In 2010, I finally received in full the strangely long-delayed thought, “Oh, I need to take the claims of the Catholic Church seriously: they might require action if I understood them more fully, and not be of merely historical interest.” When I did, I had very little idea where to turn–my limited exposure to Catholics in their own words had been more kaleidoscopic than coherent. So I hunted down the only Catholic priest I knew by name, one I had been surprised almost ten year before to find myself back-to-back with in vibrant academic discussions about Church history. “Father Tim,” as I recalled his name, had been a welcome presence among our Baylor grad circles, where Ralph Wood had invited him as an authentic voice of Catholicism in his Catholic novel seminars. What he said to me in that 2010 conversation, I have since repeated to many a friend contemplating what conservative Protestants necessarily feel is a very large “blank check” we must write to the Magisterium in becoming Catholic. I won’t repeat it here, though; ask me on my porch, sometime.
What brings this up is the immense feeling of joy, encouragement, and relief it gives me to see this heartening, straightforward witness to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” from Father Timothy Vavarek of the Diocese of Austin. I have been reading and becoming familiar with many sound Catholic voices over the past few years, and as an RCIA coordinator and a professor I have tried to become, in a small way, such a voice.
But these are days when feeling betrayed by our leaders is more common than finding ourselves taught and encouraged and nourished by them.
Every counterexample, friends, is another day the truth lives on in the hearts of somebody who doesn’t want to give up, but is running out of fuel and getting no effective support.
Here, then, words of hope and encouragement; true spiritual works of mercy:
God is unfailingly faithful in his generous, wise, and loving work of drawing humanity to himself. Neither Israel nor the Church has any claim on him rooted in their own actions, certainly not in the face of sin. He is the faithful spouse; we are the adulterers.
Yet his fidelity expresses an infinite mercy that calls us to conversion and to sharing his life through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by which he comes to dwell in us and we in him. For that purpose, the Word took flesh and returned to the Father by way of the Cross. He is the faithful spouse who purifies his bride and brings her home. This unwavering fidelity led Paul to assert: “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Tim 2:13)
Only on the basis of Christ’s fidelity, poured into our heart by the indwelling of the Trinity, can we hope to remain faithful. Humanly speaking this is impossible, but “with God all things are possible.” (Mt 19:26)
In the present crisis regarding marriage, those who say it is sometimes impossible for Christians to remain faithful to the vow made to a spouse and to God (such as when the marriage is irreparably broken or has been replaced by a second union) have forgotten the meaning of Christ, the human person, marriage, and the cosmos, which all declare the glory of God and his fidelity. This is no development of doctrine or relaxing of Church discipline. It is the complete overthrow of the Christian vision of God and human existence.
Were there a single case in which fidelity to a spouse or to God was impossible for a Christian, this would mean that God’s fidelity had failed. Perversely, infidelity in that instance would be rooted in God’s infidelity of withdrawing his grace and/or misleading us through Jesus and the Church’s false teaching regarding the obligations of the Gospel.
Far from being realistic and merciful, the suggestions being made are heartless and cruel abstractions that imply that Jesus’ fidelity is not always available to us. This makes a mockery of those who have lived chastely, after a broken marriage, in fidelity to their earthly and heavenly spouses. The proponents of these theories must name a case in which God and Christ are unfaithful before they presume to permit a Christian to be unfaithful in the slightest matter. That is the concrete, real, personal truth of the Gospel.
Mercy will not be found in exchanging the beauty of marriage for a lifeless illusion. It will be found, as it ever has been, by allowing Jesus to draw us to himself on the Cross and learning that with him we can be faithful even unto death.
Lord Jesus, have mercy on us. Mary, Mother of God, and Joseph her spouse, pray for us.
And thank you, Father Tim.