are now without excuse.

Thus, the question arises of how souls seeking to be (and continuing to be) good Catholics since March 2013, have dealt with discerning truth, in a confusion of media foment, contradictory statements, and fear of scandal. It is an important question, as it responds to the prophecy of Bp. Sheen, and to the separate movement of conscience within the laity.

Conversion on the Way to Damascus

It is quite difficult for each preacher to reach from his pulpit all souls and where they stand in an evolving awareness of their obligations, but they can be encouraged in “the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the Name of Christ and to strive after all that does it honor.” Recently we have been asking some Catholics the basic question: “When did you first know something was amiss?” and the follow-up is: “Are you doing anything about it?”

As in any conversion, there is often a moment, an occurrence, when the Truth can no longer be ignored, as in Caravaggio’s painting of St. Paul’s conversion, beneath the hooves of a horse which may or may not have been on the scene (Bible doesn’t say). When, and for what reason, did it first become thinkable to Catholics that there really was a disconnect of some sort between Pope Francis’ words, and those of prior popes? When did fears of speaking up change to sharing concepts and ideas with friends, and considering how to act further? Yes, it tells us a lot about the situation, but also a lot about ourselves.

So the question we ask now is “When did the unthinkable actually become thinkable for you?”


3 Responses to “In the Matter of Lay Discernment”

  1. avatar Mary-Kathleen says:

    I cannot find the Collect about which you write.
    The Collect for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost 7/14 begins “O God who hast prepared for those who love Thee…”
    The Collect for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost 7/21 begins “O God of all power and might…”

  2. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Sorry for not being clearer. When I said the Collect from last week, I didn’t mean Sunday. I meant the rest of the week. Monday (July 15) was a Memorial for St. Bonaventure, so that had its own Collect, but the rest of the week, Tuesday through Saturday morning, prescribed the Collect shown in red at the top of the post, unless of course the celebrant chose a permissible alternative. And of course I meant the Novus Ordo too.

  3. avatar militia says:

    If we’re supposed to pluck out an eye or cut off a foot that is a source of sin to us, it seems reasonable that we should cut off the money to people who promote sin, even if they are bishops or the Vatican.

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