I have to be honest: I’ve never really had a problem with the Church guiding me right from wrong. Maybe that is characteristic of a true cradle-catholic, or perhaps it’s because, from a young age, my father taught me that the Church was something to be trusted, not feared. Whatever the reason, I never questioned why I always felt so trusting of the Church. I went on trusting her for the better part of my formative years.
What did that look like for me growing up as a young woman? It meant I had to strive to guard my sexuality, steer clear from the accepted modern methods for “being free” (i.e. no contraception, no spending the nights with my boyfriends, no drugs, etc.), keep receiving the Sacraments (especially the Most Holy Eucharist, and Confession), and strive to make good decisions.
Did I always succeed? No. But that is what is so special about this “formula” I’d been given by the Church. She always offered me a way back, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Through it all, I learned what G.K. Chesterton meant when he described the Church to be a “truth-telling thing.” In his book “Orthodoxy,” he shares how he came to believe in and trust the Church because it had proven itself to lead him to the good throughout his life.
Consider this parallel he uses of a parent child relationship, lived out in a garden:
“When your father told you, walking about the garden, that bees stung or that roses smelt sweet, you did not talk of taking the best out of his philosophy. When the bees stung you, you did not call it an entertaining coincidence. When the rose smelt sweet you did not say ‘My father is a rude, barbaric symbol, enshrining (perhaps unconsciously) the deep delicate truths that flowers smell.’ No: you believed your father, because you had found him to be a living fountain of facts, a thing that really knew more than you; a thing that would tell you truth to-morrow, as well as to-day. And if this was true of your father, it was even truer of your mother…”
Similarly, the Church is like a loving parent, guiding us away from things that harm us—even when they don’t seem to be harmful to us at all. As a mother, it’s easy to relate this to my life with my kids. For instance, my children (especially my Lucia) are always making a fuss over the little pink roses we have in our backyard. I have to constantly tell them to step away from the bush and to quit touching it, because I know and perfectly understand that hidden behind those sweet smelling roses, there is something sinister waiting to prick them. But, at the same time, seeing my babies go back and forth to that same rose bush, I desire to give them the sweetness that they want. So what do I do? I take some pruning tools, and gently remove a rose from the bush (along with all thorns), and give them to my babies.
Just as my kids are learning to trust me and their dad, so we are challenged to grow in trust of the Church.
Over the years I’ve come to see the Church as a mother to me. Every time I’ve entrusted my life to her guidance—even when her teaching was difficult or counter-cultural—she never led me astray. In fact, she led me directly to clear water—clearer than I ever would have found for myself. Whenever I backed away from her guidance, or told her to “take a hike,” I found my life and heart messier and more pained than when I left her. Whenever I’ve done these things—in order to discover “freedom” on my own—I’ve essentially fallen on my face.
Yet, I have to be honest and say that there have been times where I’ve taken the road less-recommended by the Church, and still found myself able to drink of waters that satisfied my soul, to a certain extent. The problem was, those waters I gained from a round-about, do-it-myself way were muddy and filled with muck and leaves that needed to be removed by me. I’d have to sift and sift some more in order to make those waters at least slightly drinkable, and…it was A LOT OF WORK!!!
The purification process is what the Church does for us. While, in a certain sense, we can find a semblance of satisfaction from the ways of the world today…the happiness we receive is nothing in comparison to the happiness the Church is guiding us to. She guides us ultimately to Christ: the true source that quenches our thirst. This is why it is so important that we trust the entirety of her teaching, rather than picking and choosing what we think works and doesn’t. Sometimes what we think works, isn’t God’s plan for us. Even when we can’t see the reasons why.
People often talk about the “legality” in the Church. Why does the Church make such a fuss over all the do’s and don’ts in the moral life? What does she care if I engage in sex before marriage, about my sexual orientation, or if I go to Church? Why doesn’t she just focus on the love of Christ itself?
Because she knows that there is a pathway to Christ, and that pathway is narrow.
Some wise woman in a bible study I was once in explained her thoughts on entering the narrow gate. She said she thought it to be less about the literal baggage that we are carrying with us (i.e. the material goods we can’t let go of), and more about the figurative baggage we cling tightly to. She explained that it’s not about all the material “stuff” we accumulate that makes it hard for us to enter through the narrow door, but about all the things that weigh down our souls and keep us from freely trusting in God’s grace and love. Pride, Ego, Self-Assurance, Selfishness…all of these things that get in the way of us submitting our lives to God instead of to our own plans for ourselves that hold us back and weigh us down. More often than not, they cause us Heartache, Pain, Suffering, and Enslavement, and those things are hard to let go of. It’s as if you were to go and shake Christ’s hand, but you can’t because your fists are clenched tight for some reason. He’s not going to force us to unclench. He is going to wait patiently for us to release the tension out of trust, and then he promises to fill us more than we could ever even imagine.
Why does the church worry about our moral life? Why does the Church guide us in our moral actions?
Because she loves us and knows that our actions matter.
Our actions affect our ability to embrace Christ with an open heart.
The Church is our mother, reminding us not to touch the rose bush simply because it is pretty, attractive, and fragrant.
She sees the thorns that lie behind and wait.
When we trust her, our mother takes her pruning tools, plucks a rose for us, removes the thorns, and hands us the rose we’d been desiring all along.