It’s no secret that the Church has been at war with the likes of Satan since it was founded by Christ some 2,000 years ago. Be it a heresy, an oppressive government, or even conflicting religions, Christ’s Church has managed to hold strong. As I’ve learned more about the different threats that have faced the Church over the millennia, I’ve come to understand that there are really only two threats that have ever faced the Church (more on that in a moment), and they’ve remained practically unchanged.
I’ve heard some people say that “evil,” or Satan, is the only enemy of the Church. In some ways, that’s true… but only insofar as Satan is the motivation behind whatever opposes or threatens goodness – God, his Church, and his faithful. And although many do harm with the intention of doing good, harm has its roots in evil (just check out Genesis 3).
Keep Your Friends Close...
In order to identify where our conflicts lie, you’ve got to know the patterns that people follow, the positions they take, and where the Church stands on those positions. Further, it is important to recognize the difference between authority and popular opinion which, as obvious as it may seem, isn’t easy for everyone to do. For example, 82% of American Catholics believe birth control is morally acceptable to use (popular opinion), but the Catholic Church condemns its use (authority).
So, to protect ourselves – and defend the Church – we’ve got to know where the opposition stands. Thus, I have boiled down the opposition to the Church into two main Categories which, although not a perfect model, has helped me to determine the best course of action to take. After all, you can’t fight an electrical fire the same way you fight a campfire.
With all that said, there really are only two primary threats that challenge the Church today, and they are fires that burn very differently. What are they? Non-Catholics and Unfaithful Catholics.
Those Who Silence Your Opinion
Non-Catholics who have subscribed to the liberal worldview tend to express the same moral and political beliefs. They like to champion the flags of LGBT rights, abortion rights or “reproductive” rights, rights to end their own lives, and any number of other principals and lifestyles that the Church finds morally objectionable and depraved. The clear majority of liberal-leaning non-Catholics don’t have any real grasp of Catholic teaching, and therefore judge the Church to be “intolerant,” “hateful,” “bigoted,” “outdated,” “[insert sexual orientation or race here]-phobic,” and a slew of other meritless accusations. Ironically, their Cri de Coeur demands the right to do whatever it is they want to do!
On some level, being a proponent of my own rights, I can respect an opinion that speaks objectively to the reality of rights. Obviously, the United States affords to its citizens the right to express their opinions freely. Everyone has the right to their own opinion, and even the right to practice whatever faith they want, so that’s clearly not the real problem here.
The issue is that there’s only room for one opinion – and it isn’t mine unless mine is theirs. That is a fundamentally flawed understanding of the concepts of freedom of speech and opinion; that somehow our freedoms apply differently to different people in different ways for different reasons. That’s not freedom, that’s chaos.
When addressing a non-Catholic who criticizes my views, I try to remember that they are criticizing my views, not the views of the Church. Even if they are acutely aware that my views are also those of the Church, there’s no reason for them to focus on anything but me and my views. They would gain nothing from trying to change the Church itself. In fact, I’m willing to bet that most non-Catholics who say the Church is wrong are really saying you are wrong. After all, if they really wanted to change the Church, they would inadvertently acknowledge that the Church has bearing on the truth – which it does. Why else would anyone seek to change it unless it were the One, True Church?
That would be like trying to change the teachings of the Church of Scientology rather than leading Scientologists to Catholicism.
Being non-Catholic means taking in information differently than a Catholic would (or should). Defending the faith against someone who does not acknowledge the authority of Holy Mother Church requires us to employ logic and reason – if possible – in order to make good arguments. Disarming the opposition by finding common ground in our basic right to express our faith is a must, and evangelization becomes a wonderful opportunity when healthy conversation – true dialogue – is allowed.
The goal should always be to inform and correct the other person for their own good. That’s love: willing the good of the other. Beyond that, no obligation exists for me to argue in circles and if nothing else, they will remain incorrect in their thinking, and I'll pray for them.
Those Who Silence Your Church
Unfaithful Catholics on the other hand, who criticize traditional Catholicism, maintain a similar but far more tragic position.
Some Catholics might oppose Church teaching, but do so not realizing that they are in the wrong. An honest ignorance to the truth is not what I'm talking about. That is a matter of formation which can be addressed with love, compassion, tenderness and understanding, and can lead to a fruitful conversation and a life-long reversion to the genuine practices of the Church. I really don't consider them “unfaithful,” but the distinction is important.
I am referring to those persons who identify as Catholic but reject some or all aspects of Church teaching that don’t align with their own opinion; those who seek to change Church teaching rather than find a church they agree with.
That is a matter of pride, and it leads to heresy and apostasy, two of the greatest dangers to the Church and to her faithful. They are unfaithful…Categorically.
The Church Is Wrong! Oh, Wait...
The problem with liberal Catholics who share those secular world-views is their cognitive dissonance, that is, that they hold two conflicting ideas at the same time. On one hand, they believe that things like Gay marriage, Trans rights, etc., are not only good but that they should be praised, celebrated, and supported.
On the other hand, they acknowledge, or at least admit, the inherent value and authority of the Catholic Church, which infallibly teaches about the dangers of such lifestyles and worldviews. But which is it? Claiming that the Catholic Church is wrong on any one of her teachings on faith and morals is to admit that the Church itself is incorrect.
Ingenious safeguards, like magisterial infallibility, have been woven into the fabric of foundational Catholic theology and philosophy and prevent such dissonances from fracturing her perfect union to Christ. In fact, Christ promised that protection to the Church when he sent his disciples, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16).
Triggered By Logic?
Some leaders within the Church, like Fr. James Martin, SJ, are adamant and vocal proponents of that liberal Catholic position. While he is very careful to avoid saying the Church is wrong in her teaching, he is quite clear about his disagreements with her, especially about the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), referring to its language regarding homosexuality as “needlessly cruel.” The Catechism, by the way, explains homosexual inclinations, not only homosexual acts, as “objectively disordered” (CCC 2358). I still can’t figure out how anything objective can also be "cruel."
Think About It...
If the Church is professed to be the true Church, as it should be by anyone who considers themselves Catholic, then doesn’t that give it license to determine what is good or bad? Right or wrong? Sinful or virtuous? If we really believe the Church is true, what merits a rejection of what she teaches? Anyone would be hard-pressed to furnish an answer to that question.
Meanwhile, the struggle remains all too real. The New Evangelization, something Saint Pope John Paul II believed in fervently, relates exclusively to ministering to those within the Church who have lost their way. Whether it is a non-Catholic discussing why they think I’m wrong, or a fellow Catholic expressing why they believe the Church is wrong – something that still makes no sense to me – change only comes from within.
Let’s not forget the charge once given by Christ: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (Matthew 10:5-7, my emphasis).
Our house is not in order, and so the rest of the world suffers.