Recent popes have emphasized that youth won't even listen to teachers unless they are first and foremost witnesses. And yet, at the same time, our society has a perverse desire to see good people fall from grace. Take the moral high ground and you become a target.
Our zeal for the truth of Jesus Christ impels us to stand with the Holy Father and with the Church. This is of course the right and noble thing to do. Yet it also singles us out as targets, especially when we defend the Church's moral teachings on hot-button issues such as contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and homosexuality. If there is any discernible inconsistency between what we say and how we act, we're dismissed as hypocrites and held up to ridicule or worse.
Our Christian commitment, then, must be authentically lived and expressed in our lives. In this regard, there are a few pitfalls that should be avoided.
First, we must avoid a selective or “cafeteria” orthodoxy. Our faith must be coherent, embracing all that God has revealed and that the Church proposes for our belief (see Catechism, no. 2088). Sometimes we encounter Catholics who champion Church teaching on “peace and justice” issues but who dissent from Church teaching on abortion and other “conservative” issues, or who at least relativize such teaching to an intolerable degree. Our rejection of such denials and distortions of Catholic teaching can unfortunately lead to our not paying sufficient attention to the social teachings of the Church and the plight of the “poorest of the poor” in our midst.
Our belief system is expressed in the Catechism all of it and not in “liberal” or “conservative” agendas or political platforms.
Second, we must avoid a self-defeating, obnoxious orthodoxy. Our demeanor should reflect joy, patience, kindness, and indeed all the fruits of the Holy Spirit (see Gal 5:22-23), which are contagious signs of the life of Christ in us. A relentless antagonism toward the local Church, setting ourselves up as the local “piety police,” or maybe using our apologetics skills as a contentious sword rather than as a constructive plowshare (see Is 2:4) are all ways we can let style get in the way of our substance, creating an unnecessary stumbling block for those whose faith is less informed than ours.
There is, after all, no legitimate basis for assuming an air of superiority, for our faith is not something we earned, but an undeserved gift from God. In fact, the Lord expects more from those to whom He has given more (Lk 12:48). And Vatican II reminds us that Catholics who do not persevere in charity cannot be saved (Lumen Gentium, no. 14).
Third, we must avoid a compartmentalized orthodoxy. In this regard, it's crucial to understand that our Christian discipleship is 24/7. Our faith must inform every aspect of our lives. We can't check our faith at the door when we take to the highway, go to the movies, file our tax returns, log onto the Internet, or retire to the privacy of our bedrooms. Do we attempt to justify holding on to our “favorite” vices and sins? Are we truly orthodox when others aren't watching?
Contradictions between our faith and our actions must be countered with daily prayer, spiritual discipline, cultivation of virtue, and regular recourse to the Sacrament of Confession. Otherwise, we're spiritually blind and thereby ill-equipped to help others find the way (see Mt 7:4-5).
Clearly we have to lead lives worthy of our calling in Christ, not only for its powerful witness, but even more because it's what the Lord expects of His disciples.
Even when our orthodoxy is lived with integrity, we will be attacked. Some will accuse us of homophobia, pre-conciliarism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, intolerance, and other purported sins for no other reason than because we fully stand with the Church.
All the same, we need to continually examine ourselves to ensure that there aren't elements of truth in these outrageous personal attacks. Yes, we hate the sin, but do we manifest the same zeal and commitment in loving the sinner?
The havoc wreaked upon the Church from within in recent decades by dissenting Catholics in leadership positions can be very distressing. However, through the eyes of faith we must give thanks for this opportunity to grow in our own faith and to bear witness to our Lord and His Church in the face of persecution and ridicule. We cannot be truly committed to ecumenism, to inter-religious dialogue, or to missionary activity if we're not serious about bringing “back” (even when they don't think they've “left”) our own Catholic brothers and sisters who have gone astray. We can't give up on them. Indeed, we might just be the ones who are supposed to welcome them home.
In all this, we must take the high ground, which is nothing other than the way of charity not a soft, “nice” charity, but a charity that's tough as nails. The definitive high ground, after all, is a hill on Calvary.
Leon J. Suprenant, Jr. is the president of Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) and Emmaus Road Publishing and the publisher of Lay Witness magazine, all based in Steubenville, Ohio. He is a contributor to Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass and an adviser to CE’s Catholic Scripture Study. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
(This article originally appeared in the National Catholic Register and is used by permission of the author.)
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