We orthodox Catholics tend to be a tight-knit bunch. We’re great at complaining about unfaithful Catholic politicians, and we love to compare shock stories about the worst liturgies we’ve attended. (“Oh yeah? Well, when we were on vacation last summer, we went to a parish and the priest and lectors acted out the gospel! And when it came time for the consecration – well, let’s just say I’d never heard that Eucharistic prayer before.”)
But our more modernized brothers and sisters, for what they may lack in doctrinal orthodoxy and moral clarity, get some things right that we often miss. Here are a few.
1. God is merciful. Orthodox Catholics are great at reminding everyone of the reality and gravity of sin, and of course we shouldn’t ignore sin or be blasé about it. But sometimes we begin painting God as a wrathful dictator, snickering as he zaps souls into hell. Haha, sucker! That isn’t the Christian God.
God is love and he doesn’t want anyone to go to hell. Sin is real and we ought to avoid it – but mercy is real, too, and we shouldn’t avoid emphasizing it. God is metaphorically sitting on the edge of his seat waiting for us to repent because he wants to forgive us as soon as we allow it.
2. Catholic morality is not actually that rigid, and there is a lot of room for prudence and personal judgment. Orthodox Catholics frequently speak out to correct the culture that wants to put actually wrong actions under the realm of prudential judgment. And this is good, because there’s a reason those actions are wrong. But some things really are left up to prudential judgment (which is not the same as moral free-for-all).
Married people should always love their spouses, for example, but what that looks like exactly requires prudence (and other virtues). It could mean cooking because your spouse is too busy in the afternoon, or deferring cooking responsibilities because your spouse enjoys cooking, or cooking together. So many possibilities! The Church is not in the business of micromanaging our lives, even in hot-button areas like modesty and NFP.
3. Jesus wants to be your friend. Before you chortle at how cheesy that sounds, let me tell you where I heard it: from Jesus. (Check out John 15:15 if you don’t believe me.) Orthodox Catholics are great at rolling their eyes at “emotional devotionals” and vague, squishy beliefs that don’t actually mean anything – and it’s true that our faith is more substantial than inspirational sayings on Thomas Kinkade paintings.
We have an impressive intellectual and artistic history that often goes ignored, and we do have good reasons for why we believe what we do. This is all good! But it’s not about that. The purpose of philosophy is to point us toward God, not to replace God. God is not a philosophical concept, but three persons who love you and want to be close to you the way a loving husband wants to be close to his wife, or a loving mother wants to be close to her child. (At least, that’s how God always puts it.)
4. Older is not always better. It’s a shame that many modernized Catholics have never been taught about our heritage, because there’s so much beauty and depth in old things like polyphony and chant, the Tridentine Mass, and the early Church Fathers’ homilies. But the twenty-first century is a legitimate part of Church history and orthodox Catholics often miss the great stuff going on today.
Some twenty-first century Catholics are composing beautiful hymns and giving fantastic homilies. Vernacular, easy-to-follow liturgies have evangelical advantages that older liturgies didn’t. Today’s thinkers are doing an impressive job grappling with issues the Church didn’t need to consider until now, and are applying timeless truths to our twenty-first-century situation in ways that haven’t been done before and that will likely benefit future generations – just like St. Francis de Sales and St. Irenaus did in their times.
In the 1200s, Muslim scholars took Greek philosophy – written 300 years before the Incarnation – and brought it to Europe. Christianity obviously has some fundamental disagreements with the ancient Greek and Islamic perspectives of the world, but that didn’t deter St. Thomas Aquinas from sifting through all of it looking for gems, while still holding to Catholic orthodoxy. He came out with the Summa Theologica.
And that wasn’t so bad, was it?