The Catholic Church has always seemed to me to be like the solid Rock of Gibralter — stable and permanent.
St. Peter, the Rock, and the Roman Catholic Church share the stability of the Rock of Gibraltar
Even though we live in a world of constant change and are able to adapt ourselves to it, most of us feel more at home with the familiar, the old, the predictable. In the midst of change, we seek, at least, a certain amount of stability, permanence. Thus, yuppies who have left the farm or small town for the excitement of the big city, flock home for the holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas—to relax in an atmosphere of familiarity and stability.
We find traces of the same thing in the Catholic Church. For centuries, the Church has been a model of stability and permanence. Kings, empires, and governments come and go, but the universal Church remains, and remains the same. This is preeminently true of her doctrine, her Seven Sacraments, her basic moral teaching about the Ten Commandments. True, there have been some modifications and adaptations, but these have been in the area of the accidentals of the Church, if I might so call them, because of the gradual change in culture. The Catholic Church has always seemed to me to be like the solid Rock of Gibralter — stable and permanent. Gibralter might get rained on, it might turn hot or cold, depending on the weather, but basically it always remains the same rock—it doesn’t move out to sea. The Church is like that.
In our time, however, we have witnessed massive changes in the Catholic Church—changes that no one would have dreamed possible 50 years ago. I know that the Church has not changed substantially in any way. For example, she has not abandoned belief in the Trinity, in the divinity and humanity of Jesus united in the Person of the Word, and so forth. The problem today, however, is not the reality, but the appearance. The Catholic Church appears to have changed substantially from what she was before Vatican II. So we have a very serious problem of perception. For many people in our mass-media society, appearance is the reality. Thus, they think the Church has changed in some basic areas—such as sexual morality or the doctrine on purgatory—whereas, in fact, she has not changed at all.
Where do these false perceptions come from? Often, they come from superficial or false reports in the media; from false propaganda spread about by dissident Catholic intellectuals; from erroneous teaching in Catholic schools on all levels; and from biased preaching in our parishes. To counter this trend, Pope John Paul II, the Pope of Truth, told bishops and priests during his pontificate that they should preach the whole truth about God, Christ and the Church. One of the reasons for the present abysmal religious ignorance among so many Catholics is precisely that many bishops and priests, or their surrogates, have not done that. If they had done it, the Pope would not have to correct them.
Change and permanence: there is always a certain tension between them in this life. Immersed in change, we long for that which is lasting. Our false prophets of change will be carried away by the very change they glorify. But the one Church of Christ will remain until the end of time. Our task as priests and preachers of Jesus Christ is, first, to live, and then to proclaim, the true and unchanging Good News of salvation. In Jesus, there is hope of union with God and eternal life, which we celebrate especially during the Easter Season. In all things else, there is emptiness and ultimate disappointment.