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The Church says what?

If you’re like me, more than once during your faith journey you’ve found yourself challenged by a Church teaching.

Back in February I received a summons for jury duty in the Aurora theater trial. Knowing that the prosecution was seeking the death penalty for the accused, James Holmes, I did some homework and discovered that I would be released because I am unalterably opposed to it. In the process, I did some research on the Church’s teaching on the issue and found myself confused.

The Catechism says “. . . the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”


The Catechism does go on to say, “If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means.”

It was confusing that the Church would ever allow for the death penalty, and I was tempted to get fixated on it. But I know better, because in my faith journey, I’ve found that such confusion leads me to one of two places: Satan’s playground, or God’s lap.

If I try to resolve confusion on my own, it always grows. Satan loves confusion, so leaving it to my mental devices thrills him. But if I turn the matter over to God, and cooperate with his guidance and direction, confusion leads to clarity or peace.

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In his divine wisdom, God designed our Church with a breadth of spiritual resources that are far deeper than anything I could tap into using my finite mind. I have a broad, spiritual toolbox to turn to when I find myself challenged or confused by a Church teaching:

The consecrated—During this Year of Consecrated Life I’m reminded that those who profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are models for me when I struggle with a Church teaching simply by the way they live out their vows. They can also be resources for spiritual direction. The consecrated were particularly helpful to me with the death penalty issue as my research led me to several articles by Church leaders that provided me with clarity around what the Catechism teaches. I discovered that Archbishop Samuel Aquila called for its repeal in Colorado in May 2013. And in early February, Pope Francis spoke out against it noting that the Catechism’s allowance, which I was tempted to get fixated on, is “practically nonexistent.”

—The word is one of the ways that God reveals himself to me, so opening sacred Scripture is a beautiful way to glean clarity. There are countless stories that reveal his direction to me, particularly on how to trust God in the face of confusion and adversity.

The saints—By their lives and writings these women and men invite me to call on them for help. I can ask them for intercession through prayer, and look at their lives as faithful witnesses. Most of their spiritual journeys are anything but linear, so I can readily find one to turn to for any matter at hand.

The sacraments—Any time of challenge or confusion should prompt me to seek the sacraments more frequently, as I’m more vulnerable to the trappings of the evil one, and these are the means by which I receive divine life. These signs of grace were given to me by Christ himself and bear fruit beyond the moment I receive them.

Each other—God reveals himself to me through the people he puts in my life. I’m reminded of my friend Suzie; in February she took to Facebook to voice her desire for clarity about confusion she had around the Ash Wednesday Gospel reading. What resulted was a series of robust, enlightened responses—a beautiful witness of how God can use us to help one another in our journeys with him.

Prayer—The most powerful and the most necessary tool I have in such times is prayer. God wants all of me, including my vulnerability. To go to him and honestly admit what I am confused and challenged by with a pliable heart is essential.

When I am challenged or confused about a Church teaching and I turn to God with it, one of two things happens. Either he provides clarity, or he provides peace with what I don’t understand. Both are gifts. But when I rely solely on myself for resolution, the confusion always grows.

These challenges are sacred invitations that God uses to draw me closer to him. How I choose to R.S.V.P. makes all the difference.


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