It doesn't matter what we claim to believe if we're unwilling to act on our beliefs. What we say about our Catholic faith is the easy part. What we do with it shapes who we really are. Many good Catholics voted for President Obama. Many voted for Senator McCain. Both parties have plenty of decent people in their ranks.
But when we hear that 54 percent of American Catholics voted for President Obama last November, and that this somehow shows a sea change in their social thinking, we can reasonably ask: How many of them practice their faith on a regular basis? And when we do that, we learn that most practicing Catholics actually voted for Senator McCain. Of course, that doesn't really tell us whether anyone voted for either candidate for the right reasons. Nobody can do a survey of the secret places of the human heart. But it does tell us that numbers can be used to prove just about anything. We won't be judged on our knowledge of poll data. We'll be judged on whether we proved it by our actions when we said "I am a Catholic, and Jesus Christ is Lord."
Here's the fourth and final thing to remember, and there's no easy way to say it. The Church in the United States has done a poor job of forming the faith and conscience of Catholics for more than 40 years. And now we're harvesting the results -- in the public square, in our families and in the confusion of our personal lives. I could name many good people and programs that seem to disprove what I just said. But I could name many more that do prove it, and some of them work in Washington.
The problem with mistakes in our past is that they compound themselves geometrically into the future unless we face them and fix them. The truth is, the American electorate is changing, both ethnically and in age. And unless Catholics have a conversion of heart that helps us see what we've become -- that we haven't just "assimilated" to American culture, but that we've also been absorbed and bleached and digested by it -- then we'll fail in our duties to a new generation and a new electorate. And a real Catholic presence in American life will continue to weaken and disappear.
Every new election cycle I hear from unhappy, self-described Catholics who complain that abortion is too much of a litmus test. But isn't that exactly what it should be? One of the defining things that set early Christians apart from the pagan culture around them was their respect for human life; and specifically their rejection of abortion and infanticide. We can't be Catholic and be evasive or indulgent about the killing of unborn life. We can't claim to be "Catholic" and "pro-choice" at the same time without owning the responsibility for where the choice leads -- to a dead unborn child. We can't talk piously about programs to reduce the abortion body count without also working vigorously to change the laws that make the killing possible. If we're Catholic, then we believe in the sanctity of developing human life. And if we don't really believe in the humanity of the unborn child from the moment life begins, then we should stop lying to ourselves and others, and even to God, by claiming we're something we're not.
After reading that I hope you feel like standing on your desk, applauding, and shouting “Amen!” Please carefully sit back down. Now read this piece by Michael Scaperlanda at Mirror of Justice:
There is a part of me – a big part of me - that wants tidiness, especially on those matters with significant cultural and legal consequences. I wish all Catholics were swimming in the same direction on these issues. Pelosi, Sebelius, Biden, Kennedy, Daschle, and the host of other pro-choice Catholic politicians are causing scandal within and outside the Church with respect to an issue that has, as Fr. Frank Sullivan, S.J. told the Conference of Catholic Legal Scholars last summer, been infallibly taught by the magisterium. Part of me wishes that the bishops would say what seems obvious to me – that these individuals, by obstinate opinion and action, have separated themselves from communion with the faithful. In other words, they have excommunicated themselves. But…
When I step back and put our present moment in historical context, and when I think about how such public “judgments” by the bishops would be taken in our current cultural climate, the waters get muddied, and the proper response less clear cut.
On the night before he was crucified, Jesus prayed: “Holy Father, keep them in your name … so that they may be one just as we are” (John 17:11), “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:20-21), and “that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them” (John 17:26).
I hope that this unity –this oneness – manifests itself as a oneness of heart, mind, and spirit in all things. But, Lord knows that in this fallen world that is a tough order. Self-centeredness, feeble mindedness, lack of courage, sickness, misunderstanding, ineffective means of communication, competing interests, and all sorts of other problems, surface to disrupt unity. This is certainly true in every marriage that I know, and throughout history we see it in the Church.
From the beginning, bishops, other leaders, and the rank and file have disagreed and fought among themselves (read Acts or almost any Pauline letter). And, for almost 1700 years bishops have fought with Catholic political leaders over political and theological matters both great and small. Why should our age be any different?
I have been harshly criticized by some readers of this blog because of my strident remarks about pro-abortion Catholics. Like Archbishop Chaput I believe they are lying to themselves, to others, and to God by claiming to be Catholic when they are not. And like Michael Scaperlanda, there is a part of me that wants to tidy this thing up. The quick and easy solution is to just excommunicate them all. But that is not what Christ wants and that is not what the Church wants. Therefore, that cannot be what I want. Sentire Cum Ecclesia Instead, I must long for reconciliation. I want these wandering sheep to come home. I must pray for conversion.
This doesn’t mean I will be any less strident in my criticism of pro-abortion politicians. The truth is the truth. Pro-abortion Catholics have forsaken their faith. But it does mean I will try to bite my tongue before I quip, “Oh, why don’t they just go become Episcopalians!” I can’t imagine ever saying to one of my children, “You’ve screwed up so badly I never want to see you again!” As a Catholic Christian, I cannot say that to an erring Catholic either.