A tired pattern

Everyone once and a while there is a news story about "the Vatican". "The Vatican" issues a document of some sort. The document says something about current affairs. Immediately there are two very predictable reactions, depending on whether the person is inclined to agree with the Church or not.
1. "Look! The Church teaches that Catholics have to think like I think! My opinions have acquired divine authority. The world would be a better place, and the Church would be a better Church, if every Catholic just obeyed Church teaching like I do."

2. "I don't have to obey the Church - I can think for myself. It's fine if some old white men in Rome think that, but I don't have to and I am still a good Catholic."
These are, of course, caricatures, but I think they express two attitudes that are quite common. They are alike in that they are both dogmatic and reactionary. The certainty that is often expressed in these convictions about Church teaching displays a closed-mindedness that is antithetical to true discipleship. These opinions often are voiced with no further study, no investigation, and no thoughtfulness.

As always, the saints show us the true and good way to live. Think of that wonderful phrase from St. Ignatius of Loyola: "sentire cum ecclesia": think with the Church." When we hear about a new document from the Church, we should read it! In reading it, we are likely to learn a lot about what The Church is trying to teach us, rather than what the media thinks or what some commentator thinks. We will also learn about what kind of document the Church has given us. As even the neophyte theologian knows, there are different kinds of Church teaching, and different teachings carry different weight, and different teachings require different levels of assent. The Church, for better or for worse, is very nuanced in the way She proposes to us. This is no doubt a result of the admixture of the human and divine elements of Her teaching - and it can be an obstacle for true understanding, but it ought not be.

In lieu of responding in the vein of one of these two reactions, I propose we reflect and we study. And above all, we be obedient.

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