The following is free access to Day 29 of our acclaimed series We Believe, a 30-day program that presents 30 common questions that non-Catholics have about the Faith, and gives you the tools to respond to them with truth and love.
On Day 29, Genevieve Netherton and Fr. Ken Geraci of the Fathers of Mercy address the accusation that “Catholics Hate!”
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And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”Luke 15:2
Catholics today often hear a troubling accusation: that the Church “hates” certain things or groups of people.
In truth, the Catholic Church hates no one. She is the Bride of Christ, who was accused of “receiving sinners and eating with them” (Luke 15:2). In imitation of Her Bridegroom, the Church seeks out those who are not yet members (John 10:16) and “goes after lost sheep” (Luke 15:4). Our Heavenly Father desires that all men be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) and His church is united with Him in that desire.
Why, then, are some people convinced that Catholicism is a religion of hate and condemnation?
Where Does the Accusation Come From?
As He did with the woman at the well (John 4), Jesus comes to us where we are, as we are. But He does not leave us as we are. He comes to transform us, and to draw us into His Most Sacred Heart. He spoke frankly to men and women about the reality of their sin during His earthly ministry‐and bestowed complete mercy and forgiveness upon them.
In accordance with the example of Jesus Christ and the authority He gave Her, the Catholic Church exhorts mankind to seek conversion of life and to “sin no more” (John 8:11). She educates us in the commandments of God and the moral ethics that must govern our lives and choices.
It is usually in this context‐the context of the Church as moral authority‐that human beings react negatively to Catholicism. They interpret clear teaching on sin and virtue as a personal attack. And they accuse the Church of harshness or hatred.
A True Understanding of Love
Why do people misunderstand clear moral teachings as being hateful and condemnatory?
There are various reasons. For example, many people think that their personal identity is synonymous with their choices or desires. Therefore when they see that the Church teaches that their particular choice or desire is sinful, they view it as a condemnation of them as a person. They fail to realize that, as human beings created in the image and likeness of God, they have an inherent dignity and worth‐that they are not the sum total of their choices and desires.
But the primary reason for seeing moral teaching as hateful is the confusion today about what it means to love others. People think of love merely as a strong emotional feeling; as an acceptance that sees no need for the loved one to grow or change; as approval of whatever personal decisions or choices they make.
But true love is not soft, fluffy, or sentimental. It is not indulgent. It can seem, at times, tough and demanding.
“Love,” wrote C.S. Lewis, “is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness.” He firmly reminds us that:
Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock
To love is to will the good of another person. Love wants what is best for their eternal soul. It supports, and it challenges. It encourages, and it admonishes. It empathizes, and it chastens. Love knows what we are called to be and is not content when we are unfaithful to our destiny in Christ. Love knows that the truth will set us free (John 8:32) and that sin will ravage us.
That is why it is not loving to encourage someone in their error, to be indifferent when they follow a dangerous path, or to assure them that nothing is wrong with them when we are all sinners in need of God (Romans 3:23).
People are always deserving of respect and courtesy, but we are never supposed to affirm someone in their sin. That is not kindness nor forgiveness.
[C]harity demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communion…The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1829
Yes, individual Catholics‐and even individual Church leaders‐can fail in treating others with respect, courtesy, and gentleness. They are sinners, too. But their failure to love as Christ has called us to does not reflect the Church’s teaching on love. Their failure is in contradiction with the teaching of the Church‐and requires repentance.
As discussed earlier in this series, it’s crucial to distinguish between an individual and the group they belong to‐or an individual and the office they hold. The bad behavior of an individual Catholic is not an accurate reflection of the teachings of the Catholic Church. This is why it is so important to research what the Church actually teaches on moral topics and why, rather than dismiss the Church based on the bad representation of her weak members.
Thou Shalt Not = Our Best Interest
Our fallen nature does not naturally appreciate being corrected, admonished, or called to personal reform. Our instinct is to deny and rationalize before we are willing to examine our consciences. In fact, due to the fall of man, our resulting concupiscence makes us want to rebel and resist.
From our broken human perspective, we tend to see the negative. The “thou shalts and shalt nots” can seem formidable, restrictive, or unnecessarily difficult. But they are not arbitrary rules imposed on us‐they are the path to freedom. They help us remember what we were designed for; they guarantee interior peace and joy. Any supposed happiness that comes from ignoring these moral laws will not last. We will find happiness only when we obey them. We do not, in actual fact, break the commandments‐we break ourselves on them. There is a right way to use our bodies and a right way to exercise the powers of our soul. We damage both when we use them differently or perversely, just as objects designed for a particular purpose are broken or ruined when they are used in an unintended way.
That is why we need the clarity of the moral laws and the assistance of divine grace. We need to remember that every moral law given to us by God through His church is in our best interest‐without exception. In that sense, God’s law for us is synonymous with His love for us.
The moral law is the work of divine Wisdom. Its biblical meaning can be defined as fatherly instruction…It prescribes for man the ways, the rules of conduct that lead to the promised beatitude; it [forbids] the ways of evil which turn him away from God and his love. It is at once firm in its precepts and, in its promises, [is] worthy of love…The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1950, 1953
The moral law finds its fullness and its unity in Christ. Jesus Christ is in person the way of perfection…
The Church is a Good Parent
All good and responsible parents establish family rules for their children. Toddlers and teenagers alike might not understand the reasoning behind certain rules that their parents set‐they have to trust that their parents know what is best for them. With time and maturity, they will understand why such rules were important.
In a similar way, the Church is a good parent. She knows what is best for us and greatly desires the ultimate good and happiness of her children. She knows that our happiness can only be found in following God’s commandments.
Even if we fail to understand why we’re asked to obey something here on earth, we will find‐someday‐that it really was in our best interest and for our own good.
No, the Catholic Church does not hate anyone. Rather, the Church loves all persons deeply, and wants them to be truly happy (eternally) with Christ.