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Clearing up the blurred lines

Sarah Morris | Sunday, October 13, 2013

In light of Mark Gianfalla’s Oct. 9 column “Blurred Lines of Catholic Social Teaching,” I am compelled to offer a rebuttal. From the attention-grabbing title that seemed especially insensitive in light of the recent incidents around campus to the entirety of the letter’s body, there really was no part of the piece with which I could find myself in agreement. Ultimately, this discussion comes down to the age-old question of whether it is impossible to be a Catholic and a liberal, or the other way around. To me, the answer to such a conundrum is not as cut and dry as any of us probably wish it were. In some obvious ways, today’s official Catholic Church falls closer to the right side of the spectrum in regards to abortion, same-sex marriage and even birth control. However, my interpretations of the vast majority of the Church’s stances – as well as the Gospels themselves – result in conclusions starkly different from those expressed by Mr. Gianfalla.
While I suppose it is commendable to “take the first shot,” especially when it comes to the issues that are not plainly in line with conservative platforms, the attempt to align Catholic Social Teaching against economic and immigration reform is inevitably futile and destined to fail. First, to assume that Jesus would support an economic system whose ultimate goal is to accumulate as much wealth as one possibly can over a system in which all members of society are guaranteed vital services provided by an organized body is preposterous. This is not an assault on capitalism, nor an endorsement of socialism, but any logical person must admit that Jesus would have very, very serious issues with our nation’s current system. Time and again, Jesus condemns obsessions with material wealth. This is not because “wealth represented greed because many became wealthy by unfair ways,” but because, as St. Paul writes, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains (1 Timothy 6:10).” Parables of the unhappy young rich man yearning for true fulfillment (which appears in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels) and the poor widow’s gift far exceeding the value of the rich man’s not in sum but in sacrifice (Luke 21:1-4) are clear examples of Jesus’ opposition to the capitalistic drive to wealth. Gianfalla’s letter claims that, “The Bible parables are there to encourage charity and selflessness.” This is not true. Parables were not silly little stories to “encourage” good traits among Christ’s followers. These stories are vital tools to demand the things that must be done in order to build the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ parables and teachings go far deeper than simple charity. Charity, though a vital and wonderful aspect of our faith, is not enough. We are a people dedicated to justice.
Furthermore, the letter continues on its doomed path as it introduces the subject of immigration and recent changes in the University’s policy regarding admission for undocumented students. The author claims this policy to be wrong, for it does not coincide with the USCCB and instead advocates for breaking the law. I would again advise caution with such an argument, for this rationale falls dangerously close to the Pharisee legalism which the Bible denounces on multiple occasions (Luke 11:37-52, Galatians 5:22). Not only does this new policy fall directly in line with the USCCB: “The Church supports the human rights of all people and offers them pastoral care, education and social services, no matter what the circumstances of entry into this country, and it works for the respect of the human dignity of all, especially those who find themselves in desperate circumstances,” (Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity, A Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops), but it once again addresses fundamental principles that transcend the current unjust laws of our country and aids in reform to such policies, in accordance with the larger Church’s efforts. The author then charges undocumented students to “be responsible for your own actions.” Of course, this is only my humble opinion, but I can imagine few examples that demonstrate more responsibility for one’s actions than working hard enough to gain admittance to one of the most prestigious universities in the country.
The fact that such radically different interpretations of Church doctrine and the Bible itself exist within “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” is astounding and fascinating. I came to this university fully expecting to encounter views entirely different than my own, and am thankful for the opportunity to discuss and exchange ideas. Coming from a relatively (or shockingly, depending on your point of view, I guess) liberal parish located in the San Francisco bay area, I cannot help but chuckle to myself when individuals lament the liberalization of Notre Dame. Perhaps the best consolation I could offer is an invitation to mass at St. Angela’s next time you find yourself out west. I’m sure that once the convulsions of disgust cease, you will realize that Notre Dame has a long, long way to go.

Sarah Morris can be contacted at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.