There is a disconcerting trend that I observe daily in social media. It is that many Catholics have mistaken their ideology for authentic Catholic faith. This is most typically combined with a misunderstanding of the ordering of politics in regard to the Faith. Many place their political leanings or personal preferences before the Church. This is greatly anti-Catholic, undermines our ability to communicate effectively, and hampers our ability to evangelize the world.
What is the Church? The Church is the visible sign to the world of the reality of the Blessed Trinity. It is Christ’s body made present through the ordained priesthood and sharing of the worshipping community most realized in the Eucharistic presence. In that sign to the world the internal reality of the life-giving Holy Spirit is at work. When we publicly rebuke Satan and enter into Baptism we are not joining an institution. We are joining a communion of believers who are “one body” due to the physical breaking of Christ’s body on our altars. We agree to enter into the mysteries of Christ’s life and death as we descend into or under the waters of Baptism. We are cleansed of our sins and we put on a new man, or as St. Cyril discusses in Lecture 20 of his catechetical series, we are clothed in a new garment.
What are the implications of our Baptism? First, the Catholic understanding of the Church is greatly anti-individualistic. What many Catholics in our country fail to grasp is that rugged individualism is diametrically opposed to Catholic identity. This is one of the many reasons so many Catholics do not understand Pope Francis. They are viewing the Church with an American lens, rather than through authentic Church teaching and history. We are members of a monarchy and a communion. It isn’t just a community, it is a communion that is connected and conformed to the Blessed Trinity through the glorified, crucified, and risen Christ. That means that nothing we do is done in isolation. It means that our very lives belong to Christ first and our neighbors second. The Church is the realization of Christ’s command to love God above all else and our neighbor’s as ourselves. We literally live that commandment in the life of the Church.
The Church’s understanding of communion, does not take away the unique dignity and gifts of the individual person, however, there is a proper ordering of such gifts. Any gifts or mission that God gives each of us stems from our life within the Church and they are meant to be used to further bring the world to Christ. We are representatives of the Church and Christ’s mission to the world. We never act in isolation or separate from our identity as a Catholic. We belong to the visible structure of the Church by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation. We all partake in Christ’s mission of bring the world in conformity to the Blessed Trinity.
This has far reaching implications for how we interact with the world. All that we do should point towards the eschatological end of all people, namely that we are made for Heaven. When we fall into the trap of ideology, we greatly hamper this call and misinterpret and misrepresent the Church. In fact, it can blur our thinking and proper understanding of good and evil. I saw an article this morning that was so grossly misleading about the situation with Bishop Finn that I saw nothing but ideology. Bishops make mistakes and sin. He made some really bad decisions. We must be able to reason through situations, rather than always assume they oppose our ideology. He did not resign because Pope Francis is on the hunt for “conservatives” (this is ideology in the Church, politics are not theology), rather this Bishop mishandled the sex abuse scandal in his diocese and had to resign. This is reality. We pray for him and those who were harmed in the process. If we cannot see this situation for what it is, then we have fallen into the danger of ideology.
This is an issue throughout the Church and is not reserved to circles who put their “conservative” ideas before the faith. This has been a major issue on the more Left leaning side since they cannot abandon their desire for sexual freedom that is diametrically opposed to both revelation and tradition. People who support the grave evils of abortion, contraception, and attacks on marriage have placed their own preferences and ideology above Christ and the Church. That is why a satirical site can write an article that this ideology seeks to remove Christ from the Blessed Trinity. Satire is always close to the truth.
Heresy is a partial truth that is taken as the whole. This is the danger of ideology. When we connect ourselves to an idea and make it the yardstick for all of our beliefs we very quickly fall into heresy. The Church is the balance between competing extremes. She has always walked a tight-rope in a world that prefers extremes to truth and reality. If we want to walk this tight-rope then we must live our lives with a clear understanding of our Baptism and the communion we are members of.
First, in our lives we are being conformed to the Blessed Trinity. That means our lives are united to the mysteries of Christ’s life and death; meaning the Cross. We are asked to sacrifice and give completely. That means abandoning ourselves to what Christ and the Church teach. It means that we are obedient even when we don’t want to be or a teaching is hard. The great internal mystery of the Cross is that Christ gave himself in total obedience to the Father. This is what we are called to. Our sacrifice is an internal act of obedience to the Holy Trinity through our external actions of charity and sacrifice.
Second, we must place the Church first. The Church is a 2000 year old body and her teachings are vast. We must, in humility, accept that we are not the Magisterium. The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the very soul and life of the Church. That means it is God who is acting in her teaching. We do not know better than God. It is crucial that we abandon our ideology if it contradicts the teachings of the Church. Humility is one of the ways we are conformed to the mysteries of Christ.
Third, we must not publicly declare that our ideology is representative of the Church’s teaching. We need to be absolutely sure that we know what we are talking about when we engage in discussions about the Church. Our political leanings, no matter which party, is not fully in line with Catholic social teaching. In fact, both parties in the U.S. contradict social teaching at some level. Of course, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, marriage, etc. supersede certain teachings by virtue of their gravity. The point is that no political party in the U.S. is Catholic and we should not delude ourselves.. In fact, while the American experiment has been a great one, there are many aspects that are in opposition to the Church. I already mentioned that individualism contradicts the idea of communion.
Fourth, we have an obligation to our neighbor. This is what Pope Francis is getting at. By virtue of the communion we are members, we have an obligation to care of the poor, persecuted, and suffering. It is not something that we leave to political powers. It is up to me and you to care for the “least of these”. That means we need to take a good hard look at ourselves and figure out how we should be serving our local community and family.
Fifth, the Church’s moral teaching is clear, concise, and available for all to read. Study it and know it. If you are struggling with a certain teaching then pray about it and seek guidance from an orthodox priest. We are not above the moral law and we must learn that love means obedience, even when it is hard. Christ submitted in obedience to death on a Cross in love of the Father. Do we really think that sexuality or our individualism is greater than that sacrifice?
Sixth, the Church is large and it is much larger than our ideology. Pope Francis’ decisions are complex, as are actions in dioceses, and Magisterial offices. When a Bishop or somebody else resigns it is not always because of whatever ideology you subscribe to. Pray and trust. We must all be mindful that we are not misleading other people by our words and actions.
We are Catholics and that means we are members of something greater than politics or ideology. Politics serve their purpose, but in subordination to our theology. We must live our lives cognizant that how we represent the Church can harm others and ourselves. If we are going to publicly share our faith (we are all called to share the Good News), let’s make sure we know what we are talking about. We have the greatest gift to offer the world: The Holy Eucharist. By virtue of our Baptism, we get to touch the broken and glorified body of Christ. We get to eat his body in order that we may be spiritually in communion with him and united in a physical reality in which God uses our senses to reach us. We must engage the world through the eucharistic communion that we are united in through the Mystical Body. THAT is our center. It is love Himself who is on our altars. We have the answer to the pain of the world. We have the answer to the meaning of life. It is time for Catholics to abandon ideology and return to the mission: Bringing the world to the glory and charity of the Blessed Trinity. We must say “no” to ideology.