The Danger of Criticizing Bishops and Priests (3)

Liturgical Insubordination

Another problem that emerges sometimes among those who would rather criticize than pray for bishops is deciding for themselves the form the liturgy should take. Some take on themselves the prerogative to make little changes in their responses at Mass, thereby causing division in precisely the place where we should be most unified. Whether it be rejecting a certain memorial acclamation, or responding in Latin when the congregation is responding in English, or substituting the word "God" for "he" or "him" for feminist purposes, any of these can be a distraction for others trying to lift their hearts and minds to God.

It is not up to us to decide what is apt in the Mass, but the bishops. Surely, we should avoid doing something immoral, but besides that unlikely case, we should obediently follow the liturgy given to us by those chosen to do so. Whether we like a translation or not (and some seem to be lacking at times), we should accept and use what our superiors have given us. Far better to write a humble letter to the bishops than to change things on our own authority. And far better to pray for better translations.

Losing Joy

"God deliver me from gloomy saints!
St. Teresa of Avila

There is a further danger of being so ready to criticize bishops or priests: we can become very dour Catholics. The more we criticize and complain, the more we bring down the morale of the Church and the more gloomy we become. (St. Teresa of Avila said once, "God deliver me from gloomy saints!") Many sincere, orthodox Catholics have become sour people because they continued to dwell on the faults of the clergy, so sour that they have been unable to contribute something positive to the Church, despite their many talents.This is not to say we may not acknowledge the wrongs of priests and bishops, but we should do so reluctantly and with understatement. And then, we should move on to the positive, the things that will build up the Church and her morale. We should never dwell on the negative elements of priests and bishops-or anyone else, for that matter-because it will make us melancholy people, always ready to point out the negative aspect of any situation.

The devil is most clever in bringing down those who sincerely love God and the Church. He gets them to dwell on the negative elements of the Church and thereby destroys their joy. We mustn't fall for this ruse. If we want to be holy, we must focus on the positive, and let nothing destroy our joy.

St. Catherine of Sienna Catholics for the Common Good Respect for priests and bishops 
St. Catherine of Siena

God the Father spoke to St. Catherine of Siena about his "ministers," the priests. She recorded it in her Dialogue:

...[It] is my intention that they be held in due reverence, not for what they are in themselves, but for my sake, because of the authority I have given them. Therefore the virtuous must not lessen their reverence, even should these ministers fall short in virtue. And, as far as the virtues of my ministers are concerned, I have described them for you by setting them before you as stewards of... my Son's body and blood and of the other sacraments. This dignity belongs to all who are appointed as such stewards, to the bad as well as to the good.

...[Because] of their virtue and because of their sacramental dignity you ought to love them. And you ought to hate the sins of those who live evil lives. But you may not for all that set ourselves up as their judges; this is not my will because they are my Christ's, and you ought to love and reverence the authority I have given them.

You know well enough that if someone filthy or poorly dressed were to offer you a great treasure that would give you life, you would not disdain the bearer for love of the treasure, and the lord who had sent it, even though the bearer was ragged and filthy... You ought to despise and hate the ministers' sins and try to dress them in the clothes of charity and holy prayer and wash away their filth with your tears.

Indeed, I have appointed them and given them to you to be angels on earth and suns, as I have told you. When they are less than that you ought to pray for them. But you are not to judge them. Leave the judging to me, and I, because of your prayers and my own desire, will be merciful to them. [1]

Is judging the same as criticizing? It's close. The Random House American College Dictionary defines the word "criticize" as "1. To make judgments as to merits and faults. 2. To find fault."

Clearly, the Lord wants prayers, not judgment for his priests. Alas, how sad that some are far more ready to judge (and criticize) priests than they are to pray for them! Imagine how much better off the Church would be if all the energy given to criticizing priests and bishops here devoted to prayer and penance for these men; and how much better off those who prayed and fasted would be!

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1. Catherine of Siena; The Dialogue, translated by Suzanne Noffke, O.P., New York: Paulist Press, 1980, pp. 229-231.

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