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Politicized Catholicism

The politicization of the Catholic Church in this country started during the problems over race in the 1960s. Many Church leaders took active roles in trying to resolve such problems as lack of voting rights and school segregation. The first school to integrate in Nashville, Tennessee, was Father Ryan High School—the Catholic school for boys. 

Commonly, throughout the South, Catholic schools led the way. Nonetheless, the anti-segregation movement was headed mainly by non-believers, and they challenged believers in all the churches: “You are Pharisees and hypocrites because you go to your church but you don’t let blacks in.” The authenticity of one’s Christian commitment came to be judged by what one did with respect to social-justice questions.

As that criterion began to permeate, it led to a politicization of our theology and of our Church—not only ours, but the Episcopal and the Presbyterian and other communities as well. We began to judge the truth of what we believe by political results. Are you a good Christian? If you are, we will judge you by what you do for the poor and for blacks.

By the 1970s this was switched to saying, “Is this doctrine a good? How does it help the poor and the oppressed?” Doctrines began to be seen in terms of power politics. This came to be true especially in feminism. Feminists looked upon Catholic doctrines and said, “The reason that the Church won’t ordain women is because the men want the political power. The reason some of us women want to be ordained is because ordination is where you get power in the Catholic Church. If we get power in that institution, then we can change what is right and wrong in our world.” 

Now the theology of abortion and the theology of ordination go together. At the Women’s Ordination Conference and Call to Action, as Donna Steichen has shown in Ungodly Rage, the organizers’ own documents and speeches demonstrate that their agenda is to get into power. One of the goals is to have democracy throughout the Church: They want to elect bishops, and thus we have the politicization of the episcopacy. They say, “We want to vote for the bishops we want, the bishops of our choice, and, furthermore, we want to be able to vote on doctrine, and especially on morals.” They want to vote in contraception and the right to choose an abortion; they want women clergy and homosexual marriages. 

The agenda that we see being enacted in the Episcopal Church is the model for what these groups would like to bring into the Catholic Church. Mary Daly, who teaches at Boston College, has written a book of women’s ceremonies and liturgies, including a liturgy to celebrate one’s abortion. These folks are serious. They mean this stuff.

Your reaction is exactly what they want. You get shocked, and that’s just what they want. I’m convinced that one of the tactics used most frequently is to shock people who still believe in traditional Catholicism. When you’re shocked, you have two reactions: You first of all will be paralyzed; then they can do what they want. Next, you will be outraged, but they don’t mind that because then they say, “Well, see? We told you these people on the right are uptight. We told you that they have a mean streak in them.” And sometimes those on the right do, but so do those on the left. Believe me: I’ve been there. I have endless horror stories about what goes on when the left gets in control; those people have no regard for Tradition or ecclesiastical law. They become the law in themselves, and they become dictatorial when they are in charge. They are anything but liberal in the classical sense of the term.

A basic part of their ideology is an unquestioned belief in social evolution. Most important of all, they see themselves as the cutting edge of that evolution. Where they are taking us is where evolution wants us to go. If you disagree with them, you’re an evolutionary retrograde. Their tactic is to make you look like a fool. You’re not merely old-fashioned and quaint; you want to roll us backwards. Therefore, you are devolutionary.

This tactic has become fairly effective. When these folks get into the middle-management levels of parishes and dioceses, you might have a bishop who agrees with you solidly, but you might not be able to get to him. Or, what he wants to do gets undercut by middle-management people who have lost their faith in Christ.

Pay attention to what is being done liturgically. Do you think all these abuses are done at random? Don’t. There is a political agenda there as well. Why do you think the self-styled experts want everybody to stand? Who is the person that is supposed to stand during the consecration of Mass? The priest. If everybody else stands, that’s because by rights we are all priests. And if by rights we all are priests, then we all can get ordained. It’s a political agenda.

In the face of all these problems, what are we to do? The danger for many people who are traditionally minded is that we will accept the politicization of the faith by allowing ourselves to be called “conservative.” See, political liberalism and conservatism are just that: They are political models. If we accept the label “conservative,” we are giving way to politicization and are seeing the faith as a power play. Politically, I am a conservative. I will argue my politics and then laugh about it afterwards, because I do not live and die for politics. But in my faith, conservatism is irrelevant as a category. In my faith, the truth is the issue. I want nothing but the truth, and I mean the truth we see revealed by our Lord Jesus Christ through his apostles and passed on through his Church. This is the truth for which so many of our brothers and sisters through the centuries have lived and died. To be faithful to that truth is the key issue.

The danger is not only in accepting politicization, but in whining about it. A lot of orthodox folks get just as mean as the heterodox. They become whiny, and I have no time for whining. What I want to see is not only that we are committed to what is true simply because of the truth of what Christ revealed, but also that we are going to take concrete action against kookiness on the right as well as on the left. Moses said to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy, “Swerve neither to the right nor to the left. We follow the Lord.” At one extreme are groups such as the Lefebvrists. If they think that they are going to bring revival to the Church, they are as wrong as the Essenes in the time of our Lord. The left is also a way of death. It has no future, none at all. The way that is going to lead to life and to the future is following what Christ teaches, and just dealing with that.

How do we do it? First of all, we have to set our goals clearly. The heterodox do. We have to have a sense of what it is we want, and we need to know why we want it. What do we see in Scripture? What does Christ show us? What do we see in the Vatican II documents? We need to know them, not the fake “spirit of Vatican II.” People use “the spirit of Vatican II” to justify all kinds of falsifications of what the documents actually say. Vatican II did not take any doctrine away from the Church. It did not deny any doctrine. But it is calling us to trim down and come into contact with the modern world and pay attention to the signs of our times. That does not mean that we jump onto every bandwagon. We observe the signs of the times to criticize what is evil and call it evil, in order to call our world to what is good.

After we have goals, we also have to become well informed. Knowing the goals of the Church requires us to be well informed about our faith. I like to compare our education to a meal. In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses speaks to the people: “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We need to be nourished spiritually—this is especially true in a spiritually starved society. The meat of our faith is Scripture. We have to know the Bible. (Jehovah’s Witnesses study six hours a week to learn how to convert you. I do not think the average Catholic spends six hours a week on learning how to convert them back.)

We also need to know the Catechism. There are some who say, “You lay people aren’t supposed to read the Catechism. It was intended only for the bishops.” How stupid do they think we are? In this country, publishing houses have printed three million copies of the Catechism, but there are only three hundred bishops. How many copies do they think those bishops are going to need? 

So there you have your meat and potatoes: the Vatican II documents and the Catechism. The vegetables of your faith are the Fathers of the Church and the saints. There is a great book by William Jurgens called Faith of the Early Fathers. It’s a three-volume set in paperback. Although it’s just quotations from the Fathers, one after another, it’s powerful. Many think that the Catholic Church changed radically during the time of Constantine and in the centuries before, creating new doctrines and new sacraments. People say that nobody went to confession before the time of Constantine, that the Church never baptized infants until the time of Constantine. When you read what the Fathers actually wrote, you see that all that is false. Confession, infant baptism, and even devotion to Mary were practiced in the earliest centuries and were mentioned from the second and third century onward. The Fathers are very Catholic.

In addition to becoming educated about our faith, we have to look around: What action can we take? You might not be able to take the action you want. You might not be able to make yourself the bishop and clear out all the scoundrels. You have to look for the opportunities you do have. If the catechists are not teaching the faith where you are, become a catechist. Perhaps you can’t become a catechist because the heterodox won’t let you (and that happens, believe me). You have to be clever. What are the open doors? I guarantee you that if you become faithful in those little things, the Lord will give you bigger ones. Sometimes you may end up feeling like the spiritual French Underground. But you must persevere, the way the Underground did until the Allies arrived. Keep teaching the faith, even if it is just to one person.

We must have a personal prayer life. If we are not praying, we become hollow. We become like cracked bells that don’t ring true. We have to take time with our Lord. We have to take time with our Lady. Pray the rosary. If possible, pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Meditating on Scripture, especially the Gospels, especially in this Year of Jesus, so designated in preparation for the third millennium. Next year, the Year of the Holy Spirit, take time with Acts of the Apostles and Romans and First Corinthians.

We must be repentant. Penance has to be part of our lives. When we are wrong, we are wrong, and we have to admit it. When we say the Hail Mary, we don’t say, “Pray for those sinners now and at the hour of their death.” It’s, “pray for us sinners.” We need to repent and go to confession. We need to examine our consciences. 

We must pay close attention to suffering. Not that we need to go out and create some. You don’t have to worry about that. You will find it, or it will find you. Life is hard, for believers and non-believers alike. Sometimes the suffering that we have is because we do dumb things. We can learn from that kind of suffering. We can learn from our mistakes. Sometimes the suffering is not the kind you can just learn from. It’s not just a dumb mistake. Sometimes suffering is just nearly meaningless pain. Consider what happened to the Jews in Germany. You can’t just say, “Well, learn from it.” The only thing that you can do with certain kinds of pain is to take it to our Lord and join it with him on the cross. Especially at the consecration at Mass, you join that suffering with his suffering and let him consecrate it. 

If we deal with the world as it is, not as we want it to be, we can grow and can be Christ’s instruments. That should be our goal, so that, at the end of life, we may hear him say, “Come. Enter into the joy of my Father’s kingdom, good and faithful servant.” Our society, which has fallen so low, can rise again. We must remain focused on Christ and the coming of his kingdom, and we must learn again how not to think politically within the Church.

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