Since biblical times, the Catholic Church has been “the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:5). The Church has weathered rough storms over the past 2,000 years. However, it seems like today the pillar is wavering, starting to wobble as the storm’s intensity increases. Many in our culture hold the Church’s teachings in contempt, specifically on “hot button issues”.
Countless scandals have also caused many people to hold the Church in contempt. Many of the faithful are leaving the only source of all the sacraments. Not a day goes by when some media report doesn’t vilify the Church that Jesus founded. But as Venerable Fulton J. Sheen once 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.”
This is why so very often we see the teaching of the Church misquoted, mishandled and misunderstood by many around us. They have a preconceived notion in mind of what the Church is, but what they hate and what they are against is not the Church. Indeed, oftentimes, we would hate the preconceived notions non-Catholics have too!
For this reason, it’s all the more disturbing when Catholics themselves don’t understand Church teaching . We see this so frequently with celebrities and politicians. Public figures sow confusion when they flaunt their disdain for the Church’s sacramental vision of the world to a wide audience. The United States bishops condemned this kind of behavior when former Vice President Joe Biden presided at a state-sanctioned homosexual wedding.
But it’s even more disheartening when the people confusing Catholics and non-Catholics are pastors and bishops. This has sadly happened throughout the Church’s history. It happened when bishop Arius denied that Jesus Christ was fully God. It happened during the iconoclast heresy that rejected the use of sacred images and the selling of indulgences. Today, we see confusion coming from places such as Germany, but also closer to home. Many Catholics have questions on how to respond to these moments in light of constant Church teaching. What are faithful lay Catholics to do in such turbulent times?
Sometimes many of our brothers and sisters would rather “go along to get along.” But Scripture says to witness to the truth whole and entire, always with compassion, charity, and reverence (see 1 Peter 3:15). Therefore, we must know the Faith so we can give an accurate defense of it when necessary. We cannot ignore, or misrepresent, the teachings handed down to us from apostolic times.
I would like to reply to one statement made in the media that caught my eye during Holy Week. In an interview with NBC’s Anne Thompson for The Today Show, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark addressed several topics. Among them were the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s (CCC) section on “Chastity and Homosexuality”. It was good to see the Cardinal addressing the sex abuse crisis and his commitment to helping the Church heal. What was disheartening, though, was the way in which Thompson exhibited her ignorance of what the Church believes, and the response from the Cardinal.
Not Even Remotely Analogous
Around the 1:57 mark of the video linked above, Thompson tries to show that Pope Francis, as well as Cardinal Tobin, are distancing themselves from Church teachings, specifically in regard to those that deal with chastity and homosexuality. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as Pope Francis has proclaimed time and time again that he “is a son of the Church”. Almost immediately from the start of his pontificate, many have tried to make Pope Francis look as if he is moving the Church away from so-called “archaic” teachings, from everything on the existence of hell to his supposed support of the LGBT movement and everything in between. Indeed, Pope Francis has upheld the Church’s teachings on both points. He has even gone so far as to say the following in his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia:
“In discussing the dignity and mission of the family, the Synod Fathers observed that, ‘as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.’”(AL 251)
‘In Season and Out of Season’
In our current cultural climate, people would not easily accept the pope’s words above. But if we as Catholics are to witness to the whole truth, and not sugarcoat it, we must adhere to St. Paul’s teaching in Sacred Scripture. He had very strong words for St. Timothy, the first bishop of Ephesus. Exhorting St. Timothy to witness to Christ whether it was popular to do so or not, St. Paul said (emphases mine):
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching… As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.”(2 Timothy 4: 1-3, 5)
In the post-Christian society we live in today, we find ourselves in a very similar situation as St. Timothy and the other early Christians did. Globally, people persecute our brothers and sisters in the Faith at an alarming rate. In North America, many are undergoing a “white martyrdom”. People castigate, belittle, and mock those who stand up for what the Church believes to be true and sacred. Sometimes people even take legal action on such witnesses, as we have seen in many of the wedding cake controversies.
We must witness to the Faith, and proclaim it even if our stature with the world takes a big hit. As our Lord said, we can’t try to please two masters. If we try to look good to the secular world, we turn away from God, and life here on earth becomes easier. We don’t endure any kind of real suffering when we conform to the ways of the world. But if we try to stay true and steadfast in devotion to Christ we are in for a battle, for the world hated Christ first (see John 15:18). Thankfully, we know that in conforming to Christ, we are storing up heavenly treasure (see Matthew 6: 20-21).
This is why I was so concerned by hearing the following exchange during the interview on The Today Show, as this could’ve been an excellent chance to clarify the Church’s teaching on such a hot button issue as homosexuality to an audience of millions:
Cardinal Tobin: “The Church, I think, is having its own conversation about what our faith has us do and say with people in relationships that are same-sex. What should be without debate is that we are called to welcome them.”
Thompson: “But how can you welcome people that you call ‘intrinsically disordered?’”
Cardinal Tobin: “Well I don’t call them ‘intrinsically disordered.’”
Thompson: “But isn’t that the Catechism of the Catholic Church?”
Cardinal Tobin: “That is, that is. It’s very unfortunate language. Let’s hope that eventually that language is a little less hurtful.”
Lies about the Church
I must admit that Cardinal Tobin’s comment here surprised me. The Church absolutely does not teach that homosexual persons are intrinsically disordered. Thompson misquoted CCC 2357, which states:
“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’”
We can only hope that the Cardinal misspoke. The Catechism clearly states that such persons are not disordered, but—like all sin—homosexual acts are disordered. Our brothers and sisters ought to be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (CCC 2358). Additionally, this clearly reaffirms what Venerable Sheen said above. Thompson attributes a belief to the Church (same-sex attracted persons are intrinsically disordered) that it does not profess. As Venerable Sheen continues:
“If we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do.”
The Cross and Conversion
But this is where we need to proclaim the truth, because millions of Catholics and non-Catholics who have never picked up the CCC now wrongly believe the Church teaches that those who experience same-sex attractions are disordered. The proper answer that should’ve been given to Thompson is that this is not what is in the CCC. Passions and actions can be disordered, but never people. There is nothing unfortunate about the language that the Church uses to describe such actions in the CCC.
Furthermore, there is no need for the language of the CCC to change because it conveys an objective reality, and sometimes, yes, the truth hurts. But do we know what really is “hurtful”? Not necessarily language, but the Cross.
The Cross that our Lord carried, and that which each of us as Christians now carry, is hurtful. It’s painful to bear this weight on our shoulders at times. But the only way we can follow Jesus is if we do what he has asked, and follow him by picking up our cross. Sometimes someone needs to tell us that our passions are not ordered toward the true, the good, and the beautiful. Someone needs to remind me that my actions can be disordered because they’re not pointing me toward God. When someone reminds us of this, it is a charity done to us. I myself am not disordered, but many of my actions are. That’s called sin. Someone needs to charitably remind us of this if we are to have any chance of living a life of conversion, that is, a conversion that is to last a lifetime.
The Goal Is to Become Saints
If we don’t respond to errors like the one Thompson made in her comments, we risk falling into that “going along to get along” mentality. If we do fall into this mentality, can we really proclaim that we are of one mind with the Church? When we call for the teachings of the Church to change, or for the language the Church uses to change to suit the whims of an increasingly secular world, we fall into the trap of relativism. Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, spoke to this in a recent interview:
“Doctrine is not a set of moral precepts. Doctrine is a set of teachings that come to us from sacred Scriptures, the Word of God and Tradition. Doctrine is a person! It is Jesus in his words … It is falsely believed [the Church has] to adapt the teaching of Christ to the times. But Christ did not come to pander to society. He came to save humanity from its fall and to bring Truth and to personally and profoundly change each one of us. The encounter with Christ changes the lives of those who love him. Truth and the dogmas of faith compel us to raise the bar, to aim high and to live every day to become saints.”
Our Internal Compass
Many would like to see the Church pander to society by changing its teaching on chastity and homosexuality. However, this is impossible as the doctrine comes from Christ. Many try to lump this teaching into other prohibitions that we no longer observe from the book of Leviticus. But there is a difference between moral law, which is unchanging, and ceremonial law, which was applicable to a certain time and place. As St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us:
“Other moral precepts added to the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) are reducible to the precepts of the Decalogue… [Thus,] to the sixth commandment which forbids adultery, is added the prohibition about whoredom, according to Deuteronomy 23:17… and the prohibition against unnatural sins, according to Leviticus 18:22-23…”(Summa Theologiae I-II, Q 100, A 11, co)
Our Lord Jesus came to save us from our sins, and the Church helps us to reorient our internal compass in conformity to his will. It is in this sense that we must understand “ordered” and “disordered”.
A Firm Grasp on Truth
When we speak of certain actions being disordered, we are not speaking of some kind of physical or mental disorder. Instead, we refer to those actions that are not ordered to the natural law that God has established. For example, a husband and wife that contracept during sexual intercourse have acted in a disordered way, as the marital embrace is ordered toward life. Similarly, a person who spends an inordinate amount of time envying his neighbor’s new house or car also acts in a disordered way, as he should be happy that God has granted his neighbor these gifts. Doctors Michael Dauphinais and Matthew Levering sum up what it means to truly be “ordered” toward God’s will in their book “Holy People, Holy Land”:
“False happiness sees everything ordered to my subjective pleasure. True happiness recognizes that my fulfillment as a creature made in the image and likeness of God lies in loving everything ordered to the goodness of its Creator. This leads to the objective fulfillment as a creature made in the image of God. Loving God for his own sake in charity—and not for my subjective pleasure—fulfills our nature. Thus, the right ordering of desire is holiness.”
Pray for the Church
A disordered action is simply something that keeps us from fulfilling our true nature, which is being a holy child of God. This is why we must help each other to stay on the straight and narrow path, even if the wider path appears easier. When we have questions, we must look to the tradition of the Church, not the latest trends or current modes of speaking. It’s on each and every one of us as Catholics to have a firm grasp of the truths of our faith, thereby conforming us not to the world, but to Christ Jesus. As Pope Francis says, we must engage in “a creative apologetics which would encourage greater openness to the Gospel on the part of all” (Evangelii Gaudium, 132).
People will not hear the saving truth of the gospel if we don’t explain it correctly and with charity. Pray for your pastors, and pray that the Holy Spirit may grant you wisdom as well, so that like the saints before us, you may be able to give that clear defense of the Faith that you hold so dear.
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About Nicholas LaBanca
Nicholas is a cradle Catholic and hopes to give a unique perspective on life in the Church as a millennial. His favorite saints include his patron St. Nicholas, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Mary Vianney, and St. Athanasius of Alexandria.