In the modern world, there is no shortage of opinion. People even seem to break down into camps accordingly – you are either a Democrat or a Republican, Religious or Secular, and there is no middle ground. This tendency has crept into the Church since the close of the Second Vatican Council. It is even fashionable to speak of either being a conservative or liberal Catholic. In reality, though, when it comes to being a member of the Church and her teachings, you are orthodox or not – there is no middle ground. For the Catholic, orthodoxy is paramount.
As you make the journey through the RCIA, and even as you progress in your Catholic faith, you will meet countless people who are willing to help you and answer questions. At times you will get spot-on helpful information, while other times it will be flat-out wrong answers or, worse, those couched as the truth but are harmful to your faith life.
When you are given incorrect information, it probably isn’t intentional. The fact is that most of the time, it is because the individual, themself, do not know or do not have a full grasp of the truth. As the adage goes, you cannot teach what you do not know. It could also be that they are just passing along the same poor information they received. Intentional or not, it is always best to be charitable and assume the best of the other person. Perhaps, they are trying to help and are just ignorant or struggling.
You do not need to be afraid to ask questions and seek out information, but you should be on guard and aware that you may not get the best answers. You will hear things that are just not Catholic masqueraded as sound doctrine. Again, do not worry. This has always been the case in the life of the Church. Since the time of Jesus himself, people have taught all kinds of strange heretical things as a substitute for the sound doctrine of the apostles (for example, Arius, Donatists, Pelagius, or the Modernism).
Catholic orthodoxy: Its Importance
The point is that when it comes to your faith, you want to seek out sound (orthodox) teaching and never settle for less than the truth. Your faith is too important to be subject to the fancies of a heterodox teacher. It is about eternal life and happiness with Jesus in Heaven forever, so do not settle for anything less than an accurate and faithful presentation of the Catholic Faith. Jesus said: you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free, so search for it with all your mind and strength.
You may say: some things are inconsequential and do not matter as much? On the contrary, orthodoxy is vital not only in the big things but in little ones too. In the small details, seek sound doctrine.
You could think of your faith as a giant Jenga tower, where the pillar is most secure when all the pieces are tightly intertwined. With each piece removed, even those less important ones on top, the entire structure weakens. Soon, as you remove most of the top layers, the bottom becomes unsteady, and the structure collapses. It is the same with a heterodox faith.
Catholic Orthodoxy: Where To Be Most On Guard
Today, especially in western society, there is one crystal clear area where you need to be on guard. It is swarming with strange teachings but is also the most pivotal. Morality, how we live out the Christian life, is at the heart of what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. It is also, unfortunately, subject to the most misinformation. The moral teachings of the Church are often taught ambiguously, can be wildly misinterpreted, sometimes straight out rejected. You should seek sound doctrine, even in the small details.
There is a pernicious error that you will often confront in Catholic morality. It is present among those who reject the fullness of Church teaching. You need to be on guard for those who tell you: it is okay, just follow your conscience. If you ask a question about moral teaching and hear that answer, walk away fast.
Today, a misunderstanding of conscience attempts to justify much aberrant behavior and things contrary to even basic morality. The problem stems from people who mistakenly believe, and some who intentionally deceive, that the individual conscience is the source of moral principles. Rather, conscience is simply the faculty (ability) to judge, based on objective principles, matters as morally right or wrong. It must be formed objectively to make those decisions. Read more about it here (coming soon).
Catholic Orthodoxy: How To Find Sound Teachings
The first thing you need to do is be forthright. There is nothing wrong with telling people that you are new to the Church and want to learn what She teaches. Provide them with an out, saying you are looking for orthodoxy, and if they do not have the answer that is okay. It is preferable to have other people say, I do not know than to give an option as fact.
No one goes on a journey without a guide or, at least, a map. You can look into things yourself, but try to find a priest or layperson you trust to be a sounding board. Regularly, consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a treasure house of sound doctrine. You definitely should own a copy, although it is available online.
Catholic Orthodoxy: How To Find A Good Guide
As if setting out on this journey was not overwhelming enough, you have to find a teacher and guide too. What are you supposed to do, interviews? Yes – being your guide is an important job and can not be left to chance!
There are things you can look for in your new spiritual companion to see if they are a good fit. For example, several moral areas are a no-compromise zone (read more about it in our Article on Morality, coming soon):
- You may ask them their view on contraception or homosexuality. Sound Catholics will tell you that contraception is morally wrong and that homosexual acts are disordered (caution: respect for the person is paramount). If you hear anything else, walk away.
- You may ask them their view on women priests. Sound Catholics will tell you that the Church is bound by the Sacraments, as instituted by Christ, and that the valid matter for a priest is s man. If you hear anything else, walk away.
While these may seem like hot button issues, they are touchstones for orthodoxy. In addition to loyalty to the Pope (C.C.C 834, 882), a faithful Catholic will be easy to notice by his answers to these questions. In the end, all you are looking for is someone to tell you the unadulterated truth and offer sound advice. You want to find a person who will give you accurate answers that are clear and easy to understand. That person will most likely be an excellent guide.