Ideological Catholicism and the Great Commandment

The pitfalls of "Liberal" and "Conservative" Catholicism in the last 40 years are open for all to see. One of the more recent critiques of ideological Catholicism has been issued by Francis Cardinal George in his new book, The Difference God Makes. In this book Cardinal George calls for a Catholicism neither on the left, right or center, just simply Catholicism. The amount to which the Catholic experience in the United States has been fused with the political experience of a two party system and all the false dichotomies entailed is quite astonishing. This is not to say that the faith can exist in some abstract, a priori time warp, immune from the weaknesses and wickedness of our culture, but only that we should be particularly sensitive to the danger of morphing the faith into something it is not by viewing reality and God's Church through the lens of the modern American political experience.

The contemporary scandal of "Liberal" and "Conservative" Catholicism is nothing other than Satan's victory over our strengths, that is right, our strengths. The Evil One likes nothing more than to turn a great good into a vice, through the exploitation of good intentions. The situation is actually a distortion of the great two tiered commandment which the Lord Himself taught us.

"On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. 'Teacher,' he asked, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' 'What is written in the Law?' he replied. 'How do you read it?' He answered: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 'You have answered correctly,' Jesus replied. 'Do this and you will live.'" (Luke 10:25-28)

On the so called "Liberal" or "Progressive" side of the "Catholic spectrum," everything tends to implode into the second part of the great commandment so that social justice, soup kitchens and committees which "build community" become the center of our Christian experience. The faith thus becomes flattened and the vertical dimension vanishes, only to be replaced by an all inclusive "faith based" social network to promote human flourishing which in turn becomes a substitute for faith in the God Who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ. People forget that philanthropy and human compassion do not equal Christian charity. Many people who are pro-abortion and pro "gay marriage" are very generous in their donations to humanitarian programs. One need look only to Hollywood and even in our own cities. Giving money to poor people and working in a soup kitchen, as noble as these actions are, do not equal a morally virtuous life or a right relationship with God.

On the so called "Conservative" side of the "Catholic spectrum," everything tends to be imploded into the first part of the great commandment so that Church initiatives and speaking out against abortion and homosexuality become the center of our Christian experience. Defending the unborn and standing up for the traditional family are not only laudable, but they are necessary for every Christian. However, they are not enough, such that they exhaust the conditions for entering into life [salvation]. "Conservative" Christians also must be generous with the poor and live a life that is sober and temperate in its habits of consumption and lifestyle. They need to make their proper contribution to whichever community they find themselves in and not trick themselves into thinking that talking about holy things makes one holy. Orthodoxy, right belief, does not equal orthopraxy, right action. Only both, together at the same time, fulfill the condition for "entering into life."

The Evil One's trick is to make people focus on one part of the great commandment to such an extent that they neglect the other. This twisting of goods imperils one's soul precisely because one cannot love God, whom they have not seen, if they do not love their neighbor who they can see. They, however, cannot love their neighbor well who do not love God through right faith, conversion and prayer. The awful condemnation that God utters towards those to be cast into "eternal fire" is because of neglect toward their neighbor in charity.

In the Office of Readings for the second Sunday after Christmas, Saint Augustine writes the following:

"Diligendo proximum, et curam habendo de proximo tuo, iter agis. Quo iter agis, nisi ad Dominum Deum, ad eum, quem diligere debemus ex toto corde, ex tota anima, ex tota mente? Ad Dominum enim nondum pervenimus, sed proximum nobiscum habemus. Porta ergo eum, cum quo ambulas, ut ad eum pervenias, cum quo manere desideras."
- Ex Tractatibus sancti Augustini episcopi in Ioannem (CCL 36, 174-175)

(By loving one's neighbor, and by having care for your neighbor, you take the journey. Where do you take the journey, if not to the Lord God, to Him, Whom we must love out of our whole heart, out of our whole soul, and out of our whole mind? Truly, we have not yet arrived at the Lord, but we have our neighbor with us. Therefore, carry him, with whom you walk, in order that you may come to Him, with Whom you desire to remain.)

Let us beg the Lord to avoid the traps of ideological Catholicism and pray that we become faithful, loving Christians in a world where the light of faith risks being extinguished.

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