Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sensus Fidelium

The Bear's readers will have at least heard of this mysterious power they possess called the sensus fidelium: the sense of the faithful. This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about it.


91 All the faithful share in understanding and handing on revealed truth. They have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, who instructs them and guides them into all truth.54 (737) 
92 “The whole body of the faithful … cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful,’ they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.” (785) 
93 “By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (Magisterium), … receives … the faith, once for all delivered to the saints.… The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life.” (889)


Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 28). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.

Before the Bear tries go on further about what it is, what it isn't almost more important.

  • it doesn't operate independently of the magisterium
  • it doesn't protect individual Catholics from error

In other words, the Devil can fool some of the faithful some of the time, but he can't fool all of the faithful any of the time. Or, to put it positively, we, as sheep (and the occasional Bear) know our Master's voice.

One sometimes sees the sensus fidelium spoken of like it is a new lay superpower, possibly invented at Vatican II. There are plenty of people that want to transfer power and prestige from the clergy to the laity. But that's not the way it works.

The magisterium still calls the shots, and the faithful -- as a whole -- adhere to its teachings. One supports and, the Bear supposes, cross-checks the other.

Occasionally, some bishops and their claques of theologians, will float novel ideas. Ideally, those ideas are legitimate developments of Church teachings, but not always. If recent history has taught us anything, it is that bishops can have unsound ideas and make bad decisions. They are men, subject to the temptations of pride, limitations of intellect, deformation of character and coolness of ardor. Same with theologians. It is the sensus fidelium that allows the faithful to discern sound doctrine from codswallop.

A single bishop or some collection of bishops do not teach infallibly. That doesn't mean the faithful are free to disregard what they say, only that the faithful must have a surer teaching on which to base their disagreement.

Let's say the Bishop of Bugtussle, perhaps enthused by the upcoming Synod, declares that in his diocese, all second marriages of divorced persons are in the same position as legitimate first marriages. Divorced and remarried Catholics may take communion in the diocese of Bugtussle. Catholics might disagree with the bishop by appealing to Holy Scripture, and everything the Church has done and taught during its history. The foundation for their objection would be superior to the fallible ordinary magisterium of the the Bishop of Bugtussle.

Catholics who dissented from that bishop's novel teaching on divorce and remarriage would be doing a service to the Church by upholding superior teaching and gently coaxing their shepherd back into heartland of the Church's teaching.

One might object that a large percentage of Catholics agree on various topics. Perhaps most, for example, think there's nothing wrong with contraception, and there are probably a disturbingly large number that accept their friends' trendy opinions on homosexuality. How do we know they're not using their supernatural insight to arrive at the truth?

Simple. There's a reason it's called the sense of the faithful, and not the sense of nominal Catholics. It belongs to the faithful, not dissenters and innovators. For that reason, it might be only a minority of Catholics who comprise the faithful, and whose sensus fidelium is in operating order.

Earlier, the Bear said that it does not empower individual Catholics with their own personal infallibility or anything, but was exercised collectively. Yet that collective experience of faithful adherence to and valid insights into Church teachings is exercised by individuals. So, in a sense, it does keep faithful Catholics in the fold and close to the shepherd.

Are the teachings of a synod infallible? They are certainly worthy of serious consideration. However, the Bear has not seen anything to suggest that a synod is infallible in the way an ecumenical council or a pope speaking ex cathedra is infallible.

The Bear and his readership are -- the Bear hopes -- among the faithful. We all try to accept the tried and true teachings of the Church. We share a sense of what's true and proper. And that is what will protect us in the coming months and get us through this papacy.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Elegy for a Collector

It seems as if everything from my childhood, everything I grew up with, is all spread out in a sort of barn, all brightly lit up. From the largest piece of furniture (how big it seemed when I was small!) to the smallest toy soldier (kilted highlanders!): everything is on display.

There are people I knew from the past. ("You ran for office, didn't you?") Now someone is calling my name. A pregnant woman. She seems happy to see me, but I can't place her. "It's Heidi! You remember me! I went to federal prison. You was my lawyer." Heidi, yes. Out already? All of her brothers and sisters were named starting with the letter H. She had a brother named Heineken.

There are crowds of people. A woman puts on a headset with a microphone, and begins talking very fast. I can't understand, but people are nodding, or making small gestures. Someone is selling popcorn, so I buy a bag, and sit down to watch the mysterious pageant.

One of the Bear's vivid dreams brought on by too much rich salmon and honey? It felt like it, but no, it was the estate auction from the Bear's childhood home, another step on the long journey of handling his mother's estate.

So much stuff! Mom might not have qualified for Hoarders, but the Bear doesn't think she threw away much. She was a collector, an antiquer, and an occasional junker. Far too much stuff. So much acquired in younger days was a burden later on. And now it was the Bear's burden.

It is hard not to be philosophical as you watch a lifetime being auctioned off.
  • you really can't take it with you
  • it's easy to accumulate too much stuff
  • being able to let go of things is a virtue
  • whatever you leave behind becomes somebody else's immediate problem
  • things that seem important don't seem so important in the face of eternity
  • time like an ever rolling stream really does bear all its sons (and daughters) away
There were moments of sadness: sudden and inexplicable. But there is something about an auction that defies low spirits.

The Bear marveled at how everyone was getting what they wanted.
  • the auction company was getting a percentage of the proceeds
  • the people were getting things they wanted
  • the Bear was wrapping up -- and adding value to -- the estate
It was free enterprise at its best. 

It wasn't just stuff, it was energy: my parent's toil was turned into money; there was effort in hunting for the stuff; then it all magically became new possessions. Sadly, there was energy in holding on to it all, as well. Far too long, far too much energy. Now that energy was being broken up, becoming part of other people's stories. 

St. Corbinian's Bear may be used to carrying burdens, but this is one he will be especially happy to lay down.

He has been out of sorts the past week, however. A kind of mental distemper has clouded his normally happy go lucky Bearishness. Handling an estate has all the worst elements of drudgery, fiduciary responsibility, family drama, and emotion.

Take this as a cautionary tale. As we get older, we imperceptibly pass from owning things to being owned by them. It was otherwise with the saints.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

You Cannot Serve Both Blog and Mammon

Oh dear, where has the time gone? Last week, the Bear's precious Nexus 7 tablet took a very short fall to the carpet. When the Bear looked, the screen was shattered. It seemed odd, but at least it was an opportunity to take a serious look at the iPad Retina Mini. Monday it arrived from Amazon. What with migrating to the new platform and frustration and fun in equal measure, the Bear has fallen down on his blogly duties.

He is sure, however, that the woodland creatures will be warmed by the thought of their Bear enchanted by his new gadget. He found several good games that look great on the Retina display.

The end to the story is that Sunday the Bear opened the glove compartment to retrieve his missal. Miraculously, there was his Nexus 7, completely undamaged! His son had trashed his months ago, and for some reason set it out where the Bear would assume it was his, and not notice the damage until that short drop. A convoluted, unnecessary, and improbable tale, but there you have it.

(If anyone is interested, the two are both great, but the iPad Mini has a lot of little advantages that add up.)

Monday, September 22, 2014

That Voodoo That We Do

People pointing at me
causes circus flashbacks.
Sunday was Catechetical Sunday. How was it celebrated in your parish?

In ours, the Bear and the other RCIA teacher were summoned to the front of the Church after a "reflection" [homily] by the lay pastoral assistant.

Did you ever have someone try to do something nice for you that just made you cringe, but there was nothing for it but to grin and bear it? Father had the entire congregation extend their hands "in blessing," while he recited a nice prayer.

Now the Bear needs all the prayers he can get, and appreciates the intent, but the "tradition" of everyone extending one hand in the "Nazi Salute," or -- in this case -- both hands just seems wrong.

First of all, as far as the Bear knows, only priests can properly bless, other than maybe the paternal blessing for children. For example, it bothers the Bear to see "Eucharistic Ministers" bless people who do not take communion.

Also, there is a New Age vibe to it that troubles the Bear. It is just barely possible that New Agers are onto something, and that a group of people focusing their attention on someone can indeed manipulate energy, or channel light, or direct chi, or however you want to put it, according to a particular intention. Without going into detail, let's just say the Bear wouldn't be surprised and doesn't want any part of it.

Finally, it's just a bit too Pentecostal for the Bear. (For the record, the Bear does raise his paws in front of him in a discrete "receiving" gesture during the Our Father because, well, just because. If nothing else it keeps his neighbors from grabbing them. He does not gesture toward the priest at "and with your Spirit.")

Call it what you want, but the Bear calls it odd at best, and voodoo at the worst.

So, what do you think? Is the Bear a carping ingrate? Does he need to loosen up and go with the flow?