In Psalm 19, the Psalmist David praises and thanks God for His law. The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart. The command of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eye. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The statutes of the LORD are true, all of them just (8-10).
We can be as thankful for the teachings of the Gospel and the Church’s doctrines which are a great gift. Through these doctrines we can learn about God, humans, the Church and the Sacraments, prayer, and living as a Catholic. The sources of the Church’s teachings are not human reason or opinion but come from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, mediated by the Church’s Magisterium. We can trust that what the Church teaches is true because it has been revealed by God and so live according to the truth she teaches.
There is a false perception among some Catholics that the Church’s teachings are a burden for people and too difficult to follow. What they don’t realize is that God gives us the grace to follow His Commandments. The lives of the saints and of many contemporary Catholics show that the Church’s teachings can be lived successfully and joyfully. They have found that what the Catechism of the Catholic Church states is indeed true: “Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure.” (89) Because these faithful Catholics have such great love for Jesus and His Church, they are able to live holy lives and practice self-giving agape love for others. As Saint John wrote: “For the love of God is this, that we keep His commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3-4).
Ultimately, people have to make a choice as to whether they will follow the teachings of the Church or the teachings of the world. Too often people’s ideas about what is right and wrong is determined by the values of secular society as promoted in the media, universities, politics, and people’s personal opinions. If a moral teaching of the Church is against something the world does not consider a sin, some Catholics oppose the doctrine instead of seeking to understand it. Another error some people commit is to rely on surveys of Catholic opinion as a guide to what is true. Archbishop Sheen addressed this in The Way to Inner Peace, “Numbers become the measure of goodness. If a sufficient number can be counted who violate a certain Commandment of God, then it is argued ‘Fifty million adulterers cannot be wrong. We have to change the Commandments.'”
The Church’s teachings remain true whether or not some people believe them or like them. People have free will. They can choose to live according to what the Church teaches or choose not to do so; however, they are being dishonest and giving scandal if they maintain they are good Catholics while publicly rejecting the Church’s teachings. It is also troubling when people who dislike the Church’s teachings seek to impose their own ideas on the universal Church. I think the greatest division in the Church in my lifetime is caused by the continual opposition to the Church’s moral teachings and the demand to change them. Catholic doctrines, which represent our shared faith, are actually a source of unity, as when we pray the Nicene Creed together. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). If we love Jesus, we will want to follow all His teachings, and His love for us will enable us to be faithful.
Of course, we are all in need of ongoing conversion. When Catholics have the humility to realize they don’t know everything and that God has revealed His truth in His church, they will come to appreciate the beauty and goodness of what the Church teaches. I know faithful Catholics who experienced conversions in the past which led them to being able to believe and live what the Church teaches. That has been my experience as well. As a teenager, I didn’t think it was necessary to go to Mass every Sunday or to go to confession. After a conversion while in college, attending Mass became such an important part of my life that I try to go on weekdays as well as Sundays. I also go to confession regularly.
The Ten Commandments, the foundation of the teachings of the Gospel and the Church’s moral teachings, are based on love: love of God and love of neighbor, which is what Jesus taught (Matt 22:37 – 38). Because we love God, we worship Him. We pray, we go to Mass on Sunday, we seek His forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, we don’t use His name in a disrespectful way, we don’t turn things into idols replacing God or participate in superstitious practices. Because we love our neighbor, we care for the sick and the poor, honor our parents, practice chastity, are honest, protect people’s right to life, and help them in their needs. If everyone followed God’s teachings, we would have true peace in the world, and no one would be harmed or exploited. All the evils that exist such as murder, abortion, euthanasia, war, human trafficking, abuse, violence, and theft are caused by people who reject the moral teachings of the Church.
A source of misconceptions is that some Catholics may not even know much of what the Church teaches and are influenced by the misrepresentation of the Church’s teachings in the media. Unfortunately, some people’s catechesis ended when they received the Sacrament of Confirmation. It is important to continue to learn about our Faith. In addition to good homilies at Mass, there are many great resources: The Catechism of the Catholic Church (and earlier catechisms); the writings of saints, Fathers of the Church, popes, and modern Catholic writers like Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and Peter Kreeft; adult education classes at parishes; conferences and talks; and (faithful) Catholic media. Catholics can also share stories with friends and relatives about the ways that the Church’s teachings have influenced them and helped them.
In his beautiful encyclical, Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) St. John Paul II wrote about the connection between faith and living a moral life. “Faith also possesses a moral content. It gives rise to and calls for a consistent life commitment; it entails and brings to perfection the acceptance and observance of God’s commandments… Through the moral life, faith becomes ‘confession,’ not only before God but also before men: It becomes witness.” (89)
Act of Faith
O my God, I firmly believe that You are one God in three Divine Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; I believe that Your Divine Son became man, and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because You have revealed them, Who can neither deceive nor be deceived. Amen.