August 21, 2000
volume 11, no. 146


Pat Ludwa's VIEW FROM THE PEW for Monday, August 21, 2000

The Church is both liberal and conservative

    There was this Jewish fellow, walking down the battle torn streets of Belfast. Coming to the Catholic barricade he heard, "Halt!! Are you Catholic or Protestant?" "Neither", the man answered, "I'm a Jew." After a little pause, the man behind the barricade said, "Alright, pass." Coming next to the Protestant barricade, he heard, "Halt!! Are you Protestant or Catholic?" Again he responded, "Neither, I'm a Jew." There was a silence followed by, "What are you then? A Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?" Along the same lines, shortly after Scott Hahn's conversion to Catholicism, he was asked whether he was a conservative or a liberal Catholic. "Neither", he answered, "I'm a Roman Catholic."

    We seem to need to categorize everyone and everything. Liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, etc. The thing is, in order to be a Catholic, a Roman Catholic, you have to be neither a liberal nor a conservative, and both a liberal and a conservative.

    We hear that a conservative is one who is not 'inclusive', but a liberal is. Firstly, inclusiveness has expanded it's meaning in recent years. Where once we spoke of the inclusiveness of cultures, today we add lifestyles. The Church is liberal in that it is the first and foremost 'catholic', that is universal. It is for all mankind, of every nation and every time, until the end of the world. For the 'conservative' this may mean that one has to belong, physically, to the Catholic Church in order to be saved (outside the Church there is no salvation). To the liberal, this may mean that every religion is just as good as the next. In many cases, even better. "There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions." (G.K. Chesterton; Illustrated London News, 1/13/06) "These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." (IBID; ILN 8-11-28)

    But neither is what the Church teaches. "Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved…..Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, 'Preach the Gospel to every creature', the Church fosters the missions with care and attention." (Lumen Gentium; Vatican II; Chapter II, On the People of God; #14 &16. Also ref. CCC #846-848)

    So, the Church is both liberal and conservative and neither. It doesn't exclude anyone from God, but it doesn't say one religion is as good as another. This teaching is from the catechism even before Vatican II. "Is one religion as good as another? Is one horse in the Derby as good as another?" (G. K. Chesterton)

    It may interest you to know that it was the Catholic Church which first proposed that every child had a right to an education, regardless of race, creed, gender or national origin. It is the Catholic Church which also proposes that every person has the right to basic health care and human rights. But these rights are different according to whom you speak to. "The dignity and the vocation of women-a subject of constant human and Christian reflection-have gained exceptional prominence in recent years. This can be seen, for example, in the statements of-the Church's Magisterium present in various documents of the Second Vatican Council, which declares in its Closing Message: "The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling." (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women; MULIERIS DIGNITATEM; Pope John Paul II; August 15, 1988)

    For the conservative, this might mean that Pope John Paul II has left the teachings of the Church, that, according to St. Paul, women were to be seen and not heard…be submissive to their husbands….etc. For the liberal, this may seem as an okay for women priests, etc. But, again, both would be wrong. "…at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling." Women imbued with the spirit of the Gospel, not a socio-political agenda.

    "If you knew the gift of God" (John 4:10), Jesus says to the Samaritan woman during one of those remarkable conversations which allow His great esteem for the dignity of women and for the vocation which enables them to share in His messianic mission….. In the Spirit of Christ, in fact, women can discover the entire meaning of their femininity and thus be disposed to making a 'sincere gift of self' to others, thereby finding themselves." (IBID)

    "… the Church desires to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the 'mystery of woman' and for every woman-for that which constitutes the eternal measure of her feminine dignity, for the 'great works of God,' which throughout human history have been accomplished in and through her. After all, was it not in and through her that the greatest event in human history-the incarnation of God himself-was accomplished?…. The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine 'genius' which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations, she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness." (IBID)

    Mary, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Clare of Assisi, to name but a few, who made their marks, not only on the Church, but on the world as a whole. This is not a Church which wants Her daughters to remain silent and submissive, but one which desires Her daughters to proclaim the glory of Her Lord, Jesus Christ.

    It goes on to point out that Mary is the "model of the Church in the matter of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ," Mary chooses, she is 'pro-choice', but her choice is for God, not for herself. We can contrast Mary with Eve. When asked to bear the Son of God, Mary said yes to God. Even though such a response was not 'safe'. Eve, on the other hand chose according to what she wanted. "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate" (Genesis 3: 6)

    Eve didn't make her 'choice' according to the will of God, but rather on her own will. She determined that is was good, and not evil, again, based on her own wants ands desires, not the will of God.

    So again, the Church is liberal in proclaiming the dignity of everyone, even women and the unborn. But it isn't translated to the liberal notion that women (and men) can do as they please, whenever they please. At least, they can't and still call themselves Catholics/Christian. So the Church is also conservative when it teaches that a woman is not free to choose whether her unborn child lives or dies.

    In regards to sexuality the Church is also clear. "Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds with others." (CCC #2332)

    For some conservatives, the mere mention of sex is enough to run off complaining that the Church is promoting promiscuity. For some liberals, the mere mention of sex is enough for them to run off complaining that the Church is down right phobic about the subject. But the Church regards sexuality as a gift from God, not to misused or abused. "Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented towards the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out." (CCC #2333)

    Our sexuality is part of us, it doesn't define who we are. We are called, by the Church, to live a life of chastity according to our station. Married or unmarried. "Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy." (CCC #2339)

    We have seen the affects of this 'lack of self-mastery', this notion of sexual freedom. Lives destroyed by callousness, STD's, unwed mothers, broken families, etc. The sexual revolution hasn't brought freedom but despair. The acceptance of fornication (the carnal union between an unmarried man and woman [CCC #2353]), pornography (removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. [CCC #2354]) as well as masturbation (something the former Surgeon General wanted schools to give lessons in) serve only to destroy the fabric of life and the dignity of persons, not uphold or elevate them.

    But another aspect of sexuality has entered the topic in the name of diversity (as though it was different culture), and that is homosexuality. For some conservatives, signs saying that "God Hates Queers" is not out of line and that any sign of compassion toward them is wrong. However, on the liberal side, just saying it's wrong is 'intolerant' and 'homophobic'. In the name of compassion and tolerance, we're told we have to not only accept it, but bless it and call it a good.

    But we, as Catholics, can do neither. We know God doesn't 'hate queers'. In fact, we know that He loves them as much as He loves each of us. So, we see the Church teach that "Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." And that, "These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition." (CCC #2358)

    However, contrary to the liberal way of thinking, that homosexuals must be accepted and be given approval of their lifestyle, the Church maintains that "Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They (homosexual acts) are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They (the acts) do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complimentarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved." (CCC #2357)

    Where the Church does not condone violence of any sort against homosexuals, it likewise cannot condone it's approval.

    There are other examples. The Church does not condone violence against abortionists or abortion clinics, but under no circumstances, can it approve of unrestricted abortion. Positions that, according to one's socio-political leanings, may be liberal and conservative.

    Even in the Mass we have these 'labels' being applied. Accept Novus Ordo, the New Mass, and the conservative is likely to tell you you've fallen away from the true Mass, as he calls for a return to the pre-Vatican II Mass. However, for liberals, the New Mass is one in which everything the Church holds dear and true is thrown out for the sake of experimentation, 'relevancy', etc. The Mass has always changed over time. The Mass we had in 1950 was not the same Mass said in the early Church. It adapted and evolved to answer questions, end abuses, etc. The basics remained however. When the rise of Protestantism prompted the Council of Trent, the Council was asked about Masses in the vernacular, something the 'reformers' had attacked the Church with. The Council saw this as an attack on the sacredness of the Mass and strictly condemned 'any' Mass which was said totally in the vernacular. This is a key phrase, 'totally' in the vernacular. It didn't condemn a greater use of the vernacular in the Mass.

    "Although the Mass contains much instruction for the faithful, it has nevertheless not seemed expedient to the Fathers that it be celebrated everywhere in the vernacular." They even condemned "anyone who says that the Mass ought to be celebrated in the vernacular only.[Council of Trent; The Doctrine on the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, VIII, Canons on the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Canon 9]" (THE CATHOLIC CATECHISM by Fr. John Hardon, S.J.; Part Three: Ritual and Worship - XII. The Liturgy; Trent and Second Vatican)

    Vatican II didn't overturn the Council of Trent, "Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites." (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy; SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM, Chapter I; General Principles for the Restoration and Promotion of Sacred Liturgy; 3. The Reform of the Sacred Liturgy C) Norms Based Upon the Didactic And Pastoral Nature of the Liturgy; #36, para.1)

    It goes on to say that the greater use of the vernacular would be of a benefit to the people, a wider use of it may be made. Especially in the readings, directives and some prayers and chants. It also has to be understood that there are numerous Rites within the Catholic Church. Most of us in the US belong to the Latin Rite, but there is also the Byzantine Rite and others.

    In short, the Church is both conservative and liberal. It cares for the welfare, spiritual and temporal, of Her people, and all people. That is why the Pope and the Catholic Church are a moral authority in the world today because of Her concern for all people, universally. It is conservative because, in order to care for their welfare, She has to hold to the truths and teachings Her Lord, Jesus Christ, gave Her through His Apostles.

    How can I describe it? A conservative is like one who doesn't want to touch anything, letting the dead fall and debris accumulate until lightening cause it to ignite in a destructive fire. The liberal is one who calls such 'wild fires' renewal, instead of the destructive force it is. The Church is like the caretaker who removes the dead fall and debris while keeping the forest safe for it's inhabitants.

Pax Christi,


August 21, 2000
volume 11, no. 146

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