In the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel, our Lord acknowledges that while we as Christians are physically in the world, we should not be of the world. And in the twelfth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul bids us not to conform to this world, but to discern God’s will so as to be transformed by doing the good and the perfect.
The world has always been a place fraught with pitfalls for the Christian, but nowadays it seems no part of the world, from childhood development to our nation’s laws to even our own healthcare system, is reinforcing the good and the perfect – quite the contrary. Christians have become a minority within our own culture which has wandered off into an immoral morass. The whole moral system is turned upside down. And now we watch or read the news with appalling apprehension as each day it seems our world slides deeper and deeper into darkness, further and further down the slippery slope, where sins that cry to heaven are everywhere endorsed, and where there is virtually no prophetic voice left to speak sanity. Things are bad. Catacombs, here we come!
Of course, we all can acknowledge that we are sinners, and in some ways, many of us have likely been compromised in all this confusion and partly responsible for it. I suppose more than anything we need clarity in our teachings, but we are in a world that is awash with ambiguity, nuance, obscurity, and uncertainty. Feelings drive this world, not reason, and certainly not revelation. Given where the culture is, how can we be in it and not tainted by it? How do we navigate through this present darkness where the laws and the mores are so inimical to God’s will? If we are to really know God’s will to do the good and the perfect and not be conformed unto this world, we need some serious tools of discernment.
Well, we do have certain fundamental texts to which we can turn for help. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992, was declared by Pope St. John Paul II to be an authentic source of the truths of our Faith. Therein we find the immutable teachings of our Church, and help in discerning the good from the bad, and distinguishing personal sin from the collective sins of our present world. The Catechism tells us that for our sin to be mortal (that is, for our sin to cut us off from God’s grace), there must be three conditions: it must be 1) grave matter, 2) committed with full knowledge, and 3) committed with complete consent. So, if we’re not directly and voluntarily cooperating with sin, nor praising or approving it, nor ordering it, then that mitigates our individual responsibility in the collective sin.
Still, we Catholics also have an obligation to speak the truth and to work against sin whenever possible. So for example, if we pay taxes and our taxes go towards abortion funding, that doesn’t make the national sin go away (abortion on this genocidal scale is a grave sin that cries to heaven, if ever there was one), but we citizens have little choice but to pay our taxes. However, when Catholic politicians praise Planned Parenthood, that is another matter, and very, very serious. They need to repent and our bishops need to call them to repent. Moreover, how we as Catholics vote is important. When we keep voting for amoral politicians who protect and expand Planned Parenthood, then we bear responsibility for the atrocity of abortion. But what to do when the choice is between two politicians who both support abortion? Then we must choose the one less rabidly pro-abortion. We’re not voting for abortion funding, but choosing the lesser of two evils. That is, alas, democracy these days.
Oftentimes these moral issues get politically sidelined as so-called “social issues.” Pundits and politicians will often even call them “just social issues,” too, dismissing them as something trivial. But in fact, these moral issues lie at the very foundation of our society. Our bewitched culture is so lost it cannot see how self-destructive it is to dismiss these essential ideas as merely social. That having been said, we know we are sinners too, and we want to show others the same mercy we hope to meet in our Lord. Again, what a balancing act we are called to in these times — to be clear on the moral issues and to judge right from wrong while trying not to judge others, if only because we too are sinners! Moreover, we have an obligation to spread the Faith at a time when people are being sued to financial ruin simply for upholding traditional Christian values. There are lots of vipers in pinstripes out there ready to silence our speech, I am afraid. Finally, we are called to open our doors to sinners all, and yet not give public scandal. It is like walking through landmines.
Again we need help. And again the Catechism teaches clearly on sexual morality, on chastity and virtue, on the sacredness of human life, and on marriage and family. All of us Catholics need to have read the Catechism, and we need to know these teachings to foster a well-formed conscience. And let us not fool ourselves like certain politicians who claim our Church has changed her teachings on these matters over the centuries. That is not true. Abortion, for example, has always been forbidden to Christians from the beginning. The change has been lately and by non-Catholics, but we have plenty of ancient Church documents that speak against abortion. There have been lots of “changes” lately to morality, but again, if a person wants to understand Christian morality as it comes to us from the apostles, we have only to study our Catechism. The Catechism also tells us that we are obliged to not only live by Catholic morality, but also confess when we fail (and confess at least once a year). Mortal sins can mean that we lack the grace to worthily receive Holy Communion, in which case, the Sacrament of Confession is essential to help us find our balance in grace again.
Finally, we have to be realistic. We Catholics have too often compromised our own morals and now our world is essentially hostile to us. To be in this upside down world, this world where so much is sinful and confused, we have to be able to be neighbors without becoming natives (if that makes sense). We have to be good neighbors, helping others, and often working with others in the work place and elsewhere at a time when we rarely agree with them. If we join a monastery or convent, we might find some solace, but out here in the world, we will likely being tainted and need help. Confession is always a good place to start, as sometimes a priest can help us in the confessional see the right moral path. Any way you look at it, our moral path will not be an easy one in the generations to follow. Alas.