Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Taking the Name of Jesus in Vain

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 30, 2009

Have you ever noticed the frequency with which those Catholics who reject the Magisterium of the Church insert the name of “Jesus” into every discussion in order to seize the moral high ground? Yes, I’m stating this pretty baldly, but it is a real pattern. If anybody insists on the Church’s teaching that homosexual acts are seriously sinful, they’ll soon learn that JESUS would have welcomed homosexuals. Or if anyone condemns abortion as intrinsically evil, and so decries the voting records of pro-abortion politicians, they’ll hear on every side that JESUS has compassion on women who face difficult decisions about childbirth.

Jesus, so the implication runs, does not think the way magisterial Catholics do. Never mind that such assertions of Our Lord’s consistent love are, in the context, gigantic non-sequiturs. They are, for all that, non-sequiturs with a purpose—the purpose of causing us to imagine that sin is not so bad, or that what we judge as sinful really isn’t sinful at all, or that the only significant sin is making judgments about what is sinful. There is enough confusion here to sink the barque of Peter—assuming, of course, that the barque of Peter could be sunk. For the sake of brevity, I’ll deal with only two bits of this confusion here.

First, it is spiritually unproductive to set Our Lord’s love over and against moral judgments. Jesus Christ loves all of us all of the time, and it is precisely because He loves us that he wills that we repent of our sins and abandon the attachments to evil which lead us away from Him, away from Goodness, away from Life itself. It goes without saying that good Catholics are very much at fault if they write off homosexuals or abortive women (or any other sinner, including pro-abortion politicians) as persons unworthy of God’s love. Personally, I’ve not seen much evidence of that failing lately. Our secular culture opposes most of our judgments, and so sensitizes us very quickly to the need to honor the crucial Christian distinction between the sin and the sinner, hating the one and loving the other—indeed, hating the one in direct proportion to our love for the other, in the manner of Jesus Christ Himself.

Second, it is spiritually unproductive to attempt to distinguish the teachings of Christ from the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church. There are a great many doctrinal and moral issues on which we have no precise knowledge of Christ’s position apart from the clarifications of the Magisterium over time. Christ Himself said that he would send the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth (Jn 16:13); He built His Church on Peter the rock (Mt 16:18), giving him the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt 16:19) and praying for Peter so that he could confirm his brethren in the Faith (Lk 22:32); He authorized Peter and the other apostles to bind and loose (Mt 16:19, 18:18); and he told his apostles, “He who hears you, hears me” (Lk 10:16). The Church is the mystical body of Christ, with Christ’s vicar at her head until He comes in glory.

The Magisterium of the Church, then, is Christ’s own voice clarifying issues critical to the Christian life over time. If we appeal to the Magisterium on life issues such as abortion, contraception, embryonic research, euthanasia, assisted suicide, or on social issues such as subsidiarity, solidarity, the right to private property or the universal destination of goods, we appeal to Christ, who—as far as we know—never used any of these words while He walked on earth. He didn’t need to, because He founded a Church to carry on His mission after His return to the Father.

Christ’s admonition to the sinner is always the same: “Go, and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11); “Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you” (Jn 5:14). When we cite the Magisterium of the Church, Christian Tradition, or even Scripture itself in order to distinguish right from wrong with respect to the pressing moral issues of our day, we are citing Christ Himself and for exactly the same purpose: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). In fact, we rightly say of the authority of the Church exactly what Christ Himself said of His own authority at the very dawn of the Christian era:

The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Mt 12:41-42)

The last state of “this evil generation” may well be worse than its first (Mt 12:45), unless it ceases to be evil. For not only is it impossible to set Christ against the judgment of His Church: In the end, there is no consolation in doing so.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Jan. 04, 2010 7:17 PM ET USA

    They have concentrated the Gospel into one verse: Matthew 7:1 "Judge not, lest ye be judged." And so they do not desire God's mercy, because they presume that God will not judge them.

  • Posted by: sparch - Dec. 30, 2009 2:08 PM ET USA

    It sounds as though you have been spending too much time on the National Catholic Reporter site. I too find it odd that those in the Church who oppose the Church always drop the Jesus card, usually in a way that is uninformed and misrepresents Christianity and Catholicism. It becomes increasingly evident that those who ascribe their own personal meaning to Scripture and broadcast it to the world would do well to study what the Church says first and spend time reflecting on it.