And by the "Pope Francis thing," I mean bewildering the left, infuriating the right, and befriending all of them at the same time.
Friends and former classmates, feel free to tell me I'm tooting my own horn or misremembering, but I distinctly remember at least one meeting of fellow Catholics, at which one professor looked at me rather confusedly and said of me that he wasn't sure what I was, some sort of double or triple agent or whatever. I was delighted.
Why? Because really, to be Catholic is to break all the boundaries of the American political mindset.
The most important things in this world aren't political positions, but people. The most important characteristic of those people isn't their political position, but that they have been made in the image and likeness of God. We are all brethren at root, all family, and every conflict, every struggle between human beings is always, always, a family affair.
So politics takes a very distant place behind loving my neighbor, whatever they might claim as their politics. Heck, as Chesterton said, "The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”
So I wasn't a conservative at GU in my writings; nor was I a liberal. I wasn't even a libertarian, or some even more exotic stripe of political animal. I was simply Catholic first, and so I wrote, by turns, against the Iraq war, against abortion, for voting third party, for freedom of expression ... a whole range of things. I believe I may have bewildered many people by my consistency. After all, the kneejerk reaction from many people would be, "No! Catholics are conservative! You must fit the stereotype! It's easy that way--I can categorize you and dismiss you/assume you will stand behind everything the Republicans stand for!"
Yeah, no. Catholics are any number of things, including left, right, center, and right outside of any political party of the U.S. What binds them together? Jesus Christ. His Church. The faith handed on by the apostles.
David Mills put this beautifully in a recent piece. Excerpts:
“Give me a Catholic who is as radical as Dorothy Day but has her fidelity to the Church and I’m totally cool with it, even if I might disagree.”As you may be able to tell from past entries on this blog, I'm a big fan of Dorothy Day. She's a model for Catholics of every political stripe because she was Catholic first and political second. She believed in the Real Presence. She believed in the interior life, in the deifying effects of sanctification, in the supernatural, in a God of miracles as well as a God who hid behind the distressing disguise of the poor. She believed, and lived, and loved. And so she changed the world.
...You have to spend a lot of your day reading Christian culture-warring to know how unusual that is. For Peter, the shared faith is everything. Politics — yeah, okay, whatever.
... In seminary people would ask, “Are you a liturgy guy or a social-justice guy?” [Bishop] Barron answers by invoking Dorothy Day.
“She was radically devoted to social change, care for the poor and an end to violence,” he says. “Yet she was converted to a very pious Catholicism rooted in the Eucharist, the Mass, the Rosary, Benediction, retreats and an intense interiority. She brought these two [strands] together in her life, and one fed the other; one returned to the other. That is the model you want.” ...
She melded a very distinctive political philosophy with a fervent interior life and a serious Christian commitment, lived determinedly and fully, as best she knew how. She's a Servant of God now, and will probably some day be declared a saint.
And that, my friends, is what matters most.
Yes, there are non-negotiables in the Christian faith, some of which have very specific political consequences. The condemnations of Nazism (in its basic tenets, if not by name) handed down by Popes Pius XI and XII still stand, still have force and effect; the condemnations of atheistic Communism, of Stalin's totalitarianism and the consistent Soviet disregard for human rights and freedoms, have not gone away.
And yet the social teaching of the Catholic Church is an endorsement of portions of many different party platforms, and a challenge to many other parts of those same party platforms. Catholics ought to be, like Dorothy Day, salt and light even to those with whom they largely agree; we are to be the grit that causes the oysters of the world to produce pearls, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, St. John Paul II, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, William Wilberforce, and so many other members of the Body of Christ have been. We have a role as irritants, as prophets, pricking the comfortable and comforting the wounded, standing up for those chained in place and speaking for those who have been silenced. We have a role in defense of the family, of the unborn, of the elderly, of the minorities, of the oppressed, of those denied their rightful place, pay, and dignity.
We are strangers and sojourners upon this earth, if we live the Catholic faith rightly, and like the Son of Man, have no place to rest our heads, not even in a political party with like-minded folks. We are here, not for comfort (much as I would love that!), but to be like Jesus; to be branches of the vine, spreading the divine life and love throughout all the world, helping make it come true that God is all in all.
And so we'll love everybody, and argue with everybody, and eat together with tax collectors and prostitutes, and forgive our enemies as they crucify us, and raise the dead, and proclaim the Good News of God's love to everybody.
And we'll vote. And sometimes we'll march. And sometimes, we may even celebrate a win in the cause of doing good and avoiding evil.
And we'll refuse the great temptation to do "anything in the name of" something good, because to use the One Ring is always to unleash a great evil. And we'll refuse to make an idol of a political party, or of even a very good political position, because God is one, and He is not a political party or a position. And we won't place our trust in princes, because that's actually in the Bible, so we won't be disappointed when politicians aren't Jesus come again, because they never will be.
But always, we'll love our neighbors and seek the common good.