This must-read article from Crisis Magazine reminds us of the perils of believing the only message of the Church is one of “Charity. Forgiveness. Love. Mercy. Peace.”
Charity. Forgiveness. Love. Mercy. Peace. Here is the heart of the Gospel, the core of the classic Christian message. Should we, then, find someone today who models these ineffable virtues and seek to elect him, or her, to the presidency? Should a person of such transcendent noble character serve as a diplomat, a military leader, a police officer? What does it say of us if we hesitate in approving such a proposal?
The law of love is the chief teaching of Our Lord and of his holy Church (Mark 12:30-31). There is, however, a complementary warning or admonition which we see throughout the Bible—and throughout history. It, too, is a central and traditional Christian teaching, telling us about concupiscence, the human tendency toward evil. Representative pericopes would include Jeremiah’s lamentation about our moral sickness (17:9), Our Lord’s description of the evil in our hearts (Mk 7:21-23, John 2:25), and St. Paul’s repeated caution to us about attraction to evil (Romans 7:14-20, Galatians 5:17, and Ephesians 2:3, among many others).
To teach or preach about love, mercy, and peace is comparatively pleasant. To teach or preach about sin and evil is, by contrast, more demanding, more exacting, and—I speak from experience here—a much less popular subject. Similarly, to be told or to read about the joy of Heaven is calming; to be told or to read about the fires of Hell is much more disturbing.
After a homily about sin which I gave in a state different from the one where I am now, the priest counseled me that he wanted the homily to uplift and inspire the parishioners, not to upset and disturb them. I managed to restrain myself by not asking if he might be excessively worried about being popular (as in John 12:43 or 1 Thess. 2:4) or suggesting, tongue in cheek, that the homily not be given immediately before the collection.
The point, though, remains: all of us have a need of hearing and reading that we are called both to the ideal of love and to the reality of Christian prudence (see The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1806). We are called to love all other human beings, and even ourselves.
When we send our kids out on Halloween, however, we parents either accompany them or issue stern warnings about where they can trick-or-treat and how any received candies are to be inspected before they are consumed. There are many nice people who give kids candy. There are also monsters out there who put poison or razor blades in such candy.
Love without prudence is perilous; prudence without love is paranoid.
The Catechism teaches that “Sin is present in human history; any attempt to ignore it or to give this dark reality other names would be futile” (#386). We are tempted, the Catechism continues, “to explain [evil] as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure” (#387 cf. #412).
The implications of the fact of sin, though, are enormous. Any good parent must learn to say, “No,” even though the children want permission or approval of something which parental prudence rightly rules out. Similarly, there are many times in which Holy Mother Church must say “No.” Even though we children want what we want when we want it, the Church, in her wisdom, may rightly rule it out.
“Conscience cannot come to us from the rulings of society,” wrote Bishop Fulton J. Sheen; “otherwise it would never reprove us when society approves us, nor console us when society condemns.” The Church wrestles with the principalities and the powers, “against the world rulers of this present darkness” (Eph. 6:12). “Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action, and morals” (CCC #407).
In other words, there are monsters out there.
There are monsters out there who would sell the body parts of slaughtered babies.
There are monsters out there who would promise heaven from massive governmental programs only to deliver the hell of a totalitarian nanny state.
There are monsters out there who, on a pretext, would seize an American college student and treat him in such a way that he would lapse into a coma and die shortly after returning home.
There are monsters out there claiming that real education denies, excludes, and ridicules what is sacred only to deliver, like Frankenstein, a profane indoctrination which cannot tell right from wrong, good from evil, or virtue from vice.
There are monsters out there who will kill, corrupt, deceive—and lie, cheat, and steal—to build a modern Tower of Babel in which all things decent are defamed and in which all things noble are denounced.
And, horrible to say, there are monsters out there who would molest children and then hear confessions and preach sermons.
And the job of the Church is to say, with St. Paul: STOP! “Some people there [at Ephesus] are teaching false doctrines, and you must order them to stop” (1 Tim. 1:3).