5. Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “what is in man”. He alone knows it.
So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.
[John Paul II, Homilies of Pope John Paul II (English) (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2014). October 22, 1978]
The powers of darkness are doubtlessly smiling over the vote in Ireland recognizing “same-sex marriage.” I have seen Irish news sites crowing about how the power of the Church was “finally broken.” Media sources and politicians are full of advice telling us that we need to change our teachings if we are to “remain relevant” and survive.
(The ultimate result of breaking the bonds with the Church, the Barque of Peter, is being stranded when the floods come)
Meanwhile, many Catholics are stunned, and thinking that if only the Church had done things differently, we would not be seeing the revolt carried out once more in a nation which was once solidly Catholic.
I am inclined to think that both groups are missing the point of what God’s intention is and what the task of His Church is.
God is our Creator. He loves us and designed us for good. However, He did not want mindless slaves who have no choice but to live the way He wants. He wanted our response to be love freely chosen. This means: If we are free to make the right choice, we are also free to make the wrong choice. God gives us the grace to respond to Him in love and obedience. However, we are free to refuse that gift of grace, placing ourselves first and seeking things that are pleasurable in the short term, but ultimately destructive.
Because of the choice of our first parents (see HERE for a reflection on the Fall and the need for Baptism), we have an inclination to sin and we need salvation—something we are unable to give ourselves or earn. The acts of Jesus, suffering and dying for us opened Heaven to all who would accept His gift. But that acceptance is a free choice. We need His grace to accept it, but we can refuse it by choosing to live in a way against what God calls us to be. If we do refuse that gift, we do have nobody to blame but ourselves if we die in opposition to His commandments.
As Catholics, we believe that the Catholic Church was established by Our Lord as the means of bringing His salvation to the world. The Church does not act as a self-appointed association of do-gooders or meddlers who are putting their noses in the affairs of others, or are a charitable NGO. As the Catechism begins:
1 God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.
2 So that this call should resound throughout the world, Christ sent forth the apostles he had chosen, commissioning them to proclaim the gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Strengthened by this mission, the apostles “went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.”5
The Church exists to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to live as Our Lord has commanded. It follows from this, that the Church is not free to change her teaching from saying “X is evil” to saying “X is good.” If the Church sanctions behavior which goes against the commandments of God, she is failing in her mission.
But at the same time, she does not have the ability counteract free-will. No matter how firmly or clearly she teaches the truth about God and how we must behave if we truly love Him, people can misuse free will in defiance of that teaching (cf. Revelation 22:11). History is full of instances where faithful nations turned to error and rejected the Church—not because the Church failed to teach, but because those who ruled found the Church to be an obstacle. Consider England’s shift to Protestantism at the whim of the King, the French Revolution and others.
Unfortunately, some people fail to make that connection. Instead, they assume that the existence of rebellion against the Church must be the fault of the Church. The logic runs like this:
- If the Church (Bishop/Priest) fails to teach, people will embrace error. (If A happens, B will happen)
- People embrace error (B happens)
- Therefore the Church failed to teach (Therefore A must have happened)
In logic, we call that affirming the consequent. The flaw is this—just because A can cause B is not proof that A did cause B. There may be other causes and these causes must be eliminated before we can affirm that A did cause B. In this case, the assumption is that the rejection of Church teaching must be ignorance because somebody failed to teach properly. Sometimes that is true. But it is not always true. Hostility and a willful decision to reject the Church teaching is also possible. So can the corruption of society into embracing something the Church speaks out against. So can the corruption of a government to take an antagonistic view of the Church. These are all possibilities where the assumption can be false.
So it important to remember what the Church is for—to proclaim the Gospel, baptizing and teaching what God has commanded. This task does not permit the Church to change God’s teaching. It only permits her to discern what is the best way to do this. This task does not mean that a person listen to the Church or will persevere in the faith either. A person might make a shipwreck of their faith.
Also, we need to remember that God is in charge. We trust Him to look after the Church under the headship of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him, trusting when the Church does require us to give assent, God will not allow the Church to teach something that obligates us to commit sin. Even if some are unfaithful, The headship of the Pope is still where we must look for the true practice of the faith, because we trust God’s promise to protect His Church.
Finally, we need to remember that the behaviors of a nation which repudiate the teaching of the Church is not the death knell of the Church. The Church had survived the breaking away of whole nations through heresy and schism, and she will continue to do so with the Irish apostasy. It will be hard on those nations and the Church in those nations. We certainly need to pray for the Church and the shepherds in this countries. We need to re-evangelize those nations. But panicking is not acceptable.
We must not be afraid to bring Christ to the world, even when we are hated and ridiculed for speaking out. We must not allow ourselves to give into panic and assume the battle is lost whenever the politician promotes evil. Certainly, let us pray for the clergy, religious and laity that all may carry out their task in serving the Church faithfully. But let us always remember the role God intends the Church to play and not blame her for not being something she never was to begin with.