Most of us are familiar with the following Bible verse:
The Lord God gave man this order: “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.” (Gn 2:16-17)
Have you ever thought about how that verse applies to us today? In his 1986 encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem , Pope John Paul II offers some insight into this passage:
According to the Book of Genesis, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” was to express and constantly remind man of the “limit” impassable for a created being. God’s prohibition is to be understood in this sense: the Creator forbids man and woman to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The words of the enticement, that is to say the temptation, as formulated in the sacred text, are an inducement to transgress this prohibition-that is to say, to go beyond that “limit”: “When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God ["like gods"], knowing good and evil.”
“Disobedience” means precisely going beyond that limit, which remains impassable to the will and the freedom of man as a created being. For God the Creator is the one definitive source of the moral order in the world created by him. Man cannot decide by himself what is good and what is evil-cannot “know good and evil, like God.”
Hardly a day goes by when we don’t hear of a Catholic politician publicly dissent from the Church’s teaching on any number of issues. The current U.S. Vice President and Speaker of the House are prime examples. They have decided that they know better than the Church on the issue of abortion. I was reading an online article on a newspaper website when one of our bishops criticized a government official for supporting international funding for contraception and abortion. The online comments on the article attacked the bishop mercilessly. Sadly, many of these comments were written by Catholics who feel that they also know better than the Church founded by Jesus Christ.
How many of you know people in your own lives who ignore the infallible Church teachings on premarital sex and artificial birth control? How about Catholics who get divorced and “remarried” outside of the Church? Many of these individuals continue to receive The Lord in Holy Communion, ignoring the Church teaching that they are committing a grave sin. They all know better than the Church.
The reality of the situation is that despite what Mr. Biden, Ms. Pelosi or any other Catholic may feel, the Church has the authority to set moral laws for its members. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (and the Code of Canon Law) :
The Church, the “pillar and bulwark of the truth,” “has received this solemn command of Christ from the apostles to announce the saving truth.” “To the Church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls.”
(CCC 2032, CIC 747)
No matter how you and I feel, we don’t know better than the one true Church founded by Jesus and granted the authority to teach authoritatively. “Cafeteria Catholicism” is a serious problem in today’s world and we should be careful to avoid falling victim to it. One of the best things that we can do is provide a good example by following all of the Church’s teachings. If it is necessary to point out the error of someone’s ways, we should always, always, always remember to be charitable and prudent. Many times Catholics don’t understand the teachings of the Church and it may be up to us to gently enlighten them.
All of us will stand before God someday and have to account for our actions in this life. I don’t know about you, but the last thing that I want is to try to explain why I “knew better” than His Church in deciding what’s good and evil!