Saturday, February 24, 2007

A fraction too much faction...

I was recently struck by an article by John Allen at All Things Catholic, and especially by the following quote: undergraduate student approached me and thanked me for the response. He said that listening to Cordano, it struck him that the feelings of being underappreciated that Cordano attributed to [liberal/conservative] young Catholics are remarkably similar to what he and his more [conservative/liberal] Catholic friends have felt in many parishes, schools, and Catholic social circles.

“You tell people you [agree with the magisterium/believe in freedom of conscience], and they look at you like you’re a freak,” he said. “We end up quietly passing around books like [John Paul’s Theology of the Body/John XXIII's writings], almost as if we’re part of some underground.”

Try guessing which way the options should go around (I've added one of the options to the text, the other is original.) There's no way to tell. Either way, it sounds just like a complaint you'd hear if you spoke to enough young (and not so young) Catholics here in Australia.

How is it possible that both sides of this divide can both feel themselves a misunderstood and oppressed minority? That's the result of factionalism, one of the least Christ-like aspects of the Catholic community today.

I don't think Australia has polarisation problems as bad as North America's, but we have them nonetheless. Questioning the good faith of other Catholics, refusing to hear them, even branding them lesser Catholics, is a consequence of a partisan spirit that is flatly contrary to the Spirit of Christ. It occurs all too often amongst intellectual commited Catholics.

One of the outstanding features of Saint Francis was his refusal to condemn priests and bishops whose sinful lifestyles brought the Faith into disrepute. The only answer he offered to moral and intellectual error was the witness of his own holiness, and he instructed all of his followers to do the same. His humility forebade him from doing anything else. Peter Waldo, another advocate of evangelical poverty, failed this test, and brought himself and his followers to ruin.

Jesus had a simple word for the factionalist (left, right or whatever inappropriate political analogy you want to adopt): get the plank out of your own eye before you point out the splinter in your brother's. God's purposes are not served by human politicking, but His action in human lives.

This doesn't mean we surrender our judgement. Some things are wrong, and we can't be afraid to make a prophetic call to repentance. But our call only has credibility if it's an act of love. We aren't just handling ideas, and the Church isn't a debating society. The Church and the World is made up of people who are infinitely precious to Christ. They need the witness of our personal holiness much more than they need our rancour and criticism.

1 comment:


"They need the witness of our personal holiness [if we can manage it, sorry creatures that we are] much more than they need our rancour and criticism."

St Francis danced his love and it re-made the Church. That always gets me.