If there is anything I have noticed since I returned to the Church it is that people who find themselves on the extreme opposite ends of the spectrum of opinions in the Church are actually, despite their different points of view, often quite similar in attitude.
When I first returned to the Church I began attending a parish where some rather unorthodox things would take place. The first time I saw a woman get up to deliver the homily, I thought to myself, “Well hmm, I don’t think that is permitted. I am going to have to think about this.”
I very quickly came to the conclusion that as I had recently exited from a life of rebellion, I did not plan to continue it within the Church. Since then I have developed, over time, a love for the Church’s teachings and a deep trust that the Holy Spirit guides the Church, despite human failings, politics, and sin.
As I have made this journey I have noticed that on the opposite ends of the spectrum of opinions, there are groups of people who continue to make their own rules.
Here are some of the warning signs I have noticed:
- Stuck in the Past or the Future: Either nothing the Church has taught post-Vatican II is trustworthy or everything post-Vatican II is the bees knees and nothing else matters. In order to support their opinions, these people either refer to quotes from Saints and popes from fifty years ago or more that seem to contradict current Church teaching or dismiss Church teaching with a wave of the hand and the mantra, “Some day the Church will catch up with my ideas.”
- Voracious Support for Certain Church Teachings, Disregard for Others: Catholics who are intensely dedicated to some of the Church’s teachings but easily dismiss and disregard others while vilifying those who believe in them as either “leftist,” if the teachings are social, or “ultra-conservative,” if the teachings are moral.
- Opinions About Liturgy Are the Standard: These people either turn their nose up at liturgies in Latin or liturgies with guitars and drum sets. Some believe liturgical rules are made to be broken and the Mass needs “creative interpretation” and others think liturgy should, in every parish around the world, resemble the parish they attend (or their dreams for the parish they attend). Either way, they are sure their way is the right way.
- Bodyguard or Prophet: People in both of these camps see the Church’s enemies as primarily inside the Church. They are either intensely focused on defending the Church against infiltrators and attack anyone they think is bringing the ship down or they think the Church needs prophetic people who don’t think like the rest of the sheep, so they break the rules in advance of the Church catching up to their “visionary” ideas.
- People First or Rules First: When approaching Church teaching some do not to adhere to anything that might hurt other peoples’ feelings or be seen as telling other people what to do. And others defend Church teaching by attacking people who do not follow it, believing the biggest enemy in the Church is people who don’t follow the rules, rather than prideful people who see following the rules and extending mercy to the wounded as mutually exclusive.
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There is something attractive and mysterious about rebellion. But beneath our tendency to rebel can be found a deeper desire to live the most profound rebellion, the revolution against sin and the world’s false values.
Rather than being rebels inside and against the Church to serve our own ideas of what is right, let us instead be rebels who dedicate ourselves to profoundly living the counter-cultural Gospel values that Jesus has given us in Scripture, Tradition, and the living witness of the Church.