Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lawn Chair Catechism, Week 3: Who's the Boss?

When I saw the title of this week's chapter I immediately thought of the old TV show "Who's the Boss?" It was one of my favorite shows as a kid, but I never could decide who really was the boss.

There's no question who the boss is here. It's God! This chapter is all about authority: who has it, who is it passed on to, and what it means for us today. Many things struck me about this chapter, including the idea that Tradition (with a capital "T") is one with Scripture, the two cannot be separated. Also, that Tradition is the passing on of Church teaching, NOT just acts of doing something the same way over and over again, i.e., "we've always done it that way."

Since returning to the Catholic faith over a decade ago and learning more about the faith in the process, I was taught the difference between Big-T Tradition and small-t tradition. However, I hadn't actually associated Tradition with the Magisterium in quite the way that is presented in this book. Reading through this chapter I had kind of a "duh!" moment. If Tradition is the passing down of the Church's teachings to subsequent generations, than it is obvious that the Magisterium is the keeper of Tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit. In the same way, we wouldn't have Holy Scripture if it weren't for Tradition. It's not like the question of the chicken and the egg. In this case we know that Tradition came first and Scripture second.

Oh how that would shock our Protestant brothers and sisters! But I digress ...

This question from the leader's guide goes along well with my thoughts from this chapter:

What advantage does having a Magisterium--an official teaching office--give to the Catholic Church?

This is one of the reasons I love the Catholic Church. In my few years away from the Church, I never felt drawn to other faith traditions (small-t tradition, by the way). I didn't consciously leave the Church, it was more of a slow falling away in the busyness of going to college and being out on my own for the first time and never really internalizing the importance of my faith. I believed in God, but didn't see the importance of attending a service on a weekly basis. I had occasion during my college years and early 20s to go Mass and I did, but never felt the need to make it a habit. I also attended services at other churches, but that usually had more to do with circumstances (peer influence or music gigs on Easter or other special days) than it did with me "checking out" a different faith.

Once I was on the path to reconnecting with the Catholic Church and re-learning my faith, I truly came to understand why the Catholic Church makes the claims that it does. And once I understood the history of the Church, the oral traditions of the early Church that led to the compilation of the Bible a few centuries after Christ, and how the whole hierarchy thing works, the concept of the Magisterium fell into place.

The keeper of Tradition has to come from somewhere!! Scripture and interpreting Scripture--there has to be an authoritative source. If not, then what? If there is no ONE interpretation of Scripture than every single person can have their own interpretations and then everyone is right and no one is wrong. That just can't work!! Not with humans, no way. I've seen enough of human nature to know that God would never just leave it up to each of us to form our own interpretations of Scripture. 

And this idea of an authoritative source feeds into my librarian brain really well. Maybe that's why I accepted it so easily. In any case, it made sense and I knew that only the Catholic Church could be the One True Church. Why? Because of the Magisterium.

The advantage of the Magisterium? It makes the Catholic Church an authoritative source. It creates a unity in the teachings of the Church such that everyone (all 1 billion plus Catholics in the world) are all on the same page. It gives us a place to turn for understanding Scripture. It unites us and puts us all on the same page. From the richest Catholics to the poorest Catholics, we all have the same teachings, interpretations of Scripture, and understanding of Tradition.

Now when I listen to my priest give a homily or I attend a Bible Study discussion, I know (hopefully) that I am being taught through the lens of the Catholic Magisterium, guided by the Holy Spirit. There is no room for one individual's interpretation of Scripture, that only creates chaos.

I guess I would also say that another advantage of the Magisterium is that it adds a level of comfort for those of us in the pews. It's nice to know that no matter where I go, which Catholic church I attend, the teachings are the same.

For more discussion on this chapter of A Well-Built Faith by Joe Paprocki, check out today's edition of Lawn Chair Catechism on

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