The Catholic Church gives a healthy dose of freedom to Catholics concerning which spirituality they want to follow, what rite they want to belong to, and even what they want to believe about theological questions left open to discussion.
But then there are those who go to extremes. Here are two opposite extremes many Catholics embrace today that are actually harmful to their spiritual lives and to the mission of the Church.
1. Being overly accommodating to the world and embracing things contrary to God’s will and the teaching of the Church.
We recently saw an example of this in the infamous Chicago “bubble Mass” that is still making rounds on the internet. The church was full of giant bubbles as people sang and danced. Earlier this year at the same parish, the priest gave the final blessing by using a guitar to make the sign of the cross.
When we give up our identity as Catholics and overly accommodate ourselves to a worldly spirit devoid of the sacred, we surrender the fear of God to the fear of man.
We can’t accommodate ourselves to modern culture because there are so many things within it that are directly contrary to God and His plan: radical moral subjectivism, sexual immorality, etc.
Also, cultural fads come and go. Once the Church hangs on too much to a certain fad, it risks dying with that fad. Just look at many “modern Masses” today — many are still stuck on the same 70s hymns that have not aged well.
2. Becoming so rigid and inflexible that they don’t care if anyone’s listening to our message or can understand it.
This is the opposite extreme of what was explained above. Yes, we need to hold onto the beliefs and practices handed down to us. But we need to find ways to enunciate these beliefs in a way that will be understood by the people of today.
Pope St. John XXIII said it best at the opening of Vatican II: “The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.”
Yet some people — such as the more extreme types of Traditionalists — are strangely resistant to this principle. They fail to see that the Church has often in the past adapted its language to the needs of the time. One prominent example is its adoption of Thomistic language and thought shortly after the Angelic Doctor’s death. Some clergy at the time thought this was radical and dangerous!
So how do we avoid these two extremes? It’s tough. It feels like walking on a knife’s edge. We have to both see the signs of the times and respond to them in a prophetic way that transcends them.
At the end of the day, the best thing to do is follow the magisterium — the ENTIRE magisterium — from the earliest centuries of the Church to the present day.
We won’t always do it perfectly. We are, after all, sinners.
But we at least have to try.