The Vatican's Synod on the Family has left many in the Church wondering about how seriously we should take the teachings of Jesus on the sacredness and nature of the marriage covenant. Since so many people are caught up in objectively sinful lifestyles, there is an unspoken premise that the large number of such cases would seem to indicate that the will of God to offer salvation to all cannot come to fruition in our world.
Sadly this premise overlooks the fact that morality is based neither upon majority opinion nor on the intensity of emotion, but rather on objective truth. After all, the majority opinion and the intense emotions of a lynch mob does not make an accused person guilty of a crime. Nor did the sincere consensus of the People of God at the base of Mt. Sinai justify their actions of building and worshipping the golden calf.
But, as the widely reported humility of Pope Francis has been viewed by many as a justification for promoting good feelings over fidelity to the truth, a moral laxity based on a spirit of inclusiveness and tolerance has led many to conclude that morality itself should be determined merely in light of what each person finds to be relevant and fulfilling. And as they are led to point out that Church discipline without the discipleship of love is tyranny, they conveniently ignore a second reality - that the discipleship of love, when divorced from the discipline of truth, soon degenerates into anarchy.
They thus need to be reminded that authentic spiritual growth requires both the discipline of truth and the discipleship of love. After all, Jesus Himself told us that anyone who truly loves Him keeps His commandments and that His faithful disciples are true to His words. And such faithfulness includes fidelity to His words concerning the sacredness of marriage, of human sexuality, of family life and of each human person.
Thus it is that the moral confusion, which was dramatically brought to light during the Synod, manifests an even more profound theological problem. In the popular attempt to portray Christ as all-merciful, the concept of mercy has been degraded to the level of a spiritual codependence. The admonition for us not to judge has been used to eclipse awareness of the need to admonish the sinner. Furthermore, it has been distorted by the tyrannical demands of political correctness to condemn any who seek to foster the reverence, humility and docility needed to discern the demands of authentic truth.
Obfuscation, rather than clarification, is now used to ensure that objective and eternal truths do not temper people’s desire for instant and complete gratification. And accountability to the truth has been rejected in favor of a “responsibility”, which merely seeks to ensure that any negative consequences of our sins are minimized or trivialized. Sadly, such a perspective tends to deny the fact that the most negative consequence of sin is found in its ever-metastasizing ability to desecrate and degrade both the integrity and the character of the human person.
In order to reinforce this distorted perspective of truth and morality, the powers-that-be in our society tend to ridicule and persecute any who dare to present any psychological or scientific evidence that can in any way calls into question their prejudicial premises, such as the ideas that sexual gratification is the essential for personal fulfillment and that human activity is the major factor causing climatic changes. Such a flippant distortion of truth is even reflected in our courts, which routinely engage in a judicial gerrymandering of their legal perspectives so as to support their premise that the clearly stated mandates of our Constitution and our laws must evolve to suit their perspectives and prejudices.
For example, while they arrogantly assert that the unique DNA of a pre-born child may not be accepted as legal proof of the presence of a person in a mother’s womb, such DNA evidence must be accepted as legal proof of the presence of a unique person at a crime scene. Thus it is that, in sharp contrast to the teaching of Jesus teaches the truth will set us free, the gospel of the New World Order boldly proclaims that promoting ambiguity, equivocation and obfuscation will set us free to develop our own moral standards in line with our ever-evolving desires and agendas.
It is tragic to note how even Church leaders, in their attempt to make the Gospel relevant to the modern world, are so often distracted from their sacred mission to proclaim the need for deep conversion by the seductive Sirens of secularism, which demand that they develop innovative theological excuses for old perversions. For example, note how rarely we hear solid catechesis on such important spiritual disciplines as compunction, contrition, mortification and reparation. And how often do we receive solid catechesis on the dangerous and perverting influence of concupiscence on our souls, perspectives and lifestyles?
Instead, we often hear the clear teaching of Christ get either diluted and distorted in order to ratify the delusions of those trapped in the pop-psychology of inclusion, self-affirmation and self-fulfillment. Is it any wonder, then, that the cross of Christ is now so often treated as a merely a “has been” historical fact, rather than as the ongoing transformative mystery of divine graciousness and fidelity? People are urged to ignore the fact that it is only through full immersion into the mystery of the cross of Christ that all dimensions of our shared humanity can share in the saving, gracious and regenerative mercy of God. The proclamation of a “has been” Savior will only foster “has been” faith and spiritualities.
All the above points out the need to seek God’s guidance so as to discern how to more faithfully and authentically proclaim the Gospel of Christ in a world blinded by distorted perspectives and perverted premises. In other words, how do we call people to conversion, and not merely to some minor adjustments in their perspectives and practices? It would seem that such a process would require that we ourselves personally embrace the call to conversion. If we operate from the false premise that we, as Catholics, have our act together, we deceive ourselves and thus can only seduce others into joining us in our timid faith, our vapid hope and our tepid love.
It is worth noting here that, while Peter was indeed the rock on which Jesus built His Church, the spirituality of Peter was permeated with repentance and docility. In the face of reprimands and corrections from Jesus and from others, he did not sulk, but sought to grow in fidelity to Jesus, His truth and His mission. He led the Church on the path of ongoing repentance, so as to allow the gracious fidelity of the Holy Spirit to continually regenerate his life and the lives of those entrusted to his care.
Sadly, in recent years, this repentant hunger and thirst for righteousness has been deceptively assuaged by seductive worldly perspectives to the point where even many Church leaders identify spiritual regeneration merely in secular terms of revising and remarketing the Gospel. And so it is that, whereas the transformative graciousness of our God is accessed by denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following Jesus, evangelization efforts today are too often based on the manipulative advertising techniques of Madison Avenue.
It kind of makes a person wonder how someone like St. Francis of Assisi was able to have any influence at all. Talk about a low-budget evangelization program! It would be interesting to see what would happen if, in our own day, following the example of St. Francis, all members of the Church would focus more on their own spiritual transformation in Christ than on the manipulation of others into the Church. After all, the fruit of such transformation is eternal, while the fruit of manipulation is merely superficial and ephemeral.
Rev. Thomas Collins is a Catholic priest in the service of the people of Virginia.