How do we know God's will, especially with regard to our sexuality? It simply wouldn't make sense for God to hold us accountable to his will if we didn't have a sure way of knowing what it is.
In this lies the good news of the Church's teaching: God has revealed his will to us.
Who determines what the Church officially teaches? Aren't we all "the Church"?
Christ gave authority to some members of the Church to be faithful witnesses of all that he has commanded; this is the role of the Church's Magisterium.
This official teaching office is made up of the pope and the bishops throughout the world who are in union with him.
When the pope teaches on issues of faith and morals, and when the bishops teach on faith and morals in union with him, they teach in Christ's name and with his authority.
Yes, all baptized Catholics make up the Catholic Church. We are all "one body" in Christ (see 1 Cor 12:12). This body, however, has a sacred order to it, a hierarchy ("hier-archy" literally means "sacred order").
As St. Paul said, the body of Christ has different members who play different roles (see 1 Cor 12).
All these different roles are vital to the organic functioning of the body: "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you' (1 Cor 12:21). Nor should the eye wish she were a hand, nor the foot wish he were the head.
Those in the Church who teach with the authority of Christ don't claim the task for themselves. They are ordained by God to do so. That's their role within the body. The Magisterium, then, is a tremendous gift to the Church and the world because it gives us a sure way of knowing the teachings of Christ.
Where did the Church get the idea of having a "Magisterium" to give official teachings?
Christ founded his Church upon St. Peter, the leader of the apostles. He gave Peter "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" and told him: "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (see Mt 16:13-20 for the whole discourse).
Christ gave St. Peter the authority to represent him on earth, to teach in his name and with his authority. This wasn't because Peter was an impeccable guy, but because Christ would protect him and the other apostles by sending them the Holy Spirit to guide them into "all truth" (see Jn 16:13).
What Christ promised two thousand years ago continues in our own day. The pope and the bishops are in a direct, traceable line of succession from St. Peter and the other apostles - hence we speak of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
They too are promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth. So as Catholics we believe that when they teach on matters of faith and morals, they do so with the authority of Christ himself.
Jesus said to his apostles, "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me" (Lk 10:16).
Thus the Second Vatican Council can teach that when we receive the teachings of the pope and bishops and live according to them, we are receiving "not the mere word of men, but truly the word of God" (see 1 Thes 2:13).
Christopher West is a research fellow and faculty member of the Theology of the Body Institute in West Chester, Pa. This column is reprinted from his book, Good News About Sex and Marriage: Honest Questions and Answers About Catholic Teaching and syndicated by www.OneMoreSoul.com
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