Unlike most of my other posts to this blog, this one is directed specifically toward my fellow Catholics.
When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, "By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority? (see Matthew 21:23-27).
I heard the other day that Anne Rice, famous for her books about vampires – and more recently for her books about Jesus – left the Catholic Church. She explained her departure from Catholic faith is rooted in her belief that the Church’s position on some moral issues is archaic and out of touch with the true teachings of Jesus.
As I mused about her rationale, I thought of the text from St. Matthew’s gospel in which religious leaders asked Jesus by what authority He said the things He did. In reply, Jesus asked them what they thought about John the Baptist’s message. Was it from God or from men?
And that presented them with a conundrum. If they said from men, they knew the people would stone them because they all thought John to be a prophet. But if they said from God, Jesus would ask them why they didn’t follow John’s teaching. And so they opted for the coward’s way out. They said they didn’t know where John’s message was from.
A similar conumdrum circulates in our day. Has the Holy Spirit “spoken through the prophets” as we read in the Nicene Creed? If not, then who’s to say one person’s opinion of morality and faith is better or worse than the next person’s? But if the Holy Spirit did speak through those prophets, then Jesus’ follow-on questions to us are the same as they would have been to the Pharisees – do you do as the prophets said? If not, why not?
Which brings up another question – especially for those like Anne Rice who claim (or claimed) to be Catholic.
Did Jesus give Peter and his apostolic successors authority over the earthly Church to delineate and define true Christian faith and morals (Matthew 16:17-19)? If not, then one can argue that God has given us freedom to live according to the teachings of any religious path of our choosing. But if the answer is yes, then Jesus’ follow-on questions demand sober consideration of people who call themselves Catholic: Do you obey His Church? If not, why not?
Those who believe Scripture about God’s justice, as well as His mercy, understand that to elevate our opinions higher than God’s is tantamount to sorcery and idolatry. And those who believe in an eternal heaven and an eternal hell also realize that the Pharisees of Matthew 21, if they persisted in their rebellion, still grind their teeth with regret over their decision to disobey God. Even after 2000 years.
And so, the point. To those of us who claim to be Catholic, Jesus asks the question that demands our answer: Will we obey Him by obeying His Church?
Our eternal home, even 2000 years from now, depends on our answer.