|Picture: Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (CNA)|
Yesterday I wrote about true friendship and how sometimes true friends, turn out to be only “fair weather friends”. I related this also to our friendship with our Lord, asking whether we are true friends of our Lord or just “fair weather friends”. Are we Catholic because we were born Catholic; are we Catholic because it is part of our culture; or are we Catholic because we have come to know and love our Lord?
I came to be thinking about this because I have for some time been trying to make sense of the constant attacks, by Catholics, on the Church and the Church’s teaching. It frustrates me and causes me to despair when I consider how many dissident Catholic newspapers, organisations, priests, deacons, religious and laity there are, who constantly attack the Church and the teaching of the Church. I can reconcile attacks on the Church and her teaching by non-Catholics, but not attacks by Catholics. I want to understand, if it is at all possible for me to do so, why a professed Catholic would so openly and vehemently resist and attack the Church and her teaching. Why would they seem so intent on destroying the Church and discrediting her teaching, usually under the guise of trying to improve and build the Church?
I am not sure whether I will ever really understand this, because there are probably a host of complex reasons for their behaviour. Today, however, I read what Cardinal Schönborn had to say during an interview with the Catholic News Agency on May 14, 2012. He said that “From the very beginning of his ministry, the Pope has stressed that Christian faith, Christian life is not first of all a series of doctrines, not first of all a series of rules, but a deepening friendship with Jesus. He (the Pope) is convinced that without faith you cannot understand Christian morals. Without faith, you cannot understand Christian life. And therefore, I think the big challenge is really to deepen our faith. Call it new evangelization, call it mission – I think it has very much to do with conversion.”[i]
Could this be it? Is the Pope right? Is the resistance towards and attacks on the Church and her teaching because some Catholics haven’t yet developed a true friendship with our Lord, or because they have lost that friendship? Are they seeing the Church and Church’s teaching as just an oppressive institute, with a list of oppressive rules and regulations? Are they, instead of understanding the Church and her teaching in a way that only a true friend can understand another friend, viewing it from the ‘outside’ of the friendship, where they simply don’t get it?
One has to admit that some of the Church's teaching, if taken out of the context of our relationship with our Lord, can, if one really wants it to, take on quite absurd and even sinister tones: traditional marriage can easily be seen as a selfish and bigoted rule to stop homosexual people from being happy; not using contraception could be seen as an ignorant approach to what is a clever human invention that helps all people to enjoy sex responsibly without unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases; male only clergy certainly seems archaic and oppressive in the context of the modern world; the sacrament of Confession appears to keep people focussed on the negative, encouraging feelings of guilt and inferiority instead of a positive personal view of oneself; an anti-abortion stance means that poor people remain poor because of having to feed unwanted children, not to mention all the other negative consequences for women who are forced to have children they don’t want; the concept of the Real Presence is just bizarre, a bit like a far fetched vampire movie and actually pretty disgusting when one thinks about actually eating another persons flesh and drinking his blood.
Yet, this same Church and the same teaching, in the context of “a deepening friendship with Jesus”, begins to make complete sense and in fact actually becomes perfectly obvious, necessary and entirely natural for the Christian to accept and live by. In the face of “a deepening friendship with Jesus”, a Christian life without the Church and without her teaching, is what begins to sound absurd and sinister.
The Cardinal may have hit the nail right on the head. Possibly, what we need to do more of in the Church, as a viable and positive response to all the dissident Catholics, is to pray that we will all really “deepen our faith”. Instead of engaging in intellectual disputes to convince dissidents that our Church and her teaching is right, let’s focus on helping others to develop a true friendship with Jesus, because outside of that friendship, it makes no sense whatsoever and will never make any sense. As Pope Benedict XVI says, “without faith you cannot understand Christian morals. Without faith, you cannot understand Christian life.”