Some years ago I preached a sermon that covered the Christian and Biblical teaching on Hell. I believe the Gospel that day was from Matthew 7:13ff wherein Jesus warns that we should strive to enter through the narrow gate and declares that, “The road that leads to destruction is wide and many follow it. But the road that leads to salvation is narrow and the way is hard and how few there are who find it. I preached what I thought was a very balanced teaching on hell and also the reason it made sense as a doctrine. After the Mass a woman approached me and said, “I didn’t hear the Jesus I know in your words today.” “But mam,” I said, “I was quoting Jesus!’ Unfazed she replied, “We know he never really said those words, the Church merely invented them to scare us.”
There is a tendency for many to “privatize” the faith today. The faith communally declared and held by the Church is considered adaptable by them. They chose rather to have a private faith, a personal doctrine. Pope’s bishops, catechisms and creeds are all rejected in favor of a private, personal and ultimately self-serving and egotistical private doctrine. Those who scoff at the need for a Pope become pope themselves. Not content with the faith revealed in the Scriptures and in Church teaching have chosen to refashion the faith in a way that pleases them. In effect they invent their own religion and their own “designer” god. The God of the Bible does not suit them, so they make up a new one. I think the Scriptures have a word for crafting your own God and worshiping it: “idolatry.”
Bishop Tobin of Providence Rhode Island has entered into a rather public discussion with Congressman Patrick Kennedy who claims that he is still a faithful Catholic despite a consistent record of voting to fund abortion. In his own words Kennedy says, The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic. Hmm…sounds like privatized religion to me. The communal consensus of Catholic faith going back 2000 years is not “essential” to his being a Catholic. Rather, he has a privatized faith. Bishop Tobin, his bishop, has rejected any such notion and strongly teaches that one cannot merely redefine Catholicism according to their own whim. Here are excerpts from his statement released today:
….[W]hen someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church….The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” says this: “Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles, ‘He who hears you, hears me,’ the faithful receive with docility the teaching and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.” (#87)….If you don’t accept the teachings of the Church [Congressman] your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you “less of a Catholic.”….Being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.
Congressman, I’m not sure whether or not you fulfill the basic requirements of being a Catholic….Your letter also says that your faith “acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity.” Absolutely true. But in confronting your rejection of the Church’s teaching, we’re not dealing just with “an imperfect humanity” – as we do when we wrestle with sins such as anger, pride, greed, impurity or dishonesty. We all struggle with those things, and often fail. Your rejection of the Church’s teaching on abortion falls into a different category – it’s a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you’ve re-affirmed on many occasions. Sorry, you can’t chalk it up to an “imperfect humanity.” Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your communion with the Church.
Perhaps most key to our discussion here are these words of Bishop Tobin: being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. But many today do not want to be part of a community with clearly defined authority and and doctrine. They want instead a private religion that answers to no one. They want a religion they can define on their own and still claim to belong to the community, a community they really want little to do with if it comes to soemthing they don’t like. Some go even further and insist on a designer God who has exactly their understanding, their priorities, their views. This god is made in their own image and is an idol. The “Jesus I know” over-rules the Jesus of Scripture. The reinvented god trumps the God revealed in the Scriptures.
Privatized religion and a designer God, these are surely signs that point to the arrogance and ego-centricity of our times. The challenge for all of us is to have the true faith, the faith of the Church, the faith and the God revealed in Scripture. Anything less is privatized religions, worse yet heresy’ a designer God, worse yet, idolatry.