Author: Lisa Graas
•7/11/2010 01:19:00 PM
It has always fascinated me that within various faith traditions, just as in politics, there is always a left and a right.  One might say that politics influences religion and vice versa.  Certainly, there is a lot of that going on, but I tend to think that whether or not individual people end up leaning left or right has a lot to do with their own life experiences and how they interpret them.  We choose to go left or right, in other words, based on our subjective interpretation of what is truth and what is not truth.  Naturally, we view those who see things differently as our adversaries and we unite together with like-minded individuals to oppose them, most often in the sphere of public debate.  We hope that if our voices are louder and more reasonable than theirs, we will win others to our proverbial banner and gain power so that we can bring about what we believe "justice" is.  In other words, what we all have in common, no matter where we are on the spectrum, left or right, is that we are all seeking what we believe is 'justice'.  Perhaps if we realized that, we'd all get along a bit better.  Few among us actively and knowingly seek 'injustice'.  Even some murderers think they are justified in some way as they commit injustice.  God calls us, as the adage goes, to "love the sinner and hate the sin".  It's far easier to "love the sinner" when one understands that most people really do have good intentions.

So it is, I'm sure, with South African Bishop Kevin Dowling who was recently very critical of efforts by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI to restore orthodoxy in the Church.  (National Catholic Reporter -- Catholic social teaching finds church leadership lacking) Bishop Dowling means well.  He seeks 'justice', or what he subjectively believes 'justice' to be, but he is quite wrong in his criticisms.  As I read his critical speech, which was before a group sympathetic to his views and was ostensibly not intended to have become public, I couldn't help but see arguments to turn the Church I know and love all topsy-turvy.

Father Z explains why Bishop Dowling is wrong in regard to vestments and ordination of women.
Advent Hope examines what may be Bishop Dowling's fear of orthodoxy.
Defend Us In Battle rightly notes that Bishop Dowling's arguments are "logically bankrupt".

I agree with each of them.  What fascinated (and troubled) me so much about Bishop Dowling's speech, far and above the other problems, is that he cited the doctrine of subsidiarity as reasoning for a democratic church structure wherein the people decide what is doctrine and what is not.  Subsidiarity refers to economic policy, that preference should be made for local solutions to advance social justice.  (Frank Morriss explains here.)  Bishop Dowling has it all backwards,  you see.   He seeks a large civil structure of social justice alongside a Catholic Church whose doctrines and disciplines are determined by the will of the people.

Bishop Dowling's speech offers a very strange example of appealing to the worst of both sides, not the best of both sides.  He gives sort of a "TEA Party" view of the will of the people overruling the Vatican and he gives a socialist view of economic policy.  Such a message, if it were given by an American bishop, would ironically gain some sympathy from TEA Partiers and socialists alike, with the Catholic Faithful left scratching their heads in dismay.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had yesterday after mass with my priest.  I noted that in politics now, the loudest voices are either far left or far right.  Catholics who embrace authentic Catholic teaching seem to be caught in the middle.  We agree with the moderate right on issues like subsidiarity and abortion.  We agree with the moderate left on issues like immigration and civil rights.  He agreed that it is indeed a conundrum for Catholics and, thankfully, he confirmed that as long as I do go to the polls on election day, if there is a particular race where I cannot cast a vote in good conscience, I can leave that box blank and fulfill my duty as a Catholic. This is rightly termed a "protest vote" against both parties.  What a relief this is for me. 

Each of us has the duty to work for justice in the world.  The vast majority of us sincerely do have that intention.  It seems clearer now to me than ever that, though we have come a very long way, we still have countless miles to travel.......and few among us have it right.

Cross-posted at
Author: Lisa Graas
•7/08/2010 12:13:00 PM
We Catholics are charged with helping to strengthen the Church, to assist in building a Catholic culture, but what does that mean exactly?  And what can we do to advance the Catholic culture in America?  Let's examine it for a moment.

First, it is helpful to know what a 'Catholic culture' is. It is a culture made up of people who place Jesus first in their lives and who live His message.

In Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II wrote:
To all the members of the Church, the people of life and for life, I make this most urgent appeal, that together we may offer this world of ours new signs of hope, and work to ensure that justice and solidarity will increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love.
A culture of human life, as Pope John Paul II notes above, is one which is concerned with the advancement of justice, the fostering of solidarity, the propagation of truth and the giving and receiving of love.   It is rare to find anyone these days, even among Catholics, who is able to do all of these things consistently in practice in their own lives, in their families and other relationships and in how they reach out to the world.  We all struggle inwardly against sin and temptations, and we all have disagreements about how to bring about a Catholic culture.  Some have a gift to focus on a particular area and may forget that having a gift in one area does not excuse complete failure in another.  When each of us embraces the call to live out the Gospel in our own lives, we will succeed in building that Catholic culture.  It is not enough to be Catholic on Saturday night or Sunday morning.  We must be Catholic at every moment, to be Christ in the world, and to embrace Him in every thought, word and deed.  I personally struggle greatly with this.  It is not possible to 'be' Christ in the world in all His fullness, but I have learned from experience that Aquinas is right that one can develop a Christian habit and become more Christ-like if one seeks to turn Himself over to the truth we are called to live out by Him, even (and especially) when it hurts to do so. 

Dr. Jeff Mirus writes in his essay How Culture is Done:
Though we are not always consistent, ultimately most of our actions stem from the deep inner beliefs and judgments which we hold to be most important. If we are self-aware, we’ll eventually notice and change what is inconsistent in our behavior. In any case, a certain kind of culture is formed wherever people speak and act consistently. We usually think of culture in terms of the larger society of which we are a part, though the family is most often the first cultural unit. But culture is not restricted to families on the one hand and dominant social trends on the other. Rather, culture is formed within the sphere of influence of each group of persons who are brought together by any conceivable set of circumstances.

The key point is that culture is always formed within a specific sphere of influence based on repeatable actions which are consistent with specific ideas, beliefs or values. This is why culture can be formed deliberately as well as more or less accidentally. In fact, to preserve the values in any existing culture within any sphere, or to extend those values to other spheres, a good deal of self-awareness, analysis and planning is often essential. The one constant is that culture is always born of consistent action properly connected to leading ideas. Therefore, insofar as we act based on the prevailing ideas already operative within a certain sphere, we do nothing to change or improve the culture. But insofar as we act consistently on a different set of ideas, then in each sphere of our own influence—or in each sphere where we can create influence through the building of an effective nucleus—the culture will begin to change.
Do read the whole thing.  It's a wonderful article.

So, we begin as individuals working on ourselves to live the Gospel in all that we do.  This fosters the Catholic culture within our families and then, by extention, throughout the world.  It cannot ever occur, though, if we don't begin in ourselves.

On a personal note, I have found that one of my biggest failures has been in maintaining peace and calm within myself.  God has given me the gift of being one who seeks justice in the world, but with that gift comes responsibilities and, also, temptations.  No one who loves justice is able to be fully at peace in an unjust world.  Neither is one required to be always at peace.  Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers at the temple.  SS Peter and Paul did not have the luxury of remaining silent.  They were called to preach to those who took them to their deaths for doing so.  Having said that, a temptation that I frequently deal with, which pulls me away from Christ, is in not being able to be at peace in the world as it the point of becoming uncharitable.  I forget that God is in charge and I thereby attribute too much importance to myself at His expense in what otherwise is a noble goal to bring about justice.  I fool myself when I first remember that it is my job to help to bring about justice in the world but then forget that it doesn't mean that I have failed if that justice does not come.  Being uncharitable can be a tool of the proud, a tool that is wielded to oppress others so that one can think himself to be a victor in the struggle for justice and, as such, pleasing to God.

Even with all that SS Peter and Paul did, the world remains a vale of tears.  This does not make them failures.  Each of us has great value to God, whether we fail or whether we succeed, but not one of us is a failure if found to be a winner by God.  When one reaches that understanding, he has found a place of peace wherein he is equipped to practice charity........and charity advances justice in the world. Being uncharitable in an attempt to advance justice, then, is really an exercise in futility.

We all have our struggles, but it is through these individual struggles, moment by moment, that we help to bring about a Catholic culture.