The Church is ONE

In the middle of this political season we seem to be continually confronted with messages labeled either “liberal” or “conservative.” It’s red state versus blue state, small government versus big government, cutting spending versus raising taxes, ad infinitum.  And this kind of polarization goes beyond politics into our larger lives as well.  We’re either Apple or PC, Coke or Pepsi, paper or plastic. After a while it all seems a bit futile.  Whatever truth may lie in the message of one group or another tends to get lost in the back and forth of competing talking points.  Discourse becomes mere noise. When that happens, all but the most committed partisans tend to tune things out.  At least I do.

Unfortunately today this same kind of polarizing rhetoric occurs
within the Church as well.  It used to be that Catholics were either
“practicing” or “fallen away.”  You either went to Mass every Sunday
and received the Sacraments or you didn’t.  If you were “in” it meant
that you accepted the teaching authority of the Pope and the bishops
and tried, with God’s grace, to live out the teachings of the Church
as best you could.  You were either all in and a committed believer or
you were out of the fold.  Today, things are much more complicated and
nuanced.  Following the various reforms of Vatican II, parish life has
changed in form and practice more than once.  Many times these changes happened as a result of a particular pastor’s liturgical interests or style.  In many dioceses, clear pastoral leadership on the
implementation of the Council reforms took years to coalesce into
solid, practical norms.  In some cases, this is still a work in
progress.  Over the decades, our differences have followed the secular
trends of liberal/conservative, progressive/traditional, or however
else you choose to characterize us.

For outsiders looking in, like the vast majority of mainstream media
types, these differences are hard to understand.  The world finds it
very puzzling to imagine a Church that would include so many disparate
groups.  They stare at us and point and write their opinions of what’s
“wrong” with the Catholic Church.  But mostly they want to tell us
what we need to do to “fix” it.  What this means really is that they
want us to become a Catholic Church they can be comfortable with.
Recently, a group took out an ad in the New York Times urging
“liberal” Catholics to leave the Church.  It’s a rather odd obsession
if you think about it since, as we say here in the South:  they don’t
have a dog in this fight.

But the Catholic Church is a mother who loves and embraces all her
children.  We are, after all, the church of the Big Tent.  As the
Irish writer James Joyce penned about us:  “Here comes everybody!”
Benedictines, Jesuits, Carmelites, Opus Dei and everybody in-between.
We enjoy Mass in Latin and we celebrate charismatic healing Masses,
too.  We chant.  We dance.  We pray in silence.  We pray in tongues.
The truth of our faith can have many different expressions.  Yet at
the Eucharistic table of our Lord, all of us gather in worship and
adoration as one Body of Christ.  This oneness is the strength of our
Church and is something every Catholic must defend and protect.  When
we let the world define us, we become more like the world and less
like the spotless Bride of Christ.  We need to be telling our own
story, not allowing the world to tell it for us.  Pope Benedict XVI
knows this well and his teaching on media and evangelization leads us
to embrace and exploit the resources of the digital age as the means
of our storytelling.  When we are the ones telling our story, we
reflect the various threads and patterns of our faith that are woven
together by Christ into the living tapestry of the Catholic Church.
The vigorous and courageous pastoral leadership of our Bishops is a
critical part of this storytelling and many are emerging to lead us
through this next chapter of the Catholic Church in America.  None of
us can afford to stand on the sidelines at this critical time in our
long history.  Our religious freedom is much more important than the
labels we apply to one another.  So if someone asks you if you’re a
“liberal” Catholic or a “conservative” Catholic, there can be only one
response:  “I am a Roman Catholic.”

“The Bishops speak for the Catholic and Apostolic faith, and those who
hold that faith gather around them.”

                                  —Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago

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