Monday, October 29, 2012

Beyond Liberal or Conservative

Do you have friends who classify people according to an "either/or" mentality--that is, people are either liberal or they are conservative?  A couple years ago, an acquaintance of mine started talking politics, then looked at me and said, "So are you a Republican or a Democrat?"  It usually takes me about ten minutes to think of a decent response in moments like this, but on this particular day my immediate answer was, "Actually, I'm a Catholic."

The issue at stake was one of identity and allegiance, not to mention the question of being labeled.  Who or what defines me as a person, and what shapes my thought and actions?  Though I may fail and fall, though I may wish my identification were more wholehearted, as a Catholic what I am is neither liberal nor conservative.  Of course, as a faithful citizen, I do vote.  But before I choose whether to vote for a given candidate, the first question I grapple with is whether my faith will inform and transform my politics, or whether the politics of the day will wind up shaping what I believe as a Christian. 

In a new "Introductory Note" to their document on Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Bishops highlight six current and fundamental problems.  These issues clearly cut both "left" and "right," and they remind us that Christ and his Church transcend categories such as liberal or conservative.  For example:

Monday, October 22, 2012

"I Believe in God"

Our Lady of the Rosary
This is the opening phrase we recite each Sunday as we pray the Creed--from the Latin, credo, for "I believe."  Moreover, we profess to believe in God who is a mystery of Trinitarian Love--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   But what does it mean to say "I believe," and how can we strengthen our faith in this central mystery of the Christian life?

In recent years, a familiar phrase people have started to use is talking about where people fall "on the spectrum."  Although being "on the spectrum" can have some negative connotations depending on the context, it can also imply a kind of fluidity and a reluctance to simply label people with simplistic "either/or" categories.  The phrase seems to recognize the fact that we are all "works in progress," not finished products easily defined.  So, perhaps we should ask ourselves where we fall "on the faith spectrum."

First and foremost, faith is a gift--a theological virtue given by God himself, but accepted and exercised through our free will.  And faith is also a journey.  It is a pilgrimage into a deeper, more personal relationship with the Lord.  So is my faith wavering and uncertain, solidly committed, or wholeheartedly convicted at this point of my life's journey?  Though these are not the exclusive choices (it's not a multiple choice question with only three possible answers), we might consider them as points on a continuum: 

 Wavering/Uncertain                 Solid/Committed                 Wholehearted/Convicted

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


As a kid, October 11th was always a good day in our family.  It's not that we were big on commemorating the anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, or that we celebrated the debut of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992.  No, October 11th was my father's birthday, and that always meant a great dinner (including desert)!  In the two years since my dad died, October 11th has taken on a new sense of importance for my family--as we remember and celebrate the guy we somehow miss and appreciate a little bit more with each passing month. 

Thanks to the attention generated by the Year of Faith--called for by Pope Benedict (here photographed with Papa Doug, as his eighteen outstanding grandchildren called him),  my family and I have a new-found appreciation for the ecclesial significance of October 11th.  I also feel a sense of anticipation for November 24th, 2013--the end of the Year of Faith on the feast of Christ the King: how will my own faith life and the life of the Church be deeper and richer, thanks to this Year?

So, given that our Holy Father has invited us to dive more deeply into our faith this Year, how about this for a conversation starter in the weeks ahead:  "What are you doing for the Year of Faith?"  In other words, how about if we ask ourselves and others how we want our faith to be deeper and stronger by the end of this Year?  Most of us make New Year's resolutions; so why not make a Year of Faith Resolution, and then encourage others to do so as well?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Speaking of Sunday

Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem
 So what's your "elevator pitch" about going to Church on Sunday?  You know those brief but precious moments when someone asks you an authentic question about why you go to Mass: what is your less-than-two-minute response that might draw them in to (re)considering Church on Sunday?

If a neighbor notices us going to Church week after week and then finally asks about it, or if colleagues say, "you're Catholic, aren't you?", and then ask whether we go to Mass, these are wonderful opportunities to help "open the door of faith."  So what's your "go to" response?  Perhaps it includes one of the following:
  • Finding a deep, abiding sense of peace:  Doesn't your week just seem to go better when it begins with Mass on Sunday?  Haven't you had an experience of that "peace which surpasses all understanding" (Phil 4:7)?
  • Belonging to something bigger:  Isn't it nice to have a sense of meaning and connectedness in your daily life?  St. Paul explains that "I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me' (1 Cor 11:23)."  This same gift of the Eucharist is handed on to us from the Lord to this day.
  • Reflecting on the Word of God:  Who isn't looking for a sense of deeper meaning and for an experience of God speaking to us personally each week?  Isn't it amazing that, with a billion Catholics around the world, we hear the same Scriptures proclaimed each Sunday?  Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we proclaim, "were not our hearts burning within us when he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?" (Lk 24:32)
  • Seeing heaven meet earth:  Who wouldn't want a weekly experience of the Supernatural breaking in and through the words and rituals of our natural world?  Don't we all need "the gift of God's grace" (Eph 3:7), in order to become the better person we want to become?

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Little Flower Power

St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face
Have you ever felt like there are so many changes you'd like to make in the world, but you've really got so little control over anything?  Have you ever had the nagging feeling that there are powerful forces at work--politically, economically, culturally, etc.--that are pushing our country and our world in the wrong directions, and there's not much you can do about it?  Perhaps closer to home, have you ever been frustrated that you're not making your immediate daily life better--in terms of stronger relationships and deeper friendships?

But haven't you also had the sense that there must be some little ways we can make a difference? 

How about a Little Way to change the world?  St. Therese of Lisieux, who entered the convent as a teenager and died at age 24 leaving only her spiritual autobiography, became affectionately known as the "Little Flower" precisely because of her piercing insights into this Little Way.  It's the Way of spiritual childhood, of loving trust in our heavenly Father.  It's the Way of fulfilling our small, seemingly insignificant daily duties with great love.