Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Kind of Catholics Are We?

Conservative, Liberal, Traditional, devout, cafeteria, dissident, ... There seem to be plenty of labels. None of them seem to communicate who the people I know are as Catholics. A few years ago I was meeting with the veteran priest newly assigned to my parish. Fr. Clay Meyer was a very erudite academic. Observing his art collection and library I thoughtlessly asked if he was conservative, he was not impressed with my question. His firm answer was that he was Catholic (period). To his thinking he explained, labels were not helpful.

A recent article by David R. Carlin on InsideCatholic and the dialogue in the com-boxs below seem to demonstrate some of the limitations of our labels. Todd, an experienced voice in these debates (read the posts through the 40's) heads up the "liberal-Catholic" defense against Carlin's allegation that liberal-Catholics have:

  • de-emphasized Catholicism's supernaturalistic elements (for secularism is resolutely naturalistic);
  • amended Catholicism's super-strict sexual morality (for secularism is sexually permissive);
  • stressed the social-justice aspects of Catholic morality (for secularism is a great believer in a form of social justice);
  • embraced, albeit while misunderstanding, Catholicism's teaching about the ultimate authority of conscience (for secularism strongly believes in something it calls "conscience"); and
  • rejected the notion that the leaders of the Church (i.e., popes and bishops) are entitled to teach with authority (for secularism is strongly anti-authoritarian).
When you make these amendments to Catholicism, you get Catholic liberalism, a religion strikingly different from historical Catholicism; a religion, moreover, that is moving on a slippery slope toward outright atheism.
Todd in particular, and others raise some substantive points, but much of the com-box chatter revolves around the labels and what they mean. It is clear that Carlin is using liberal as a shorthand for a particular group of activists within (or on the fringe, or on the cutting edge) the Church. The near equivocation between liberal-Catholicism and secularism makes matters worse.

Actually, using secular terms like liberal and conservative to define Catholic viewpoints is part of the confusion. I'd say it is just as difficult for 'conservative' Catholics to filter secular thinking out as it is for 'liberal' Catholics.

What am I? I am a Catholic and I have really grown to dislike labels. Every label covers up as much information as it provides and carries all sorts of assumptions. My faith as a Catholic is a journey, and I have been down some roads through all of these territories.

I think it would be more helpful to identify with Saints, devotions, prayers, and books fill our Catholic lives. Even the absence of most or all of these communicates volumes about what kind of Catholic one might be.

I'll go: I am a Slave of Mary (St. Louis Marie de Montfort) St. Jude, St. Francis, Charles de Foucauld, St. Michael, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa, St. Therese. Devotions: Our Lady of Sorrows, the Rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, daily Mass. Books: The Imitation of Christ, The Cloud of Unknowing. Authors and Noted: Jacques Martain, Dorothy Day, Peter Marin, James Schall, Scott Hahn, Ralph Martin, Sr. Ann Shields.

There's a lot more, but that provides a general flavor. I am just plain Catholic and I'll take ALL of it. God, through the sacrafice of your Son Jesus Christ, change our hearts that we may be ONE.


  1. I like this post. It is in the same vein as my favorite post on this topic, from Arturo Vasquez.

    I'm very much in the same vein as you too -- my biggest influences are Dorothy Day, Fulton Sheen, and Benedict XVI, among people I do not know, but among people I know definitely my paternal grandfather (who had an apparition of the Blessed Virgin shortly before his death!) and my 2nd grade teacher, Sr. Kathleen (never knew her by any other name), and my cousin Ryan, now a deacon and soon to be a priest in May. I love the LOTH & should say the Rosary more frequently, but I get easily distracted with it as I do not with the LOTH, go figure.

  2. Like you I dislike the labels but there is a distinction between a Catholic and a Catholic with a bumper sticker that reads "Start Ordaining Women or Stop Baptizing Them." If we can't call them liberal maybe we can call them progressive when we try and be charitable (I can think of a hundred less charitable things).

    Anyway, I feel most at home with the ironic Catholic converts like Evelyn Waugh, Walker Percy, and Malcolm Muggeridge. For spiritual sustenace I like Father Benedict Groescel. For the intellect Father Stanley Jaki.

    For Saints I must go all out: St. Francis of course, St. Peter, St. Joseph, and the venerable Matt Talbot.

  3. Yep, right you are! Kinda Catholic, yearly Catholic, monthly Catholic, daily communicant, liberal, moderate (same as liberal), orthodox, conservative...blah blah. We are either faithful Catholics or we are not faithful. In our life's travels we have probably gone from one to the other and back again. Thank God He called me to an understanding and I can't ever go back to wishy washy! (memoriadei)