In early 2015, our Archdiocese like many others was offered a 47-question open-ended survey in order to gather information about what people throughout the world understand about the Church’s teaching, her pastoral practice, current conditions, and the reality of marriage and family life. The survey was probably a poor translation, and the questions were ill-structured, so I ended up writing about 15,500 words in the one week window for completing it. I have chosen to share a few of these, here, as well, for your comments. I will quote the question, and what follows is my answer. I have edited the answers slightly for brevity, politeness, and clarity.
22. In the case of those who have not yet arrived at a full understanding of the gift of Christ’s love, how can the faithful express a friendly attitude and offer trustworthy guidance without failing to proclaim the demands of the Gospel? (cf. n. 24)
It is inconceivable that we could understand friendship or be “trustworthy” if we failed to proclaim the Gospel, and it is in the Gospel that we learn of God’s gracious provision for our healing—a healing which demands, first, that we know we are sick; a sickness that is sin, the destruction of our cooperative union with the Creator who sustains life within and around us. To affirm that there is any actual tension between “friendly attitude” and “trustworthy guidance” and “to proclaim … the Gospel” would be to believe the Satanic lie that stands in opposition to the Gospel, the ancient serpent’s lie to Eve.
We do seem to experience a tension, though, that derives from several sources: our immaturity and insecurity in friendship; our lack of confidence, or rank unbelief, in the Gospel; our intellectual incapacity to articulate the truth about friendship, charity, and Gospel in the face of cultural misconceptions and even poor teaching in the Church that presumes the real existence of such a tension. The last is the most serious, as it tends to enforce and perpetuate the nominal existence of this banal error.
With regard to the first, or most common, cause of the delusion that cultivation of amity and ethos is at tension with sharing the Gospel clearly and adequately, we must help people to develop mature friendships and surround them with a neighborhood in which such friendships are normal. Having become secure in such friendship, a person will recognize that in a situation where a tension between the Gospel and the ease of friendship seems to exist, it is not of the nature of real friendship or true Gospel that such a tension exist. It will then be a matter of justice to determine what is due in that situation, to be surmounted with a charity which seeks to creatively infuse the situation with goodness and truth. Does a friend seem to feel “attacked” whenever the Father’s gender is brought up? The friend can still enjoy lunch with a friend, and can still be encouraged to think about what role a Creator would play in the lives and loves of [His] creatures. If that friend insists that continued friendship hinges on one’s denial of the Father’s paternity or the Son’s essential masculinity, however, then that insistence is unjust; charity demands equally that one show care for that friend in appropriate ways and that one refuse to deny the truth that alone can truly help that friend.
One cannot move forward in charity by destroying the ground of charity; such an act is not the act of a friend. The general good of “friendliness,” or affability, itself a form of justice, is to be cultivated; but it is less than charity, and must be overruled by the gracious work of God that makes us bold witness of a healing Truth. As the Ox says,
Because man is a social animal he owes his fellow-man, in equity, the manifestation of truth without which human society could not last. Now as man could not live in society without truth, so likewise, not without joy, because, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. viii), no one could abide a day with the sad nor with the joyless. Therefore, a certain natural equity obliges a man to live agreeably with his fellow-men; unless some reason should oblige him to sadden them for their good. (II.II.114.2)
With regard to the second cause of this sad misconception, we often doubt that we can help friends by risking their friendship in the service of the healing Truth because we ourselves are wounded by disbelief and despair, whether we succumb to those wounds or bear them. This challenge, too, is best met by surrounding the faithful with a neighborhood where faithful friendships are normal. However, to this we must superadd the more essential step of boldy, forthrightly, without fallacious and equivocal faux-intellectual nuancing or pandering to secular cultural impositions, proclaiming the Gospel as we have received it: in Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, in the dominical sayings, in the whole of the Book of the Gospel and the whole of the Scriptures, in the dogmatic definitions of the Church, in the utterances of her Fathers and Doctors, in the concomitance of the whole of Sacred Tradition that bespeaks the sense that those who are faithful do indeed have of the faith.
Sociological totalitarianism and merely majoritarian accounts of reality, alike, fail to address the real core of human desire for and aversion to God, and have as their first move a dismissal of the “democracy of the dead” and the divine Authorship of the whole of Creation with particular privilege for the signature works of Redemption. When doubt and disbelief are trumpeted from the highest reaches of the Church, you may surely expected that the Church militant is struggling within itself more than contending with the “principalities, powers, thrones, and dominions”; we know that “the whole world is under the power of the evil one,” but depend on those proclaiming the Gospel for the spiritual strength to witness confidently to its truth.
And the last is an educational matter: without real hermeneutical resources that proceed, as the Gospel does, “from faith to faith,” not only the faithful but also their teachers are left to respond incoherently to the chaos and confusion of dominant popular thought. When the Magisterium sounds like a gabbling talk show, how are the faithful to respond to the accusatory and indistinct challenges they are posed by their culture? We must know how to unfold the riches of Scripture accurately and without alienating and fragmenting compromises with hostile theories of truth, history, and literacy; we must know how to make the elementary distinctions of category and causality that will help us to answer cultural questions usefully, rather than to slip into the web of lies posed as either/or choices about merely nominal essences. Unfortunately, neither our ecclesial leadership nor (still less!) our educational models are well suited to teaching us these necessary intellectual virtues. This must be rectified.