Friday, March 9, 2012

Faith in God, Faith in the Church

Bright Maidens Topic: To Counsel the Doubtful
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            There were times in the past when I disagreed (or thought I disagreed) with certain teachings of the Catholic Church (or, what I incorrectly perceived the teachings to be).  I can now identify at least two issues that were the main sources of my apparent disagreement, and I suspect that there are many people in a similar circumstance.  It is probably not too inaccurate to say, as Fulton Sheen has said, "There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church.  There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church - which is, of course, quite a different thing" (1).

            My disagreements with Church teaching were, I later recognized, differences in opinion which came out of two underlying situations.  The first situation was a lack of catechesis and correct understanding of the basis of Church teachings.  If someone pressed the topic with me, I likely would have admitted at least that it was something that I had simply not been taught.  In fact, I did exactly that, with the attitude that it was not my fault.  What I failed to recognize at the time, but eventually came to realize during my faith conversion was this: As true as it is that my past lack of catechesis had been no fault of my own, that fact does not and will not excuse me from the responsibility of seeking to learn and understand the truth on my own.  Further, if I am to continue calling myself a Catholic, I must only do so if the truth I am seeking is that of Jesus Christ, as revealed to us by His Church.

            The second situation, which I did not fully understand prior to coming back to the Church, was that in disagreeing as I did with those teachings, I was exhibiting a somewhat general lack of faith in the Church itself.  To explain this reasoning, I propose that a disagreement with a teaching of the Church about "topic X" may often stem from a denial of the Church's authority to speak about "topic X" to begin with.  Since we believe that the Church's authority stems from Jesus Christ Himself, to say that the Church does not have the authority to teach on matters of faith and of morality is to say that the Church does not possess the Truth of Jesus Christ.  If we do believe that the Church is what it says it is, “If one holds the church capable, under the guidance of the Spirit, of declaring her belief on a specific point, it follows that assent to such a declaration might require abandonment of a contrary personal opinion” (2).  This does not mean that to believe in the teachings of the Church is to have no right to a personal opinion.  Belief in the Church does, however, call for acts of faith, humility, and obedience concerning Catholic teachings.

            What I have learned along the way is that Church teachings about individual topics cannot be separated from the bigger picture from which they are deducted. In order to understand such topics, we must first understand the Church itself.  That bigger picture is not just what the Church decides to think about particular topics; it is the Church's rendition of Divine Revelation, history, and natural law.  Understanding all of these things is not always easy for us.  It can be very difficult without having faith that the Church is protected from error by the Holy Spirit, as she reveals to us the Truth of Jesus Christ.  To have this faith, we can be aided by humility in the face of a teaching that may be difficult for us to understand at first, and trust that the Church's statements, must have infinitely more knowledge and experience behind them than our short lifetime on earth has yet or even will.  As we strive to understand what the Church teaches us, our faith and humility will hopefully lead to obedient behavior.  It is based on that same humble trust that faithfully recognizes in the Church infinite wisdom beyond our own comprehension. 

1. Fulton Sheen, Preface to Radio Replies Volume 1, Catholic Apologetics Online: Radio Replies.  (accessed March 9, 2012).

2. Michael Ivens, S.J. , Understanding the Spiritual Exercises, (Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Cromwell Press, 1998), 260    
[found on Google books]

3. See note 1.

Update: I posted an afterthought to this post here: Look for the Church

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