When our nation’s political and cultural divisions strain goodwill and basic charity towards others, it may be helpful to turn our attention to an institution that considers politics and social issues as important, yet secondary concerns.
Yes, the Catholic Church regularly takes stands on contentious moral issues, but she does so from motivations that transcend politics. Any position she takes flows from prior fundamental beliefs about the nature of reality, the goodness of creation, the dignity of humanity, the reality of free will, sin, forgiveness and life everlasting.
From these foundational starting points the church must necessarily turn her attention to virtually every aspect of life — spiritual, moral, social, scientific and practical. No sphere of reality lies outside her bailiwick, for as Saint Augustine famously said, “All truth is God’s truth.” Yet, in focusing on these issues, the church does so from unwavering fundamental starting points.
With regards to her view of human beings, the church is radically loving because of the profound dignity she recognizes in each person. Given the church’s belief in free will and the primacy of one’s conscience, she does not coerce faith. She proposes the truth about God and human nature to the world but she does not impose or mandate belief.
Just as God leaves us free to accept or reject his love, the church does likewise. That does not mean she agrees or approves. Rather, she seeks to embrace the very ones who radically disagree in hopes of bringing them around to Christ and his church.
Lastly, the church is unquestionably the most diverse institution on the planet. With more than 1.6 billion members speaking countless languages in every nation she is the embodiment of diversity. This flows from what she affirms — that all people are created in the image and likeness of God. It follows that all people of the world are called to life everlasting with their Heavenly Father.
It is true that not all individual Catholics perfectly embody these ideals. While founded and guided by Christ, the church is also made up of fallen, broken people who struggle to live according to the truths they profess. Pride, envy, anger and all the ancient vices raise their ugly heads even among the faithful. Nevertheless, the timeless affirmations of the church serve to correct, guide and heal human brokenness.
In short, the very nature and mission of the church calls humankind to a higher and more perfect way. Given that all people are created in the image of God, the church is relentless in urging us to perfect friendship and union with each other and with our Creator.
So, yes, the church must, from time to time, enter contentious cultural discussions, but only and always as an advocate for people from all sides of the debate. When she opposes a bill, an initiative, a political policy or social movement she does so with the good of all in mind. She does not view any person as the enemy. When she speaks, she does so from core convictions about God and the nature of humankind.
When those who oppose the church walk away from a disagreement with her they should do so with the sure knowledge that they are loved and respected. With good reason the church has long been called “Mother.”