John 15:20-21: “Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know him who sent me.” (Image: Henryk Siemiradzki, “Martyrdom of Saints Timothy and Maura”, 1885)
Call me paranoid, but I sometimes feel like it is not only Protestants who are in protest against Catholicism, but the whole world.
When I stop to analyze this feeling I realize that there is an argument to be made. If Catholicism embraces the whole truth wherever it appears, then it is going to offend everybody who can’t stand that particular truth. Consequently, if Catholicism embraces the whole truth everywhere, then it is bound to offend almost everybody everywhere who only hold to part of the truth or to a distorted part of the truth.
This was hammered home to me in a most gentle manner by a Benedictine abbot. I was an Anglican priest at the time and I was debating in my own mind the issue of women’s ordination. I wanted to accept it because I always want to give everything the benefit of the doubt, affirm and not deny and all that good stuff. But Abbot Leo said, “Sometimes to affirm a greater truth you have to deny a lesser good.”
So, for example, to affirm the apostolic ministry you have to affirm the male only priesthood. To do this you have to exclude women from the priesthood. This raises the ire of all sorts of people who mean well and also want something good—they are in favor of equal rights, recognize women’s gifts, want an inclusive Church, etc. It is therefore the tricky process of discerning the greater good and the higher truth which helps us to distinguish the hierarchy of truths and make right decisions.
The Catholic Church is doing this all the time, and all the time making enemies. This is because the world sees truths as being mutually exclusive: “If you are in favor of marriage, you can’t be in favor of homosexual marriage, and if you are against homosexual marriage (says the worldling) you must be against homosexuality and therefore you must hate homosexuals.”
Not really. We’re in favor of marriage and human life so we’re opposed to those things which destroy marriage and human life. We’re also in favor of people loving one another, treating everyone with respect, and we’re okay with same-sex friendship and we’re also in favor of tolerance and fair treatment of all people—including homosexuals.
Along with the hierarchy of truth is the principle of loving all things according to their worth. The wise Catholic isn’t really against anything. He’s for everything–and loves all things according to their worth.
Think it through for a moment. Is it a piece of trash? I love it according to its worth. Its true value is trash. Trash is for being thrown out. We’re for everything good and beautiful and true, and as a result we’re opposed to anything that destroys that which is beautiful, good and true. We’re not against it as such—we’re opposed to it as the equal and opposite reaction to being in favor of what is beautiful, good and true.
So, for example, we’re pro-life. We’re in favor of marriage and men and women and babies and creativity and productivity and joy and happiness and family life. This positivity in itself means we’re opposed to abortion and promiscuity and prostitution and rape and everything which destroys those good things.
Because the worldlings do not have a hierarchy of truth, they cannot discern the greater goods from the lesser goods, and have no tools to discern the evil distortions to the good which are sometimes permitted or endorsed in the search for some lesser good. So, for example, a person who is ‘pro-choice’ ostensibly wants to help poor women in crisis pregnancies. They want to help women have a better chance to advance in life. They want to help poor women overcome a problem that will keep them in poverty. If they understood the hierarchy of truth they would see that the right to life is the most fundamental and basic truth, and that the noble desire to help the poor woman in a crisis pregnancy cannot supersede the infant’s right to life.
This is why Catholics must always brace themselves to be misunderstood, reviled and persecuted—because those who are serving lesser goods will always be at war against the greater good that puts their cause in the shadow. They will perceive that the Catholic Church’s natural opposition (because of the greater good they proclaim) as a negativity.
And quite naturally they will be angry and fight back.
So, if you want to be a faithful Catholic, buckle up your sword and take your shield. There’s going to be a battle.