Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI possesses a keen ability to summarize the ideas and problems of our times both cogently and succinctly. Consider the following assessment of our age that he made during a 2015 interview:
For the man of today…. things are, in a certain sense, inverted, or rather, man no longer believes he needs justification before God, but rather he is of the opinion that God is obliged to justify himself because of all the horrible things in the world and in the face of the misery of being human, all of which ultimately depend on Him (Benedict XVI, Interview with Jacques Servais, L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, March 2016).
This is quite a profound diagnosis of the hubris of our times. This hubris is apparent among both unbelievers and believers. While Benedict sets the problem in the context of the mystery of evil and suffering, my own experience is that the problem is wider than that. Many people don’t merely demand an accounting from God for the existence of evil, they also demand justification from Him for any teaching of His Scripture or the Church that does not accord with their views. The premise is that the teachings of Scripture and the Church must conform to modern notions or else stand convicted of being out-of-touch, useless, irrelevant, or even intolerant, harsh, and hurtful.
All of this is completely backwards. For any Catholic, it is the world and its views that should be on trial. God should not need to justify His teachings or render an account to us, rather it is the world that should be required to explain how its views do not contradict God.
Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes to us, He will convict the world in regard to sin (Jn 16:8). Therefore, every Catholic should have the world on trial, not God. We should demand that the world justify its views and square them with God’s teachings. Anything that does not agree with what God teaches is to be rejected by us, convicted of being erroneous and set aside in favor of God’s law and teaching.
St. Paul says, Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess 5:21-22). In other words, square everything with the measure of God’s Word and reject anything that is contrary to it while retaining what is good.
Is this what most Catholics do? Sadly, many do just the opposite. The Word of God and the teachings of the Church are put on trial and convicted if they do not conform to worldly thinking, to what is currently popular. If one talks about a text that speaks a truth contrary to modern notions, there is a wide range of reactions: raised eyebrows; objections; scoffing; accusations of insensitivity, intolerance, or hate; demands for retractions and apologies.
This begs the question, “Who is on trial here, God or the world?” Yes, Benedict’s observation about our times stands true. Whereas we once sought grace to be justified before God, many now demand that God justify Himself to us.
In our hubris, we’ve turned the tables on God. It’s time to turn them back in humility. St. Paul reminds us who the true judge is to whom we must render an account:
It matters little to me that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For though I am not aware of anything against myself, I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me (1 Cor 4:5-6).
Make sure you’re on the right side of the judge’s bench.
This portion of Mozart’s Requiem says (translated),
Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth
Through earth’s sepulchers it ringeth
All before the throne it bringeth
When the judge his seat attaineth
And each hidden deed arraigneth
Nothing unavenged remaineth.