Does The Church Need To Keep Up With The Times?

Or Does Our Culture Need To Keep Up With The Timeless?

By:  Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Get With The Times

“That old-fashioned, dusty, out-of-it, stuck-in-the-mud Church just has to get with it! She’s got to keep up with the times or she is going to lose folks!”

How often have you heard that?  I hear it at almost every reception, dinner, or meeting I go to, or read some version of it every time I peruse magazines, newspapers, and  blog-sites, or listen to radio or TV.

What About Vatican Two?

A subset of this chant is that Good Pope John and the Second Vatican Council were well on their way to making those radical changes in the Church, making it more “relevant and up-to-date,” until that “indecisive” Pope Paul VI, that “closed-minded Pole,” John Paul II, and that “authoritative Panzerkardinal,” Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) ruined it all with their oppressive conservatism!

Of course, as is clear from Blessed Pope John XXIII’s moving address solemnly opening the Second Vatican Council — an event we will celebrate on October 11 this year, now the Feast day of Blessed John XXIII, as we open the Year of Faith,the council was actually called to determine how the timeless deposit of faith could be more effectively transmitted, without compromising or diluting its integrity.  And, according to the teaching of the council itself, it is the pope, united with the bishops of the Church, who are to give and provide the genuine interpretation and implementation of the council’s meaning.

To be sure, Pope John XXIII did distinguish between the content of the Faith — which cannot change — and the way it’s presented, which, indeed, did have to “keep up with the times.”  The genuine renewal in liturgy, catechetics, and theology regarding the laity, marriage, religious life, priesthood, and the Church itself, were all efforts to do that, and is still going on, thank God.

The Divine Mission Of The Church Is Not To Alter Her Teachings

What is clear is that the Church’s divine mission is not to alter her teaching to “keep up with the times,” but to deepen its conformity to what God has revealed in the Bible, the teachings of Jesus, Natural Law, and the Magisterium of the Church.

Our challenge is hardly to change God’s revelation to conform to our whims, or the “changing times,” but to change our lives to conform to His designs.

Here’s the refreshing surprise: the Church’s so-called “old fashioned ideas” are actually more timely, urgent, and “ahead of the curve” than ever!

Let me give a few illustrations:

–  The Church teaches that couples should save “living together” and sexual intimacy until marriage. Such a moral approach, as you know, is scoffed at as silly, impractical, and repressive. In fact, “up-to date” thinking posits that it’s good for a couple to cohabitate before marriage. Not only does it save money, but the couple gets to know each other better, and grows more compatible, leading to a happier, more permanent marriage! Right?

Wrong!  Turns out, the Church is wise. It was no Catholic journal, but — just the opposite — the New York Times (April 15, 2012, BW SR, 4) that reported the somber statistics that living together before marriage leads to high rates of marital unhappiness and divorce! So much for the “wisdom of keeping up with the times.”

–  A woman in her late thirties went to her parish priest for help and encouragement. She and her husband, married five happy years, desperately wanted children, and had tried everything.  She honestly admitted that she had lived a very promiscuous life from high school until she met her husband-to-be, and had avoided pregnancy with daily use, for fifteen years, of every contraceptive pill and device available.  Now, her most recent reproductive clinician tells her somberly that such prolonged use had probably damaged her body to such an extent that she cannot conceive.  And she readily admits to her parish priest that she mocked the Church’s teaching on chemical/mechanical contraception!  She has concluded that the Church’s respect for the natural integrity of the body is hardly “old fashioned” at all.

– A man in hospice tells me his deep regrets. He had left his wife and kids a decade ago. His drive was money, prestige, property, and a younger, prettier wife. An old priest friend he had gone to high school with had tried to talk him out of his “jet-set-life-style” years ago, warning him that his life without faith and morals, his worship of money and pleasure, would destroy him. The dying man tells me he dismissed his old priest-friend as “out-of-it,” chanting that “times have changed,” and that the “old traditional ways” were discredited, that the Church had to “get with it.”  And now he is dying alone, recalling the words of Jesus, “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his soul.”  He admits it:  the Church was right after all.

The Church is not “out-of-it,” but actually right smack in the middle of it, and really way ahead of us, since she has her eyes on the eternal. She is a seasoned, wise, loving mother, founded by the One who claimed to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” She — the Church — hardly has to change her wisdom; we need to change our lives. Forget “keeping up with the times” in faith and morals. Rather, “keep up with the timeless!”

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6 comments to Does The Church Need To Keep Up With The Times?

  • Teresa

    Holy Innocence Church in NY is now at the top of this list of ‘parish closings’. Holy Innocence is a ‘traditional’ parish that offers and EF of the Mass as well as the OF. The kicker in all this is that the parishioners of that parish have put their blood, sweat and tears into renovating the parish and turned it around into a thriving parish. It’s growing, and they are in the black financially. Cardinal Dolan quickly sent the priest assigned to the parish packing with a negative letter to his superiors when he told the parishioners to fight to keep it open. (and in a charitable way, as I read his homily) Another kicker is that a parish in the same area that is an openly gay promoting parish will stay open. And another parish that is promoting the gay pride parade and serves the gay community, also in the same area is the parish he wants to merge with Holy Innocence. Something is TERRIBLY TERRIBLY WRONG with this whole thing.
    Cardinal Dolan is not the traditional Cardinal that he first led us on to believe when he was assigned to NY.

    Yes indeed, let’s OPEN THE WINDOWS AND LET THE FRESH AIR IN!!!! Wonder if we could please keep out the foul stench while we’re at it??!! Seriously, this is a real SCANDAL. It’s really disgusting.

  • TG

    Smogdew, I agree with you. Every Sunday I struggle with the distractions you discussed. One of the few good things about Vatican II is that more Catholics are encouraged to read the Bible and have a personal relationship with our Lord. I don’t remember that being emphasized when I attended Catholic school in the 60’s,

  • Mary Melton

    I think Bill O’Reilly has a point below. Why is it that our church leaders are so reluctant to stand up for our faith in the face of the media? I think they would be pleasantly surprised how many Catholics and non-Catholics would be supportive and energized by their courage. We need to pray for our Bishops and Priests.

    Bill O’Reilly

    On Jan. 8, 1962, President John F. Kennedy wrote a letter celebrating the work of James Cardinal Gibbons, who died in 1921. Kennedy, who rarely discussed his Catholicism, did so while describing the Cardinal: “He nobly expresses the essential traditions of my church in the United States … the deep sympathy for the plight of the working man and of minorities, the steady concern for the betterment of society and mankind.”

    Thus, it was somewhat startling to see JFK’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy, invoke her father’s name and describe herself as a “Catholic woman” while espousing a passionate defense of abortion rights at the Democratic convention. President Kennedy never publicly commented on abortion, and indeed, his brother Teddy was ardently pro-life when he began his political career. Of course, that changed over time as Sen. Kennedy evolved into a liberal lion and enthusiastically entered the pro-choice den.

    Caroline Kennedy has to know that the Catholic Church condemns abortion. It is a mortal sin in the eyes of the institution. There is no debate on that. So for Ms. Kennedy to describe herself as a Catholic woman in the context of promoting “reproductive rights” is a direct insult to her religion. Why would she do that? Other Catholic politicians such as Mario Cuomo say they don’t personally believe in abortion but respect the legal process that allows it. Not so with Caroline Kennedy. She openly told the world that she is an abortion crusader; the stated belief of her church be damned.

    A Gallup poll says 24 percent of practicing Catholics believe abortion is morally acceptable. At first glance, that’s hard to fathom, but not when you analyze the landscape. After Caroline Kennedy’s speech, not one American Catholic leader publicly criticized her. There was complete silence from the Archbishops. Given a huge opportunity to explain why all life should be considered sacred and why Ms. Kennedy is misguided to say the least, the clerics passed. Call it the silence of the lambs.

    It was obvious at the Democratic convention that President Obama and the Democratic Party are extremely bullish on “reproductive rights” and are using the issue to promote a fabricated “war on women” by the Republican Party. In response, the GOP has little to offer. It fears being branded “anti-woman.”

    But theologians don’t have to run for office or curry favor with any group. They supposedly have a moral obligation to define their beliefs and stand up for what they consider God’s will. Abortion eliminates life. That’s what the procedure does. Human DNA is present upon conception. If the Catholic Church believes that abortion is against what God intended, then it should be just as adamant about stating its case as Caroline Kennedy is about stating hers.
    It is not.

  • Br. Christopher Sale

    Cardinal Dolan is great. If the church needs to make a U-turn and fast.
    If someone ask are we better off now in the church I would say NO! The church was a much better place some 40 years ago.

  • smogdew

    I had a big problem with Vatican II, I could not handle it & left the Church. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (so the saying goes). When I returned two decades later, I saw wider gaps and a liberalness that makes me yearn for years ago.
    I don’t know how the Church can say Vatican II enhanced the Mass….to me, people show such disrespect it makes one want to cry.
    Our laity run my church – the priest says nothing – about the lack of clothing, leaving after Communion (to get to the beach), incessant and loud talking before Mass. They enumerate the qualities of a new temporary Priest to the Pastor – instead of being on their knees and grateful we have him. One elderly Priest actually apologized to the ‘flock’ for ‘boring them’….Can you imagine? It goes on and on –

  • KM

    Bravo, Cardinal Dolan!

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