How often do we enter a conversation with another Catholic and discover that they hold a view different to our personal beliefs about the Catholic faith? What happens when we encounter this different view?
The conversation may proceed along the following lines.
One person expresses the importance of being Christ-like, saying that our Catholic Church needs to embrace people wherever they are at and love them as Jesus would love them. Another person may say that while it is important to love all people, being Christ-like impels us to uphold the truths of our faith passed on through the Church over the years.
The first person may contend that certain truths of our faith must be challenged or changed to become the community Christ calls us to be, and the second person may contend that such changes undermine the very community Christ calls us to be.
Does this mean one of us is misinformed? Is one view right and the other wrong? Can we embrace change while still upholding the truths of the Catholic faith?
Such questions have taken on extra significance recently, both with the Plenary Council 2020 inviting us to consider what God is asking of us, and with Bishop Vincent Long calling many representatives across our Diocese to “Go out into the Deep.”
He noted at a Diocesan Forum on Saturday 13 July that “we cannot conduct ourselves as ‘business as usual’ because the ground under our feet has shifted.” While some participants welcomed these words as an encouragement to work to change and renewal, others expressed concern as they wondered if both the Plenary and Bishop Vincent’s invitation mean that long-held truths may be undermined or eroded.
At its heart, we are called to both engage with our present culture and continuously return to our deposit of faith.
From our earliest times, our church has recognised the importance of embracing renewal while holding fast to that which is central – the good news of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ.
For example, the Council of Jerusalem, (Acts 15:2-35), introduced a change whereby non-Jewish Christians did not need to be circumcised. This renewal at the same time affirmed a deeper truth of upholding Christian unity and peace.
Throughout our history, our church has continued to hold fast to the truths central to our faith, while renewing ourselves in response to the signs of the times and internal reforms.
We are reminded in the documents of Vatican II that “…to carry forward the work of Christ … the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.” (Gaudium et Spes #4)
As an example, the Church’s approach to slavery over the centuries involved a number of conflicting pastoral responses, yet we consistently held fast to central teachings about the call to love one another and the intrinsic dignity of each person.
As we continue to venture into the deep, we steer a course between two extremes.
On the one hand, we do our life in Christ a disservice when we ignore the invitation to change in light of the signs of the times.
On the other hand, we do our life in Christ a disservice when we ignore what has been promulgated by our Church and is central to our belief.
As we navigate the way forward, may we listen and dialogue, prepared to be open to voices that challenge. And may we bring these voices into dialogue with the heart of our faith.
In this place of informed discernment, we may then be able to confidently move forward together with the Spirit, both renewing our Church and holding fast to that which is central to our belief.
Richard McMahon is the Director of Pastoral Planning & Implementation for the Diocese of Parramatta.