Catholic Church Doctrines are not Optional!
by Fr. John Trigilio, PhD, ThD.
Clear and concise Catholic Moral guidance on Church Teachings
Q. Some Church teachings and rules seem too complicated or difficult. Do I need to accept all the Church’s teachings?
A. While everyone may not have the same level of knowledge or understanding, there is no doctrine or dogma which is considered optional or up for grabs. Like the laws of physics or the formulas of chemistry, they must be accepted in their entirety. The difficult teachings and regulations of the church are there for our own good. Law exists to protect people. I may choose to ignore or disobey the law, but it is ultimately to my own demise.
If I disregard the warning on the label that says DO NOT IMMERSE IN WATER WHILE PLUGGED INTO OUTLET, I will still get electrocuted for placing the hair-dryer in the bathtub. The prescription label on my medication tells me to take one pill every day for ten days. This is no suggestion. It is a prescription, something I must obey. If I disregard it and decide to take two pills a day for five days or take five pills for two days, I risk an overdose and possible death.
I may not understand how a water molecule is formed but I cannot dispute the fact that water is still two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen (H2O). Likewise, the mysteries of faith as divinely revealed by God are not totally comprehensible to any human intellect. We take it on faith and trust in the One who revealed them. The dogma of the Holy Trinity (one God in three Persons); of the Incarnation (Jesus Christ is one divine Person with two natures, one human and one divine); of Papal Infallibility, the Real Presence, the Virgin Birth, etc.; all of these can be complicated and difficult to understand. So is differential calculus. Both theology and science are true. Some have an easier time with scientific truths than do others. The same goes for philosophical or theological truths.
Truth is not always easy but it is necessary and is preferred to what is not true, i.e., what is false. Some used to believe the world was flat. That did not make it so. Some Christians do not believe in seven sacraments, yet that is what Jesus instituted and entrusted to the Church. Atheists and agnostics do not believe God exists, yet he most certainly is real.
Knowledge is when there is a correspondence between your mind and reality. You know 2+2=4 but we believe there is only one God who is also three Persons in that one Godhead. That is not knowledge, that is faith. We believe what God revealed because He revealed it. Faith does not contradict reason, it complements it. What we do not or cannot know by reason, we can believe by faith.
Therefore, one cannot be a Catholic Christian and only believe some or most of what the Church teaches. One must embrace the totality of the deposit of Faith since it all comes from God who is Truth itself. Cafeteria Catholicism is not an option. What you or I do not understand, we must trust and believe nevertheless if the Church teaches it for she was founded by Christ and she teaches in His name. You may not have always liked or agreed with everything your parents told you but as a child living in their home, you were bound to live with it and had no liberty to dissent from it either. What seemed arbitrary as an adolescent may now be appreciated as true wisdom once we become older adults and are raising our own children.
Holy Mother Church teaches as any good parent would. She also disciplines as any responsible parent does. What she teaches (doctrine) and what she demands (discipline) is meant for our own benefit. That is why Catholics are expected to believe and to obey. The difficult teachings, say in sexuality, are not there to punish or burden us but to protect us. It is irresponsible to remain silent when a serious danger is present. Smokers do not like to be told about lung cancer, but it is the truth. Some behavior is dangerous to our physical and/or our spiritual health and well-being. So the Church condemns these because we have a wounded human nature.
Original Sin resulted in a darkened intellect, a weakened will and a disordering of the emotions and passions. Hence, we do not always think clearly nor do we always have the strength and courage to do what ought to be done. Divine Grace compensates for the wounded nature and Divine Revelation helps us see better. Divine and natural laws exist because we are sometimes weak and need guidance if not just boundaries for our own protection.
One cannot be a Catholic and support abortion and/or euthanasia any more than you can reject the teaching on the Real Presence or on the sanctity of marriage as being a faithful, permanent and hopefully fruitful union of one man and one woman. The Immaculate Conception and Assumption are not negotiable dogmas and neither are the doctrines on Papal Infallibility, the Inspiration and Inerrancy of Scripture, the Incarnation of Christ, and so on. Heaven, hell, and purgatory; the communion of the saints; basically everything in the Catechism is taught and expected to be accepted. We are to give an assent of faith to these teachings. The moral laws are to be obeyed because breaking them hurts us in the long run. Denying doctrine is as dangerous as breaking the law. Man was created with an intellect and will. The intellect seeks the truth and the will seeks the good. Only in God are both found perfectly and in fullness.
Membership has its privileges but also its obligations. Belonging to the Church means I can receive her sacraments and thereby get the graces I need. I also have access to the Truths of Revelation by knowing the teachings of the Church. Belonging also means I learn what is taught and I obey what rules have been made for my benefit. The common good is the ultimate end, i.e., what is good for all of us and not just me as an individual. We are a family. Baptism makes us children of God. A family is an organic unity. The parts must work together for the sake of the whole. We belong to God and to his family, the Church. Therefore, accepting the teachings and keeping the laws helps all of us.
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In light of the confusion and ambiguity surrounding the 2015 Synod on the Family in Rome, it is important that we never forget that no amount of discussion or dialogue will ever change the unchanging Truths of the Catholic Faith. It is equally as important for us, as Catholics, to always remain steadfast to the Truth and to the universal and perennial teachings of the Church.
Regardless of rumors, articles on the internet, coverage by the secular media, statements and pronouncements by some liberal cardinals, bishops and priests, the teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage, divorce and remarriage, homosexuality and many other doctrinal and moral issues cannot be changed.
We urge all Catholics to pray to Our Divine Master and His Blessed Mother that the Light of Truth and the serenity of our Catholic Faith may expel and banish the darkness of confusion and the anxiety of doubt from all hearts and minds.