On choosing gods and churches

At Wednesday’s general audience, the Holy Father recalled the time when God called Moses to Mount Sinai to deliver the ten commandments:

While the Lord is giving the Law to Moses on the mountain, at the foot of the mountain the people sin. Unable to endure the wait and the absence of the mediator [i.e. Moses], the Israelites demand of Aaron, “make us a god who will be our leader; as for the man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him” (Ex 32:1). Tired of a journey with an invisible God, now that even Moses, the mediator, is absent, people are demanding a tangible presence, something that can be touched, the Lord, and seek it in the golden calf made by Aaron, a god made accessible, operable, within human reach. This is a constant temptation in the path of faith—to elude the divine mystery by constructing for ourselves a comprehensible God, more compliant with their own projects and plans.

The temptation is always present, even today. It does not always come in so overt a form, however; no less than when we explicitly fashion a new god (perhaps of money, or fashion, or worldly success), the same principle is in play when we try to make God more convenient to ourselves. For example, we can do this by downplaying the hard sayings (cf. Jn 6:60), or by “reimagining” God in a manner more conducive to ourselves and our preferences (cf. this). It is not hard to see why many leave the Catholic Church: The Church is difficult. She is demanding. But if her teaching is correct, then we must echo her first shepherd: We cannot leave in the face of hard teachings, for “to whom else shall we go?” (Jn 6:68; cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 14 (2d Vatican Council, 1964).) One does not choose the Catholic Church in the manner one might shop around for a protestant community that is aesthetically and doctrinally appealing; I am not on her doorstep because it is convenient and comely. To accept the teaching of the Catholic Church includes acceptance of her ecclesiology (cf. MP: Revealed preference and the peril of interest capture¶ 3 (June 3, 2011))—the role and authority of the Church as a component of revealed truth and all that implies for our relationship with her. John Haran put it appealingly in The One Church and Reunion Movements, 1 Theological Studies 278, 283 (1940):  “[M]an is not free to work out his own idea of God, nor of God’s revelation, nor of God’s Church. Man must be saved God’s way, not select a convenient formula for himself.”