Rousing Her Radiance: Day 5
How the Church Forms Conscience
‘However much Christianity may have failed during its history (and it has failed again and again appallingly), the standards of justice and love have nevertheless emanated from the good news preserved in the Church, even against her will, often in spite of her, and yet never without the quiet power of what has been deposited in her.’- Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
A friend opined: ‘I like the Church ‘cause I know where I stand. This is this and that is that. Sin is sin, time doesn’t change that. The Catholic Church keeps the boundary lines when no one else does.’
That took me aback. My friend isn’t a Catholic (and I only a recent one), but as I considered her words, I could agree that the Catholic Church always represented to me something stable. Let’s add stodgy and inaccessible to non-members, but also Rock-like, immovable in her morality. Somehow through kids’ books, popular media, and a handful of Catholic peers, I knew the Church upheld sex only in marriage and couldn’t bless divorce and homosexuality. She forbade abortion. I knew that vulgarity and immodesty and not reverencing this God was wrong. Championing the poor pleased Him.
In a parochial way, to this child, the Church helped form my conscience. Even as a turned-on Protestant, more inclined to cultivating personal devotion to Jesus and evangelizing others than studying moral theology, I looked to the Church as authoritative in moral practice. Maybe I just trusted her ‘take’ on Scripture due to centuries of seasoned deliberation, especially about sexual matters.
For example, her ‘culture of life’ commitment from cradle to tomb won me over. Included in that was the idea that sex had to answer beyond itself—it needed to both dignify this other and be ‘open to life’, the expectancy of conceiving children. Sex couldn’t just be an arm of my desire, loneliness, or insecurity. It revealed ultimate things about love and creativity to which God entrusted me.
So this Church, this bastion of sexual clarity (at least in doctrine), impacts us all. Even if we disagree with her, we disagree with a giant. I want her to remain a serious point of moral reckoning for people.
I fear that Pope Francis is eroding the Rock. In his efforts to reform her into a kindly inclusive mother who ‘doesn’t judge’, he risks removing her teeth. Wayward kids don’t need a feeble grandmother who nods senselessly at whatever we want. We need the Rock that doesn’t roll.
‘Thank You Jesus for this Church. She is hard for us. We are soft, more defensive about our needs rather than surrendered to Your will. Convict us when we conform the Church to our own image rather than being transformed by hers. Where and when we experience her as unbending, teach us to rest in the Rock’s shadow. Continue to form our conscience.’
‘Father, we thank You for Jesus who established the Church on a Rock against which hell will not prevail (Matt 16:18). We pray for every Christian leader to build on Her firm foundation of sexual clarity and integrity. Father, unmask the deceiver and divider of Christians and unite us in one Spirit. As weak members of Christ, we ask for truth to guide our pursuit of sexual wholeness, for grace to sustain it, and for spiritual power to transform us. May we reflect the chaste radiance of Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18) as we “shine like stars in the universe, holding out the word of life” (Phil. 2:15-16) to a lost and hurting world.’