Sunday, November 02, 2008

Bad Catholics

This election year brought the usual assortment of public figures who wanted to gain a measure of support by playing off their Catholic identities. Of course there's Joe Biden, and Nancy Pelosi making her harebrained remarks about the Church's teachings on when human life begins. Here in Michigan, where the bishops have come out strong and united to defeat the ballot proposal to legalize human embryonic experimentation, we've got our pro-abortion Catholic governor stating that "as a Catholic, I can say to be pro-cure is to be pro-life." This irresponsible statement earned a firm response by the steadfast Bishop of Lansing, Earl Boyea, as well as a swift backpedal by the governor ("She was just speaking for herself", said her spokeswoman. Oh, really? Then why toss in that "as a Catholic" preface?)

Most responsible Catholics are aware of these public hypocrites and how they emerge every election cycle to try to trade on their Catholicism while escaping the moral and public obligations of their faith. One comment I commonly hear about these people is "they're not real Catholics."

I'm afraid that is false - they are real Catholics. Being a Christian isn't like joining a club or party or other human organization. Becoming a Christian is a one-way thing: once baptized, always baptized. You can reject the faith, you can apostatize, you can go completely the other direction, but you can't become "non-Christian" in the way you can become "non-Republican" or even "non-American". Baptism and confirmation are covenant ceremonies, and covenants cannot be undone.

To be fair, most people who would say "those aren't real Catholics" are doing it with the best of intentions: they want to dissociate the hypocritical behaviour of those Catholics from the true teaching of the Church, and make clear that their practice does not match true doctrine (as Bishop Boyea was swift to do in his response to Governor Granholm.) But it would be more accurate to state that these are bad Catholics who either do not understand Church teaching or choose not to follow it.

The thing to remember - and pray about - is that their Catholic identity does indeed "count", but not in the way they think. The common pattern of salvation history is that God visits judgment on His people first. He holds them to a higher standard, and if they fail, they pay a steeper price. It was that way with the Jewish people, and it is that way with His Church.

In other words, being a Catholic on the day of accounting isn't necessarily a good thing. In fact, it may be a very bad thing indeed. One will hardly wish to shout out how Catholic one is when the Judge will simply look down and say, "Then you should have known better." For those who disregard Church teaching and disobey her moral injunctions, Catholic is the last thing they'll want to be when they stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ - but they won't have any option there, either.

I'm not trying to say, "be patient everyone - they'll get theirs come the day." Anyone who is offhand or complacent about that grim possibility is either deficient in charity or not really apprehending the severity of what is at stake (in my case, guilty on both counts). That any of our brothers or sisters should stand at risk of what they might be facing if they don't turn is something that should move us to the depths of our souls. That is why we should be most diligent in prayer for all those who neglect the Church's teachings, thereby risking their souls - and most especially for those in public office, who risk leading others astray by poor example. We should get no satisfaction from the thought that this or that politician or actress or whoever will certainly get their comeuppance in the end. We should renew our prayer that God will shower the grace of repentance upon them, that they might turn from their disobedience before it is too late.

It is no act of charity to tolerate public disobedience of Church teaching while still claiming a Catholic identity. To do so is callous indifference to not only the public scandal presented by the disobedience, but also the state of the soul of the offender. This is why Bishop Boyea's response to Governor Granholm's statement was the act of a good pastor, both of his flock and Governor Granholm. It's worth calling attention to a critical part of his statement: " be in favor of Proposal 2 is not to be pro-life. A well-formed Catholic conscience would never lead a person to support Proposal 2 'as a Catholic'." The hue and cry in the media treats this like a political criticism. In fact it is a serious and well-crafted pastoral statement, and it indicates the deep concern Bishop Boyea has for Governor Granholm's soul.

If we want to see better Catholic practice in our society, we need to start it by being better Catholics ourselves. An important step in that is to cease responding to the public disobedience of high-profile Catholics in manners appropriate to the political realm. Sure, we can decry that such things happen, but every time we should pray for them. They are our brothers and sisters, and we should be praying that they turn from their disobedience and seek the grace of forgiveness.

Isn't that what we'd want someone doing for us?

No comments: