Catholics Must Say “No” to Ideology

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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.

Why I Temporarily Gave Up Politics

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Last summer I made the decision to finally pursue my Master’s degree in Theology. My VA benefits expire in September 2015 and I could get in just under the wire to pay for the whole program.  In making that decision, I decided that in order to succeed and get the best out of the program that I needed to enter it with as few preconceived notions as possible.  I had to accept that while I had a breadth of knowledge that was high for a catechist, that did not equate to a theologian.  My classes have been humbling. In fact, there is a vast difference between a catechist and a theologian.  What I also realized is that I needed to leave politics alone while I study. The reason being that I, just like so many others, had a tendency to put my political views before the Church.  This is a trend that is vast in all circles, it is not just a “liberal” and “conservative (both of which are constructs that have no place within the Church) problem. So whether within the Church or outside, I am on a hiatus from politics.

To understand why, you would need to know a bit about my background.  I am a Navy Veteran and a former intern at The Heritage Foundation.  I have worked within government agencies from a very young age.  I seriously considered a career in politics, but realized that I don’t have the ability to bend my moral understanding. My experience at The Heritage Foundation was wonderful and eye-opening. I was a bit old for the internship at 27, but I tried to make the most of every opportunity from listening to Senate/House hearings, to visiting other think tanks, engaging in political discussions and conferences, as well as a monthly visit to Georgetown for the Tocqueville Forum. I met amazing thinkers, including some of the brightest in the Church. It just wasn’t for me.

After I left Heritage I fully returned to the Catholic Church after a few years of wandering.  I met my husband and I was finally Confirmed on my 29th birthday at the Easter Vigil Mass.  After my Confirmation, my life changed dramatically.  I began to shift from a polemic view of the world, to a spiritual understanding. I could see that while I respect what The Heritage Foundation does, they are wrong on quite a few matters.  That is when my political understanding began to evolve.

A real shift occurred when I began pro-life work. I worked in the pro-life movement in order to serve those women and babies who are damaged by abortion.  I tried to share the Church’s position within the Church, which was a major battle, an exhausting one.  I saw more and more how I had to shift away from the political and truly try to understand from a Catholic perspective.  I was running into too many people who focused on the political over the Church and it shined a glaring light into my own soul. I wanted not the Catholic of my mind, but the real Catholic.

So here I am, two semesters into my studies.  I have learned a lot, but more than anything, I now see just how little I know.  I see that even when this journey ends, even if that is with a doctorate, that I will still know very little.  That is why Catholic social media conversations make me chuckle and cause me concern.  The errors are rampant.  I have made so many.  We think we know, so we make comments in discussions, so sure of how right we are. Yes, we all need opinions.  I have plenty on the liturgy, for instance, but we need to differentiate our opinions from reality. The Church is a 2000 year old institution that gets her life from the Holy Spirit.  The Church is an eschatological guide and lived history.  When we limit her to the movements of our day, we are completely missing what the Church truly is and how she will last until Christ’s return.

What this means is that our ideas are small.  They are important to us and we should engage in discourse, but we all, myself included, need to do it with humility and charity.  We should meditate on why St. Thomas said his Summa and other works were “straw”.  That may seem startling, but the more I study of Christ and His Church, the more I get it.  We are so small when compared with the infinite love and goodness of the Blessed Trinity.

So I have stopped reading Catholic blogs focused on polemics.  Right now, I am open to the authentic Church.  I want to know her history, purpose, mission, sacraments, how she lives and breathes, her teachings, what the Magisterium really means, and on and on.  I don’t want to put the teachings of the Church in a box.  I want to stand in awe of her vast knowledge and inspiration given throughout the ages in her living history.  I want to be in that freedom and set free from my own preconceived notions and ideas.  I want to find those saints and kindred spirits who can teach me through their words.  It is an act of charity to bring the words of the past to life.  It is to let those people live again on this side of the veil and to share the graces they received from Our Lord.  I am not a Pope Francis Catholic, a Pope Benedict XVI Catholic, or a St. JPII Catholic.  I am a Catholic.  Yes, I bond more deeply with certain writings, but it does not limit my love for all of the leaders who have served Christ in His Church.  To have favorites is not to limit love, it is to be open to the person God has made me to be.

Not everyone is called to be a theologian or a philosopher.  It is something God calls specific people to do based on the gifts He has given them; however, we should all make a concerted effort to learn about and love the Church as she is, not who we make her to be. We should all make sure that we are putting Christ and His Church before our politics.  There is no place for Caesaropapism in the Catholic Church.  The state is, and always will be, subordinate to the Church, who shares the fullness of truth with the world.

So while people are fighting over politics, the noise becomes deafening for those within and outside of the Church.  It is not politics that make people march to their death on beaches or in stadiums.  That, by the way, is Pope Francis’ point.  He is not a heretic.  He is bringing the Church back to her central mission: spreading the Good News. He is pointing out that the first mission of the Church is to spread the Good News and then we can wage the culture war. It is the Good News that Jesus Christ has freed us from our sin and calls us to brotherhood/sisterhood and to share in his divine priesthood.  It is the resurrection and hope of the Beatific Vision that makes people lay down their lives for Christ. Let’s all keep this in mind as we share our faith with others.  They first must encounter the beauty of the risen Christ before they can abandon those sins that they hold onto so tightly.  In fact, the same goes for us who are baptized and who wage the battle against sin while infused with grace.

The next time we are engaged in a discussion in social media, let’s make sure we truly know what we are talking about, what we mean, and let’s make sure our focus is on the Risen Christ and not the fading politics of our day.  Politics are important in that they shape our country, but they are not even close to the most important thing in our lives.  Our political understanding comes from the proper forming of our consciences in light of the fullness of truth. And as shocking as it may be to some, the Church is no stranger to political battles within.  I think that a lot more people on all sides would find some peace if they first, trusted in Christ and second, read more Church history.  God bless.  I hope you are having a very blessed Lent.