ASK FATHER: When is enough, enough?

From a reader…


When is enough, enough? I help facilitate the RCIA program in my parish and the other leaders in the name of compassion are constantly at odds with the teachings of Holy Mother Church. As one trying to be faithful to our Lord and His Church, I wonder at what point is an environment too toxic for one’s soul? Can the heretical opinions of these people start to rub off on me without me even knowing it. Does working with these people become an occasion of sin?

Hmmm… that reminds me of a song! Maestro? ♫

When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother
What will I be
Will I be pretty
Will I be rich
Here’s what she said to me

Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be

No, Fr. Z has not entirely lost his mind. Nor is Fr. Z, “getting in touch with his feminine side.”

Rather, the question proposed has led to a certain flight of mental fancy and the recollection of that delightful song Doris Day sang to alert Jimmy Stewart in the Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

Like the questioner, the characters played by Day and Stewart – the McKennas – are simply trying to get by in life. They are enjoying a nice vacation when a series of events places them at the center of an assassination plot.

Many Catholics these days seem to be in similar straits.

They attempt simply to eke out a life of holiness day by day, and yet they find themselves embroiled in controversies and conflict.  They are compelled to address the dangers of sin and heresy.

It has always been so.

What is the tipping point? How much do we engage in the battles that rage? At what point do we set the battles aside and retreat to the relative peace of our family lives and homes?

If we retreat, will the battles pass us by?  Will the war bang on our front door?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

I understand the need to back away at times – sometimes to back away temporarily, sometimes to shake the dust from one’s sandals and move on elsewhere.

Choosing the right battles to fight is an important lesson to learn. Prudence is the auriga virtutum, the charioteer of the virtues.

When we struggle, we do NOT struggle alone.

While a Christian does not become either complacent or fatalistic, we need to remind ourselves that Christ has already won the important battle.  We know the final outcome of things.

Christ is at our side.

The battles are difficult, but they are at times necessary so that the Truth be served, the Faith defended, Christ known and loved in His Holy Catholic Church.

What will be, will be, of course. But what we do to help bring about what will be is the stuff upon which our own salvation is built.

Do not let the demon of discouragement distract you.  But, taking stock of your state in life, the exigencies you face in your vocation, the circumstances you live in, learn also “when to fish and when to cut bait.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. acardnal says:

    Sounds like it’s time for some Grappa.

  2. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Haha. Fr. Z quoting from Doris Day. Each person has their limits to patience, but God can always expand our limits.

  3. slainewe says:

    Someone has authority over this RCIA program. Should not he be called to correct those in error who are injuring the souls of the catechumens? If he refuses, is not the whole program corrupt? If the whole program is corrupt, must not a faithful catechist cease supporting it?

  4. Kathleen10 says:

    Tiny point, Que Sera Sera was sung by Doris Day in the movie “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”. She may have sung it in the other film too, but definitely in that one.

  5. Kathleen10 says:

    I wish I didn’t post that. Who cares. Sorry Fr. Z.

  6. frahobbit says:

    I’m reminded of the movie ” The Man for all Seasons” : “If He suffers us to come to such a case that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can, and, yes, Meg, then we can clamor like champions, if we have the spittle for it. But it’s God’s part, not our own, to bring ourselves to such a pass. Our natural business lies in escaping…” [ ] (website has buttons for sharing). Not sure if this is pertinent. I guess it takes prayer with the Holy Spirit’s guide to discern when it’s time to press on and when it’s time to leave.

  7. frahobbit says:

    It makes me wonder what the sisters in cloisters do if a large number of the community are for dissent. How does it feel to be there and feel no sense of unity with the others? Does one renounce the vows and leave?

  8. Sword40 says:

    I used to have a “boss” that told me once when I was but a lad, “fish, cut bait or get off the boat”.
    Another time a pastor friend told me, when I was pushing to get an EF Mass at a nearby parish, “Keep pushing the rock uphill, keep pushing it uphill”. I really like that pastor. He was such an encouraging man. Realistic but encouraging.

    Yes, there is a time to get off the boat and a time to keep pushing it up hill. Only you can make that decision. Pray for strength to do God’s will.

  9. APX says:

    It makes me wonder what the sisters in cloisters do if a large number of the community are for dissent. How does it feel to be there and feel no sense of unity with the others? Does one renounce the vows and leave?

    St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote about this in “The True Spouse of Christ”. I can’t remember what he said, though. It certainly did not involve renouncing one’s vows and leaving, nor did it involve following the community into dissent. Furthermore, it would be very difficult to renounce solemn vows.

    Personally, I would imagine it as such: when a nun makes solemn vows, she is offering herself to Christ as His spouse for eternity. As such, she must be perfectly conformed to the Crucified Bridegroom as His crucified spouse. She must find joy in the Cross and offer it for the conversion of sinners. Obviously God foresaw the dissent and allowed it to happen knowing it would bring forth a greater good. She must remain faithful to her vows, but she cannot dissent or do that which is sinful, even if ordered under obedience, since obedience does not apply to such. This will bring much suffering, but she must remain faithful and keep her eyes on Christ Crucified and the cross made for her being resigned to whatever God wills. The situation could change, or it could remain as it is until she is finally united with her Beloved Bridegroom. God is faithful and will not forget her or leave her on her own, even if it seems that way sometimes and that seems like it will never end. He knows what she needs and will provide it for her in His own way.

    That’s just how I see it. I could be completely off, though.

  10. Dodgy RCIA classes. Ugly churches. Avant-garde liturgy. Heresy preached from the pulpit. Armies of feminists prancing around the sanctuary. The din of frivolous conversations between Masses (and often during Mass). Nuns into eastern mysticism. Priests who “do” the Mass as if they are doing a night club act. Bishops who pay out millions in sex-abuse damages. Popes who talk to reporters on planes.

    Imagine that: we go to the Catholic Church and we find there — of all things — the Cross.

  11. My motto is “nail your foot to the floor in front of your favorite pew and die there.” Then again, I’m a Bear.

  12. Andkaras says:

    It all brings to my mind the final scene of ” Apocolypto “. The little family looks out from the forest edge, sees the sailor-soldiers the priest, and their mortal enemies on the beach. The woman looks to her husband who decides that they will go deep into the forest . I think that many families are feeling like that right now in the world.

  13. slainewe says:

    “It makes me wonder what the sisters in cloisters do if a large number of the community are for dissent. How does it feel to be there and feel no sense of unity with the others? Does one renounce the vows and leave?”

    She is still in unity with the Lord and her foundress and cannot renounce her vows. She is called to stand under the Cross. But a catechist is under no vows and can remain a catechist outside a corrupt RCIA program. (Perhaps a better one because he does not have to muzzle his church militancy in order to keep peace with the RCIA director and fellow catechists.)

  14. Allan S. says:

    I am aware of these unsettling concerns. Getting accused of “being more Catholic than the Pope” used to be an insult..but now?

    My local Parish church was closed a while back. My first reaction was to be upset, but after a moment of reflection, I realized that it wasn’t even Catholic anyway: no confessionals, no confessions either, Tabernacle off in the corner, armies of lay persons just walking up and sticking their hands inside, “grabbing a few wafers” for so and so, dumping Him into their purse. It was not a Catholic Church and hadn’t been probably for some time. My new parish is very different – not perfect, but certainly Catholic and I am very grateful and pray daily for all the priests who sacrifice so much and work so terribly hard.

    The writer of the OP should reflect, as I do, on all those poor lay persons trying to be holy years ago while they dealt with a pope and an antipope, Arian Bishops and clergy in open schism and so on. While that may very well be where we’re all heading again, the Church came out of it. Still, it much have been awful for the faithful then – as now.

  15. Bosco says:

    Dear Father Z,

    What springs to my mind as analagous is “What’s your dirt doin’ in the boss’s ditch?” – Cool Hand Luke (link below)

    I always thought that movie “Cool Hand Luke” was very much reminiscent of the writings and characterizations of Catholic author Flannery O’Connor.

  16. Seppe says:

    In 1989, Edouard Cardinal Gagnon, who served as President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, described a conversation he had with [now-Saint] Pope John Paul II:

    “The Pope told me, ‘Error makes its way because truth is not taught. We must teach the truth, repeat it, not attacking the ones who teach errors because that would never end—they are so numerous. We have to teach the truth.’ He told me that truth has a grace attached to it. Anytime we speak the truth, we conform to what Christ teaches and what is being taught by the Church. Every time we stand up for the truth there is an internal grace from God that accompanies that truth. The truth may not immediately enter into the mind and heart of those to whom we talk, but the grace of God is there and at the time they need it, God will open their heart and they will accept it. He said that error does not have grace accompanying it. It might have all the external means, but it does not have the grace of God accompanying it. This encouraged me very much.”

    ~ Quoted by Thomas Langan, The Catholic Tradition, page 371

  17. gramma10 says:

    Error is everywhere. Lies and deceit are everywhere.
    But so is the truth. And the funny ad on EWTN tells us that it too is EVERYWHERE!

    So we all need to know the truth of our faith and live it and teach it and keep correcting errors and pray.
    God works in mysterious ways, remember?
    And yes, it sure gets frustrating at times. Not an easy road to walk.

  18. tnconvert says:

    I am in a similar situation where the parish priest wants me to be less”rigid” in my catechist role and become more ” spiritual”. Didn’t Jesus say the Truth will set you free? Daily I pray for wisdom. So far, the Holy Spirit has allowed me to stay; I will continue to proclaim the truth as long as He allows. Be the lamp on the hill.

  19. Phil_NL says:

    “When is enough, enough?”

    A question that I would rephrase as: “when is my work done?”, and one that is perhaps the hardest question of all – since our Lord wasn’t in the habit of saying “well, it has been enough, go rest” all that much. On the other hand, He will not ask the impossible, and it is not unknown for man to push himself too far. So let’s analyse the issue in that light. There are several scenarios possible:

    * It’s a battle you can win. In that case, actually getting things sorted in the right way, converting where necessary, supporting proper, orthodox teaching might be one of the crowning achievements of your life. It’s also – in most cases – very unlikely to happen. Still, you might be able to do a lot of good in your current role. Even if that is a hard path to follow at times, the results will count as well.

    * It’s not going anywhere, but at least you can prevent things going down the drain too much. This is guaranteed to be difficult, but again a cost-benefit analysis could be made. Are you enriching the faith of others, or preventing dangerous error? In other words, is there something that would make this hill one worth dying on? If not, better not risk too much aggrevation, or even spiritual danger. Rarely is it one’s duty to just suffer for the sake of it, and these kind of internal-forum kerfuffles rarely make for powerful witness.

    * It’s a surefire loss. Your aggrevation gets in the way of any positive contribution. Then, get out. Don’t assume you have a duty where you’re incapable of fulfilling it.

    Also, have a good hard look at what really the problem is. People may have ‘heretical opinions’ and try to force them on everyone in sight, or keep them largely to themselves. Moreover, does it really rise to that level? Most people tend to have little notion of the details of issues, and just go where their feelings lead them. Bad as that is, it at least has the advantage that in many cases, feelings are quite fleeting.

  20. Suudy says:

    Seppe, great quote. That strategy works if the leadership lets you teach the truth. My experience, both when I went through RCIA, and when I helped with RCIA, is that there is leadership that will not allow you speak about things that bother them.

    For example, when I was in RCIA, another asked about contraception and the teacher said “Well, that’s between you and God. Don’t get too hung up on that one.” When I objected, saying the Catechism was clear, I was asked to let the topic drop since “We don’t want to dominate the conversation on personal matters.” So, the next week I brought in CD’s I burned with talks about contraception from EWTN and Catholic Answers. I also brought in photocopies of the Catechism’s relevant paragraphs and some writeups. The teacher refused to let me distribute them saying specifically that EWTN and Catholic Answers were fringe groups that were “borderline schismatic”! When I challenged that viewpoint I was told “Get your Master’s in Theology then you can argue with me about this. I’m the one educated in Catholic teaching here.”

    I’m not making any of this up. So, rather than continue to preach the truth, I did what Phil_NL points out in bullet #3. I got out.

    I had a similar experience when helping with RCIA later at a different parish. However, in this particular case the leader complained to the priest and we had a meeting. When I pointed out that I was just trying to be clear on Church teaching to the catechumen and candidates, the priest supported the teaching, but suggested I be “less blunt” and “not worry too much about personal matters.” I shrugged, and continued on. The next year, I was informed by the RCIA leader that he had new help and no longer needed my assistance.

    I love Seppe’s quote. I just wish we were allowed to speak the truth.

  21. makreitzer says:

    Gosh, we all must have been involved in the same RCIA program. Contraception was a no-no. Too divisive. But laity aren’t the only ones persecuted. I remember Fr. Hardon obliquely talking about the Jesuits who would mockingly say, “If you’re looking for Hardon, he’s in the chapel.” Then there are the poor orthodox nuns living in dissent-ridden communities. They stand out like a sore thumb because they still wear their habits. Ah well, every morning we must get up and put on the armor of God and hold our ground….at least within our own families. As a grandmother I often have my grandchildren visiting and it is a perfect time to witness to the faith. My goal is to help my children keep their children in the safe harbor of Holy Mother Church. May Jesus Christ be praised!

  22. Indulgentiam says:

    I think Pope Saint Felix III advice applies here.
    “Not to oppose error is to approve it; and not to defend truth is to suppress it; and indeed to neglect to confound evil men, when we can do it, is no less a sin than to encourage them.”
    –Pope St. Felix III

  23. Indulgentiam says:

    Oops hit post instead of preview.
    Ps. That said, if there are children in the picture I’d be most concerned about the damage to them.

  24. Thorfinn says:

    The hopeful advice:

    You are an existing beachhead in the RCIA program. Get reinforcements (recruit orthodox friends to teach), and pray for help from above (God, bishop, current/new pastor). This will probably take years. Many saints did not see their goals fulfilled in their lifetimes.

    Most of us have at least one teacher who made a huge impact on our development as a child. You can be that teacher for these children’s understanding of the faith.

    Finally, without denying or suppressing the Church’s teachings, I don’t think it is necessary to emphasize particular counter-cultural teachings. Acceptance of hard teachings is a result of faith that desires perfect union with the Lord & loves His just laws. We have so many examples of martyrs, past and present, who gave their lives in radical devotion to Christ; if children strive for that level of holiness they will not stop to quibble about contraception. (That is, I think, one message Pope Francis is getting at.)

  25. Thorfinn says:

    I was thinking catechism program for children, but the same message applies to adults in RCIA.

  26. LarryW2LJ says:

    Sometimes we try to do too much. I like to remind friends who are in positions like this to fight as hard as you can, but ultimately, you have to allow the Holy Spirit to do the heavy lifting. Knocking your head against the wall too many times is not good for the soul, or your head.

    Keep your wits about you, stand firm and find faith in the battle, and always rely on God for the rest.

  27. The Masked Chicken says:

    I would respond with the prophetic lyrics of the Don Schlitz, but you better know them as sung by Kenny Rogers:

    “He said, “If you’re gonna play the game, boy
    You gotta learn to play it right

    You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
    Know when to fold ’em
    Know when to walk away
    And know when to run
    You never count your money
    When you’re sittin’ at the table
    There’ll be time enough for countin’
    When the dealin’s done

    Every gambler knows
    That the secret to survivin’
    Is knowin’ what to throw away
    And knowin’ what to keep
    ‘Cause every hand’s a winner
    And every hand’s a loser
    And the best that you can hope for is to die
    in your sleep.”

    The Chicken

  28. Magash says:

    I would agree with Thorfinn. It’s been a long slog but the answer is to take the tactics often used by the Enemy (yes I’m talking about him) and turn them on their ear. Get the right person appointed as the Youth Minister, RCIA Director, or DRE. One way to do that is volunteer and then recruit other orthodox Catholics to help. If the Youth Minister, RCIA Director or DRE is a dissident and finds that a horde of faithful knowledgeable Catholics are lining up to volunteer and making it hard for them to teach their heterodoxy then they’ll move along. Then be prepared to accept further responsibility.
    It helps to have a good faithful pastor. You’re really lucky if you’ve got a holy bishop who is helping by requiring DREs, RCIA Directors and Youth Ministers to attend local training that is faithful to Church teaching.
    Be prepared to have parents challenge you because you tell their kids that it’s a sin to pick soccer games over Sunday Mass. Be prepared to have some RCIA candidates walk because the only reason they are there is because they’ve heard Pope Francis is going to approve their personal moral irregularity any day now. Be prepared to quietly respond to other parishioners who dispute Catholic teaching with authentic sources for what the Church teaches.

  29. St Donatus says:

    I think the most important thing is to keep your faith. You can’t teach anyone the truth, if your own faith has been compromised. What I ended up doing is spending most of my time with good faithful Catholics talking about things that reinforced my faith. I ended up dropping the classes that I was taking when coming into the Church because they were harming my faith more than helping it. I tried to talk to the teacher about my concerns but just as others here said, my concerns were just written off . Now instead I try to help out at a good orthodox parish where help is needed. I also take College students to the TLM Mass I go to now. I just wasn’t strong enough to make a difference in the lions den. I would talk to some other like minded class mates about my concerns and they would agree but mostly the ones that were orthodox, dropped out of the classes and help out in the Church in other ways. Sadly, most of us are weak in faith unless we have solid support. If I am alone, I start to waver a bit in my own spirituality. I have lots of folks that I am trying to move to the Church and I can’t do that if my own spirituality is in question. After experiencing all this, I so much more appreciated the tremendous Saint Thomas More who never sank back in fear. I pray that someday I might have that kind of fortitude.

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