A few weeks ago Fr. Wade Menezes gave a talk here in Birmingham about Catholicism, the Church and Truth. During that talk he gave us four questions that we should ask ourselves when considering important issues (such as, legislation, perhaps). I wrote about this earlier in a post about his whole talk but I want to focus on this part of it now. I think these questions are tremendously important, especially in light of the matters currently facing us. To my mind, we Christians need to remember that we are Christians first and anything else is of lesser significance. And we who are Catholic need to remember that we are Catholic Christians and that no political party can take precedence over that. Christ asks us to be the light of the world, letting our light shine before men, His Light which He gives to us in His Church to share with the world.
Seeking Truth: Four Questions to Ask Yourself
Fr. Wade drew part of his talk from an article written by Fr. John Hardon, S. J., called Seeking Truth*. Fr. Hardon gives us four questions to ask ourselves when considering any issue or cause.
- What has the Church always taught about it?
- What does the Church teach now?
- What kind of person or group is advancing this issue or cause?
- What are the consequences?
Question One: What has the Church always taught about it?
Honestly, the first question listed there is one that I’m surprised more people don’t seem to think of. But then I’ve actually been told by a friend who is a Christian that the teachings of the Church are just the teachings of men. When I pointed out that her teachings are the teachings of Christ and that the matter we were discussing is even covered in the Bible, she informed me that the Bible was written a long time ago by men of another age for men of another age and that it has little relevance for those of us living in the 21st century.
And this is from a Christian. Good Lord, if Christians have so lost sight of what Christianity is about, we can hardly blame non-Christians for being confused about it. If Christians are in such darkness, how can they be light-bearers to the world?
So how to find what the Church has always taught about a matter? Church documents are readily available online (the EWTN Online Library, Catholic Information Network and the USCCB are all excellent sources). The Catechism itself is a valuable source of Catholic teaching. It’s available in various print formats, online for reading or printing and even searching. The Catechism references Church teaching all the way back to the Bible, so even if you don’t have an extensive library of writings of the Early Fathers, you can still easily find out what the Church has always taught.
Question Two: What does the Church teach now?
And how do we know what the Church teaches now? Again, by reading the Catechism and by looking to the before-mentioned sources. The encyclicals of the late Pope John Paul II and those of our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI are full of wisdom and guidance, faithful to the teachings of Holy Mother Church. I personally would recommend as a starting place for any Catholic wanting to grow in his or her understanding of the faith, these very key writings listed below.
By John Paul II:
- The Splendor of Truth (Veritatis Splendor). Online.
- The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae). Online with study helps.
- Reconciliation and Penance (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia). Online.
- Faith and Reason (Fide et Ratio). Online.
- On The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering (Salvific Doloris). Online.
By Pope Benedict XVI:
- God is Love (Deus Caritas Est) Online.
- Saved by Hope (Spe Salvi) Online.
- Sacrament of Charity (Sacramentum Caritatis) Online.
- Charity (or Love) in Truth (Caritatis in Veritate) Online.
Question Three: What kind of person or group is advancing this issue or cause?
I know there are people who will disagree with this one, who think that somehow we can separate a person’s actions from the kind of person that person is, but let’s think about this for a moment. How can we tell what kind of person someone is? By their actions! As Christ said: And you will know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:20).
Now I know that people make mistakes and that people also undergo conversion, real change; real, deep and lasting transformation of heart and mind. But I also know that a good many people do not undergo this conversion or that they have not undergone it yet. I think you really have to look at what they’ve done in the past and what they are doing now. I am not saying that they have to have a squeaky clean past. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t done. I know I have. But you have to look at what they have stood for and what they still stand for. Anyone who tells you he or she is a Christian or a Catholic Christian, and then tells you in the same breath that they disagree with the teachings of the Church and that the Church needs to “get with the times”, is someone whose motives and intentions should immediately give you pause. Are these folks seriously suggesting that we should suddenly throw over two thousand years of being “in the world but not of it” and following the example of our King who told Pilate that His “Kingdom is not of this world”? That we should lay aside our “differences” and seek “common ground” on issues that divide us, and sharply and rightly divide us?
Make no mistake: for Christians, Catholic or otherwise, there is no common ground to be had with those who seek to do what is evil in the sight of God. There can be no common ground with those who seek to decide who should live and who should live and when and how. The teachings of the Church are so clear, so understandable, and so sparkling with wisdom and light, it boggles my mind that anyone can know them and still reject them. The USCCB offers much guidance to Catholics on their website (see their Departments List) and you can find podcasts, videos, audio, documents, study guides and more at the Priests for Life site.
Question Four: What are the consequences?
It is not enough to know what someone says they are trying to do. We have to think beyond the short-term, something I never used to do and which I have only recently begun to see as a valuable and absolutely necessary way of looking at things. We have to think about what certain actions will lead to, what will happen down the line, how will certain decisions affect future policy, how will those policies lead to other policies? One goal leads to another. Things tend to develop along a certain line; rarely does an act have only one effect. In our own personal lives, we see every day that even simple actions can have far-reaching, often unforeseen consequences. How much more so, then, must we seriously weigh the decisions being considered by a city, a county, a state or an entire nation?
These are excellent things to think on as the much-touted and ill-named health care “reform” looms on the horizon. Personally, I think it would be better named health care “deform”. At least, that would be more honest. Not that honesty has been noticeable in much Washington policy in many a year. But it would be more truthful. Which leads me to the next point.
We are obligated to seek the truth
The Church expects us to seek the truth. She expects us to study and pray and earnestly apply our minds and intellects to appreciate the truths she guards, protects, defends and teaches us. Far from demanding blind obedience, she expects us to use the gift of intellect with which our Creator and Lord has endowed us and also fully expects that we can use it to understand what she is saying, as far as any human can understand the things of God. Man is a thinking being and one who longs to know and understand, who longs for truth. The Church respects and cherishes this very human trait, so much so, in fact, that she has written of it extensively over the centuries. Consider this from the Catechism:
Man tends by nature toward the truth. He is obliged to honor and bear witness to it: “It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons . . . are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and direct their whole lives in accordance with the demands of truth.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2467 (scroll down the page to view).
And consider this from Dignitatis Humanae, Declaration on Religious Freedom, from the much-maligned Second Vatican Council:
On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.
Imagine what the world would be like if people would really do this, if they would live up to this lofty vision of the dignity of man. Far from impeding or restricting our freedom, living fully as Catholic Christians would allow us to live truly free and truly fully human lives. The Church with her rules and doctrines helps us do just that. She keeps us on track and keeps us moving on our journey, ever more closely united to Christ, ever closer to God.
Let us not rush headlong into decisions, political or otherwise. Let us, instead, turn to Christ and His Church, asking our Lord in sincere and earnest prayer, to guide us to proceed in accordance with His Will, to be the bearers of Christ to the world, bearers of His Light to a world in darkness, bearers of His Hope to a world in despair. Then they will know us by our fruits. And our fruit will be Love.
*I’m still looking for the article Seeking Truth by Fr. John Hardon, S.J. It wasn’t listed by that title on the site where a number of his articles were archived. Perhaps that’s not the actual wording. I’ll send Fr. Wade a note asking him for more info. If anyone esle has any information on this, I’d appreciate it if you’d drop me a line or leave a comment here. Thanks!