On Teaching and Loving
“We need to be clear in presenting the Church’s teaching, but patient with the struggle to live it.”
This quote comes from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, in the 2011 book by John L. Allen Jr. titled “A People of Hope.” In the section of the book where this comes from, Cardinal Dolan is discussing the myriad of “Pelvic Issues” – issues related to human sexuality – which are facing the Church and Her people in the modern world. Cardinal Dolan says many wonderful things in this section, but I think that this quote is a sort of summary, and so I want to take some time to look at the two various aspects of the quote in depth.
“We need to be clear in presenting the Church’s teaching…”
This is something that Cardinal Dolan is very emphatic about in his life, his words, his writing, and in everything we see of him. For him, and for most of us reading this, the Truth of the Church is beautiful, full and wonderful. The Church has spent 2,000 years understanding and defining the Word of God as revealed through Scripture and through the Magisterium, and this is a teaching upon which we can stake our lives. When we do teach the Truth of God, we need to be clear in presenting it and unwavering in confidence. We teach God’s Truth not because the Church tells us, but because it is beautiful and we come to know and understand that it is not a passing truth of this world but the eternal Truth of God Himself.
When Truth is presented without love, it is authoritarian and hurtful. When love is given without Truth, it is not helpful because those that we love deserve to hear Truth. When we are given the task of presenting Church teaching – to kindergarteners, doctoral students, and everyone in between – we must present it in a clear and convincing manner. When I am called upon to present the faith, as I am often in my job, my goal is to do so in a way that is beautiful and loving. I also do my best to do this with confidence, not stating these things as “the opinion of the Church” but rather stating them as fact, because the teachings of the Church are not just laws but they are decrees of the God of the universe upon which I can stake my life.
The Truth of God is not a transitory truth that we can state in passing and forget about. No, the Truth is that the God of the universe loves us and reveals Himself to us in very concrete and real ways that demand a response. This Truth is beautiful and also challenging, and therefore demands a clear and beautiful presentation which stirs both the heart and mind.
“…but patient with the struggle to live it.”
This part of the quote from Cardinal Dolan is slightly more radical, maybe, than the first, but is in every way as important. The Truth is not something which is easily taken in and lived – in fact, for most of us, it is a lifetime struggle to allow Truth to permeate our hearts and lives – and therefore it is important that we are patient with those attempting to live out the Truth of the Church.
I think this might just be one of the biggest ways that myself and many of my fellow Catholics can improve our dialogue with those who disagree with Church teaching. Often, we resort to saying things like “if you don’t like what we teach, there are a whole bunch of other religions out there.” Rather, shouldn’t we be saying things like “if you don’t like it, okay. That’s what we believe. I want you to stay, though, because I believe that if you encounter the love of the God of the universe, your heart and your mind will be able to accept this difficult Truth.”
Yes, it is important to present the teachings of the Church – not as authoritarian and dictatorial rules, though; rather, we ought to present them as the God who is Love speaking freedom and joy into our lives through His instruction.
Are there rules and teachings that need to be accepted? Yes. I wouldn’t dare argue with that, and I believe that with my whole heart. What I am saying, though, is that as sinners, we ought to have patience with other sinners. We ought to love them, to see them where they are, and to understand that it takes time and a heck of a lot more than a good teaching to bring many people to Truth.
So what should we do? We ought to present Truth clearly, and then we ought to love those we’ve spoken to with patience, praying that the Lord would break into their lives in a real and a powerful way, and not giving up simply because they’re struggling to hear God’s Truth.
For, as St. Paul says, it doesn’t matter how well we present Truth, how well we can present the very person of Jesus, if we do that without love. And love, at it’s core, is patient.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing…Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
- 1 Corinthians 13: 1, 2, 7, 13
May each of us strive to present Truth with the tongues of angels, all the while doing so with the love of the One who first loved us, being patient with those we encounter just as God in His infinite love is patient with us.