This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.
This is an interesting piece on divisions within American Catholicism got me thinking about posting a Thursday afternoon diatribe on Catholicism and the strange similarity of two of the supposedly-opposite “poles” within it.
On the one hand, there are a growing number of Catholics who, frustrated with lukewarmness, heresy, or heteropraxis, have adopted the view that the Church hierarchy is essentially antagonistic towards Catholics of “real” faith, and that we as Catholics need to essentially retreat into places where we can avoid being “contaminated” by the masses (no pun intended – OK, perhaps partially so!) of not-so-well-formed American Catholics and the majority of clergy. Many of them will point to Vatican II as the bogeyman, without even really understanding what the Second Vatican Council was really about since they cannot get past their judgment-by-association mentality. Some of them end up in outright schism, but even those who stay within the Church are sometimes way too quick to slam “the bishops” (as if they all think and act alike, in unison, except for the few who are popular among people of this view) for not acting exactly as they would like to see. Some popular “traditionalist” bloggers, it seems to me, are doing incredible damage among the faithful by essentially teaching readers that it is perfectly normal and reasonable to regard Church leaders with a presumptive suspicion unless and until such leaders prove themselves worthy of our trust. They emphasize the importance of faith, but at the expense of both hope and charity. And their failure to exemplify hope or charity weakens their claim to be representing Christ to begin with. It is essentially the perspective of the Pharisees, who tried to reduce faith to nothing but orthodoxy and orthopraxis without the humility or charity that gives those things life.
Of course, on the other “side”, there are those who believe that they are doing their duty as Christians by promoting and upholding charity – on the material level, mainly – even at the expense of faith. I saw quite a bit of this when I taught at Brophy: a strange way of looking at faith (in the Catholic sense) as being, at best, irrelevant to charity or, at worst, somehow an obstacle to it. I never really understood how someone could point to Christ’s exhortations towards material charity in the Gospels as being of utmost importance while at the same time virtually ignoring most of the rest of what Christ taught – teachings that are the basis of Catholic doctrine and sacraments. What I indeed saw in great measure was not simply indifference to Catholic faith, but outright bitterness and derision towards it, even among some whose job was to teach Catholic theology to teenagers! Liberation Theology, to me, is motivated fundamentally by anger: anger which has some righteous roots to it, but is not given proper boundaries and hence turns into anger towards much in Catholic faith that is not to be held responsible for the actual sufferings that motivate righteous anger in the first place.
While many in each of these two “wings” of American Catholicism see the other side as a mortal adversary, they actually have a great deal in common. In both cases, they have lost the essential balance among faith, hope, and charity by dramatically downplaying or obscuring at least one out of the three. In both cases, they have come to regard the Magisterium and much of the Catholic hierarchy as the “opposition” and, perhaps, not even “really” Catholic. And, in both cases, they look for people who do actually inspire them to be their “real” spiritual leaders, with an authority beyond question. So, we end up with Hans Kung, Fr. John Corapi, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, and Michael Voris being regarded as illuminated individuals with a standing beyond that of St. Teresa of Avila. And when anything emerges to cast doubt upon the personal integrity, wisdom, or true Catholic faithfulness of any of these celebrities, some of their followers, having lost faith in those from whom they really should be seeking inspiration and guidance, hold on to the ship that is sinking or drift away from the faith entirely . . .