The Synod on the Family held in Rome last October has drawn the attention of Catholics once more to issues of divorce, remarriage, homosexuality and other hot-button issues. It has been intriguing, to say the least, to observe how today’s Catholics have contributed to the dialogue since. There are those who agree unreservedly with the Church. Then there are those who are “on the fence” with certain teachings. Then there are those who are in complete disagreement with their own Church – even militantly at times. This crisis of disunity and disobedience prevailing amongst many modern Catholics is a red flag and a scandal to those who inquisitively look upon the Catholic Church and its members – just one more fact of modern times that emphasizes the urgency of the New Evangelization.
What the Catholic Church declares as official “right teaching” or doctrine, Catholics must accept as truth. There is no middle ground. We have not been given the liberty to pick and choose what we would personally prefer to be true and moral − and thank God for that! The Church is the “pillar and bulwark of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). That is, the Church guards and upholds the truth and can do so because it is, in fact, one with Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church leaves no room for disputing the divine life and origin of the Church, teaching that “Christ and his Church thus together make up the ‘whole Christ’” (795).
The gravity of the act of opposing the Church is clear and sobering in the account of St. Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:4-5); it is an opposition to Christ Himself. Moreover, Christ’s presence in the Church is re-iterated over and over by St. Paul in his epistles (especially the 12th chapters of Romans and 1 Corinthians). Every Catholic should be familiar with these chapters, having read them and prayed with them; and by doing so they will increase their understanding of the inner life of the Church. This is, after all, one of the “burdens” of being Christian: perseverance in prayerful study of the Scriptures. Study is one practical way we can come to discover the “hows” and “whys” of Catholic teaching, and especially those which may be categorized as “hard teachings.” Understanding the Catholic faith is not some passive osmotic process; it is active and requires effort. After all, we must remember that God does not call us to center our lives on convenience but on truth− and sometimes the truth (and the process of seeking it) hurts.
I remember a conversation Amanda and I had with some evangelical Protestant friends a few months back. We were discussing various moral dilemmas. Suddenly one of our evangelical friends burst out and lamented, “I just wish we had an authority we could go to that could give us infallible answers to these questions!” She didn’t realize she was describing the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, the teaching office consisting of the bishops who have succeeded the apostles in unbroken succession since the first century (see Matt 18:18; Acts 1:20; 2 Tim 2:2). Taking our providential cue, we responded by taking the opportunity to introduce the Catechism and its vast compilation of two thousand years worth of Christian teachings on faith and morals. From there, the conversation took off in a new and exciting direction. This story illustrates the longing for an infallible teaching authority that I believe exists in the hearts of our separated brothers and sisters! How sad it is that some of us who actually have it have thrown it by the wayside.
The renowned wordsmith, G. K Chesterton, asserts boldly and unapologetically in his essay Why I Am a Catholic: “The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” Chesterton understood that at the depth of every Catholic teaching lies divine wisdom; and it is by this realization that one of the smartest literary men of the 20th century could not resist becoming a Roman Catholic. He recognized that just as he used a pen as a means to communicate stories to the world, so also God uses the Church as a means to communicate truth to the world. Remember what our Lord assured the seventy disciple missionaries: “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16). Also, pay close attention to Jesus’ firm promise to St. Peter individually and the apostles collectively: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:19, 18:18). Put quite simply, we have the promise of God’s action through his apostles and their successors and shouldn’t complicate the matter.
All Catholics are obliged to accept in faith that some matters of faith and morals, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the careful judgement of the Church, have been deemed final and non-negotiable. The status of the Church’s stance on things like divorce, contraception, same-sex “marriage” and abortion have been settled once and for all – Jesus, through His Church, has spoken. Other matters, however, remain open for discussion and discernment like those at the recent Synod. In the meantime, as faithful servants of God, we ordinary layfolk leave these decisions to the bishops and theologians and trust that their decisions will be made in accordance and unity with the Holy Spirit’s prompting; and in the meantime, may I suggest that we imitate Jesus’ prayer after the Last Supper and pray with Him that we Christians “may become completely one” so that the world may believe…