I have some friends who are practising Catholics but who say they disagree with some Church teachings. This disturbs me. How can I help them?
There are probably quite a few Catholics in the situation you describe, each with his or her own personal areas of disagreement with Church teaching.
They are undoubtedly good people but fail to understand a fundamental aspect of what it means to be a Catholic.
They have sometimes been called “cafeteria Catholics” because they pick and choose what they want from the full menu of Church teachings, making their own intellect the standard of what is true and to be believed.
The first thing we should remember is that the Church is not a human institution, formed over the centuries, which has come to hold certain beliefs.
It is a divine institution, founded by Jesus Christ. And Jesus is God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, who said of himself:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). We can be certain that whatever he teaches is true.
What is more, Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to keep the Church in the truth:
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:13).
Earlier, he told the apostles, “But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit … will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26).
As a result, we have the assurance that whatever the Church teaches is true and it is important for us to believe and live it. In other words, the “menu” was written by God and it is not up to us to pick and choose which items we will accept and which we will not.
What is up to us is to believe whatever the Church teaches because it comes from God. If Jesus himself taught us something directly, we would believe him.
And if he teaches us something through his Church, we should believe it too.
After all, when he sent the disciples out to teach, he told them, “He who hears you, hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me” (Lk 10:16).
That is, we should have faith. What does this mean? It means to accept a truth, not because we see the reasons for it, but on the authority of the person revealing it to us.
Is this reasonable? Of course it is. Virtually everything we know, we know by faith – human faith – by having read it or having been told about it by someone we trust.
Almost everything we know about history, geography, science, current affairs … we know in this way. And we believe it.
This is reasonable, even though sometimes human writers can be mistaken.
Historians can revise earlier versions of certain events, scientists can refine and modify their previous theories, and journalists, who get it right most of the time, often give us an amended version of events in the following days.
But we still trust that what they tell us is true.
How much more, then, should we trust God, who is the creator of all being and truth, and who can neither deceive nor be deceived.
And how much more should we trust his Church, which teaches in his name, guided by the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth”.
But, we may say, some of the Church’s teachings are hard to understand, like how Jesus Christ can be at the same time both God and man, or how there can be three persons in one God in the Blessed Trinity, or how a merciful God can allow the existence of hell.
But so many truths in the world of nature are also difficult to understand, like why light has the properties of both particles and waves, and why there should be gravity at all.
We accept these truths, even though we don’t fully understand them, and we know that this is reasonable. Scientists accept them and they don’t understand them either.
Likewise, some of the Church’s teachings are difficult to live, like those on sexual morality, contraception, abortion, honesty, sacrifice, etc.
But we know that they are true, and that when we follow them we find the human flourishing that we seek, both for us as individuals and for society.
To have faith, then, is to accept all of the Church’s teachings because God has revealed them through his Church, not because we personally understand them or like them.
This requires humility, because we must submit our fallible judgement to that of the infallible God and his Church.
If we find it difficult to accept some teaching, we can pray for the gift of faith, for faith is always a gift from God.
And we can ask Our Lord, as the apostles did, “Increase our faith!” (Lk 17:5).