Sunday, June 2, 2019

Normality is not the Same as Reality

Those readers who don’t follow my blog’s Facebook page might not know that I had been in the hospital for a month due to a below the knee amputation and subsequent rehabilitation. During that time, I felt graced by God because I didn’t feel the anger or bitterness that I heard others frequently go through. But one thing I do have to deal with is the sense of “I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.”

Of course, things will never “get back to normal” as I knew it before. I understand that, with the advances in prosthetics, I’ll probably be able to walk again. But there will be adjustments, learning, new routines. Eventually, it will become my new “normal.” But I am gradually realizing that even though my situation is no longer normal, it is reality. So, if I’m going to adjust, I need to stop clinging to what I think of as normal and deal things as they really are.

Reflecting on that, I thought of the disputes in the Church. I’ve written on several of them before: the dislike of Vatican II, the Mass, Pope Francis, etc. It occurred to me that much of the dissatisfaction comes from people confusing normality with reality. Normality is the state we are accustomed to. Reality is the state things are currently in. If people like (or have an idealized version of) the way things were, then the changing conditions of reality can leave them angry or bitter, wanting to go back to the way things were.

Accepting reality in this sense doesn’t mean compromising or settling. It means recognizing the state of things and—if conditions change from what seems normal—adjusting the tactics needed to bring what is objectively good back to the changed reality. Looking to an idealized version of the high Middle Ages or pre-Vatican II Church as “normal” and demanding the Church “change back” is a denial of reality. For better and worse, the world has changed. People no longer grasp the concept of objective truth, thinking that moral obligation is an opinion. To reach people in this time, where many think the Church is just about imposed rules and restrictions, St. John XXIII, at the opening of Vatican II, said:

The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the Sacred Deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously. That doctrine embraces the whole of man, composed as he is of body and soul. And since he is a pilgrim on this earth, it commands him to tend always toward Heaven.

It’s not enough to just decree forcefully and threaten those who question it with excommunication—though some think that the Popes need to do exactly that. When people begin questioning the authority of the Church to teach at all, a new approach is needed. Hence, in Matthew 13:52, Jesus tells us:“Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”

The Church today is following this. The truth is timeless and unchanging. The means of teaching it are changeable.

That brings us to the other side of the coin. While I tend to focus on the current rebellion against Pope Francis because I think it is an immediate threat that misleads people into thinking that being faithful means rejecting the magisterium, there is another movement. That movement holds that the Church got it wrong on certain moral teachings and needs to change.

However, because we profess that Jesus is God, and we profess belief in the Trinity, we cannot argue that the teaching of Jesus contradicts the moral teaching in the Old Testament. We can say that God taught the Hebrews in the time of the Old Testament with divine accommodation, gradually moving them (cf. Matthew 19:8) away from the barbarisms of the time, preparing them for the fullness of teaching in Christ [§]. When it comes to the moral law (with ceremonial law, dietary laws, and ritual cleanliness, see Acts 15), we don’t see moral evils becoming good under Christ. Rather, we see Christ hold us to a higher standard where we are expected to keep His commandments (cf. Matthew 7:21, John 14:15).

Among these commandments is obedience to His Church. As Catholics, we do profess that the Church established by Christ is the Catholic Church (Matthew 16:18), that the Church binds and looses through God’s authority  (Matthew 16:19, 18:18) and that there are consequences for refusing to heed the Church because it is rejecting God (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). Therefore, we cannot claim we are being faithful to Jesus by rejecting His Church.

People in this second group have an idea of what they think should be normal, but this view is also at odds with reality, because the unchanging truth that the Church professes and they oppose is taught with Jesus’ authority.

If people want to accept reality instead of insisting on their idea of what normal should be, they will have to accept both the timeless teachings of the Church, and the new methods of carrying out God’s mission. Otherwise, they’ll be out of step with reality, chasing the myth of what they think should be normal.


[§] Because we tend to be shocked by the violence of the Pentateuch, it’s easy to forget how much more brutal their neighbors were. God’s herem commands to the Hebrews were restraints compared to what the other nations did.

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