At times everyone fears what the truth might require…that accepting the truth might ask us to give up more than we want to give. This is especially the case when we have staked our claim on a position that is being challenged. If we follow the truth, and truth tells us that something we held important is actually not true, then we have to admit that we were in error. That is hard to do. Nobody wants to admit they were wrong—especially when they have to admit that their opponent might have been in the right all the time. That’s a hard situation to reconcile, and probably why many find it difficult to go from non-Christian to Christian, and from non-Catholic to Catholic. (Read some of the conversion stories out there and see how hard it was for some of them to come across to our Faith. Some of us who were already here as a part of the Catholic Christian faith either forget or never knew the difficulty of the conversion from error to truth and to admit that what they defended as truth was actually falsehood.
So why is it, when it comes to the Catholic faith which we profess to be the true Church, do we fear when the Church teaching challenges us? Why do Catholics get angry when the Pope speaks in a way which challenges our comfortable behaviors? When we’re reminded about teachings that challenge our political preferences? If we profess to believe in God, and that the Church binds and looses with the authority given to her by Our Lord, why do we fear to have our flawed understanding changed? Is it because we fear that the Church is falling into error? Or is it because we fear the consequences of having to admit we followed the faith incorrectly at times?
In other words, it’s a question of whether we are trusting in God or trusting in ourselves.
If we trust in God and recognize our own tendency towards sin and error, we can trust in the teaching authority the Church to remain under God’s protection even when the individual Bishops, Priests, Religious and Laity act sinfully and in error. We can trust that when the Church teaches and it goes at odds with what we feel comfortable with, we can change and trust in God to protect us from being misled—if we follow His Church.
But if our confidence is in ourselves—In our confidence to interpret the Scriptures or Church documents and reject anything that challenges what we feel comfortable with—then we put ourselves before God. Ultimately, we claim to know the truth and don’t feel the need to pray for guidance from God, or to obey the teaching of the Church. The funny thing is when we claim to know the truth to the point that we know better than the Church, it always seems to work in our favor. There’s seldom a case where we acknowledge our need to change. It’s always the other person who needs to change.
I think in these times, when growing numbers of Catholics are openly showing their contempt for the teachings of the Church, the teachers of the Church or both, we need to start asking ourselves where we put our trust. If our trust is in God first, then we can trust Him to protect His Church from teaching error. In such a case, we can avoid overreacting to the times when people in the Church make mistakes or do wrong. We can trust that God established a Church where we can know where to look for the truth when there are multiple factions defying it. We know that no matter how bleak things look, our enemies will not prevail against us in the end.
But if our trust is in ourselves, then we are going to become embittered and living in fear as the members of the Church continue to do things differently than we would have them done—and thus be suspicious of every change. We tell ourselves that if only the Church would do things our way, then we would not be having these problems. Some think the Church needs to change her teaching on divorce or on contraception. Others blame the rise of dissent on the diminished use of Latin and the introduction of the Ordinary form of the Mass. They say that if only the Church had changed a teaching here or not changed a discipline there, all would be well. But since the Church is having problems, it is assumed to confirm that the individual is right and the Church is wrong.
But that’s no way to live. There’s always going to be differences and disputes and disobedience—even among Catholics who generally want the same thing. If we think that our personal standards are the truth to live by, then there is going to be an awful lot of heretics out there (in our minds) and we may end up trying to oppose something that is not even wrong.
But if we recognize that God is the one whose standards we are called to follow, and that His is the Power and the Glory, we might turn our ears to listen to Him and see if we’re not acting more like Saul the Pharisee instead of Paul the Apostle, seeking to change if we do so. We recognize that the authority God gave to bind and loose is not in ourselves, but in the Church herself.
Ultimately, when we trust in God, we allow ourselves to be humble. That doesn’t mean to be passive in the face of wrongdoing, but it does mean that we need to open our eyes, ear and heart to discern what His will may be. But if we trust in ourselves, we become arrogant, and we are so sure we are right, that we forget the possibility of seeing if we’ve missed the point in following Him.
All of us (and not just the other guy) need to pray and discern to see where our trust truly lies. If it is in ourselves, then we need to pray for a change of heart.