Given how Pope Francis’ public interviews have been so distorted by the media, I think we really need to have an honest discussion about sin. Since “the Spirit of Vatican II” came rushing into the Church in the 1960s and 1970s with its felt banners and feel good about yourself rhetoric, there has been a major de-emphasis on sin. This is a huge reason why the majority of the faithful in the West do not attend Confession regularly, if at all. Never-mind the correlation between a surge in “shrinks” and decrease in Confession attendance.
A lot of people are taking what they perceive Pope Francis is saying and running with it. Many of the “liberal” (I hate that term. You are either Catholic or you aren’t) folks are pointing and saying major changes in social teaching are on the horizon. I am no expert on the Church, but I know enough to know that the Church does not make quick changes. In fact, of any institution worldwide, she moves at a glacial pace, and for good reason.
This past weekend, I attend a catechesis certification course in my Diocese. A Diocese that has had decades of issues that are only starting to be cleaned up by our current Bishop. That means that “the Spirt of Vatican II” is alive and well in some high reaching places in these parts. During one of the sessions, an argument started about the nuances of infallibility, and yes, it was me who started it. The teacher said that Catholic social teaching was on the same plane as Marian apparitions, I have to interject. My inner Dominican comes out. Marian apparitions are a matter of personal choice, much of Catholic social teaching, which encompasses moral teaching, is not.
Some people were arguing that we should just teach the basics in RCIA and let people come into the Church and then make their own judgments. What?! So we should let people perjure themselves when they profess the Faith during Confirmation? Our first obligation is to bring people to Christ. That is where we begin, but sin has to come up sometime BEFORE they choose to enter the Church. Following Christ is deeply difficult. It takes endurance and sacrifice. Christ did not say that the path to holiness would be easy. Instead, he showed us the Cross.
So, when should we talk about sin? Pope Francis is merely saying that we should introduce people to the person of Jesus Christ. Once they fall in love with Him, it is much easier to address the issues of sin and moral teaching. Some of the Church’s moral teaching is deeply difficult, especially in the face of a culture like our own. But, when we truly love Jesus Christ, we want to give him our all, even give up the Pill.
Love is not a warm-fuzzy feeling. Love is selfless and and a total emptying. It is sacrificial and service oriented. When bringing people into the Church, we need to be honest with them, out of love. We need to show them the path and why it is worth living, even though it is difficult and a life long journey. We should show them the beauty of Christ and His Church and that includes teachings on human sexuality that are hard. Part of love is to protect people from grave sin. Love requires honesty and vulnerability. We cannot bring people to the fullness of truth if we lie or distort the truth. We also put ourselves at great risk when we tell people that they may disregard moral teaching. We will all be held accountable for the people we lead astray. That alone should cause deep humility, as well as awe and fear.
It is true that we cannot go out to the current culture and yell out about their sins. That just turns people off. Instead we show them the person of Jesus Christ and help them to love Him. Once they love Christ and know He is God, then the rest falls into place. Christ always told us that we are forgiven, but he also always said to sin no more.