|The 'Chair' of St. Peter in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome.|
An important part of my work as a priest, is to pass on the Lord’s teaching as faithfully as possible; not my opinion, but his teaching. My opinion is irrelevant, even if it might be interesting. What will help us more than anything is what comes from God, not human opinions. The bishop’s job is to make sure that his priests are being faithful in passing on that same teaching.
When I was officially transferred (incardinated) to this diocese two years ago, I had to recite the whole creed in front of the bishop and a witness, promising to faithfully continue to uphold that teaching, even though I was already 20 years a priest. That is how important it is.
We believe that the teachings of the Church come from God and are not just human opinion. We believe that certain things were divinely revealed to the Apostles and have been passed on throughout the ages. These teachings come from Scripture (the Bible) and Tradition, which is the teaching of the Apostles. Our bishops are the successors of the Apostles. For me to be a validly ordained priest, it has to be by a bishop who was ordained by other bishops, going all the way back to the Apostles.
In St. Matthew’s Gospel we have one of the accounts where Jesus gave his authority to St. Peter to lead his Church and pass on his teaching. When Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was, Peter was the one to say, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matt 16:17). And Jesus’ response to him was to say, ‘You are blessed, because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.’ In other words, you didn’t come to this conclusion by yourself. The Father in heaven revealed this to you. Then Jesus goes on to say,
‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the underworld will never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ (Matt 16:18-19).
|Statue of St. Peter, St. Peter's Basilica, Rome|
This is why we believe the teachings of the Church are revealed by God and are not human teachings. That is also why we can’t change them. Our understanding of them continually deepens as the Holy Spirit continues to teach us, but the basic teachings do not change.
Every so often the Pope may come out with an official statement which is then considered Church teaching, but this isn’t done lightly, or by himself. It is teaching that will normally have been discussed and then decided by the whole College of Bishops throughout the world. In other words, the Pope doesn’t just decide on a new teaching whenever he feels like it. He may give his opinion on topics, but that doesn’t mean it is Church teaching.
Recently Pope Francis made the comment that he believed homosexual unions should be protected by law, so that they are not open to being exploited, which seems wise and fair. In no way does that take from, or change, the teaching that we believe marriage is a life-long commitment between a man and a woman. We believe that teaching comes from God. That doesn’t disrespect anyone who is homosexual, it just says that this is the teaching we believe comes from God. I have many dear friends who are gay and I love them as I love all my friends and see them no differently, but that doesn’t mean I think God’s teaching should change. I suppose it keeps coming back to the question you have to ask yourself, ‘Do I believe the Church’s teaching is from God or not?’ For me, I totally believe that it is from God. I wouldn’t be a priest if I didn’t. Sometimes it may be hard to understand, but who am I to say I know better?
In St. Matthew’s Gospel Jesus speaks these words:
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Our faith has to be built on a solid foundation, not on opinions. There is no more solid teaching than what comes from God. That’s why Jesus says, ‘Everyone who hears my words and does them, will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.’ His house was secure and could not be knocked down. Jesus is telling us to build our faith on his teaching, not on opinions. The house built on sand is very typical of ‘feel good religion’. ‘I like this teaching so I will hold on to it, but I disagree with that so I will ignore it.’ That kind of faith will collapse, because it is built on opinions.
The devil will try to convince us that we know better. ‘It’s the modern world. You need to get with the times, don’t be taken in by these old and out of date teachings by some old men in the Vatican.’ Remember, the devil quoted scripture to Jesus in the wilderness and twisted it. Jesus called him the liar and the deceiver. He is the one who causes confusion. He will twist the truth and try to convince you of what is not from God.
Remember in the creation story in Genesis, Satan asks Adam and Eve, ‘Did God really say that you were not to touch any of the trees in the garden?’ (Gen 3:1). That is not what God said. He lied to them and confused and deceived them. He twisted God’s words, just like the media will often take words out of context and twist the meaning.
What about what we call papal infallibility? Can there really be such a thing? Yes, we believe it is real, when the Pope makes an official proclamation about a Church teaching, in agreement with the bishops, but it is extremely rare. So far it has only been used twice in history: once to define the dogma (teaching) of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 and also to define the teaching of the Assumption of Our Lady into heaven in 1950. These were made official teachings because they had already been believed in from the beginning. They were set in stone, as it were. How could any teaching be infallible? Because we believe it has been revealed by God. ‘Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Again, we must ask, ‘Do I believe the teachings of the Church are from God or not?’
Popes can also give opinions which are wrong. I am not referring to what Pope Francis said about homosexual unions, but in general. In the Acts of the Apostles it says that St. Paul challenged St. Peter publicly, because he was obviously in the wrong (Gal 2:11-14). Peter had been eating with the Gentiles, until the Jewish people turned up and then he felt that he shouldn’t. Paul challenged him on this and he realized he was wrong. There is nothing wrong with that.
I believe we are coming into a time when our faith is going to be challenged more and more. There is already a lot of confusion within the Church, which is sad. Hold on tight to your faith. If you are uncertain of something you hear, then look it up in the Catechism and above all, come before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and in the silence ask him to guide you and help you be clear on what comes from him. God wants us to know his teachings, because they are there to help us. If our faith is to survive it has to be built on solid rock, that is, on the Lord’s teachings. When it is built on God’s teachings then it will survive, even in the midst of confusion.
‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’