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A Merciful Response

The first Spiritual Work of Mercy is to instruct the ignorant. This instruction must be done with charity and compassion but also with clarity. It should always be accompanied by prayer.

Here is a bit of evidence that prayer works.

Father Darrin Connall, rector of Bishop White Seminary in Spokane, is one of the priests who worked with the sisters as they made their journey home to the Catholic Church.

At first, he "was kind of shocked" the sisters were interested in talking to him, he said.

Mother Mary Katrina, head of the community at that time and one of the sisters who has left Mount St. Michael, "explained to me," he said, "that through studying the teachings of the church, and listening to" Sacred Heart Radio, operated in Spokane by the Poor Clare Sisters, several of the sisters realized that what they were reading and hearing "sounded incredibly Catholic."

"They began to have questions about their theological position," he said.

Father Connall is convinced that a prime mover of this event was prayer.

When Spokane Bishop William S. Skylstad invited the Missionaries of Charity to establish a house in Spokane, part of his request was based on the area's poverty -- not material poverty but spiritual poverty, particularly in regard to schismatic groups such as the community at Mount St. Michael.

In October 2005, the Missionaries of Charity took the names of the sisters at the Mount and began to pray for them, said Father Dan Barnett, pastor of St. Patrick Parish, where Mount St. Michael is located and where the Missionaries of Charity have their convent.

His parish also conducted "a stewardship of prayer campaign," he said. "One of the stewardship intentions was reconciliation with Mount St. Michael. Some months later, I received word that some of the sisters (at the Mount) were really questioning the validity of the sedevacantist position."

Some of the sisters attended conferences given to the Missionaries of Charity on Thursday evenings by Benedictine Abbot Adrian Parcher, now pastor of parishes in Colfax and LaCrosse, Wash. At Mount St. Michael the sisters had been told "there were no more women religious in the world, but they saw the Missionaries of Charity, in full habit, living a form of religious life more radical even than theirs," said Father Connall.

As the sisters learned more, and asked more questions, they encountered nothing but patience, compassion and understanding, said Mother Marie de Lourdes.

Bishop Skylstad "could have written us off, or made some public statement" ordering Catholics to stay away, "but he didn't," she said. "He didn't condemn us. He patiently waited, understanding of our plight, supportive, prayerful, in a Christ-like spirit of love."

(H/T to Kellyfor this wonderful story)

Today’s release of this document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith must also be understood in light of our call to mercifully instruct the ignorant. The mainstream media is focusing on this as a divisive document with headlines like Pope: Other Christians not True Churches What the document really says is:

Second Question: What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?

Response: Christ "established here on earth" only one Church and instituted it as a "visible and spiritual community"[5], that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted.[6] "This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic […]. This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him"[7].

In number 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium ‘subsistence’ means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church[8], in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.

It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.[9] Nevertheless, the word "subsists" can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe... in the "one" Church); and this "one" Church subsists in the Catholic Church.[10]…

Fifth Question: Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of "Church" with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?

Response: According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery[19] cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called "Churches" in the proper sense[20].

The Holy See, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is instructing those not in full communion with the Church that they have elements of truth and sanctification, but they are missing crucial elements. It is charitable and merciful to invite them into the fullness of Christ’s Church that is found only in the Catholic Church. How could we let them persist in ignorance? It is not surprising that Pope Benedict XVI would authorize such a statement. His very first address as Pope warned of the dangers of moral relativism. We cannot say that this sect has a truth that is complete for them while another sect has a different truth that is equally complete for them. There is only one Truth. Christ gave us only one holy apostolic Church to safeguard that Truth through the ages.

Therefore, we need to be firm and clear yet charitable in our proclamation of this Truth. It is sometimes tempting to write off those who call themselves Catholic but openly dissent from Church teachings. I know I have on more than one occasion suggested these folks should just pack up and go find a denomination more to their liking. I report on the events of the Episcopal Church because they are harbingers of what could happen if we followed the path of these nominal Catholics. While it might make life within the Catholic Church in the United States a bit less stressful if these dissidents packed up and found their way to the Episcopal Church as is often the suggestion promulgated in the comment boxes of Catholic blogs, the truly Catholic response is to gather these wayward Catholics into our daily prayers. We should follow the example of Bishop Skylstad and persist in our prayerful pursuit of these souls.


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