Sometimes, Catholics take it upon themselves to defend the indefensible, either by supporting what the Church condemns or condemning what she supports. In doing so, they claim to be on the side of right and that the Church is in the wrong. But the Catholic who rejects Church teaching in favor of his own opinion is the one who does wrong. That wrongdoing is independent of one’s political or theological leaning. it’s not a special sin for liberals or modernists. Conservatives and traditionalists (and everything between these two extremes) can also sin. The only difference is the focus of disobedience. These dissenters also pick and choose teachings and claim the Church is wrong and (contradictorily) that their foes don’t really understand Church teaching.
The problem is, the end result of their actions winds up as something like this...
Let Harpo = obedience to Church Moral Teaching, the constable = dissent from that teaching, and the building = what happens to our relationship to God and His Church as a result...
When a Catholic chooses to reject part of the Church teaching—all the while claiming to be faithful where it “really” matters—they make a ruin out of their relationship with the Church. Since the Church receives her authority from God (Luke 10:16, Matthew 18:17), this also ruins their relationship with God. It is that simple. As Catholics we believe that the Pope is the successor of Peter and the bishops are the successors of the Apostles. They are our shepherds and they have the authority deciding how to apply the timeless teachings of the Church. If we refuse to hear them when they teach with authority, Our Lord Jesus’ warned us that things will go badly for us.
No, that doesn’t mean “Shut up and blindly follow.” But it does mean that, when the Church acts like a shepherd and teaches us, we must follow the teaching. But the Church doesn’t just give us neat little paragraphs to follow. From the teaching documents of the Church to the theology of faithful bishops, priests and laity explaining these teachings, we can find answers to the question Why?…but we won’t find them unless we are willing to look for the answers. Sometimes it can take years to find the answers.
Here’s a personal example. Years ago, doing a research paper on the errors of Charles Curran, I came across an argument he made saying that the Church reversed her teaching on lending money at interest, therefore (he claimed) the Church can reverse her teaching on sexual morality. I knew it was a lie, but I didn’t have an answer on what the truth was. Over the next 20 years, I found references to an answer, but could never find the document where this so-called “reversal” happened. Finally, I found the document. It was an encyclical written by Pope Benedict XIV in the 1740s. In it, the Pope distinguished between lending money to people in need and investing money. In the former case, interest was, and still is condemned. In the latter case, it was not usury to expect a return. In other words, Curran confused two things and saw a reversal where there was none.
We should keep this in mind. We may come across situations where the Church teaches something that offends our sensibilities. We may think it to be wrong. But since we must obey the Church when she teaches, we must learn why she teaches as she does and not assume we can reject the Church because we think our own reasoning is free of error. The most dangerous sin is the unrepented one that sends you to hell. It doesn’t matter that you think “the other side” did worse things. If they repent but we do not, then it will be we who hear God say “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41)
In a similar manner, we need to avoid playing the hair-splitting legalist who does things like argue “issue X was not mentioned by name. Therefore Jesus (or the Church) did not condemn it.” I’ve seen people try to claim that homosexual acts or the decision to use atomic weapons on Japan were not condemned. But that is a result of trying to read the Bible or Church documents in a way that evades an existing moral judgment. You may say that Jesus never mentioned contraception, therefore it is ok. But I can respond by saying Jesus never mentioned rape or bestiality. Does that mean he thought these were OK? Of course not!
We have to evaluate ourselves. Are we using the teachings of the Church to evaluate our other affiliations? Or are we using those other affiliations to evaluate the teachings of the Church? If our loyalty is to these other groups over the Church, we should remember that Our Lord said:
37 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Mt 10:37–39).
Given that Our Lord commanded us to put Him first and given that Our Lord gave His authority to the Church to teach in His name, we should be very clear that choosing to disobey the Church in favor of our own preferences makes us unworthy of Him and brings us to ruin. It really is that simple.