Thursday, March 15, 2012

What good is a Catholic presence in the land if it isn't Catholic?

In reading Joanne McPortland's honest, angry open letter to President Obama, one part stayed with me.
You have managed this really well from your end, manufacturing a "war on women"--Catholics want women to be pregnant or die!--while waging war on the First Amendment. I sometimes wish the Catholic bishops hadn't jumped at the bait, too (because I truly don't think this is the hill we want to die on)...
"Jumped at the bait" puzzled me because I truly couldn't see what other choice Catholics, including their bishops, had at this point.

As Tom said when I asked him about this, "If not now, then when?"

The only other choice was to let it lie which is unacceptable from a purely American point of view because religious liberty is so bred into our national identity. Not to mention defending our faith as Catholics.

If the Bishops, our fathers in the Church, had not let so many small fights go by with little more than a disapproving glance, then we would not be in the position of having to defend our faith in this way. We wouldn't have to defend it not only to the government but to our fellow Catholics. However, none of us is perfect and nothing is as simple as fingerpointing, especially at those in charge. I do not say this in anger, but just as one looking back on the road that got us to this point. Honestly, I am simply happy that they are standing up in unison.

I think that this is a hill that we must take a stand on, and not simply as Americans, but as Catholics one to another. After I entered the Church, I found I had to do great internal struggling to come to terms with many of the Church's teachings about how to live out the ten commandments and Jesus' two great commandments.

It's trendy to call them "life issues" and "social justice issues," but let's say what we mean. It is about the ten commandments, Jesus Christ, and getting to heaven. If that is in the center of our lives then the fruit will be enough to make "life issues" and "social justice issues" fade because we will be loving our neighbors as ourselves. Old, young, poor, rich, unborn, homeless ... everyone.

Here's one of the big realizations that I had during that process: you can't be really Catholic and be a card-carrying Democrat or Republican. There is no political party on earth that truly lives God's laws.

To say anything else is to fool yourself. It is to be blinded by our own desires and to put the golden calf of politics and controlling things "our way" ahead of the commandments and Jesus Christ.

It is to define, explain away, and excuse ourselves until we are a shadow of what we should be, which is authentically Catholic.

Do we believe the Catholic Church is the bride of Christ? Do we believe that her mission is to get each one of us ... you and me ... to heaven?

Then why aren't we listening? Why aren't we pulling out our Catechisms to examine the places where we oppose Her teachings. Why aren't we delving deep into the "why" of what the Catechism contains and holding our own "golden calves" up to see what needs to go in order to bring us closer to God?

I am not perfect, believe me. Plenty of my family and friends can testify to that. But I do keep getting up and trying again. And God keeps pointing out where I thought I was right but I had it all wrong.

My goal?

I want to be Catholic ... without any adjectives. Just plain Catholic is enough.
I am not a liberal Catholic, orthodox Catholic, conservative Catholic, cafeteria Catholic, or traditionalist Catholic: I am, simply, a Catholic (Roman Rite). That should be enough for you to know where I stand and what I believe about most issues. At least, it used to be.
I can tell from Joanne McPortland's blog that she has done the same struggling. She and I may vary in how we try to apply the Church's teachings to ordering our lives or our voting or where we choose to volunteer, but we are not apart at the center. I know that she is honestly trying to do God's will with all her heart and mind and strength. By changing her long-held beliefs, even when it hurt.

She's had to move from her comfort zone to a place where both sides feel self righteous about attacking. Welcome, sister! Here I am too, although I think that I had to come from the other side of the road to meet you here.

In this particular case, on this particular hill, I think we have no choice but to take a stand and politely but firmly explain the truth. My prayer is that hearts and minds are opened, especially those of Catholics who dissent from Church teachings about contraception and abortion.


  1. Thank you, Julie. I really appreciate your helping me think this through. When I said I regretted the bishops' jumping at the bait, I meant that I really do believe, cynically, that this was EXACTLY when the administration intended, in order to distract voters from the seriousness of the economic and foreign policy challenges we're facing. I wish there were a way we could have resisted being made the Enemy of the People (especially the Female People) in this. Maybe there wasn't such a way, without compromising too much. Maybe we have not been visibly living our teachings well enough to be recognized as a stakeholder with a real commitment to the health of Americans and of our country in general, and not just a tool of one party or another. No one questions the exemption from the entire health care legislation for the Amish, for example, because it is consistent with their long-lived principles of refusing government help or interference. When our own people are going public against Church teachings, denying that they even ARE Church teachings, it is so easy to be manipulated into the position that the bishops are hypocrites who will do anything in their power to keep women down. I don't at all mean we should have shut up and taken it; I just wish that there were TRULY a Catholic presence in this country. That I will pray for, for sure.

  2. I am with you, Julie. Some points you made, and articulated so well, are thoughts I've had too.

    I agree that if the bishops (and priests) had done a better job of preaching the moral teachings of our faith and exhorting us to live accordingly, we would, at least, have more Catholics and Catholic institutions supporting the bishops now. One example: I have NEVER heard a homily that mentioned artificial birth control and why it is sinful. Yet it's the Sunday homily where MOST Catholics receive their knowledge and understanding of the faith once they have left formal formation programs like RCIA, catechism classes, or Catholic schools.

    You also point out, " can't be really Catholic and be a card-carrying Democrat or Republican. There is no political party on earth that truly lives God's laws." Catholicism transcends political parties and even forms of government, although some parties and some governments may be somewhat compatible with the faith. I try to find out where the particular candidates stand on the issues that are important to me as a Catholic, and then vote accordingly, without thinking about their party affiliation. Unfortunately that sometimes means I have to write in a name or refrain from voting.

    I like the quotation you cited from MacDonald, and I want to think that I am one of those Catholics; that is, a plain Catholic. Yet, I wonder if such a pure, unadulterated Catholic actually exists. It's difficult to be unbiased. Maybe the best one can do is to know our biases and try to get past them.

  3. OHHHHH!

    That makes sense! And now I understand your point. :-)

    Yes, when half of us are transparently not a truly Catholic people, then we leave ourselves open to attacks. My hope is that not only will this help us to become a better catechized people, but to bring us all closer to God.

  4. Ruth Ann, agreed. I meant to also add that sometimes the way that God teaches us is to make us face those biases and then be obedient to the right way ... anyway. That is when it really hurts! But it is good for us at the same time. Obedience is a bad word these days. We tend to forget that it was Christ's obedience that resulted in God greatly exalting him.

  5. On the rare occasions when I'm asked if I'm Democrat or Republican (nice to know the answer's not immediately obvious), I usually say, "I'm Catholic. I piss everybody off." :)

    "Why aren't we pulling out our Catechisms to examine the places where we oppose Her teachings?"

    I actually try to do this. It's extremely uncomfortable.

  6. There is no question that Obama intends to divide Catholics over this by appealing to Liberal Catholics. It's a divide and conquer strategy. From what I've seen of Liberal resposne it just might work for him. But lately I've been encouraged by a cross section of Catholics who have come out. I'm going to try to attend that protest march on the 23rd next week. I think these marches are being set up across the country. Let's see if we can get a good showing.