Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Are You Liberal or Conservative? Or Catholic?

Are You Liberal or Conservative?
Or Catholic?

Are you a liberal Catholic or a conservative Catholic?  Do you prefer the Tridentine Mass or the Novus Ordo?  Do you like Gregorian Chant or liturgical music played on guitar?  Would you rather see nuns in full habit or a sweater vest?  If you chose the first of each option, you are a conservative Catholic; if you chose the latter, you are a liberal Catholic.  And whichever one you are, you will agree that the other is wrong.

The opening paragraph of this article is nonsense.  And yet, many of us are routinely put in one of these two boxes – conservative Catholic or liberal Catholic.  It’s done to us by the media, by politicians, but most of all by other Catholics.  Liberal and conservative are fine terms to apply to politics (though many of us would not like the stereotypes that come with those labels in that arena), but they have no place in religion.

Look again at the questions in the first paragraph.  There are two approved forms for the Mass.  Regardless of which you prefer, you are Catholic – not liberal, not conservative – Catholic.  Gregorian Chant has a long tradition in the liturgy and is even recommended by the Second Vatican Council.  However, other forms of liturgical music have been approved as well.  Regardless of which you prefer, you are Catholic.  Sisters in full habit are a powerful sign in our unbelieving world.  And yet, many orders have been granted permission to choose a different style of dress; for a couple it is even part of their history and founding.  If they are being obedient, they are being Catholic.

Here’s my (least) favorite: Do you believe in pro-life or social justice?  As if the two can be separated!  The right to life is the preeminent human right and is at the top of our social justice priorities.  When people ask this question, however, they generally regard social justice simply as concern for the poor.  Guess what, both are Catholic.  If we have no concern for the right to life, we are being unfaithful.  If we have no concern for the poor, we are being unfaithful.  We all have limited time for ministry and activism, so we prayerfully choose where to devote it, but to set one part of the Church’s mission against another, is a sin.

I have my preferences, too.  But we must have the humility to recognize that our preferences need not be everyone’s.  There is no liberal Catholic or conservative Catholic.  The real question for us is, are we orthodox Catholics or do we dissent?  To this question there is certainly a right and a wrong position.

Jesus established a Church, His Body, His Bride.  He gave that Church authority, beginning with Peter and his successors (the popes) and the bishops in union with Peter.  This is the Magisterium (teaching office) of the Church.  When it teaches, universally, on a question of faith and morals, it is Christ speaking.  The question to us is, how do we respond?

Orthodoxy means “right belief.”  If we are orthodox, we believe rightly, we embrace the Truth that Christ has given us through His Church.  If we pick and choose which part of that Truth we embrace, we are dissenters, we are wrong, and we need to repent.

This in no way limits our freedom of thought or makes us robots.  Catholic intellectual tradition is the richest in the history of the world, and there are a host of topics on which the Church allows great latitude and encourages discussion and investigation.  In fact, the one thing God will not do is take away our freedom.  He died for it.  It is the freedom to say no to God that is what allows sin to exist.  Jesus went to the Cross particularly because He created us as moral beings, not robots.

Imagine you are a student of math.  Early on you will learn the basic principles of addition.  You will learn, for example, that two plus two equals four.  You are free not to accept that truth; however, you will be less free, not more.  If you accept mathematical truth, you are free to flourish in your exploration and understanding of math.  You are free to accept error, but your error with limit your mathematical development.  The truth, however, will set you free.

Sound familiar?  We must not apply political terms to our Faith.  Regardless of personal preferences or style, are we orthodox?  Do we accept the clear teaching of the Church where it has been given, or do we think we know better than God?

I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live.—Dt. 30:19