Christ Handing the Keys to St Peter, by Pietro Perugino (1481–82)
I am constantly amazed by the majority of people, most of them within the Church that are constructing, or have constructed, a God and a Church in their own image. Not for them the Magisterium, or what has been traditionally acknowledged as the teaching of the Church; rather, it is what is “acceptable” to themselves, and/or by society. It all comes down to thinking of Jesus as a “nice guy”, as someone who was a man of His time, and was influenced by society around Him. Part of the thinking seems to be that; Jesus is love, and if He is love then He would never condemn, and if you love someone you “accept” them as they are and are happy for them to stay as they are. Therefore, no matter what your state in life, or what your spiritual state Jesus will love you, and “accept” you.
It seems as though people want Jesus, but they also want to come, and stay as they are; and if they cannot ‘stay as they are’ then there must be something wrong with the Church, and its teachings, because Jesus is Love and therefore accepting (inclusive), without any change being required on the part of the individual.
Part of this is true, Jesus loves us unconditionally, and no matter what state of life we are in He meets us where we are, but He is never content for us to remain as we are. There is always a sting in the tail of Christ for we must change in order to meet His Holiness. To the man at the pool in Bethsaida he said, “do not sin anymore” (Jn 5:14), to the rich young man, “go and sell all you own” (Mt 19:21) and to the woman taken in adultery, “I do not condemn you, sin no more” (Jn 8:11).
There are two ways, one is best expressed by Jesus who meets us where we are, we are confronted by His Holiness, and in the confrontation we are asked to accept changes, be converted, and to sin no more – we are called to holiness. In the other, we meet Christ, He asks for conversion, “go and sin no more”, we ignore that command, stay in our sin, follow our own path, pick and choose which part of the teaching we follow and which we do not, and holiness becomes unattainable.
Pope Leo XIII discussed this in 1888 when he said;
If We look into the kind of life men lead everywhere, it would be impossible to avoid the conclusion that public and private morals differ much from the precepts of the Gospel (emphasis mine). Too sadly, alas, do the words of the Apostle St. John apply to our age, “all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes and the pride of life.”(1) For in truth, most men, with little care whence they come or whither they go, place all their thoughts and care upon the weak and fleeting goods of this life; contrary to nature and right reason they willingly give themselves up to those ways of which their reason tells them they should be the masters. (Exeunte Iam Anno, 6)
Pope Leo goes on to state;
Thus many who live in the lap of luxury call themselves brethren of the multitude whom in their heart of hearts they despise; and in the same way with minds puffed up by pride, they take no thought to obey any law, or fear any power. They call self love liberty, and think themselves “born free like a wild ass’s colt. (emphasis mine)”
Pope St. Pius X was deeply concerned with it. For him, it is the result of religious ignorance, united with so called reformers who change dogma, and doctrine, ignorance of, and proposed changes of, the very elements of Christian Doctrine.
We allude, Venerable Brethren, to many who belong to the Catholic laity, nay, and this is far more lamentable, to the ranks of the priesthood itself, who, feigning a love for the Church, lacking the firm protection of philosophy and theology, nay more, thoroughly imbued with the poisonous doctrines taught by the enemies of the Church, and lost to all sense of modesty, vaunt themselves as reformers of the Church; and, forming more boldly into line of attack, assail all that is most sacred in the work of Christ, not sparing even the person of the Divine Redeemer, whom, with sacrilegious daring, they reduce to a simple, mere man(emphasis mine)(Pascendi dominici gregi).
In a similar way St Pius X also deplored the lack of knowledge of things divine. For St Pius X many ills within the Church, as with those outside the church could be laid at the feet of this “ignorance of the Divine”.
It is hard to find words to describe how profound is the darkness in which they are engulfed and, what is most deplorable of all, how tranquilly they repose there. They rarely give thought to God, the Supreme Author and Ruler of all things, or to the teachings of the faith of Christ. They know nothing of the Incarnation of the Word of God, nothing of the perfect restoration of the human race which He accomplished. Grace, the greatest of the helps for attaining eternal things, the Holy Sacrifice and the Sacraments by which we obtain grace, are entirely unknown to them. They have no conception of the malice and baseness of sin; hence they show no anxiety to avoid sin or to renounce it. (Acerbo Nimis)
What was true of the Church and of society in the 19th and 20th century is also true of the 21st century, perhaps even more so. The words of Pius X can just as easily be used to describe our society today, with even members of the Church looking to the world, instead of the Church. For many, the Church and the world are not separate and apart, but muddled together. So that now we have such nomenclature as “catholics for choice”.(pro-reproductive aid), “catholics for abortion”, “nuns for choice”, “LGBT catholics”, “gay catholics”,(and the list of these organisations is long), each and everyone against the teaching of the Magisterium as codified in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Pope Leo XIII and St Pius X are prophets examining a steep decline in morals, teaching, sanctification, and the search for holiness.
Yet, their vision of coming to know the Redeemer, within the Church, bringing people to holiness is still current and essential for us today. The Church is the instrument whereby the salvific mission of Christ is continued. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Saviour, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it. . . . This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. 267 (CCC, Art 9: 3 )
Pope Leo in his encyclical Exeunte Iam Anno spoke of the only way, one that all Catholics should follow which leads to holiness, and Christ. “ Now the whole essence of a Christian life is to reject the corruption of the world and to oppose constantly any indulgence in it (emphasis mine); this is taught in the words and deeds, the laws and institutions, the life and death of Jesus Christ, “the author and finisher of faith.”
We need to return to what Pius X stressed as the absolute necessity of teaching the Official Catechism, the Church’s own handbook to all people within the Church, not keeping the Catechism on the shelf, if indeed people own a copy.
There are at least two ways that have developed within the Church. The first is sure and certain, a clear pathway to God, we have the lives of the saints that tell us so, through the Church as called into being by Christ and the Deposit of Faith as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, some would call traditional or orthodox Catholicism. The second is fluid, nothing is certain, it involves becoming the sole arbiter of what is, and what is not of God. In this second way, individuals, and collectives, decide what is Godly, and what the faith should be like, picking and choosing without any recourse to the Magisterium or tradition. Most liberal Protestant Churches have travelled this path and are now in steep decline.
For orthodox Catholics, holiness can only come through an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ within His Church, through the sacraments, and in obedience to the teaching of the Church as expressed in the Catechism, promulgated by St John Paul II.
What are we to do? I think we must be like St Paul and be patient, endure, admonish when applicable, teach with authority, administer the sacraments as they are meant to be administered, be true to the precepts and teachings of the Church even if our personal predilections and preferences tell us otherwise;
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry (2 Tim 3:2-5)