“Keep Up With the Timeless!”

“That old-fashioned, dusty, out-of-it, stuck-in-the-mud Church just has to get with it! She’s got to keep up with the times or she is going to lose folks!”

How often have you heard that?  I hear it at almost every reception, dinner, or meeting I go to, or read some version of it every time I peruse magazines, newspapers, and  blog-sites, or listen to radio or TV.

A subset of this chant is that Good Pope John and the Second Vatican Council were well on their way to making those radical changes in the Church, making it more “relevant and up-to-date,” until that “indecisive” Pope Paul VI, that “closed-minded Pole,” John Paul II, and that “authoritative Panzerkardinal,” Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) ruined it all with their oppressive conservatism!

Of course, as is clear from Blessed Pope John XXIII’s moving address solemnly opening the Second Vatican Council — an event we will celebrate on October 11 this year, now the Feast day of Blessed John XXIII, as we open the Year of Faith,the council was actually called to determine how the timeless deposit of faith could be more effectively transmitted, without compromising or diluting its integrity.  And, according to the teaching of the council itself, it is the pope, united with the bishops of the Church, who are to give and provide the genuine interpretation and implementation of the council’s meaning.

To be sure, Pope John XXIII did distinguish between the content of the Faith — which cannot change — and the way it’s presented, which, indeed, did have to “keep up with the times.”  The genuine renewal in liturgy, catechetics, and theology regarding the laity, marriage, religious life, priesthood, and the Church itself, were all efforts to do that, and is still going on, thank God.

What is clear is that the Church’s divine mission is not to alter her teaching to “keep up with the times,” but to deepen its conformity to what God has revealed in the Bible, the teachings of Jesus, Natural Law, and the Magisterium of the Church.

Our challenge is hardly to change God’s revelation to conform to our whims, or the “changing times,” but to change our lives to conform to His designs.

Here’s the refreshing surprise: the Church’s so-called “old fashioned ideas” are actually more timely, urgent, and “ahead of the curve” than ever! Let me give a few illustrations:

—  The Church teaches that couples should save “living together” and sexual intimacy until marriage. Such a moral approach, as you know, is scoffed at as silly, impractical, and repressive. In fact, “up-to date” thinking posits that it’s good for a couple to cohabitate before marriage. Not only does it save money, but the couple gets to know each other better, and grows more compatible, leading to a happier, more permanent marriage! Right?

Wrong!  Turns out, the Church is wise. It was no Catholic journal, but — just the opposite — the New York Times (April 15, 2012, BW SR, 4) that reported the somber statistics that living together before marriage leads to high rates of marital unhappiness and divorce! So much for the “wisdom of keeping up with the times.”

—  A woman in her late thirties went to her parish priest for help and encouragement. She and her husband, married five happy years, desperately wanted children, and had tried everything.  She honestly admitted that she had lived a very promiscuous life from high school until she met her husband-to-be, and had avoided pregnancy with daily use, for fifteen years, of every contraceptive pill and device available.  Now, her most recent reproductive clinician tells her somberly that such prolonged use had probably damaged her body to such an extent that she cannot conceive.  And she readily admits to her parish priest that she mocked the Church’s teaching on chemical/mechanical contraception!  She has concluded that the Church’s respect for the natural integrity of the body is hardly “old fashioned” at all.

— A man in hospice tells me his deep regrets. He had left his wife and kids a decade ago. His drive was money, prestige, property, and a younger, prettier wife. An old priest friend he had gone to high school with had tried to talk him out of his “jet-set-life-style” years ago, warning him that his life without faith and morals, his worship of money and pleasure, would destroy him. The dying man tells me he dismissed his old priest-friend as “out-of-it,” chanting that “times have changed,” and that the “old traditional ways” were discredited, that the Church had to “get with it.”  And now he is dying alone, recalling the words of Jesus, “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his soul.”  He admits it:  the Church was right after all.

The Church is not “out-of-it,” but actually right smack in the middle of it, and really way ahead of us, since she has her eyes on the eternal. She is a seasoned, wise, loving mother, founded by the One who claimed to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” She — the Church — hardly has to change her wisdom; we need to change our lives. Forget “keeping up with the times” in faith and morals. Rather, “keep up with the timeless!”

23 Responses to ““Keep Up With the Timeless!””

  1. Sharon Zito says:

    Thank you, Your Eminence ! I appreciate you and your leadership in the USCCB, and I am so thankful for the faithfulness to the truth that you and the priests in my parish have in guiding us through these turbulent days….God Bless You !

  2. SOOOO good. Going to post a link to this on my blog for my students at Ashland University

  3. Michelle McCafferty says:

    Cardinal Dolan, Thank you so much for your encouragement and leadership during times that seem overwhelming to us as Catholics trying to live a life of faith.

  4. Ellen Marie says:

    Such an wonderful article. I wish more young and older individuals could read this. This explains our faith so well.

    Thank you for the information, that I can share with those who “have a better idea”.

  5. Your Eminence,

    Thank you for posting this! If only people would take a step back and realize that all those who have criticized the Church in the past are gone along with their movements. But the Church has survived it all (various heresies, the French Revolution, Communism, etc). This is just the latest challenge that the Church is facing, but thanks to good Cardinals like yourself, hopefully we can see it through. Please pray for me, my students and the Church in Korea. Dominus Vobiscum!

  6. Elias says:

    i have enough phylosophical and theological arguments to refute such a claim; however, my counscious makes me admit it: after all, Cardinal Dolan it’s right

  7. Mark Eames says:

    Hi Your Grace,

    What a wonderful article! I have relatively recently become deeply embroiled in my faith through an attempt to create a global social media hub for Catholics (www.awestruckglobal.com). The more I talk about my Catholic faith, the more I hear the counter arguments incorporating societies ‘truisms’, which after all are nothing more than the acceptance of the lowest common denominator. It breaks my heart that people just cannot see, but more likely do not want to see. Instead the all consuming focus on self trumps any other consideration.

    God Bless you in your work and may he continue to fill you will much grace, wisdom, and perseverance!

  8. Nick says:

    Long live the Catholic Church! The biblical roots of the freedom of Christ:

    God will give me freedom and peace from those who war against me, though there are many who oppose me.

    for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.

    Were you a slave when you were called? Do not be concerned but, even if you can gain your freedom, make the most of it.

    But if someone says to you, “This was offered in sacrifice,” do not eat it on account of the one who called attention to it and on account of conscience; I mean not your own conscience, but the other’s. For why should my freedom be determined by someone else’s conscience?

    Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

    For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

    For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.

    But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what he does.

    So speak and so act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom.

    Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil, but as slaves of God.

    They promise them freedom, though they themselves are slaves of corruption, for a person is a slave of whatever overcomes him.

  9. Ismael says:

    What does “keep up with the times” even mean and is it always good.

    If I go to Germany 1940 and I say Jews should be treated fairly a Nazi supporter would say: “Keep up with the times! Jews are not people like us, we are the superior German folk”

    This is an extreme exaple, yet just because ‘everybody is doing it’ and ‘the times have changed’, it does not mean that everybody is doing the right thing and that the times always change for the better.

    Indeed the Church should keep up with the timeless, the eternal, not human flims.

  10. Scotty Ellis says:

    Once upon a time, I was able to get past a motion detector by moving so slowly that my movements were below its detection threshold.

    Despite claims otherwise, any study of Church history reveals that the Church has changed – and quite a bit. These changes usually occur slowly enough that it is not surprising that a particular generation does not notice it. However, a glance at the grand scheme shows numerous alterations in what the Church considers necessary parts of the Faith and morals.

    The strong, Papal and conciliar condemnation of usury – or, indeed, and form of interest at all – is no longer of any concern to the Church.

    The one-time belief in a literal “Biblical cosmology” (which happened to be the Ptolemaic system) was a matter of such importance to the Faith that the Inquisition prosecuted those who explicitly denied it. Now, of course, the Church has come to its senses and recognizes the truth of new models of the universe.

    Just last century, anti-modernist Popes wrote explicitly that Catholics must believe in a literal Adam and Eve. Then just months ago Cardinal Pell flat out admitted that the story should not be taken literally. The Church will not condemn this and stand by its old faith, because it knows it can’t any more than it could support the Inquisition against Galileo.

    The pacifism of the early Church was replaced with the strong Constantinian militarism as the Church grabbed hold of political power, and the persecuted martyr-faith quickly became the new persecuting power.

    Catholicism has slowly altered its own view of its Scriptures; stories that were once understood as quite literal-historical events have been recognized as fabulous or mythological in nature.

    Words and documents are reinterpreted by subtle (or less subtle) wordplays in order to make “no one is saved outside of the Church” mean “even atheists can be saved.”

    Now, the point of this litany is not to provide a laundry list of “gotchas” about the Church. It is, however, meant to show the difficulty of maintaining the standard “the Faith hasn’t changed” line. History has shown that the Church is no different than any other long-lasting religion (its own huzzahs to the contrary aside).

  11. John Jackson says:

    The church should do more than hold out a model of moral perfection. It should provide the spiritual exercises and resources to help people gradually acquire the strength to approach that model. This is the side that seems to have been systematically dismantled, with nothing much that is permanent put in its place, leaving something very cold and empty. It is amazing how much seeking to accommodate the unbelieving and cynical is in practice an unspoken priority of the church, maybe not in faith and morals, but in avoiding giving people anything extra that they might take exception to. If the church had continued with full intensity without looking over its shoulder at the modern world, it would have done much better today. Modern man is generally better educated, and is able and ready to move between different paradigms of communication and truth. The church has important things to do, and would be better getting on and doing them regardless. The church needs to continue to provide succour to help people grow in holiness. There is no future in being reduced to largely a coatpeg and membership club on which well-intentioned worldly things can be hung. It raises the very real question of ‘why bother?’.

  12. One of my students told me he liked a certain priest because the priest didn’t talk about religion, rather he just talked about LIFE.

    The Church talks about Life and how to live it well. I would call this teaching religion!

    Cardinal Dolan, I shall bring Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and tomorrow – into the classroom. The “timeless” is priceless!

    Refresh my heart in Christ!

    Vivian Cuadras

  13. Tony de New York says:

    Well said!

    God bless u.

  14. Rene says:

    Thank you Cardinal Dolan for not being afraid of telling the truth!

  15. Carmen says:

    Very refreshing to read, Cardinal Dolan. Thank you for this and for your continued peacemaking efforts on the political forefront.

  16. Fr Samuel M. Waters says:

    I do not know what you mean by timeless. The Second Vatican Council and the embracing of Modernism has said that everything can be changed/ updated concerning the church and it’s teachings. We have a “new Mass”, we have Bishops, Priest & Religious who are communicating to our faithful things that are against church teaching because of the “changing world/ times”. We as a people are “LOST” and the church in this country at least has done little to nothing to set the record straight!

  17. Julia Brandimarte says:

    Your Eminence

    Thank you for defending our Church in this post. You’re in my prayers. –Julia

  18. Phil says:

    The Church can both keep up with the times, and remain steadfastly loyal to it’s true foundations, by demonstrating it’s faith in the single word that best represents the teachings of Jesus Christ.


    A single word that represents enough challenge to keep all of us busy for the rest of our lives. A single word that is so powerful that it does not require a mountain of ideology to back it up.

    True faith in the power of love can unite Catholics, and render the debates now sweeping the Catholic community unnecessary.

    If the Church wants to reach modern audiences, while remaining loyal to it’s true mission, it should spend 95% of it’s time talking about Catholic Charities, an enterprise that is both truly Catholic, and truly respected by all.

    That’s where the meeting place is between the Church and modern audiences, that’s what people will listen to and hear, love in action. Human beings instinctively know the difference between the talking of the talk, and the walking of the walk.

    Instead, sadly, the Church today seems bent on becoming a political machine whose focus is endless ideological conflict, dividing people, instead of bringing them together.

    Please, less ideology, more love. Fewer sermons, more Catholic charity.

  19. Frances Wingren says:

    Your Excellence, Are the U.S. Catholic Bishops going to declare a 40 day fast before this critical election? It worked for Moses and the faithful in the Phillipines- God is pourng out His Mercy now – His army is following His lead and praying – PLEASE – prayer warriors are waiting for the “official Word”. You are in prayers for those who love Jesus in the Eucharist. Also, will the US Bishops ASK for ADORATION? Their is power in HIS WORD.
    So many faulted consciences will be restored – You are His Instrument – PLEASE
    With love in Jesus through Mama Mary xofran

  20. Frances Wingren says:

    Your Eminence- I will be praying for your response.xofran

  21. Jessica says:

    Your Eminence,
    Awesome post. I whole-heartedly agree. I pray that more people will see how amazing and beautiful Our Lord’s bride truly is.

  22. oliver layden says:

    very skilled piece of writing,and oh so very true.we need reminding of these truths on a regular basis.

    bravo cardinal tim.