The Myth of Our Arrogant Church

A few weeks back, my article entitled “Sorry, You’re Not Allowed To Do That” ran here at Catholic Exchange. In a nutshell, I stated that Christianity is a revealed religion, and that Jesus Christ entrusted His divine revelation to the Apostles and their successors under the protection of the Holy Spirit. Neither you nor I have the authority to change the teachings of Christ, nor are we the arbiters of Truth.

Typically, some readers reacted by accusing both me and the Church of being “intolerant”, “foolish, “self-righteous” and “hypocritical” among other things. A sampling:

“…religion was created by human [sic] because they are social beings. They gather together to make themselves feel superior to others by believing they have it right.”

“Do you think yourself superior to someone because you are Catholic, because you are not. We are all equal. Nobody and I mean NOBODY has the right to look down upon someone else because they are different from them.”

“This attitude that our way is the only way has led to countless crimes against humanity throughout the history of the Church.”

“The authority of the Church does not give you the authority to condemn others….[H]ow can you dare to judge and criticize others who are following the plan God has for them?!… [D]o you hope to lead others to Faith by condemning them?…How can you limit your love only to those the same as you?”

First of all, how does one “feel superior” for simply repeating and submitting to truths and ideas that are not one’s own? If I were to declare the sun hot or the Pietà beautiful, could I legitimately be accused of self-righteousness? Neither declaration has anything to do with me, and both would be true whether or not I had ever existed or opined.

And as for the accusations against the Church, these folks have it exactly backwards. The Church, after all, does not claim to have the fullest Truth in order to condemn anyone, but in order to save everyone! Being entrusted with and then proclaiming revealed Truth is not arrogant, it’s a sacred duty at the service of all. The mission and authority of the Church is a gift to every human being, so that no one is lost.

Think about it: What kind of God would not leave a source of clarity and truth for all to see? How cruel that would be: We would be relegated to a lifetime of groping in the dark, never knowing what is true and what’s a lie, never understanding our place, never really knowing our Creator. The result would be existential angst and moral/social chaos. A loving God would not leave us there.

lighthouse

Clarity of doctrine and the moral law is a gift, not a curse, and a Truth-telling Church is mercy and inclusion, not judgment and exclusion.

We all understand that a lighthouse beacon does not exist to oppress and limit a ship as it navigates its way into the harbor, but exists to illuminate the way. If the lighthouse keeper dimmed or diverted or distorted the light, would it help or hurt those on the journey to the shore? Wouldn’t those souls aboard the ship benefit from the piercing clarity of light in the surrounding darkness? Who could believe that their course — their very lives — would be better served by hazy, inconsistent, or scattered points of light?

Which would you prefer?
i
The human heart longs for direction, light, clarity, and Truth. And God, who created the human heart, understands that perfectly.
i
I came to testify to truth…He who hears you hears me…A city set on a hill cannot be hidden…The church is the pillar and foundation of truth…On this Rock I will build my church…The gates of hell will not prevail against it…I give you [Peter] the keys to the kingdom of Heaven…Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven…I will lead you to all truth…I will not leave you orphans…
A loving, merciful Jesus has kept His promises. The Light of the World has left us a beacon in His Church. A recognition of this fact is not arrogant, it is humbling. And the beacon itself is not condemnatory, it’s a lighted path to eternal safety, peace, and joy.

 

Image credit: shutterstock.com

By

Leila Miller is a wife and mother of eight children who has a penchant for writing and a passion for teaching the Catholic Faith in simple ways. This summa cum laude Boston College graduate also loves to debate atheists, advocate for special needs orphans, and attempt the matchmaking of young Catholic singles (not necessarily in that order). All of the above is accomplished on her three blogs: Little Catholic Bubble, Orphan Report, and the invite-only Catholic Moms Matchmaking.

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  • Dessy12

    Thank you for both columns. You received negative comments as a result of
    rampant moral relativism and lack of catechisis. Please continue to spread the
    Truth.

  • Eileen Mechler

    Why do you think catechisis is so lacking?

  • Carmelo

    Liela,
    God bless you in your ministry. Speak the truth and nothing but the TRUTH.
    Carmelo

  • Dessy12

    In my parish, the priests’ homilies comment on the readings in a very general way — could be given in any protestant church. Only time Catholic doctrine on abortion,
    homosexuality, Church history, etc, is when there is a visiting priest. Also, in Catholic schools there is not the emphasis on Catholic teachings that there was pre-Vatican II, when we had more nuns. Many of our teachers are not even Catholic now.

  • Bev

    Keep up the writing about the truths of the Catholic Faith. We need more people that live their faith to speak up. Thanks

  • Pamela

    Your detractors are probably the same kinds of people who think Mr. Obama’s Common Core is a good thing — that 2+2 can equal 5 as long as you can show how you arrived at that answer … that it’s up to individuals to decide their own realities. God help us.

  • Pamela

    Because nowadays we dance around the more “uncomfortable” truths of our faith. When I was a child, the nuns told us how sin stained our souls black and put is in danger of going straight to hell — and that, furthermore, none of us knew how long we might live; we could be hit by a bus on our way home from school that day. That’s why confession and avoiding sin were presented to us as among the most important things we could do to protect our souls and ensure our eternal life. It might have been a scary message for a child, but it worked to drive home the message that sin is evil and has terrible consequences. As a catechist in my parish, I would no doubt be yanked out of the classroom for saying such things. Instead, I’m supposed to follow lesson plans that are sappy to the point of boring.

  • Leila Miller
  • Jamse

    No, the Church is not arrogant for talking about sexuality or the meaning of marriage. That’s their job.

    Instead, the Church IS arrogant for talking about law and politics when they do not have a proper understanding of either the legal system or political culture of a given state or nation. For example, backing a poorly drafted law because it seems to vaguely support Church teaching is both foolish and arrogant.

    Theologians, even brilliant theologians, are neither lawyers nor political theorists.

  • James

    I think catechesis went from one extreme to another, neither of which is good.

    The problem with moral rigor and fear-based catechesis is that it often backfires: When you tell people that eating meat on Friday is as bad as having an abortion, don’t be surprised when they conclude that having an abortion is no worse than eating meat on Friday.

    Our daughter’s school is using the “Faith and Life” series by Ignatius Press, which is excellent. The second grade text alone is deeper than most of what I learned as a child. The German version was endorsed by both Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Schoenborn, author of YouCat. It avoids the extremes of both the hellfire catechesis of your generation and the sappy Catholic-lite catechesis of mine.

  • RoodAwakening

    I noticed that in most, if not all, of the comments critical of your previous article–even those from professing Catholics–that their authors consistently failed to respectfully capitalize “Bible,” as is proper, while often doing so for other religions’ holy texts when they referred to them. That suggests something significant on their parts, I think. The same would apply for this article’s comments, too, no doubt.

  • Leila Miller

    James, oy vey. Are you the same James from my blog?

  • Leila Miller

    James, there are different degrees of mortal sin (contraception and abortion are different degrees of mortal sin, for example). But all mortal sin is very, very bad and it means separation from God if done willfully. Why do you have such a hard time submitting completely to the Church? If you believe what she claims to be, then do what the saints did. Stop fighting her all the time. You will be happier and holier. (If you are the same James I speak to on my blog.)

  • Leila Miller

    The whole discussion is here, for readers who wish to delve into what James is saying:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2013/08/we-dont-need-to-reinvent-wheel.html

  • RoodAwakening

    Actually, I know at least one Catholic priest who is also a lawyer. Why can’t he, and others like him, educate fellow clergy?

  • Steve

    Thank you, Leila. You are truly a light in the darkness. As a Traditional Catholic (who, incidentally, converted from protestantism at age 16), reading your article energized me in a way only Truth can. Keep up the good work and blessings from the Triune God to you and your family.

  • James

    Yes, I am one of them. The one you had the debate on this issue. I’m not going to rehash this here.

    Whether it was incorrect instruction or not developmentally appropriate instruction, millions of children once (incorrectly) thought that they could go to hell for eating meat on a Friday. (And when you’re in hell, do degrees REALLY matter?) It was a reaction to this that gave us Catechesis-lite. I’m not sure what your complaint about this is.

    As for Church authority, have you forgotten “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.”? Men of God are far from experts in the domain of Caesar. (Same can be said for the domain of science and nature, but I digress.)

  • James

    Oh, and I have talked to my priest about issues of the scope of Church authority and the response of the believer. Let’s just say that his views are quite different from yours.

    The Church tells us to follow our conscience and to also inform our conscience. Blind obedience is not what is required of Catholics, and, indeed, may be harmful (if we have misunderstood what is required).

  • Leila Miller

    James, have you forgotten obedience and “religious submission of mind and will”? Also, it is still a mortal sin to willfully eat meat on Fridays during Lent. This is a law binding on Catholics. Mortal sin. That’s serious, yes. The Church has not changed so much as you make it seem.

  • Leila Miller

    I don’t doubt that a priest would side with you on ignoring a document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, but it’s sad nonetheless. Would you be wiser to obey the Church, or the priest who counsels you to go against what the Church is asking? Remember, priests take vows of obedience to the Church.

    For me, I will obey the Church over any particular priest who tells me to have views “quite different” from what the Church and popes are asking of me.

  • James

    For me, I will trust my priest—who has taken a vow of obedience and has many years of seminary training—about the proper response of the believer to non-infallible teaching over a laywoman on the internet.

  • James

    Clearly you have not understood a single word of what I have written.

    The problem is that young children understand rules, not nuances. Children really did think that simply forgetting it was Friday and having meat would put them in hell. I know you know that this is not theologically correct, but this is how many Catholics were taught back then. Bad catechesis is nothing new.

    Your catechesis was sappy. So was mine. But this doesn’t mean that what came before it was right either.

  • Leila Miller

    And I’m going with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the popes on this. ;) Call me crazy….

  • Leila Miller

    Sorry, I’m really not getting your point. That we need better catechesis? I agree.

    It isn’t hard to explain to a child that forgetting about the no-meat rule is not a mortal sin. Mortal sin must be willful. (That last fact certainly was taught, much better in the past than today.)

  • Leila Miller

    By the way, my kids use the Faith and Life series, too. So, I am glad we find common ground. :)

    But my kids also still learn that it’s a mortal sin to eat meat on Fridays during Lent (assuming they are the proper age for that discipline to apply).

    I have never said that the catechesis in the past was perfect, so I am sorry if I misunderstood? I guess with all our different conversations on different blogs, I never quite get what point you are trying to make. My apologies.

  • Leila Miller

    Dessy, I hope there are some young, new priests in your diocese somewhere! Things are changing, but it is taking some dioceses longer than others.

  • Curtsy

    The lighthouse metaphor is amazing, I will be quoting you!

  • Howard M Ccomber

    Please continue to teach those of us who want to know more, and clarify to those who feel that the Church is for the individual, which it is not. The indiviual must be capable learning to comprehend the message. Thought full discussion with fellow parishioners (ley people) who understand the Catechisis may be able to hold a profitable debate (discussion) for those who may not understand the doctrine (rules/laws). I for one continually reach to the Church’s doctrine to remind myself of WHAT we beleive, and our faith formation is founded upon this understanding of the scriptures. The Apostles are the witnesses and we are the product of the message. May God bless all of you, and answer each of your prayers according to His will. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

  • Francis Choudhury

    Sadly, some hate the light, for the closer one gets to it, the more clearly one’s blemishes show. Only the humble, aware of their blemishes and their blindness, praise God for the light of truth which heals and sets them free. Jesus didn’t get killed for doing anything wrong or harming anyone. He was murdered precisely because of His real goodness, which showed up the self righteous hypocrites for what they were. And where the Master is, there His servant, the Church, will always be – despised, ridiculed, rejected and persecuted for speaking His saving truth.

  • Lee

    Being humble and believing in the Truth does bring us healing and a freedom from feeling that we have to be the ones who are in control . Giving ourselves to our Lord can only bring us peace and hope. Keep up your blessed work Leila. God bless all who have yet to come to His Love.

  • Howard

    I can see how Evangelicals who believe in “once saved, always saved” could be accused of being arrogant; they are a bit too sure of who is likely to go to Hell and who is certain to go to Heaven. One of the truths we have to deal with in the Catholic Church, though, is that you or I or even Pope Francis might yet go to Hell. That is a sobering and humbling thought. If this is combined with a regular examination of conscience, there is really no room for pride.

  • Phil Steinacker

    James, in your example of forgetting it was Friday you are taking liberties with reality while simultaneously demonstrating there’s much for you to still learn about Catholicism.

    It’s actually not so easy to commit mortal sin. It must fulfill the following three criteria – ALL OF THEM.

    1. Grave matter. For example, killing someone.

    2. Full knowledge. You need to know fully that what you are doing is a sin and you need to know that it is grave. (eg. A person who has never heard that killing is wrong would not commit a mortal sin)

    3. Full consent. You need to do it deliberately with complete consent (If you had been drugged and you killed someone while still being in the state of being drugged, it would not have been a mortal sin)

    You need to have all three criteria to commit a mortal sin, if but one criteria is not fulfilled, it is not a mortal sin.

    So your example is a non-starter. As for kids, they grow up carrying all sorts of misunderstood notions about al sorts of things. It’s just not sensible to hold the Church responsible for kids drawing incorrect conclusions.

  • Phil Steinacker

    If your priest tells you that your conscience is superior to the teachings of the Church then he speaks falsely. The Church teaches that we are to form our conscience (NOT inform) in light of Church teaching. It is not a hall pass to elevate your opinion (i.e. preference) over what she teaches.

    Besides, I don’t recommend you substitute your own authority for the authority to loose or bind on earth given to the Apostles and their successors.

  • Morningstar

    “Do not think I came to put peace upon the earth; I came to put, not peace, but a sword.” Mt 10:34
    Jesus’ ministry brought divisions, even within families, but it was because of his adherence to, and proclamation of, God’s righteous standards and truth. Division resulted because many individuals hardened their hearts against these truths while others accepted them. This was unavoidable if the divine principles were to be upheld; but the blame lay with the people that rejected what was right.”
    When Christ’s sword of truth is revealed, there will always be those who accept it and those who reject it. Thank you Leila Miller for always standing up for the truth and those who do, like you, are also persecuted. Just note the name calling on those responses you got. God bless you and protect you and we constantly pray for all of us to see with the eyes of faith and not with worldly eyes.

  • John

    Arrogance: : having or showing the insulting attitude of people who believe that they are better, smarter, or more important than other people : having or showing arrogance. http://www.merriam-webster.com

    Although I personally did not find anything untrue about Roman Catholicism in your article, I did get the impression that perhaps, because of all the ‘you’ statements, that your detractors were referring to you and not the church per se. The church is a plurality of persons, many of whom I would guess could possibly, in fact, be arrogant. I personally doubt many of her saints would be accused of being arrogant. They seem to be loved for their humility.

    If I am not mistaken, most protestants are allowed to interpret scripture according to their own dictates and to live and preach accordingly, perhaps to their own malaise, perhaps not. The authority to act according to one’s own conscience, whether it be ill or well formed, is a natural right given to all human beings.

    I can’t see why a secularist would not be free to think of Jesus in anyway they would like to think of Jesus, guru or fool? I do understand why a faithful catholic would not.

    People are allowed to love and or hate the church because God allows it. People are allowed to be wrong because God allows it.

    Certain followers of Christ were given the gift of infallibility in matters of faith and morals, and are guided by His Holy Spirit even unto this day because He sustains them. I hope and pray to be in His service some day.

    Jesus said,”This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

    Peace and God’s blessings to all :)

  • Leila Miller

    So many questions, but let me ask:

    “People are allowed to be wrong because God allows it.”

    Does that mean that people are “allowed” to murder because God “allows it”?

    Yes, people have free will. That does not mean God gives them permission (“allowance”) to sin and do wrong. It means he won’t stand in the way of their choices.

  • John

    If I am not mistaken, Christ was basically, murdered, ie. crucified. He did not prevent it. He overcame it :)

    I would love to correspond with you. I think, from what I read in your works, that you are a brilliant, and faithful disciple. I, on the other hand, need all the help I can get!

  • John

    I don’t think that everyone, or even the majority of people in Jesus’ day despised, ridiculed, or rejected, or persecuted Him. He had and has many who love Him and joyfully serve Him, even while being persecuted. The funny thing, is that even when He did encounter those things, and He did, He never seemed to despise, ridicule, reject, or persecute them in return.

  • John

    Ah….someone gets that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Thank you Phil for your simple exposition of the truth. Amazing how curative a simple, humble, exposition of Truth can be.

  • Leila Miller

    John, yes, he was murdered. But that didn’t make the murder morally right, right? The actions by those folks were still evil, no?

    And, yes, he overcame it. :)

    Your are too kind. I’m just a pilgrim like you. I can be reached at littlecatholicbubble@gmail.com.

  • John

    I tend to believe that the crucifixion was indispensable. I am a grateful recovering alcoholic and former porn/sex addict. I have committed many heinous crimes against God and my fellow man. I have transgressed many of God’s laws. I hated Him in my heart and could not, no, would not bend my foolish will to show Him my need for Him. Even today, I struggle to give Him my whole self. Yet in spite of all my wickedness and hardheartedness, this God, in His Supreme Infinitely Ridiculous Love for me could not be thwarted by my evilness. With every wicked act I hurled against Him and His Creatures, His love only became more evident and more glorified, His Goodness more Good, my indebtedness more profound. It seems that even the sinner can but glorify God and Magnify His Name. I have become less concerned about measuring and weighing the evil others do and much more accountable for the wickedness and sinfulness of my own actions and desires. We are all brothers and sisters, may He continue to have mercy on us all. At the end of the day, I shall have to give no account for the actions of others, but of only my own.
    Thank you Leila for posting and doing your best always.

  • Leila Miller

    John, yes, you’ve got it right. Those who do evil are always wrong to do it, but even they are working within God’s plan, as He will always bring a greater good out of any evil. That doesn’t mean any particular soul will not be culpable, just that evil will not have the last word. And yes, we pray for his mercy on all of us, work on our own souls most especially, and still be bold enough to proclaim the Good News (the Truth!) so that others may be saved as well.

    You sound like a great Christian. :)

  • Gary

    Thank you for the column – it will be a great help in teaching Confirmation class this year!

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