“Gentlemen, hold your faith tightly but your opinions loosely. And may God help you know which is which.” That was advice our moral theology professor gave my class when we were in graduate school. The Second Vatican Council had just ended and this man was seeing many of the lessons he had taught for his entire professional life called into question. I disagreed with much he said but his statement stuck with me. I think I realized it came from a good man who was struggling.
Christian faith is the lived determination to realize God’s promise revealed in the life of Jesus. It entails a vision of life and society summarized in the word justice: every person is treated with love, respect and dignity. To the extent that I trust and am actively committed to that vision, I have faith.
The sticky issue, however, is how to act for the vision we hold. Some elements of a faithful course of action are obvious; others are very un-obvious. Anyone who thinks the path to realizing the Reign of God is simple has never raised children or tried to plot a course to justice in business.
Here’s an example of how one acting in faith still has to make a prudential choice of how to practically proceed. All parents want their children to love one another and would agree that promoting such love is central to faithful parenting. Still, one parent might make a judgment that the best way to encourage love between two fighting children would be to place them in separate rooms to sulk and cool off for a while rather than to force them to kiss and make up on the spot. Another parent, wanting loving children just as much, might make a diametrically opposed decision. Those who live the faith do not possess a specific route to the Reign of God.
This freedom of faith demands a high degree of prudence and an even higher degree of self-honesty. One element of that honesty entails admitting that our decision about the best course of action may be wrong. Nothing substitutes for prudence and honesty. Catholics forget this at times: both our leaders and our general members.