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Catholic vs. Catholic: Why are we fighting? Is it worth it? Print
Guest column
Thursday, May. 21, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

Catholics are attacking our apostles and priests. Bishops, priests, and faithful lay people are challenging colleges, universities, hospitals, and other Catholic institutions to be just that -- Catholic.

Guest Column

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is formally assessing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, on very important issues. Bishops have defined that Catholic institutions cannot perform new-age-energy-healing rituals.

And bishops, priests, and lay faithful are increasingly challenging prominent Catholic politicians, like the vice president, the speaker of the house, numerous governors and officials, at every level throughout the country, to be Catholic.

We are fighting amongst ourselves, and while not fun, I know it is a worthwhile fight!

So, what are we fighting for?

It is clear to me that we are in the midst of a worldwide fight about the two most fundamental human exercises of philosophy and theology: our desire to know what is true and, by extension, who is God.  

It is a search for the absolutes in this world -- those things we can know, from our intellect, sciences, and from divine revelation, to be absolutely true, for everyone, everywhere.  

Because the answers to these questions are universal, it is most worthwhile to discuss, argue, and figure out what is true --for everyone's sake. It is certainly much easier to adhere to the notion that everyone has their own "truth" and to avoid any honest dialogue or -- God forbid -- conflict by never challenging our neighbor.  

But, as Catholics we necessarily believe that our Church is in an unique place in human history, to enter into that honest dialogue which is so necessary.  And we, as members of the Body of Christ, find ourselves in that same unique place as we belong to a Church which has been given the fullest understanding of the truth, by Christ Himself and His Spirit, who protects the Church from error in matters of faith and morals.  

Not to hold that the Church preserves these truths would be to say that Jesus was not who He has said that He is. And not subsequently to fight for the truth, would be not to care. It would be to say that the salvation of my neighbor is not important to me.  

And we must always begin with an examination of ourselves and our own Church.  So, when Catholics choose not to accept these truths, truths which will bring them to happiness and a life of joy, it is the most charitable and pastoral thing to correct them, albeit not always publicly.  

But where the falsehoods, and sometimes honest misunderstandings, are promoted publicly, and are therefore very scandalous, they must be addressed and corrected publicly for those who may have believed these wrongs.

It is never fun to air our dirty laundry, but if one person returns to, or comes to know, the truth, then it is worth it. It means Christ has searched for, found, and returned a lost sheep to His flock.

Not always popular

The Church has been counter-cultural since Jesus, Himself, started it. He was put to death because of our unwillingness to accept the truth and what it would mean for us.  

Many of His first Apostles and disciples were killed for teaching in His name, so why should we expect any less persecution today, even from within the Church?

Every one of us professing to be Catholic must stand up for the truth, as taught by the Church and in every situation, especially when the truth is under attack, as it is today.  

We must take up the fight each day, but we must do so with love and with patience and with a renewed zeal as well, because it is worth it, and there are souls at stake, including our own.

The invitation

The Church is not saying that everyone must believe the truths of our faith, only that everyone who chooses to be a member of Christ's Church believe His universal truths, because our "catholic" faith must be (by definition) the same everywhere, in every diocese, parish, in every city and country, and throughout time and space; the same in heaven as on earth, because there is only one Christ, one Church, and one truth to be taught and accepted.

This is what it means to be Catholic. It is a free choice: an invitation from Christ Himself which He extends to every person through the Church He established upon the first bishops.

Our constant evangelical work, yours and mine, is to make this invitation to everyone we encounter. Our catechetical work is to continually explain this truth.  

This is what the Second Vatican Council called the Church to.  It demands that we allow the truth, given to us by Christ Himself and entrusted to the Church, to spread throughout the entire world.

As lay disciples, we were given an increased role in this evangelical and catechetical work of the Church. It is our mission, too, to invite everyone to the truth, to explain the universal truth, and to change the world so that it reflects God's truth better, in our homes, communities, and even in the political sphere.

Fraternal correction and personal integrity

Since the beginning of the Church, those outside of full communion have been asked to recognize that fact. We refuse ourselves Sacramental Communion when we find ourselves outside of that communion because of our state of serious sin or because we do not accept the fullness of the truth taught by the Universal Church.

We are asked first to hold ourselves accountable and second to lovingly hold others accountable. We have a responsibility to personal integrity for the good of our own souls and for the love of God. But, we have a Christian responsibility to hold others accountable, if we truly love them as ourselves.  

These are the first steps in engaging the entire world with the truth and the first step toward changing the world with the truth with the love of Christ.

The current "fighting" in which we as a Church are engaged is the same fight it has been fighting since the first Pentecost. We are inviting everyone (even those already identifying themselves as Catholic), patiently and always with love, to accept and re-accept the one truth. It is worth fighting for!  

And, secondly, we are challenging everyone to be honest with themselves and with the community. We are asking everyone (ourselves first) to have some personal integrity and ask "do I really believe everything that a Catholic Christian must, to honestly claim the faith?" If the answer is ever "no," or "I don't know," then we need to reconcile our unbelief and our personal opinions with the truth, with Christ Himself.

We are fighting about the truth, about what it means to be a member of Christ's Church. We are fighting about having personal integrity and, in charity, inviting everyone to reconcile themselves to the truth and never the other way around, as it is so tempting to do these days.  

But that has been true of every age. The fight is not new. These are fights we need to have for our own souls, for our own integrity, but also for every sincere searcher for the truth, and for all who search for God. It is worth it, you are worth it, and the Church will continue to keep up the good fight.

Brent King is the director of communications for the Diocese of Madison.