Two weeks ago, we looked at the 4th Commandment, “honor your father and your mother,” and how it invites us to consider our roles and responsibilities as citizens, obeying just laws which promote the common good, and speaking and acting against laws “contrary to the dignity of persons and the natural law.” (CCC 2235) Another important point to consider in our observance of this commandment is the obedience we owe to our mother, the Church, and the role that she plays in our being good citizens of society.
The final three paragraphs of the Catechism (CCC 2244-2246) on this commandment address this relationship. I draw out attention in particular to the following words:
It is a part of the Church’s mission “to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it.” (CCC 2246)
This was on my mind as I read a story about something that happened recently in Washington, D.C. On the night before the March for Life, it has become customary to have a large Mass celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. That evening, a group called Catholics for Choice projected various messages on the façade of the basilica advancing their position that one can in good conscience be Catholic and Pro Choice. That evening, the group tweeted the following message:
FACT: 68% of Catholics want #RoeVWade to remain the law of the land. The #MarchForLife & @usccb want folks to think they speak for Catholics, but nothing could be further from the truth.
This statement highlights a common error with regards to the Church. There is the conclusion that the majority opinion has to rule the day and that the Church has no grounding to oppose what “most people want.” As the Catechism states, it is part of the Church’s mission to proclaim and safeguard the truth, regardless of its popularity or level of acceptance. For it is by knowing the truth and following it that we have the greatest assurance of salvation. And this is the primary concern of the Church – the eternal salvation of her people.
In this regard, I am reminded of a powerful scene in the movie Paul VI: The Pope in the Tempest. A fair amount of attention in the movie is given to debate that was going on during Pope St. Paul VI’s pontificate on the topic of artificial contraception. As with the argument for keeping Roe vs. Wade legal, the pressure was being put on the Holy Father to change the Church’s teaching on the immorality of artificial contraception because the majority of Catholics supported its use. Having heard the arguments and having thought and prayed about it, the Holy Father says the following succinct but powerful words: “The Pope cannot say something is right if it is not.” This summarizes, I believe, the role of the Church in proclaiming the truth “in season and out of season.” (2 Tim 4:2) As members of society, but first members of the Church, our obedience must always belong to the truth, of which the Church is “the pillar and bulwark” (1 Tim 3:15), regardless of whether it is the majority opinion or not. May we also never forget the promise that Jesus Himself gives to us about the truth: “the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32)