A bit of confession is in order. I often find I am not as faithful to the teaching authority of the Church as I should be.
It is true that I adhere to all that is defined as “De Fide” or the doctrine that is defined as central to the core tenants of our Faith. That which is defined as directly deriving from those tenants I hold to as well (assuming of course I know enough to hold them).
But the truth is that being Faithful to the Magisterium means more than the recognition of the tenants of our Faith. It requires the assent to things which, while not defined infallibly, never the less deserve our assent.
From politics to the environment to culture, the teaching authority of the Church has much to say about the daily life. And as Catholics we are obligated to, if not assent completely, at least to give the Church that respect she is due. We must listen to what she has to say and consider seriously Her teaching on the topics she chooses to speak about.
When we think of being faithful to the Magisterium we often have a minimal requirement approach (or at least I do). The things we MUST believe are the things that Catholics in some sense take for granted. The resurrection of the Lord, the reality of the Holy Spirit, the reality of Heaven and Hell. These things are the basics of the Faith. That which the Church has defined as the core of the Faith.
We (typical faithful Catholics) have very little difficulty with the mental assent part (living the teaching is a topic for another day). It is in the air we breathe. It is in a sense natural.
But there is another sense that we are to be faithful that (at least for me) is very difficult. The notion of the Magisterium’s “fallible” moral teaching. The kind that is not protected by the charism of infallibility but we must as Catholics abide and submit to.
This is a tricky topic because there is often confusion regarding what teaching we must assent to and what is open for discussion. Too often we blend the two, sometimes deliberately but other times not, in order to sidestep teachings we do not like.
The Church is commissioned by God to teach His people. The teaching authority is not there just to provide the basics. It is our guide in this world, to help us to get closer to Christ in our everyday lives. And as such we are graced with the opportunity to learn more about God and His will. So long as we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Let us take two examples. First, to my knowledge the prohibition of torture is not defined as “De Fide”. The Church has not ruled in an infallible and definitive sense that torture is gravely wrong. But she has spoken repeatedly about the vileness of torture and how it harms both the victim and the perpetrator. As such while this does not enjoy the charism of infallibility this teaching is binding on us.
But there are some things that we can disagree on. Things like if a particular war is just or the best policies for the environment. Despite what some critics say there is a great deal of room for thought in the Church on a variety of topics.
But even with these topics we must be faithful to the principles that the Church has laid down for us to follow. When considering economic policies we must always be mindful of the poor. When debating health care we must be mindful of the sacredness of human life.
The second example is a bit of a counter example to illustrate the point. When the debate for the Iraq war came up circa 2003 I was still on college. While I was still just learning to make the Faith my own I was an ardent supporter of the war. But a problem arose for me. How can I support the war when the Church, from the American bishops and Bl. John Paul II seemed against it?
Then I found the loophole. Our Pope Benedict, then Cdl. Ratzinger stated that Catholics in good conscience can disagree with the Church on the rightness of the war. Thus I could support the war and still remain a Catholic in good standing.
Notice that there is something missing here. Not once did I actually heed the advice of the Church. I did not listen to the Great John Paul II nor did I read the various documents and statements on the subject. My only concern was how to hold on to my opinion of the war and still be a good Catholic. I attempted to find a way to hold on to my opinion regardless of what the Church thought.
This is not to say that one cannot disagree with the Magisterium’s view of the war. Rather my sin was that I did not listen to that teaching authority that he established for His children. I neglected to listen to His appointed teachers. I tried to wedge in my opinion rather than let the Church, the voice of God on this earth, try to teach me Her view through the men she has ordained.
What I am trying to say in a long winded fashion is that being faithful to the Magisterium is more than simply assenting to a checklist. The Magisterium is the living teaching office of God. They are there to guide us in this life and to lead us to Christ. And we do ourselves no favors by ignoring those He sent.