QUESTION: Anytime I am with a group of Catholics, I find such a wide variety of beliefs among them. Today, it seems that Catholics pick and choose what teachings of the church they will accept. I wonder if it is time to tell some of them they do not belong?
ANSWER: The comments above center around a need for unity within the Catholic Church. But there is a wider context that is also important.
Catholic faith life does entail acceptance of certain “core” beliefs. That’s why we have the creed that we say at Mass each Sunday. To this ancient charter of faith are added the teaching of the church handed on through the centuries as articulated by its contemporary leaders.
The significant challenges are found in the application of this doctrinal tradition. The critical issues involve the content of belief and what to do with those who do not seem to accept the content.
Through the centuries, there was a view that Catholic belief was seen as a whole and not various parts. Today, some prefer to depart from that view and feel that there are “really important” areas and then there is “the rest.” The discord arises as to what exactly are the “really important” areas.
Some feel that anything to do with human sexuality should be at the top of the list. Others contend that the “top” is reserved for issues such as just wages for employees, immigration, capital punishment, the potential of nuclear destruction or the danger of ecological devastation.
It is clear that the creed is the bedrock of common belief. It is also clear that the traditional “whole” approach is the path to unity of faith and belief. The more we pull apart our beliefs and assign values and ranking, the more we are a splintered family of faith. Each part contributes to the coherence of the whole.
The obligation to do so applies to all of us. It certainly applies to those who preach the word of God. Preachers do not have the option to pick and choose which elements of the faith will be expounded Sunday after Sunday. It is the church’s expectation that all the elements of the faith (and their implications) be explained at times appropriate to the readings during the three-year cycle. That also applies to each of us as we discuss our Catholic faith with others.
While it is critically important to maintain a unity of faith within the Catholic community, it is also important to note that excommunicating members is the responsibility of church leadership and not that of individual members. Such decisions are not to be decided based on an individual’s assumption about another’s belief or lack of it. The New Testament church provided time and encouragement for believers to come to full faith.
Finally, the church is gathered around a table set by the Lord. It is the Lord who invites to his feast. Only in the most serious circumstances has the church felt competent to send someone away from that table. Our task is to present the faith in ways that are faithful to tradition and yet comprehensible to new generations.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.