Tag Archives: Catholic

Catholicism “Lite”: Less Fulfilling?

31 Jan

Catholic liteBack in the 1990s, when I was the editor of Lay Witness magazine, we were creating an ad for the (then) new Catechism of the Catholic Church, opposing it to a fictitious “Catechism ‘Lite.’” You know what I’m talking about: only half the commandments of the regular Catechism, and one-third the doctrines.

Over the past couple decades we’ve seen countless variations of this humorous (and, to our sorrow, often accurate) description of an approach to Catholic faith and life that is watered down, minimalistic, and largely uninspiring. In fact, we might say “Catechism lite” or “Catholicism lite” and not have to complete the thought. One goal of the “Year of Faith” is that all of us would embrace the fullness of the faith with renewed zeal and joy.

At the same time, I’ve found that while most practicing Catholics would take the “Catechism” over “Catechism lite” in theory, the real-life situation can seem unduly complicated. As I discussed earlier this week, those who want to believe, celebrate, and live the Catholic faith in its fullness are often labelled, sometimes pejoratively, as “conservatives” and not simply as “Catholics.”

I realize this is a game played largely by dissident Catholics who are trying to legitimize their own brand of Catholicism or political agenda. Yet not only do political terms like “conservative” and ”liberal” not fit in Church discussions (really they’re only alienating stereotypes), but there′s something else: Calling the full embrace of the Catholic faith “conservative” makes it seem as though it’s only one of a spectrum of equally acceptable ways of being Catholic.

In fact, it suggests that the goal would be somewhere between the extremes of “conservative” and “liberal.” Let’s split the difference and go with eight of the ten commandments (I think many would suggest the 6th and 9th for exclusion!) and three-fourths of the doctrines. For some, that may not be “Catholic lite,” but surely Catholic “enough.” Continue reading

Musings of an Accidental Conservative

29 Jan

liberal and conservativeI have long disliked the label “conservative.” I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it per se, but I’m not a political ideologue. I am a Catholic who believes what the Church teaches, and for that reason alone I’m often called a “conservative” these days.

After reading Bishop Finn’s recent post in which he courageously affirms that the National Catholic Reporter, long considered a leading voice of “liberal Catholicism,” should not be considered a “Catholic publication,” I figured the time was ripe to give my top ten list of reasons why “liberal” and “conservative” are not useful terms when it comes to Catholic beliefs. These are in no particular order:

(1) Term Limits

“Conservative” and “liberal” are already entrenched as political terms with their own specific meaning. The terms are necessarily adversarial and divisive when used in the context of the Church, since they imply a struggle for supremacy between two more/less equally legitimate camps. With St. Paul we might ask, “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13). When we try to use two emotionally charged terms from one context and apply them in a completely different context, of course there will be misunderstanding exacerbated by strong emotional responses.

(2) Not in Catholic Lexicon

Okay, when we hear the terms “conservative” and “liberal” we think of political terms. But let’s go further: they are not Catholic terms in a strict sense. I’ve been though all 2,865 paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church many times, and I don’t recall ever seeing those terms used. Instead, the Catholic Church has its own vocabulary to describe one′s relationship to the Church. Shouldn’t we use that instead? The problem of course is that many consider themselves Americans first, and Christians or Catholics second, so they let American culture define the rules of engagement even within the Church. Perhaps during this Year of Faith we can strive to recover a more fully Catholic worldview.

(3) Radio, Radio (second Elvis Costello allusion this month, but accidents happen)

We tend to think of “liberal” and conservative” as two extremes on a continuum, sort of like a radio dial. The stations at the left side of the AM dial (in the 500s or 600s, say) would be “liberal” and the stations at the far right (1500s and 1600s) would be “conservative.” Both have a place on the radio dial, though people might gravitate toward the numbers in the middle away from the two extremes, where most of the more popular stations tend to be located.

Similarly, we often hear of Catholics who are 100% with the Church described as “conservative” or even “ultraconservative,” while those who dissent from the Church on hot-button moral issues are called “moderate.” Maybe a Catholic who is truly a Catholic is considered a “conservative” by political pundits, but all Catholics must be “conservative” when it comes to upholding Christian moral teaching in the public square. What are we saying, that being “too Catholic” or “too religious” is one extreme, and being hostile to God, religion, and all public morals is the other extreme, such that the desirable middle ground is to be “sorta Catholic” or “mildly dissident”? Yet I’ve personally run into that sort of thinking many times in the Church.

(4) Conversion

Nobody should go around calling people heretics or apostates. Yet we go way too far in the other direction. We’re not willing to speak hard truths with charity. We’re not willing to say that any position that conflicts with established Catholic teaching on faith and morals is heresy. Instead, we call it “liberal,” which is then taken as a legitimate, perhaps even chic, way of being in the Church. While most people don’t want to consider themselves heretics, many consider the “liberal” tag a badge of honor. My point here is that those who part ways with the Church should be called back into full communion. We’re less inclined to do so when we regularly use euphemisms to conceal the need for repentance and conversion. Let’s face it: When we tolerate dissent and heresy rather than call to conversion, we are not truly loving our brothers and sisters in Christ.

(5) Good Liberal vs. Bad Liberal

Of course part of the problem is that the terms themselves are vague and ambiguous, especially given the frequent blending of their political and ecclesial ramifications. “Liberalism” in the sense of favoring the social legitimization of evils such as abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage is an abomination for Catholics. “Liberalism” in the sense of favoring big government programs may be problematic for Catholics at times, such as when the principle of subsidiarity is violated, but it’s not quite as cut and dried (but close). And then there’s “liberalism” in the sense of the Church’s staunch defense of human dignity and social justice, which generally speaking is a very good thing (when the concept isn’t hijacked). But in the Church, “liberal” typically equates with “dissident” or ”heterodox,” which is clearly not a good thing, yet is given cover because of its legitimacy in some political contexts.

(6) Good Conservative vs. Bad Conservative

The Church has been entrusted the “deposit of faith” (cf. 1 Tim. 6:20), which she protects and “conserves.” She holds fast to Tradition (cf. 2 Thess. 2:15), and she’ll prevail against the ”powers of death” (cf. Mt. 16:18). So while the Church is a living organism that grows and adapts to new situations, there is no doubt a pervasive “conservative” dimension to her essential constitution. Since being a faithful, practicing, “normative” Catholic is also considered being “conservative” in a political sense, we must resist the temptation to “default” our way into uncritically accepting all aspects of political conservativism, even as we generally embrace the conservatives’ approach to many issues, especially what are generally called “social issues.”

(7) This Ain’t a Democracy

It should go without saying that the Church is not a democracy. Yet the more we politicize the Church, the more weight we give to the assumption on the part of many that, in the words of the dissident “Voice of the Faithful” organization from a decade ago, we can “keep the faith, change the Church.” If we get enough people to show up at a town hall meeting or to sign some petition, would the Church change her fundamental structure or reverse her moral teachings? Of course not! So why use political terms that suggest with proper maneuvering we might be able to elect a new Pope or push through an agenda that’s fundamentally at odds with the Catholic faith?

(8) Divine Element

Because of the political, democratic connotations of “liberal” and “conservative,” we tend to downplay the fact that Christianity is about following Christ. It’s His Church, and it’s one (and holy, Catholic, and apostolic). In politics, we’re trying to get others to side with us, or at least to vote for our candidate or issue. In the Church, it’s the other way around. It’s about God’s grace changing us, persuading us to follow Him more completely and unreservedly.

(9) Stop Thinking

Obviously in the political realm we sometimes have to speak on a macro level, and so blocs of people who tend to vote a particular way are labeled as such. Yet I think we should resist labeling and resist being labeled as much as possible in the Church. It’s an excuse to stop thinking, or even to write off somebody without really knowing them. When someone is identified as a “liberal” Catholic by a “conservative” Catholic, or vice versa, then we’re institutionalizing division and dissent within the Church, and wounding her witness to the world.

(10) Communion, not Class Struggle

The key term in understanding the Catholic Church is “communion,” as through God’s grace centuries of strife and division are overcome in the person of Christ, in whom we truly become brothers and sisters. In our largely secular society, many people consider themselves “Catholic” but really don’t fully identify with or participate in the life of the Church. Then there are others who stay in the Church to reform her in their own image. Rather than see in all this chaos some sort of class struggle between the so-called “liberals” and “conservatives,” we should perceive a call to foster both the visible and invisible bonds of unity within the Church (see Catechism, no. 815; there is also a wonderful discussion in Pope John Paul II”s encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, nos. 35 and following).

In other words, we must be better Catholics and build better Catholics. Without the conviction of faith, then it’s only about tactics.

Catholics Look East!

20 Dec

Eastern Catholic hierarchyToday we continue our series on the sixteen documents of Vatican II with a consideration of the 1964 decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum, on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite.

When we think of the Catholic Church, we tend to think exclusively of the Latin rite. There’s some justification for this, as in the United States there are tens of millions of Latin rite Catholics, and just a few hundred thousand combined in the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches (sometimes called “Uniate” Churches) with ancient liturgies and traditions tracing back to places like Antioch, Alexandria, and Byzantium.

Further, some Latin rite Catholics hear “Eastern Church” and instantly think of the Eastern Orthodox Churches that broke away from the Church in Rome in 1054 and still are not in full communion today, despite ongoing ecumenical efforts.

Make no mistake, Eastern Catholic Churches are in full communion with the Holy Father. They were founded by the apostles and have their own their own rightful existence. They show forth the catholicity of the Church.

As  presently defined, there are 24 Catholic Churches that can be grouped into eight  different rites. A rite is a liturgical, theological, spiritual, and disciplinary  patrimony of a distinct people manifested in a Church. While each Catholic Church  may have its own rite or customs, in general, there are only eight major rites.  History, language, misunderstandings, nationalism, and basic human weakness have  resulted in the current communion of 24 Churches, counting the Latin rite.

With only a few exceptions,  the Eastern Catholic Churches result from incomplete reunions with the Orthodox  Churches. In those instances, large numbers of bishops and faithful of the Orthodox  mother Churches either held back or later rejected union with Rome. One could see how this could create tensions with the Orthodox, who  are fearful of losing their distinct traditions in a world dominated  by the Latin Church.

So in this context, I chose for our consideration the following paragraph from Orientalium Ecclesiarum, which sets forth the equal dignity and legitimacy of the Eastern Churches:

“These individual Churches, whether of the East or the West, although they differ somewhat among themselves in rite (to use the current phrase), that is, in liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, and spiritual heritage, are, nevertheless, each as much as the others, entrusted to the pastoral government of the Roman Pontiff, the divinely appointed successor of St. Peter in primacy over the universal Church. They are consequently of equal dignity, so that none of them is superior to the others as regards rite and they enjoy the same rights and are under the same obligations, also in respect of preaching the Gospel to the whole world (cf. Mark 16:15) under the guidance of the Roman Pontiff” (no. 3).

One related point:

In her official documents, the Church usually avoids the expression “Roman Catholic.” “Catholic,” yes. “Roman or Latin rite,” yes. “Church of Rome,” as meaning either the Diocese of Rome or that body which submits to the Bishop of Rome, yes. But not “Roman Catholic.” Why? Because the term was coined by 19th-century Anglicans as a term of opprobrium, to assert that those who accepted the authority of the Bishop of Rome were, in fact, not true Englishmen. Further, the Anglo-Catholic party endeavored to advance its “branch theory” of the Church, which erroneously asserts that the Catholic Church exists in three forms: Roman, Orthodox, and Anglican.

Even more, we’ve seen that the Catholic Church is composed of a variety of rites and particular Churches, only one of which is—strictly speaking—Roman—although all acknowledge the Bishop of Rome as their visible head. The indiscriminate, ambiguous use of the term “Roman Catholic” can have the (unwitting) twofold effect of (a) marginalizing all the non-Roman ritual Churches; and (b) making Catholicism much more particular—and thus idiosyncratic—than it truly is.

For more on Eastern Christianity, check out Orientale Lumen (“Light of the East”) by Blessed John Paul II. For what is likely the most authoritative treatment of the fascinating history of Eastern Churches–both Orthodox and Catholic–from the Catholic perspective, check out the books by my friend and former colleague, James Likoudis on the subject, especially Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism and The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church

Names of the First Five Books of the Bible

12 Jun

I received the following question via email: The Rabbi in my Hebrew class said that the Hebrew names of the books of the Torah have an entirely different meaning than in the English, with the exception of Genesis. WHO and more importantly WHY would the original Hebrew names of these books be changed to titles that have totally different meaning than the original form? I don’t understand. Please help me to shed some light on this . . .

Regarding titles given to the five books of the Torah, there is not a strictly uniform tradition in Judaism, at least not historically speaking. Rabbinic Judaism, which preserved the patrimony of the Hebrew language, named the books of Moses after a word or expression that appears in the first verse of each book. Thus, Genesis is titled bere’shit (“In the beginning”), Exodus is ve’elleh shemot (“And these are the names”), Leviticus is vayyiqra’ (“And he [the LORD] spoke”), Numbers is bemidbar (“in the wilderness of”), and Deuteronomy is ‘elleh ha-debarim (“These are the words”).

Other titles are attested in ancient times as well, designating Genesis, for example, as sefer ha-Beriah (“The Book of Creation”), among other titles, and Leviticus as torat ha-kohanim (“The Law of the Priests”).

We are generally more familiar with the tradition of Diaspora Judaism as expressed in the Greek titles that appear in the LXX/Septuagint, where Genesis is genesis (“origin”), Exodus is exodos (“departure”), Leviticus is leuitikon (“pertaining to the Levites”), Numbers is arithmoi (“numbers”), and Deuteronomy is deuteronomion (“second lawgiving”).

The popularity of these latter titles was guaranteed when the early Christian Church adopted the Greek headings of the LXX in transliterated form. The bottom line is that Judaism had more than one tradition from which to choose headings for the books of the Torah when the torch was passed to the new and universal (“catholic”) Israel, the Church.

For more on the Church’s use of the LXX, click here.

And You Call Yourself a Catholic!

5 Jun

A student once asked me: When did the term “Catholic” come into play? How did we become “Catholic” from our Jewish roots? I thought these were very good questions, so I thought I would share my brief response with the readers of No Place Like Home.

The first recorded use of the word “catholic” (from the Greek word for “universal”) in reference to the Church is found in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop and disciple of St. John who was martyred by the Emperor Trajan in 107. Shortly before his martyrdom, he wrote several letters to various Church communities. These letters have been preserved by the Church ever since. One such letter was the Letter to the Smyrneans, where he wrote in chapter 8:

“See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

Interestingly, Antioch is also the place where the followers of Christ were called “Christians” for the first time (Acts 11:26).

As for the second question, really the goal of all of salvation history, from the time of the fall and surely from the scattering of the nations at Babel, has been to reunite the divided, sinful family of man into the Family of God, the Church. The Church indeed is universal, as it’s the means of salvation for the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike. Surely the Jewish people played a unique role as God’s chosen people, from whom would come Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. In a real sense the Church became “Catholic” at Pentecost, when God reversed the scattering of peoples at Babel (see Catechism, no. 830).

The covenants made to the patriarchs, to Moses, and to King David all find their fulfillment in the salvation Christ brings to the world. As was promised way back in Genesis, through Abraham and his descendants all the families of the earth will find blessing (Gen. 12:3). This blessing is universal. This blessing is Catholic.

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Video

Test of Fire: Election 2012

11 May

This is a good video to share with your Catholic friends about some of the most important issues this election cycle.

Lessons learned from St. Gianna

27 Apr

April 28th, Feast of St. Gianna Molla

Our infantSt. Gianna's feast day is April 28th daughter Gianna’s first hospitalization, even though it was her healthiest, was by far the hardest for me. During later ones we would have the slim hope of transplant to focus on, but during this one, as they tested the heck out of our little girl, we were coming to grips with the truth. Inside what looked like a normal baby was a liver full of cells that couldn’t make enough energy to keep her alive. Our baby was going to die. Again.

St. Gianna Molla kept me company during those few days, as I had just received a biography of her for Mother’s Day, a week or two before. There were two things that stood out to me in this particular account of her life. The first was of the very real pain her martyrdom caused her family. It is easy to gloss over this in saints from eras long past, or for priests or religious even. But here was Pietro Molla, Gianna’s beloved husband, sharing about how hard it was for him to raise their four children alone. How hard he tried to protect his kids from the limelight surrounding Gianna’s growing popularity and her cause for canonization. How awkward it was for him to allow his personal love letters to be published all over the world. It was hard for him to share his Gianna with the Church, when he would much rather her have just been his unspectacular, non-miracle-working, grocery-shopping, diaper- changing wife!  Yet, he knew she was not his to keep to himself, and so he allowed the process to continue. In 2004, He and their three surviving children (their daughter Mariolina died a few years after Gianna did) were at her canonization ceremony. Wow.

Our Gianna was baptized and confirmed before she was old enough to sin, so we know she is in heaven. As the mother of a little saint, I can share some of Pietro’s sentiments: saint-making is tough! Especially at that moment in time, I did not want to share my Gianna with the Church. I did not want her to intercede for people or inspire them. I just wanted her to keep making diapers, and spitting up and wearing cute baby clothes, just like any other normal baby who lives to see their first birthday. I love St. Gianna Molla, and I am grateful for what she did and who she now is. But dang, she reminds me how real saints are, and that even when God is doing great and wonderful things, it still sometimes hurts!!

The second thing that struck me from that read of Gianna’s life was her unfailing trust in Providence. Can you imagine having to decide between giving your baby life and giving her a mother? St. Gianna didn’t want to die. She loved life, and especially her family. But she trusted God: that He was good as He claimed to be, and that He would take care of her family in her absence. Pietro talks in that book about the times that were darkest for him and the kids and how he could feel Gianna’s tangible presence. God did come through… through Gianna.

So this Saturday, as we celebrate 50 years of St. Gianna Molla’s new life in Christ, let’s let her example and her prayers help us along on our own difficult road of sanctification.