When I was a child I had some neighbors who fought constantly. The mom, dad, and even the kid would get into fights and then become unreasonable, yell, stomp out, and close themselves off from each others. After a while, I started avoiding their house, knowing that I wouldn’t enjoy being in the middle of another argument.
- liberal Catholic
- conservative Catholic
- moderate Catholic
- progressive Catholic
- neo-conservative Catholic
- modernist Catholic
- traditional Catholic
The first problem with every one of these labels is The Church is not a political entity and to use such politically-loaded phrases such as “conservative” or “liberal” is the wrong way in which to describe any person’s relationship to the Catholic Church. Every one of these labels come from the political spectrum and have a lot of baggage associated with them, not to mention that the terms are quite nebulous and their meanings have changed radically through the years. Still, none of these labels encompasses what it means to be Catholic.
The Church is too big to be caught up into such tribalism. We lose the mystery and make it a purely human enterprise. It also makes it easy to disregard others and keep them at arms’ length, never truly trying to understand their perspective or loving them as brothers and sisters.
Now, that being said, I am not advocating for the doctrinal teachings of the Church to be up for grabs. If I do that, I make myself into a kind of uber-pope who gets to be the final say on doctrine. On the other hand – I also can’t judge others when they struggle with a Church teaching, because I then make myself into another kind of uber-pope who gets to determine who is a “good” Catholic and who isn’t.
We are free to disagree with another Catholic on how to fix immigration, how to best fight poverty, etc. But, we can’t deny the right of every human being to live, the teaching that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, marriage can only be between one woman and one man, the preferential option for the poor, etc.
Yet, if someone else is struggling with one of these teachings of the Church, we also can’t judge the state of their souls or their relationship with the Church.
Another caveat – that isn’t to say we should be silent about what the doctrines of the Church are and are not. Choosing to love another person does not mean we necessarily accept what they believe. Still, in our disagreement we need to love others in order to bring them into a closer relationship with Jesus. Rarely is someone in an argument or fight willing to accept they are wrong. Love is the key.
If someone asks me if I am conservative or liberal (or any other label you want to use), I answer, “I am Catholic.”
Furthermore, the problem with bickering and arguing among Catholics is the kind of witness it gives to those on the fringes of The Church or outside The Church. It speaks loudly to the rest of the world and it says – we are in a civil war! I stopped going to my friends’ house because his family argued all the time. Why would someone want to go to a church were everyone was at each others’ throats constantly?
Jesus wanted us to be one. He prayed for Unity in the Church. One in faith, hope, worship, love, Sacraments, service, etc. While we can’t ever bring about unity by our own power or will, we can start where we have control, over our own thoughts and actions. We need to start truly loving others, not for the opinions they hold (right or wrong) or the affinity we have toward a group they identify with, but rather because we must do so if we are to truly be followers of Jesus.
How exactly are we to bring Good News to the world if we can’t get away from a civil war?
Pray for unity. Start loving others. No matter what.
Time to start practicing what I preach…
Of course, Jesus says it even better:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” -John 17:20-23