Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Being Catholic: More Than "Liberal" and "Conservative"

Many Catholics use varying terms to label what "kind" of Catholic they are (or they label others). These modern labels include:
  • liberal Catholic
  • conservative Catholic
  • moderate Catholic
  • progressive Catholic
  • neo-conservative Catholic
  • modernist Catholic
  • traditional Catholic
The problem with every one of these labels is the Church is not a political entity and to use such politically-loaded phrases such as "conservative" or "liberal" is the wrong way in which to describe any person's relationship to the Catholic Church.

Every one of these labels come from the political spectrum and have a lot of baggage associated with them, not to mention that the terms are quite nebulous and their meanings have changed radically through the years.

In the United States, these terms take on particular meaning and "liberal", "conservative", among other labels, have good and bad notions associated with them. Yet, none can define what it means to be Catholic.

The Church is too big to be caught up into political language. We lose the mystery and make it a purely human enterprise. While there are many political issues that Catholics can disagree upon, doctrinal teachings of the Church aren't up for grabs. I can disagree with another Catholic on the governmental role in health care, how to fix immigration, how to best fight poverty, etc. But, I can't deny the right of every human being to live. I can't deny the teaching that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. I can't deny that marriage can only be between one woman and one man. I can't deny the preferential option for the poor.

Furthermore, you can step outside of the Catholic Church going to the left or the right. Two examples:
*Messing up going left = Catholics For Choice - they advocate abortion, contraception, etc.
*Messing up going right = Society of St. Pius X - they reject much of Vatican II's teachings.

If someone asks me if I am conservative or liberal (or any other label you want to use), I answer with something similar to this response -
"I am Catholic. I believe what the Church believes, teaches, and proclaims." Of course, the saints say it even better:
"There are many other things which most properly can keep me in the Catholic Church’s bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15–17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone." - St. Augustine
"Do not hold aloof from the Church; for nothing is stronger than the Church. The Church is your hope, your salvation, your refuge. It is higher than the heaven, it is wider than the earth. It never waxes old, but is always in full vigour. Wherefore as significant of its solidity and stability Holy Scripture calls it a mountain: or of its purity a virgin, or of its magnificence a queen; or of its relationship to God a daughter; and to express its productiveness it calls her barren who has borne seven: in fact it employs countless names to represent its nobleness." - St. John Chrysostom


Gert said...

I would think we leave the liberal, conservative, etc., labels for political affiliation.

I am a conservative when it comes to social issues, not as conservative when it comes to economic, but still conservative.

Catholic might be modified by orthodox vs cafeteria. But a cafeteria catholic is more properly defined as a protestant.

Oldonariel said...

Would a person self-referring himself as an "orthodox Catholic" be okay? To make a distinction between one who is faithful to the Church's teaching and those "fill-in-the blank" Catholics who aren't?

It just seems to me that the ones who are usually faithful to Church teaching are the conservative ones while the self-identified liberal/progressive ones not only disagree with Church teaching but also openly rebel against it, especially Catholic politicians and others, e.g. Sr. Keehan., Speaker Pelosi, Fr. Pfleger.

The conservative Catholic politicians don't seem to cause scandal as much as aformentioned folks.

Happy to hear your thoughts on the matter,

George @ Convert Journal said...

There should be no need for labels at all. A person is either Catholic or they are not.

Unfortunately, as Oldonariel commented, there are many people loudly proclaiming the Catholic label but not the faith.

Some of this is just personal opinions of the poorly catechised. In other cases I am convinced that it is more deliberate - to weaken the Church for political purposes.