The American Catholic Church is divided. This is evidenced by the media, research, and just by being involved in my local parish. We argue and fight about doctrine constantly. Somewhere down the line in the last 50 years being Catholic has become what “I” believe and not what Holy Mother Church has taught for 2000 years. Sure this is a product of Reformation-Enlightenment-Modern/Scientific Absolutist thought. An objective study of history and philosophical thought shows us how we got to this point. The philosophical strands that have cut through the West for the last 500 years, have resulted in our current “dictatorship of relativism”. The West has put the individual as the deciding force of truth, resulting in a chaos of subjective truth, while all together abandoning objective truth; that which the Catholic Church has taught for two millennia. And while it is useful to understand the underpinnings of our culture, the real issue is a lot simpler than blaming Descartes or Calvin. The issue is conversion.
What a Church Divided Needs: Conversion
In looking at the divisions within the Church, it is quite plain that the majority of Catholics in this country have never experienced a full conversion to Jesus Christ. When we put issues like abortion, social justice, contraception, “gay marriage”, and a whole host of other political agendas at the forefront of the Church, we have abandoned the center. Are these issues important? You bet! Are they the center of the Faith? Nope. This is what Pope Francis is trying to tell the world, except the world hungers for relativism and the denial of Truth, so it pushes its agenda on his words.
Americans have really made the mistake, that was historically brought to the West by Luther and Calvin, that the state should run everything, thus elevating the state above the Church. A very anti-Catholic stance, by the way. I doubt they intended the consequences that have happened in the last few Centuries, but here in the US, politics is a religion and our political party is supposed to lead us and set us free. Jesus Christ supports my part, is a rallying cry. Well, Jesus Christ supports neither, since they both attack the dignity of the human person.
The issue is that most American Catholics are more familiar with the culture wars than they are with what the Church actually asks of each one of us. The majority do not even realize that the meaning of life is to be a saint. Instead we hold that up as some reserved for the likes of Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Cradle Catholics especially just take the Church for granted and go through the motions. What they lack is a real encounter with Jesus Christ. This is what Pope Francis is trying to tell all of us. He is not saying that we should not fight to end abortion, protect marriage, start using contraceptives, and divorce. What he is saying is that when we encounter the Living God, we want to love others as He loves us. We want to help mothers and babies. We want to feed the poor. We want to work to forgive and love our neighbor. Is it easy? Absolutely not. That is why it takes a lifetime.
If we want to stop dividing the Church, then we need to bring real conversion to the people sitting next to us in the pews and out in the world. We need to show them that the center of our Faith, the center of our lives, should be a relationship with Jesus Christ, who will show us how to truly love. Without conversion, we fall into heterodoxy, heresy, and in-fighting. The only one who can lead us out of our misery and failings is Christ. It is through Him that we find freedom and real joy. It is in Him that we find the courage to confront the injustices of the world, rather than fall into the sentimental trap of “tolerance” of ideas.
Accepting Christ and His Church is not easy. It is counter-cultural, demands discipline, and historically always leads to persecution, but it is the only way. If we want to end the violence and injustices of the world than we must give up ourselves, our own beliefs, our own desires, and give them all to Jesus Christ. If we struggle with a teaching, then we must trust His Church, and pray for conversion. It is not for the individual to question the Church’s teachings that have been here since the time of Christ, especially when He promised that dogma and doctrine would never lead to error. He is God, not me. He wants what is best for me, while I tend to do the exact opposite.
Jesus Christ is the only one who can unite the Church. The only way to set the world on fire, is to convert souls to Him. Full conversion. Not a watered down, I have always been Catholic attitude. That is not conversion. That is acquiescence in the face of upbringing. If we want joy to radiate through the world then we need to change hearts and minds beginning with the people in our parish. Don’t believe that the majority of Catholics are not converted? Try running a ministry or volunteering in the parish. You will very quickly see the apathy that has taken over. This is not an attack, rather, it is calling out the problem so that we can fix it. If Christ is the ultimate joy, shouldn’t we be working night and day to bring others to Him? Once conversion has taken place, the issues that divide the Church should wither. Sure there will always be disputes, cultural differences, liturgical differences, etc. We are Fallen humans, but the teachings of the Church should not be an issue. In Christ we discover how to live the Culture of Life.