When I began to research a clear definition of ideology, I came across varied explanations for this word. It can simply mean a set of values (I don’t like this term. It’s Nietzschian. My dad has been teaching me this for years and now I have a grad school class on the topic this semester), beliefs, or ideas shared by a group of people. With this definition one could classify Catholics as ideologues and in fact there are groups of people in our culture who would define any religious person as an ideologue. We know this is not a proper definition, however, even if there are similarities. I knew that this was not a precise enough definition because it implies that all people who share beliefs or ideas with others are ideologues and I am looking for a more pejorative usage. Ideology is often linked with a political understanding. That’s closer to our purposes, but there’s more to be said. The original usage comes from Marx, but has broadened over time. It is the broader definition we seek here. In the pejorative use, ideology is a set of beliefs, ideas, or values held by a group of people which shapes the perspective of individuals who desire either change or the status quo and can foster intolerance of those not in agreement with the group. Now that we have a definition of ideology let’s unpack it a bit within the Church.
Most of us have some political philosophy or understanding as it pertains to our particular country’s mode of government. In the U.S. that means most people are either Republican, Democrat, or Independent (all other types fall under here). There are certain ideas that go with each of these titles. Where Catholics get themselves into trouble is in equating their political ideology with what the Church teaches. The Church’s social teaching supersedes all political philosophies. She transcends, purifies, and makes new all human institutions. The Resurrection has radically changed how we see and act in the world. That isn’t to say that Catholics cannot be associated with a political party. The Church is a full supporter of Catholics transforming the culture through political engagement.
The issue here is when Catholics mistakenly believe that their particular pet politician or philosophy encompasses the totality of Church teaching. In the case of American politics, no candidate or Party fully represents Church social teaching. In fact, the gap is widening between the Church and both major political parties in this country. And, while the dignity of human life, most especially abortion, is the highest in the moral hierarchy of understanding at present, we are not called to turn a blind eye to the immoral choices, stances, and systems proposed by the so-called “Party of Life”. They are far from being the Party to usher in a Culture of Life. It is becoming increasingly clear that Catholics will find it harder and harder to stand by either Party as time goes on. I could write a whole other blog post on how we need to seek virtuous candidates and virtuous lives for ourselves. For now it is important to understand that just because a candidate is “pro-life” does not mean they embody the Catholic worldview. Just like the Church prefers that you and I help the poor not large government bureaucracies. How many of us are doing our part (another blog post)?
The Church’s social teaching is all encompassing. It focuses on the dignity of all human life, including refugees, immigrants, the poor, the unborn, elderly, and the handicapped. It also has plenty to say about our relationship with Creation. So while we may be faced with a moral certitude like abortion it does not mean we should ignore the immoral leanings of our leaders, nor does it mean we get to shun the immigrant because it is politically expedient or our personal preference. Our political philosophy should be shaped by our Catholic Faith and that means discarding mistaken beliefs being presented by our preferred political Party. In supporting a politician, we do not have to agree with every position they present. In fact, in this day-in-age we should probably be disagreeing with them a lot more than agreeing.
The Church does not make specific pronouncements on systems of economics, social services, or policies, but she does condemn certain activities for their gross violations of human dignity. The Church has condemned both Socialism and capitalism in their pure forms. In fact, she prefers a system predicated upon a distributivist model in which we serve and help one another within our means and at the lowest level possible. That sounds pretty close to the Gospel. And while she does not make pronouncements or concise recommendations, she does tell us to consider our positions from the perspective of our Baptismal promises. Political ideology runs amok when it supersedes our Catholic Faith. Our political philosophy must be formed, as with our consciences, by the Light of Tradition and the Good News. We do not bring our political leanings into the Church in a hope of exacting change. If we have placed our political beliefs above Our Lord and the Church then we have fallen into ideology. If we mistakenly believe that it is only the unborn we must defend, then we have fallen into ideology. If we think that we are only to help the poor at the expense of the lives of innocent babies, then we have fallen into ideology.
God calls each one of us to a specific mission of His choosing. Some of us pray at Planned Parenthood, go to Capitol Hill seeking change, serve in soup kitchens, rally for the poor, seek just immigration practices, help the refugee, serve as missionaries, teach, write, study, etc. St. Thomas Aquinas is in the same Order as St. Martin de Porres precisely because missions are varied. The list is endless of where God can call us to bring about change in a Fallen world. In living our mission, we must not become blinded to the plight of other missions different from our own. We are called to work where God wants to us to serve, but we should always keep a full Catholic understanding in the process. Praying at an abortion clinic does not change the need in Haiti, the Congo, or in the gang infested inner cities of America. As long as we don’t get tunnel vision, then we can see with the eyes of Christ and as Catholics. As long as we see world as Christ sees them, we are in no danger of becoming an ideologue. Our mission goes on regardless of political cycle.
There is little doubt that the “spirit of Vatican II” has caused serious damage to the Church. The last 50 years have been marked by confusion, banality, and an overemphasis on the world. Individuals who were not properly formed took their own ideologies and ran with them to the detriment of those of us left to pick up the pieces. I trust in the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI that it will take about 100 years for the Church to recover from Vatican II, or any Ecumenical Council. In fact, in the Church’s history the period following an Ecumenical Council has never gone smoothly.
The problem we face now is competing ideologies have erupted in the Church and based on conversations in social media it is a battle that is particularly virulent and lacks the hallmarks of Christian charity. There are those who believe that Vatican II relegated all liturgies of the past to the dust heap of history, those who believe Vatican II is invalid, and those who believe the Liturgy is a constant that never changes and must always be in Latin, never mind the Eastern rites in the Church.
When one reads the documents of Vatican II it becomes quickly apparent that the Church had no intention of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Chant, sacred music, sacred art, beautiful churches, reverence, incense, etc. still hold their pride of place within the Liturgy. The Mass is always supposed to be a reverent right worship of God through the Holy Sacrifice offered to us by Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. It was never meant to be Protestantized, which has largely happened in my own Diocese and it isn’t a valid argument to claim our Mass should be more Protestant (which I have heard by the way). We have the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and they are not even comparable.
By the same token, the Mass was inaccessible to a lot of people who could never fully participate in the offices they share with Christ by virtue of their Baptism. A people who does not understand fully the motions of the Mass cannot offer up the Mass by their common priesthood with the hierarchical priesthood, so Vatican II sought to lessen this gap. Latin is still the language of the Church, but the vernacular allows for individuals to understand the Mass more fully. So the Church gave the option of going to a Mass in the vernacular, in Latin, or in an Eastern rite in communion with Rome. All are valid. I personally like a Mass in the vernacular where the Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Mysterium, etc. are all in Latin.
The point of this examination is to remember that both Masses are valid according to Holy Mother Church and we are called to submit in obedience. The Church is a both/and organism. She prefers to transcend and stand in the middle than be on the fringes. It also means that there needs to be a movement towards the original framers intention which was not to strip our churches in an iconoclastic frenzy and abandon sacred music for Broadway. At every Mass we are entering into the great mystery of our Faith and into the Real Presence of the King of the Universe. He deserves more than “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” or partially heretical renditions borrowed from denominations not in communion with Rome. He deserves our prayerful attention, that means quiet and prayerfulness when we enter the sanctuary. Holy Communion should be received in a spirit of humility, profound gratitude, and reverence. In fact, we should be examining our consciences daily to make sure we are in a state of grace to receive Holy Communion each Sunday. We don’t walk up to receive Holy Communion as if we are purchasing a movie ticket. We bow deeply and reverently or genuflect if able since there aren’t many altar rails these days. We are receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord!
These are two ideologies that I have observed in recent years which have caused me concern. They are creating wide gaps between Catholics and this is destructive to the Mystical Body and our evangelical mission. We must be formed by the Church first and submit to her teachings and then we can form our political philosophies or select which Liturgy we want to attend. Abandoning ideology within the Church does not mean that we cannot aid in ongoing reforms or projects, but it means that we must constantly check our motives, intentions, and ideas. If we are growing in sinful anger towards one group of people then we need to take a step back. If we struggle with the Mass at our parish and it is causing sinful anger, then it may be time to move to a parish in the area that offers a more reverent Mass. Don’t leave because you don’t want to submit to Church teaching on certain matters, however.
As we approach the election in the U.S. this November, remember that no candidate embodies the Catholic Faith. In fact, virtue is no longer considered a necessary trait in a politician. Remember the hierarchy within moral theology, but don’t ignore or disregard those areas where politicians are grossly violating the Catholic understanding of the human person. We are all shaped by ideas. Let’s just make sure that those ideas are grounded and formed by our love of Jesus Christ and under the guidance of Holy Mother Church. We are Catholics first. Pax Christi.