Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
(Ezekiel 9:1-7.10:18-22; Matthew 18:15-20)
One moral question on which there has been a distinctive change in Catholic teaching is the freedom of conscience. Where for centuries the Church taught that it is permissible to punish members of the community who adopt foreign beliefs, she now honors the integrity of individual conscience. Freedom of conscience demands that no one be forced to declare as true what she or he does not believe. The age of the Inquisition, however inaccurately it is construed, has definitely past.
Still it might be pointed out that religious persecution has biblical roots. In the reading today from Ezekiel the Lord calls for the purification of the temple from idolaters. Obviously, the reading has more than chastisement in mind as God demands the death of those who have defiled the Temple by worshiping idols there. Today we only stand aghast at the suggestion of such practices.
Can such intolerance be justified in retrospect? Certainly something may be said that in times of less developed economies social cohesion standing on common beliefs and religious practices was critical. We can add that there is a progressive development in biblical teaching which reaches its culmination in Christ. The people came to understand God’s ways slowly and imperfectly until God sent His Son to reveal them in their fullness. Even now we grapple with how to understand some of Jesus’ teaching and, more challenging still, how to practice it.