Friday, 1 April 2011

Why Catholic identity does actually matter...

I'm always interested in articles that provide a real insight into the, for me at least, ever puzzling question of why Catholic liberals believe whatever it is they (kind of) believe. 

Cardinal Burke's talk under attack

So yesterday's Eureka Street article by Andrew Hamilton critiquing Cardinal Burke's recent Australian talk was kind of intriguing.

But I have to admit, every time I do read one of these kind of articles, I'm also gobsmacked by the leaps in illogic and creative reinterpretation of Scripture in ways that sit totally outside the tradition of the Church.  Hamilton's piece was no exception.

No surprise then that aCath News have featured it today!

The case for a Catholic Culture

Cardinal Burke, you will recall, was concerned about the question of how to rebuild a moral society that promotes holiness rather than undermines it. 

The starting point for those concerned about Catholic culture and identity is, how do we get as many people to heaven as possible?

And from that perspective, a profoundly disordered moral state that promotes the sexualisation of minors and a culture of death; a society premised on the pursuit of individual pleasure at the expense of the common good is a problem!

The Cardinal argued that underpinning our secularist society is the idea that evil does not really exist, resulting in a pervasive moral relativism.  He draws on Pope Benedict XVI's teaching to point out that many in society seem to believe that nothing is inherently good or bad in itself, only 'better than' or 'worse than'.

The solution to this soul destroying state of affairs, he argues, is for Catholics to give witness by the holiness of their lives, and to stand up for the fundamental moral truths, even though this may result in the 'martyrdom of opposition'.

His talk gave a fascinating exposition on those forms of martyrdom that stop short of the red martyrdom of death, but nonetheless have real and serious impacts on those who suffer them: in particular the 'martyrdom of persecution' (in the face of prohibitions on the practice of the faith, including persecution for use of 'hate language' and so forth), and the 'martyrdom of witness' (hostility or pervasive indifference to those uphold holiness of life).

So how do we promote a catholic culture?

Cardinal Burke's talk particularly focused on engagement in the public square, a key theme of the current Pope and particularly appropriate to a group of University students.

But the witness of holiness that the Cardinal talked about also includes of course charitable works and concern for the troubles of one's neighbour.

And here it seems is where liberals and conservatives/traditionalists part company.

For centuries the Church has taught that concern for one's neighbour (whether Catholic or not) flows from our catholic identity.  The first 'commandment of love',  as the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, is 'to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind'.  To 'love your neighbour as your self' comes second to that.

Yet Hamilton's Eureka Street article seems to advocate skipping over the first commandment altogether and moving right to the second.  And then he tries to define 'neighbour' not as neighbour (next door, and thus in some sense 'other'), but as ourselves, as part of our 'group'. 

But that is not what the commandment says, or what the story of the Good Samaritan that he draws on, as traditionally understood, actually says or means.  To love someone else as much as yourself does not mean to love pretend that they are yourself!  And helping someone lying by the roadside does not require us to claim them necessarily as some kind of anonymous christian or even anonymous catholic.  It does not require us to disavow our own identity in favour of theirs.  Quite the contrary!  In fact the Gospel story requires us to help others even though they may seem alien, or other, to us.

In fact, for centuries the Church has seen the works of corporal and spiritual mercy, so important a focus during Lent, as deeply intertwined.  The Catholic, confident in his or her own faith finds grace overflowing into works.  Those works have a practical benefit to our neighbours  - starting with the fellow christians of our own parish communities and reaching out more broadly to all those we encounter - here and now.  But those works also provide a witness to the faith that can and should in turn convert others.  Because in the end, spiritual poverty has far more serious consequences than material poverty.

Building on firm foundations

So here's the thing: if we disconnect from faith and belief, if we fail to build from a firm foundation of catholic culture, when we reach outwards to our neighbour we will have no real substance to give. 

And of course this is precisely the reason why liberal catholicism is so morally bankrupt: it reflects a disconnect between faith and works. It is a disconnect that has permeated so many 'apostolic' works sponsored by catholic agencies and religious orders, who have put professionalisation and the pursuit of Government funding ahead of catholic values. 

This disconnect reflects at base a loss of perspective about what really counts, namely God!

Our first priority must be to reach heaven, and help others to do so.  Fixing the world here and now is a means to that end.  But we mustn't lose sight of our real objective, our true home, and the communion of saints that we must aspire to join with.

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