This is in response to Pat, who comments about the authority of the Magisterium:
Re faithfulness to the magisterium - personally I am faithful to God, my Saviour. The magisterium guides me in that faith but they do not own the truth. Thanks to the gifts of the Holy Spirit all baptized Catholics have the ability and responsibility to grow in the understanding of our faith and share that with the rest of the Body of Christ, which is the Church. We each do it a little differently - but that makes being a member of the Church interesting and life-giving.
Actually, Pat, I cannot agree with your characterization of the Magisterium. A little over a year ago I wrote a post "To Be Catholic means to Accept Church Authority." I am afraid the link to Alvin Kimel's piece in this post no longer works because he has changed his Pontifications blog address, but I still think my post provides some important points. (The Pontifications post was entitled Letter from an Enquirer so if anyone knows if that post is still accessible, I would love to have the link. It was truly a masterpiece in apologetics) The Magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church, given to the Church by Christ when he placed Peter as the head of the Church. We trust that the Holy Spirit keeps this teaching authority free from error in all matters of faith and morals.
Pope Benedict XVI affirmed this in a Wednesday audience:
In the person of the Apostles, charged with the celebration of the Eucharist and the forgiveness of sins, the Church has been made the sign and instrument of the Kingdom of God in our midst. Christ can never be separated from the Church; through the Church he remains ever present in his people, and in a special way in the successors of the Apostles.
Therefore we cannot take the teachings of the Magisterium lightly. Christ gave us the Church to preserve His Truth. Otherwise the truth becomes like the children's game of telephone where a phrase is whispered from one child to another and ends up entirely different from the starting words. As faithful Catholics we must seek the grace and the humility to defer to the wisdom of the Church and its teaching authority, the Magisterium. Otherwise we just set ourselves up as our own little individual magisteriums.
Of course this is where someone will always bring up the issue of conscience. I suggest every Catholic read Article 6 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its entirety. Paragraphs 1776 through 1802 deal specifically and thoroughly with the issue of conscience. It is important to note, that while we are exhorted to follow our conscience the Catechism clearly states that our conscience is not just “how we feel” about an issue. We have a responsibility to form our conscience. Paragraphs 1790 -1792 state:
1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.
1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to be personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin. In such cases the person is culpable for the evil he commits.
1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.
Therefore, each of us must answer the questions: Do we believe the Catholic Church is who she proclaims to be? Do we believe she is the one true Church, founded by Christ, and given the teaching authority to preserve His Truth? To be Catholic is to assent to this. To give this assent is hard and requires grace. With this grace and through prayer and study, our assent grows more fervent. Yet our assent is never complete. We spend our entire lives trying to formulate the perfect “Fiat!” as was uttered by the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation. Humble obedience to the Magisterium is but a first step.