Is Holy Mother Church spoiling her children?
One of my earliest memories is of breaking something that belonged to my father. I don’t remember what I broke, but I remember the “teaching moment” that followed like it was yesterday.
In an effort to forestall what I had coming, I pleaded incompetence. “It was an accident!” I bellowed. I never did intend to break the thing. At the time, I wasn’t thinking of anything other than keeping myself out of trouble—you’re only guilty if you get caught. I hurried to Mom and hid behind her skirt. It didn’t work. Mom explained to me that, while she was perfectly willing to do "her job,” and comfort me, she would never stop Dad from doing his. Mom understood that Dad wasn’t being cruel, after all. He just didn’t spare the rod any more than God does.
For a Christian, the haphazard moral life won’t do. It’s not enough to treat our sins as nothing more than “falling” (try “leaping”) and consider it good works to show up at social events that we happen into almost as “accidentally” as we fall into sin. Most of us have heard the fawning homily: “I know you’re all good people because you’ve come to Church today.” Most of us have also been reprimanded if we’ve ever implied that our faith has some distinctive good qualities that aren’t possessed by, say, Satanism.
I’ve known plenty of working-poor Catholics whose orthodoxy is crowded out at parishes that are dominated by well-heeled but heterodox lay leaders whose large donations cow timid young priests into silence on fundamental matters of faith and morals. One endangers one’s career in many public Catholic forums if one stands with the Vatican against local bishops when they proclaim, say, that pro-abortion leaders like Andrew Cuomo are “Catholics in good standing,” or that Nancy Pelosi is just as worthy to receive the Eucharist as she is to receive the Margaret Sanger Award.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the Christian belief that we are all called to repentance, not murmurs of “oops, pard’n me.” Our God is a forgiving God, not an excusing one. The intentional effort to please Him is one of the things that sets the righteous apart from the rest, and we should at least try to hone our ability to recognize righteousness when we see it, while hating and fearing its opposite, both in ourselves and in others.
Here are a couple easy examples to get us warmed up: When the Little Sisters of the Poor stand their ground against powers and principalities, crying out, “[w]e cannot violate our vows by participating in the government’s program to provide access to abortion-inducing drugs,” we ought to recognize that these women are practicing the cardinal virtue of courage. They are acting "righteously." They are "good." When our president wages war on religious liberty by means of curtailing the economic liberty of Christian employers, while at the same time claiming to care about those who are persecuted for their “life-style choices” and economically oppressed by haters, we needn’t hesitate to call him an “unrighteous” or a “wicked” man.
Many Christians have lost their taste for this kind of terminology. But if we can’t speak in these moral terms, what good are we to each other or to God? The immorality that makes for an unjust society is best addressed by true, fatherly and motherly rebukes—first and most properly applied within the Church and in the family. The alternative of adjusting our private interactions, our public discourse, and (inevitably) our state to prop up immoral behaviors is fundamentally incompatible with a Christian culture.
Had my mother been a bad mother, she would have harbored me behind her skirt, and reprimanded her husband’s effort to discipline me. But the good mother should have enough faith in the father that she can trust that his discipline is will be edifying to the child. Similarly, when wickedness crops up, the Church should have enough faith in God to apply His Commandments to His people, trusting that we will benefit from them.