One thing I wish more people would understand about the Catholic Church: It operates on a really big time scale. People think we are bigots and narrow-minded, and I suppose it looks that way, because we have these teachings that seem at odds with the way everybody thinks these days. But remember, to us, “these days” is only the blink of an eye. Roman Catholics see themselves part of a conversation that has been going on for more than 2,500 years. People don’t realize that the changes of Vatican II in the 1960s were millennial events. I mean, things like that happen once in a thousand years. We are now living only 50 years later. That’s not a lot of time to us. We won’t see change like that again for a very long time. Therefore, “don’t be hasty,” we say.
Tolkien’s Ents – tree creatures from The Lord of the Rings – also say don’t be hasty. It takes them many hours to say Hello. They spend the better part of a day deciding that two Hobbit visitors are probably not Orcs. That was frustrating to the Hobbits, understandably.
Like the Ents, the Catholics will take a good long time to consider the ideas of our time. That will be understandably frustrating and confusing to someone on the outside. Pope Francis seems to be saying things to offend everyone! But from our point of view, he is just saying the eternal truths. The things at the core of the doctrine. And yes, they rub against just about everything in the world – the world of today, but also the world of last year, of 2,000 years ago, and of 2,000 years from now. The Church sees itself as not of this world, and therefore, not of this time either.
Look at it this way: We aren’t going to change (“develop”) any particular teaching until we are convinced that the change is fully consistent with the eternal will of God. That’s a tough standard. It takes a long time to judge such a thing. So, we’re sorry to be behind the times, but going slow is just our way.
Just as the Ents have a role to play in the story of Middle-Earth, so too might those of us who go slow on adapting to change. Maybe our contribution is to try to preserve and carry forward the good things that have been around for a long time.