It is part of Catholic doctrine that the Pope has the authority to teach on matters of faith and morals. This means that the Church doesn’t speak with any more authority than anyone else on matters of plumbing, nor can the Church teach on matters of astrophysics, nor can she tell you the best bait to use when fishing for black drum. The Church is charged with preserving the teachings of Jesus with regard to faith, what we believe about God, and to morals, what is right and wrong, good and bad. Today, many people doubt not only the Church’s actual teachings on morality but even the Church’s authority to teach on morality.
The primary way to teach morality is not through sermons, lectors, and books; it is through example. The example given by members of the hierarchy in recent decades, including priests, bishops, and even cardinals, has magnified this doubt a hundred times. People ask themselves why they should listen to anything that the Church says. They say that our teachings must not be any good if this is what it leads to. If these men had paid more attention to the moral teachings of the Church and let them be more than empty words but guidelines for their actions, then much pain and suffering could have been avoided. The authority that we have means that we have a greater responsibility to act always for the good of others and never to harm them. I am not qualified to judge them, but one day they will stand before One Who Is, as St. Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10).
St. Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, wrote this about the responsibility of being a bishop, “Where I’m terrified by what I am for you, I am given comfort by what I am with you. For you I am a bishop, with you, after all, I am a Christian. The first is the name of an office undertaken, the second a name of grace; that one means danger, this one salvation,” and in praying to God, said, “Make my ministry fruitful… The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported; the gospel’s opponents need to be refuted, its insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the indolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy have to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be given your backing, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved.”
I say let us together seek the truth, and then, having found it, walk in it. We are called to truly love everyone, but not in the way that we love pizza, where people can disagree on the best toppings, or as an emotion, which may come and go, but as a firm commitment to do good to others, no matter how I may personally feel. The moral teachings of the Church are all about teachings us how to truly love God and our neighbor. They are there to guide us in living as a disciple of Christ. May God help me and all of us to always act in love, to always do the best for those around us, especially those most in need, and thus to give an example that leads people to the love of God.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.