What Makes Catholic Materials Really Catholic
many years ago, it would have been a strange title for a lecture to ask,
“What makes Catholic materials really Catholic?” The reason is
obvious. Catholics were Catholics. They were not Protestants, or Mormons,
or Jehovah’s Witnesses.
much has happened in the last thirty years. Nowadays there are so many
people who call themselves Catholic, but really are not. There are books
and periodicals published; there are conferences given, and symposia
sponsored; there are religious programs and celebrations sponsored - and all professedly Catholic. But so many of
these are Catholic only in name, and not in reality.
plain English, a revolution has taken place. The revolution is a
revolution in doctrine and morality. Our Holy Father wrote the encyclical,
The Splendor of Truth, because,
as he said, a flood of errors in our day either distorts or denies the
Church’s twenty centuries of divinely inspired teaching.
a one sentence insertion: Errors in doctrine undermine Christian morality,
and unchristian moral conduct inspires doctrinal error.
the Pope makes clear, it is no longer a question of limited or occasional
dissent. It is a systematic calling of Catholic teaching into question on
the basis of certain philosophical and ethical presuppositions. What is
the root of these erroneous presuppositions? The root is to detach human
freedom from its essential and necessary relationship to truth.
return to our title for this conference: “What makes Catholic materials
really Catholic.” I would like to subdivide this title into two parts.
What are the qualifications necessary to be able to
recognize what is really Catholic material?
What are the basic norms for identifying truly Catholic media?
most fundamental qualification for recognizing what is really Catholic
material is for a person to be an authentic Catholic. To be authentically
Catholic, we must know the truth, live the truth, and suffer for the
truth. The truth, of course, is the teaching of Jesus Christ who is Truth
To know the truth is to believe what the Incarnate God told us about
Himself, about ourselves, and our purpose for existence. Christ could not
have been clearer. We are human beings who live here on earth for a short
time, in order to prepare ourselves for a heavenly eternity. Nothing in
this world has any value except as a means of leading us to our eternal
destiny. We are to use our free wills to choose what Christ told us we
must do, and avoid, at any cost, what He forbade.
Mt. Sinai, God gave the chosen people the Ten Commandments through Moses
the prophet. But when God became man, He personally taught His followers
that the Ten Commandments were to be understood as He explained them. The
fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel are a
compendium of what Jesus called the New Law.
is one thing, however, for Christ to have revealed the truths of
Christianity. It is something else for us to know them. To know this
truth, we must submit our minds to the divine mind of the Son of God who
became the Son of Mary. This is not as easy as it may seem. We must choose
to tell our minds to believe. It is easy enough to believe what is easy or
pleasant or satisfying to our natural inclinations. It is hard when we are
told to believe what is demanding on our human nature.
His Sermon on the Mount, Christ told us that we are to be meek and
merciful under provocation. He told us to control not only our actions,
but even our thoughts. He ordered us to control our eyes and not look at
everything we see. He told married people they are to be two in one flesh,
that Christian marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power. And the
Beatitudes, I don’t say warn but actually promised His followers to
expect to be calumniated, persecuted, and even hated by the world for
their fidelity to His name.
human being is a believer. My favorite definition of man is not that of
Aristotle who defined man as a rational animal. I prefer to define man as
a believing animal.
what a difference between believing what you like and believing that you
are to do what you strongly dislike.
of this is locked up in what is the first condition in being an authentic
Catholic. An authentic Catholic submits his mind in accepting everything
that Christ taught us we must do to please Him in this life and possess
Him in the eternal life for which we were made.
There is no substitute for knowing the truth that Christ told us to
believe. But knowing this truth by faith is not enough. We must put it
into practice. Authenticity in the Catholic religion is not only a matter
of faith. It is also, and, especially living what we believe. From the
dawn of Christianity the followers of Christ found that their
contemporaries did not like the moral practice of believing Christians. I
will never forget the inscription etched on stone in Pompeii. Remember
Pompeii was destroyed by volcanic eruption in the year 70 A.D. The
inscription reads, Christiani
delendi sunt (Christians must be exterminated). For 300 years, the
pagan world of the Roman Empire did everything in its power to destroy
Christianity. This has been the history of the Catholic Church ever since.
wish to be very clear. To live up to Christ’s moral demands is not easy
on selfish sexually preoccupied human nature. But that is not all. To live
up to the moral precepts of the Savior is to irritate, antagonize, and
arouse the opposition of one’s contemporaries.
for the truth.
We are now in a position to answer the hardest question on how to be an
authentic Catholic. To be an authentic Catholic means to pay dearly for
one’s loyalty to Jesus Christ. It is impossible to exaggerate; shall I
use the word “expensive”? It is not just to call oneself a Catholic or
be considered a Catholic, but to be a Catholic.
we said in the beginning of this conference, we are now living in a world
that has literally destroyed each person. Anyone’s free will is now
considered the norm of morality.
who challenge this new paganism are faced with a difficult option. Either
they conform to this philosophy or they are faced with the prospect of
the best of my knowledge, never in the history of the Church, has any pope
spoken and written more clearly about the need for martyrdom than has Pope
John Paul II. The reason is obvious. He has no illusions of what it means
to be an authentic Catholic on the eve of the third millennium. He quotes
from Sacred Scripture to show that Jesus Christ was the primary witness
for looking for the truth. Christ was followed by Stephen, and by now
twenty centuries of men, women, and even children who laid down their
lives rather than deny or compromise the teaching of Jesus Christ.
Holy Father asks how martyrdom is a witness to both God’s holiness and
man’s personal dignity. He answers: Martyrdom witnesses to God’s
holiness by testifying to the grace that God gives the martyr. He also
testifies to man’s personal dignity, because our highest act of virtue
is to suffer martyrdom rather than deny a revealed truth or disobey a
Vicar of Christ finally asks if there is such a thing as a living
martyrdom. He answers without qualification; yes, we are living martyrs
when we love the difficulties of this world for the sake of eternal
rewards. For the last time, therefore, we ask how are we to be authentic
Catholics. We answer: to be an authentic Catholic we must love the Cross -
because we love the God who became man.
who thinks that this is pious rhetoric or mere poetry is living in a dream
world. Thank God, you and I know better. One last word: the more dearly we
love Jesus crucified, the more Catholic we shall be, and the more
qualified to recognize authentic Catholicity in everything that people
write or say or portray in the media of social communication.
was when you could look at the cover of a book and read the book with
security that you were getting the Catholic truth. But in case you have
not heard, no longer! I am speaking of Christian truth and specifically of
revealed truth. Too many once trustworthy sources of religious truth have
either become dried up or so polluted that sometimes it makes a Catholic
feel like the Greek Diogenes who went in search of an honest man with a
lamp and he would cry out if he found one, “Eureka!”
me suggest three simple norms for discovering Catholic truth in today’s
miasma of very sophisticated and very learned confusion. Ask yourself
one: does what I am hearing or reading correspond to what the
Church has always held to be true?
it does you can trust it. If it does not, distrust it. The Church has
always held that Christ is bodily present in the Eucharist; that the Pope
is infallible in teaching the universal Church; that marriage is
indissoluble by any human authority, civil or ecclesiastical; that
adultery and fornication and homosexuality are the mortal sins that
deprive those who die thus estranged from God of the vision of God; that
the priesthood is reserved for men; that personal, auricular confession is
necessary to obtain sacramental absolution; that the Mass is a sacrifice
and not just an elaborate liturgical meal; that direct abortion is murder;
that obedience to rightful authority is a divine law; that religious life
is part of divine revelation; that celibacy is pleasing to God; that
contraception, no matter what the intention, is a grave sin; that prayer
is necessary for salvation; and that angels are sent by God to minister to
our human and especially our spiritual needs. All of these, and I could go
on, are truths the Church has always held. Anyone who contradicts or casts
doubt on what has been the heritage of historic Christianity, no matter
how articulate or learned or highly placed he or she may be, is not
telling the truth.
does what I am hearing or reading conform to the present teaching of the
Roman Catholic Church as expressed by the Vicar of Christ?
it does you can trust it. If it does not, distrust it no matter how
otherwise pious or scholarly the opinion or theory may be. That is all it
is, an opinion or theory, and it should be treated accordingly.
what kind of a person, morally, is the one who is teaching or writing what
I hear or read?
did not have to ask these questions two generations ago. We do now. Is he
or she humble and prayerful and charitable and patient and chaste, or the
opposite? More than once the Savior used this norm, and He wants us to use
it, too. This explains why His critics who finally crucified Him, the
Scribes and Pharisees, were not teaching the truth. Their pride and envy,
among other vices, as He said, disqualified them from being taken
a kind of addendum, but it should also be asked: “What are or have been
the consequences of the ideas I am reading or hearing?”
the Savior is our Master in applying this precious norm when He tells us
that by their fruits you shall know them. Ideas have consequences. True
ideas have good consequences. False ideas have bad consequences. There is
no escaping the logic of this divinely ordained law of spiritual
fertility: truth always begets goodness, falsehood always begets evil.
good checklist of the procreative power of truth and the corresponding
power of falsehood to beget evil is given by St. Paul in his letter to the
Galatians. His study in contrast between the progeny of error and truth is
worth quoting in full. What is the offspring of error? It is
“fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility, idolatry and
sorcery; feuds and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels;
disagreements, factions, envy; drunkenness, orgies and similar things.”
is the offspring of truth? It is the very opposite: “love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and
self-control.” Here we have a divinely revealed and easily applied rule
for the discernment of spirits. If the untruth is active, the moral
effects of false ideas are invariably bad. If the Spirit of truth is at
work, the moral results are correspondingly, and infallibly, good.
now, we have whole nations that have been de-christianized, demoralized
and, shall I say, paganized by the media of social communication,
especially the media of print. I like Marshall McLuhan’s unforgettable
statement, which he wrote to a priest friend of mine while I was teaching
at the University of Ottawa, in Canada. McLuhan declared, “The modern
media are engaged in a Luciferian conspiracy against the truth.”
before in the two millennia of Christian history has there been greater
need to recognize what is nominally Catholic material in books and the
media from what is really Catholic. This is not merely a need. It is a
desperate necessity. Why? Because so many writers who call themselves
Catholics are only Catholics in name and not in reality. Many of them are
openly hostile to the faith of their fathers, and shrewdly clever in
hiding their hostility.
closing word. In the Gospels, we read that so many blind people asked the
Savior, “Lord, that I may see.” If there is one strong recommendation
I would make to store owners who sell books or media material, in the name
of God, “Pray!” Ask our Lord that you may see what you are selling,
not as a piece of literature or a communications product, but as a channel
of God’s grace. Christ, who is the Light of the World, will answer your
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