It was the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius of Loyola, who coined the phrase Sentire Cum Ecclesia (To think with the Church). In one section of his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius describes the proper attitude that the believer should have toward the teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. I take the time to illustrate a quote from Rules for Thinking with the Church from these Spiritual Exercises:
That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black. For we must undoubtedly believe, that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of the Orthodox Church His Spouse, by which Spirit we are governed and directed to Salvation, is the same. (Thirteenth Rule)
I bring this up because I have all too often seen in our Church times where various people have taken a position opposed to an official Church teaching (regarding faith and morals) and justified it by saying that they are following their conscience. It is absolutely true that we must always follow our conscience, but it is also true that we must do what is in our power to be sure that our consciences are rightly formed. For Catholics, this includes our awareness of and ascent to the teaching authority (magisterium) of the Catholic Church.
I look at it this way. The Catholic Church has been around a lot longer than I have been. Its collective wisdom and teaching from over 2000 years is more than my finite mind and limited intelligence could ever grasp.
I believe the Church was established by Jesus Christ and that He is still with it to guide it and protect it. “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mk. 28:20) His Holy Spirit remains with and guides the Church. “. . . (Jesus) breathed on (the disciples) and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit.’” (Jn. 20:22)
Just because “I” may not grasp something or see the reason for some teaching at some particular point in my life, I humbly bow to the authority of the Church while I continue to pursue a deeper understanding of the matter. God gave us a mind (and intelligence) to ask questions and to pursue knowledge—and we should use it. But I am (hopefully) wise enough to know that as a mere individual I may not always be right and I need the guidance of the Church to keep me on the right path.
It is true that individual members of the Church—even including members of the hierarchy—may not always live up to the official teachings of the Church. This never means, however, that the doctrine or moral guidance of the Church becomes invalid or less necessary for our salvation.
The times we live in are tough enough and there are so many forces that try to trivialize, mock, and undermine the Church and its teaching authority. I take consolation, however, in knowing that Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death and that He remains with His Church.
It is my decision to stay with that Church as well.
Fr. Ed Namiotka
St. Ignatius of Loyola