"Call me an evangelical charismatic liberal conservative progressive traditionalist" Catholic, stated Fr. Dwight Longenecker recently. I'm sorry, Fr. Longenecker, but I don't think that means what you think it means. And it adds more confusion than clarity to the issue of Catholic infighting.
It's not possible to be all things to all Catholics nowadays. Sad to say, a lot of Catholics behave as if they have splintered into as many different sects as the Protestants have. We can only be liberal and conservative and progressive Catholics all at the same time if we ignore what these words have come to mean and the battling factions that these words represent.
Fr. Longenecker doesn't mean he's liberal in the sense of considering social justice issues more important than the pelvic issues -- contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. He doesn't mean he's progressive in the sense that women should be considered for the priesthood. "I want to be liberal in the administration of God’s love for the lost, the needy and the disenfranchised. ...I’m progressive because I believe God’s Spirit is always doing something young, new and fresh in the world," he said. But we can't just wish away our differences like that.
We need to learn to talk to each other, we Catholics.
If you're a conservative Catholic, how comfortable do you feel in a group of liberal, progressive Catholics? If you're a liberal Catholic, how often do you talk to a conservative Catholic at all? How often do we read each other's newspapers or watch each other's television programs, except to criticize? Do we even realize that there are parallel Catholic universes out there, each with its set of well-reasoned arguments by acknowledged experts? (Even conservative Catholics can be further subdivided into traditionalists, Novus Ordo Catholics, etc., ad nauseam. And these subgroups don't always get along either.)
So who are the real Catholics? Many people have accused House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of being a cafeteria Catholic rather than a real Catholic. Of picking and choosing the doctrines she liked and ignoring the ones she didn't. But, chances are, Pelosi and others who are tagged with the label of cafeteria Catholic don't actually think they're cafeteria Catholics. They think they're right. And calling them derogatory names isn't going to convince them otherwise.
When Pope Francis told us to go to the outskirts, he issued a challenge that we could all answer from the comfort of our armchairs if we dared to. Join an online Catholic group where the majority of the members have different leanings than you, and see if you don't feel as if you're in completely unfamiliar territory. Meet the Catholics you might not really want to meet, and see if you can understand their viewpoint.
There are unfortunate doctrinal differences between Catholic camps, and we shouldn't be blind to them. But we shouldn't be blinded by them, either. Not everyone who uses a different vocabulary (or reads a different Catholic newspaper) is a heretic. Sometimes the differences are simply differences of approach. Liberals may encourage people to fall in love with Christ before confronting them with hard teachings. As Jesus said, "I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (Jn 16: 12). Conservatives may prefer to fight the hardest battles first and most fiercely, countering that Jesus also said, "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." (Mt 10: 34).
But we should all be able to agree that truth and charity need each other. The Pope told us in Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith):
If love is not tied to truth, it falls prey to fickle emotions and cannot stand the test of time. ...Without love, truth becomes cold, impersonal and oppressive for people's day-to-day lives.We might think things were different in the early Church, but they probably weren't. Some early Christians were Jews and some were Gentiles, and they didn't always see eye to eye. Remember the fight over keeping dietary laws and the fight over circumcision? The Jewish contingent thought the Gentile Christians should keep all the Jewish laws, and the Gentiles disagreed. St. Paul responded that he who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, and he who abstains from eating, abstains in honor of the Lord. Then he pleaded, "let us no more pass judgment on one another, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother" (Rom 14: 6, 13).
Learning to talk to one another -- without judgment and as brothers and sisters in Christ -- is crucially important for at least two reasons. One, Jesus said we will be known by the love we have for one another (Jn 13: 35). How are Catholics known today? How do we want to be known? And two, what will happen to our children when we send them out into the wider Catholic world, into the world in general? Will they become disillusioned when they encounter a different kind of Catholicism than what they've known? Will they become confused or angry? Or will they calmly and respectfully disagree, confident that we're all in this Church together, all ultimately on the same side? I hope that by the time my children leave my home, they will know what kind of Catholic they are, whether it's evangelical or conservative or liberal or traditionalist. And I hope they'll be happy to dialogue with anyone who thinks differently.
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