Faithfulness, Trust and Courage
Did we lose these in Vatican Council II?
Jesus said more than once: “Remain in me.” And it always came with a promise.”
Remain in me, and I will remain in you” (John 15:4).
“If you remain in me, you will bear much fruit” (verse 5).
“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love” (John 15:10).
“If you remain faithful to my teachings, you are truly my disciples.” (John 8:31).
“Father, just as you remain in me and I remain in you, I pray that they also remain in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
And the one we like best: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and you shall receive it” (John 15:7).
In today’s society, however, remaining in Jesus is not easy. We have become so thoroughly indoctrinated by the so-called wisdom of the world that we fail to remain faithful to the teachings of Christ. We have become confused and we allow ourselves to remain ignorant about what the Word of God really teaches, especially when it contradicts the teachings of popular, “politically correct” society. We prefer to adopt our secular culture’s moral relativism.
Jesus calls us all to holiness: “Obey my commands,” he said. He never added: “But only if it’s convenient and easy.” The word “holy” means to be “set apart”, i.e., different from the world. Jesus warned that we’d be persecuted for this, and he did not add: “So therefore avoid persecution by blending in with the world.” On the contrary, he said to the Father: “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (John 17:14).
Jesus wants us to become like him. It’s what “following Jesus” means. He was hated because he firmly took a stand against everything that conflicts with the ways of God.
Remaining in Christ requires faithfulness, trust, and courage.
To be faithful to him, we have to (there is no other option) pay attention and be aware of what he teaches. This is incredibly easy in today’s technologically assisted “age of information.” The Word of God is preached in Mass every day, Catholic bible studies abound, and Church writings are readily accessible; the Catechism, papal documents, pastoral letters, writings of Saints – all this and more explain how to understand and apply what the Bible teaches, and all are available on the internet. We have no legitimate excuse for being ignorant of the commands of Christ.
Be honest. What are the pope and bishops saying that you’re ignoring? It takes courage to examine our faithfulness.
One of the most dangerous but common ways that many of us have opted-out of Church teachings is by denying the legitimacy of their warnings about climate change and the need to become better stewards of creation.
And one of the most emotion-packed ways we do it is by rejecting what they are saying about God’s definition of marriage. The Magisterium of the Church takes the bible as a whole, with all the various related messages about relationships, and explains what God commands: Marriage is between one man and one woman, to be lived in the context of a Sacrament, and permanent.
But we all know (or are ourselves) people who are sexually active without the benefits of God’s design for marriage: people who are divorced and remarried outside the Sacrament, people who aren’t even civilly married, and homosexuals. Sex has become more important than marriage; celibacy and abstinence are considered to be bad.
And so, in this environment, faithful Catholics (and other good Christians) struggle between wanting to be holy and wanting to comfortably fit into the world around us.
Part of our struggle comes from knowing that Jesus calls us to love everyone unconditionally. In our desire to never judge others because Jesus told us not to judge (Matthew 7:1), we neglect to differentiate between the sinner and the sin. We take a leap from loving the homosexual person, for example, to approving of the homosexual activity so that we don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. And we leap from gentle and compassionate tolerance to an unChrist-like acceptance of immorality.
I’ve heard devout Catholics take that leap with words such as: “To each his own” and “Our priest should not have preached that intolerant message against homosexuals marrying” and “If it feels right for them, who am I to judge.”
Let’s go back to the roots of the teachings about unconditional love and compassionate tolerance. Jesus told us to love everyone, even our enemies (Luke 6:35), which means we are called to give unconditional caring and kindness to all, without exception. However, he also told sinners, with great love and compassion, to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). The most loving thing we can do for those who live outside of God commandments is to help them understand what God’s commands are while also being an example of his love and forgiveness. And when they refuse to listen to us and they reject the truth, we are to refrain from pushing so hard that they feel judged and condemned (see Matthew 7:6); this is how to be tolerant without giving approval of the sin.
Remaining in Christ requires faithfulness, trust, and courage: faithfulness to the teachings of Christ, trust in God’s ways, and the courage to be holy, a true follower of Christ, one who is set apart from the world and willing to be like Christ in standing up for what is true and against what is wrong.
Moral relativism has infiltrated our consciences so much that we’ve lost track of what is true and what is wrong. At the same time, we’re alarmed about how increasingly un-Christian our society is becoming.
In the Church, I hear lots of blame being cast in the wrong direction. In an attempt to return to a time when morality seemed higher and obedience to God seemed much more commonplace, there’s a growing desire to regain “conservative” values. Good! But the trend is to take this too far: ultra-conservatism with a longing to return the Church to the way it was before Vatican Council II.
Why? Because obedience and faithfulness deteriorated after that Council. But let’s widen our lens and look at what was happening in society coincidentally the same time as Vatican Council II. It was the 1960s, the decade of the sexual revolution and the loosening of social mores. Changes in society eroded faithfulness, not the changes in the Church.
The call to holiness does not require that we go back to the way Mass used to be celebrated or the way the Church was ruled before Vatican Council II. That won’t solve anything, but it will, in fact, make Catholicism seem more unfriendly and inhospitable to those we need to evangelize. What is needed is to go back to the confidence in Church teachings that we used to have.
We must choose to be holy, set apart from the world, willing to be recognized as different from non-believers even if we’re persecuted for it. And we can do this now with the advantages that are offered in today’s world: We are better educated, we can research any Church teaching, we can learn the bible and read it daily, and we can understand the value of women in Church leadership as exemplified in Christ’s life and in the early Church.
Remaining in Christ requires faithfulness, trust, and courage. Let us rededicate ourselves to this calling and pray for our Church to grow stronger and stronger in holiness. Amen!
© 2012 by Terry A. Modica