29th Sunday of the Year
19 October 2003
Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!
Dear Friends in Christ,
As George Weigel has written, no one ever asks if the Dalai Lama is a conservative Buddhist or a liberal Buddhist. This is because most people understand that Buddhism is a complex wisdom tradition that cannot be described by reference to the left/right dichotomy used to characterize political and economic theories, policies, and parties. The same is true of Catholic Christianity.
One of the worst developments of the past forty years of strife in the Church is the habit many of us have of describing someone as a conservative Catholic or a liberal Catholic. That is like describing a puppy as delicious and a bowl of ice cream as cute; the adjective does not properly belong to the noun. A person who is politically conservative or liberal may well be a Catholic, but a Catholic as a Catholic is neither conservative nor liberal. Other terms may be used to describe Catholics as Catholics, but the terminology of left and right is completely out of place in the life of the Church. In fact, the use of such language can do grave damage to our proper understanding of the nature of Christian discipleship.
Our 2000 year old tradition has given us many ways of properly understanding our relationship to Christ and His Church. For example, an orthodox Catholic is one who believes and professes all that the Church teaches to be true. A heterodox Catholic, by contrast, denies some truth solemnly taught by the Church to be true. Or to change categories, a Catholic in full communion with the Church is one who believes all that the Church teaches AND is in complete sacramental communion. A Catholic in impaired communion, by contrast, is one who cannot receive the Holy Eucharist, Penance, or Anointing of the Sick for some reason, for example being married outside of the Church or rejecting a doctrine that must be definitively held (e.g. that only men can be ordained to the priesthood or that contraception, abortion, and euthanasia are intrinsically immoral). These are the proper categories with which to think about our place in the Church and our relationship with Christ.
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us.