Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In Defense of Orthodoxy

In Defense of Orthodoxy

          I’ve had a number of interesting conversations this week about religion.  First, I had a very respectful and I think fruitful discussion with some Mormon neighbors.  I also had a very respectful, but I suspect not fruitful discussion with the atheist neighbor with whom I engage from time to time.  The most surprising, however, was with a fellow Catholic over orthodoxy.
          Orthodoxy, of course, means “right belief.”  An orthodox Catholic is someone who accepts all the teachings of Christ as revealed through His Church, and doesn’t pick and choose whichever ones are attractive, leaving the rest.
          Often, Catholics who disdain orthodoxy do so because they take offense at the condemnation of some sin to which they are particularly attached.  In this case, however, my friend suggested that orthodoxy was an obstacle, fencing me in so that I could not break out and fully experience the Spirit.
          I respect this friend very much, so I listened to what he had to say, but I must admit, I could not relate.  It’s sort of like saying that my experience of mathematics will be stunted by my slavery to the laws of mathematics.  Orthodoxy is rather like a pair of wings without which a Catholic will never be able to soar to spiritual heights.
          Or, to use the fence image in a proper context, Archbishop Fulton Sheen tells a parable of some explorers who came upon a seemingly uninhabited island.  All around, the beach led to a steep cliff.  So the explorers scaled the cliff to find at the top, a flat plain with a fence around the edge.  Inside the fence was a colony of children who were running and jumping and playing.
          The men called to the children and said, “Who put up this fence?  Don’t you see that it is robbing you of your freedom?  Do away with it!  Be free!”  And they tore down the fence.
          A few months later some other men happened upon the island.  When they climbed to the top of the cliff, they did not see children running or jumping or playing.  They were all huddled together in the center, afraid of falling over the edge.
          When the fence was there to keep the children safe from peril, they were free to run and to explore and to grow.  The same is true for us.  The Church has defined for us certain Truths that she did not create – they came from Christ.  If we allow them to protect us, we are safe from falling into deadly error, and we are free to run and to explore and to grow.
          No one ever saw more clearly by walking away from the light.  And no one’s experience of God ever became deeper because they unshackled themselves from Truth.
          Rather than turning our backs on teachings that are difficult or uncomfortable, let us seek to understand them.  And rather than expanding our vision of God in a way that we no longer recognize Him, let us seek to know Him better.  We can acknowledge, like St. Paul in Athens, the goodness of our non-Christian brothers and sisters, and even the relevance of their religious experience, while still claiming that “there is no other name [but Jesus] by which we are saved.”
          “For this reason have I come, to testify to the Truth,” said Jesus before Pontius Pilate.  We need not be ashamed to admit that while we may not have a monopoly on the truth, we do have the fullness of the truth.