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Let’s be honest, practicing Catholics

| Monday, October 5, 2020

As Catholic Christians, we understand full well the importance of good works, which we know to be integral to our salvation. In fact, we stand apart from many of our fellow Christians in this regard, the majority of whom maintain that faith alone is adequate justification for God’s pardon. Frequently, such works are associated with Catholic social teaching (CST). Those particular undertakings, however, do not alone make one Catholic.

Recognizing the inherent dignity of every human person, from conception to natural death; opposing the evils of racism; welcoming the migrant; defending those who are persecuted for their faith; ending the abhorrent practices of human trafficking and modern-day slavery; educating the whole person; treating LGBT persons with respect; securing economic justice; holding civil leaders accountable; preserving our common home; working toward peace in our time. These, while perfectly consistent with CST, are not sufficient to describe the Catholic believer.

Attending Mass on a weekly basis and sharing fully in the sacramental life of the Church; giving thanks, making time for reflection and praying daily; continuously discerning, and responding to, the will of God in our lives; growing closer to Our Lady, the pinnacle of Christian devotion; grappling with scripture, theological works and the teachings of the Magisterium, even when challenging to our individual understandings; giving praise and glory to God — the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These, together with the charitable works they inspire, fully express one’s Catholic identity.

Obviously, this letter is geared toward my fellow Catholics, and so it might not resonate with all of The Observer’s readers. However, as the principal newspaper of our predominantly Catholic tri-campus community, it is not uncommon to see personal invocations of Catholicism in the columns (and digital pages) of this publication. Often accusatory and critical in their tone, almost never do these contributions convey an authentic belief in Christ’s Church. Instead, they brazenly merge individual preferences with elements of Church teaching, affirming a conception that is detached from reality.

To associate works with one’s Catholic faith, they must, by definition, stem from an authentic belief in God and his Church. A key facet of Catholicism is a belief in the existence of objective truth. Consequently, works that clearly violate the Church’s express teachings cannot accurately be described as inspired by one’s Catholicism. And similarly, opinions that contradict established Church teaching, juxtaposed with definitive truths, cannot genuinely be described as consistent with Catholicism. Rather, the honest Catholic seeks to maintain an open, authentic and holistic relationship with the Church.

This is not to say that one ceases to be Catholic when he or she expresses support for abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, ethnocentrism or blind partisan allegiances. Such a sentiment is easily negated by virtue of our baptism, the mark of which is irreversible. However, to intermingle such support with general principles of Catholic teaching in an attempt to supplant the reality of the Church is, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, willfully ignorant.

No matter our vocation — priest, woman religious, lay, married, single, professor, judge — each one of us is called by Christ to live a radical life. Ironically, in our present time, what was formerly conventional has, in some ways, become radical. For this reason, it is not without expectation that the views expressed in this letter might be interpreted by some as the ramblings of a zealot, one who shrugs at the ugliness of this world in pursuit of religious piety and dogmatic purity. Admittedly, I am no theologian, and I certainly do not consider myself a likely candidate for sainthood. On the contrary, I cherish the term used to describe those who identify wholeheartedly as Catholic, in both belief and deed: “practicing.” This simple word describes one’s ongoing response to God’s call, and it is an acknowledgement that perfection is yet to be achieved.

For Catholics, this need to practice can never be overcome. And for this reason, it is easier for many to focus — even exclusively — on the charitable dimensions of our faith. Fortunately, Jesus himself has told us where to begin our practice: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment” (Matthew 22:37–38). What follows (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”) seems to garner much more favor in today’s popular discourse, but we cannot truly love our neighbor, as Catholics, without first knowing and loving the God who lives within them.

Presently, we find ourselves very much engaged in a time fraught with confrontation; neither the Church nor its individual members are immune from this. There is much about which we might disagree. Eventually, such disagreement can injure our spirits and undermine our universal call to love one another — that is, if we fail to recall and practice what it is that unites us together in the first place: love of God through his Church.

David P. Spicer

J.D. ‘20

Sept. 29

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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