24 “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 26 And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.” (Matthew 7:24–27).
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18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18–19)
Some people become or stay Catholics because they agree that the Church has the authority to teach and give their assent to that teaching. Others become or stay Catholics because they find her position on certain topics compatible with their own. The former is like a house built on rock, the latter is like a house built on sand. Like the houses in Our Lord’s parable, the one built on sand faces ruin.
Why do I say this? Because the Church is simultaneously gifted with Our Lord’s authority (Luke 10:16) and protected from teaching error (Matthew 16:18. Matthew 28:19-20) on one hand and filled with sinful people who need salvation on the other. So when the Church teaches and we dislike the teaching, or if we get scandalized by the bad behavior of some churchmen, the only thing that will keep us on the right path is faith that God protects His Church. If we treat our affiliation with the Church like a political affiliation, what will we do when the Church goes in a direction we don’t like?
Let’s face it. Some parts of Church history were pretty ugly with corruption or weakness. People expecting every past Pope acting like their favorite Pope will find themselves disappointed and sometimes appalled. Yet, those flaws did not change the truth of her teaching. Popes committing sins condemned by the Church does not change the truth of her teachings.
In the same way, the Church teaches consistently from age to age, but the emphasis she gives in carrying them out can change with changing circumstances. Sometimes certain situations arise that are new. How does the Church apply her teachings to them? Sometimes the relationship between Church and State changes. Ways of evangelizing that worked in a pre-industrial Europe where all Christians were Catholics will not be effective in a 21st century computerized and secularized world.
With both cases, people who like the way the Church handled things in one era are shocked when seeing a change, thinking it a contradiction. If people are part of the Church simply because they like her views and not because they believe the Church received Our Lord’s authority to bind and loose, then a time will come when they do not want to go in the direction the Church teaches we must go. When that happens, they rebel. This rebellion might not result in formal schism or heresy. But they will believe they are right and the Church is wrong.
This is how we get contradictory reactions. Some believe the Church is too conservative and defy her teachings on morality. Others think she is too liberal and defy her teachings on social justice. Both make themselves judges against the Church when it comes to right and wrong. But judging the Church as conservative or liberal misses the point. God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican. He is neither a modernist nor a traditionalist. When we judge things from what we like, we miss the point of what the Church is.
The Church is our mother and teacher. Our mother because she cares for us, our teacher because she guides us to follow Our Lord faithfully. Our Lord will not let corrupt members hijack her message. If He did, we could never know when we could trust Church teaching. If God doesn’t protect the Church under Pope Francis, how can we know if He protected the Church under St. Pius X? If we deny God protected the Church under Vatican II, how can we know whether He protected the Church under the Council of Trent? This works both ways. The “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholic who rejects the past has no basis for invoking the present because the authority of Vatican II depends on the authority God gave His Church from the beginning.
This is why we must look at our attitudes. If we think of Church teaching as liberal vs. conservative, we make the Church into a merely human institution. When we think it goes wrong, we lobby for change. But if her teaching comes from God, then our antics are not lobbying but rebellion.