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.