Catholic is a Noun


Deacon Keith Fournier


Well, the "anniversary" of Roe v. Wade has come and gone. Like many who have spent decades in the trenches of this great human rights struggle, I do see signs that the tide is turning. A recent editorial entitled "A Tough Roe: Will the Democratic Party be abortion's final victim" by one of my favorite editorialists, Peggy Noonan (Wall Street Journal, January 20, 2003) is a must read.

I agree (as I often do) with Ms. Noonan. The Democratic Party has lost its soul and is losing its numbers.

However, my concern is also with the other major party (in fact, any other political party) and the vital role that Catholic citizens (which includes Ms. Noonan) must now play as we approach the next Presidential election. If we are going to help build a "culture of life" and a "civilization of love" we must become the conscience of every party, while not being wrongly contained by or beholden to any of them.

Our adversaries try to marginalize us, accusing us of being "single issue" in our political concern. They are wrong. Abortion is not the only issue we are concerned about. It is the tip of an iceberg. Abortion is, in the words of John Paul II the "cutting edge of the culture of death" Any time human persons are treated as "products" to be used, aborted, discarded, manipulated…. there we find the "culture of death". When abortion is finally illegal, we will have much more work to do. This work will involve our action in every segment of human culture as leaven and salt. It will involve the change of hearts and minds.

You see, among all Christians, indeed all people of faith and good will, we Catholics are the ones who will be judged the most severely - if we fail to act. The biblical principle is so applicable here "To those, to whom much is given, much more will be required!" Those of us who bear the name "Catholic" profess that we believe that the "fullness of truth" subsists within our Church. What does that mean?

The extraordinarily prophetic "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" (Gaudium et Spes "Joy and Hope") promulgated in 1965 at the Second Vatican Council has so much to teach us in our present hour. It begans with these words:

"1. The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.

2. Hence this Second Vatican Council, having probed more profoundly into the mystery of the Church, now addresses itself without hesitation, not only to the sons of the Church and to all who invoke the name of Christ, but to the whole of humanity. For the council yearns to explain to everyone how it conceives of the presence and activity of the Church in the world of today.

Therefore, the council focuses its attention on the world of men, the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in the midst of which it lives; that world which is the theatre of man's history, and the heir of his energies, his tragedies and his triumphs; that world which the Christian sees as created and sustained by its Maker's love, fallen indeed into the bondage of sin, yet emancipated now by Christ, Who was crucified and rose again to break the strangle hold of personified evil, so that the world might be fashioned anew according to God's design and reach its fulfillment.

3. Though mankind is stricken with wonder at its own discoveries and its power, it often raises anxious questions about the current trend of the world, about the place and role of man in the universe, about the meaning of its individual and collective strivings, and about the ultimate destiny of reality and of humanity. Hence, giving witness and voice to the faith of the whole people of God gathered together by Christ, this council can provide no more eloquent proof of its solidarity with, as well as its respect and love for the entire human family with which it is bound up, than by engaging with it in conversation about these various problems. The council brings to mankind light kindled from the Gospel, and puts at its disposal those saving resources which the Church herself, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, receives from her Founder. For the human person deserves to be preserved; human society deserves to be renewed. Hence the focal point of our total presentation will be man himself, whole and entire, body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will."

The Church is an "Expert in Humanity", as this and other wonderful documents proclaim, precisely because Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man. In fact, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ gives us insights into the aspiration, destiny and hopes of every man and woman, indeed the human race. Paragraph 22 of that same document, the favorite passage of John Paul II proclaims:

"22. The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come,[20] namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown"

The Church proclaims the only true humanism. It has the "competency" to speak to all of human life, if we will learn to listen and apply her wisdom.

The questions we must ask ourselves as Catholics in America include: Do we actually believe this? Do we know what that truth really is? Do we live our lives according to that truth? Do we embrace and apply the far reaching applications of that truth?

Let me briefly deal with each of these questions.

1) Evangelization requires an encounter with a person who is Truth, Jesus Christ.

The sad fact is that many Catholics do not really understand their faith or comprehend the implications of their Baptism. At the heart of being a Catholic Christian is having a deep, abiding relationship with the One who is Himself the "Way, truth and Life", Jesus Christ. It means having what our evangelical Christian friends often call a "personal" relationship with Jesus. It certainly cannot end there, it must continue in a dynamic implantation into His body, the Church, the continued sanctification of our lives and our participation in His continuing mission of redeeming the world! However, all of this presumes that we actually know Him!

The entire fabric and beauty, the tapestry that is Catholic life; including the beauty of the Sacraments, the Liturgy, understanding of what it means to belong to the Church as the Body of Christ, the wonderful gift of the "Teaching Office" (the Magisterium) to continue to guide us in truth… all of it presupposes that our faith is living and that we actually have ‘owned" it for ourselves. It presumes that, as important as the doctrines of our faith are, that we not only know them cerebrally, but that know the One who is their source.

In this sense, we have too many "un-evangelized", baptized Catholics. This is precisely why John Paul II has issued a call for a "New Evangelization"

2) Living the Catholic Christian life requires ongoing instruction in the faith and its application in our lives. 

The classical definition of "theology" is "faith seeking understanding."

All Christians need good theology. What we call "Catechesis" or instruction in the faith, must be more than parochial school, Father or Deacons homilies on Sunday, or even our attendance at C.C.D. as a child. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an extraordinary gift from God. The problem is it remains unread by too many Catholics.

Our faith does not just speak to our "personal" lives. It is not "private". It speaks to the whole of life and is meant to inform and transform the entire way we both view and live our lives.

3) Our faith is to be lived in our lives as an integrated whole.

We are called to live a "Unity of Life" In fact the "separation between faith and life" has been called "one of the greatest errors of our age." That expression was a part of the "Pastoral Constitution":

"43. This council exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come,[13] think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation.[14] Nor, on the contrary, are they any less wide of the mark who think that religion consists in acts of worship alone and in the discharge of certain moral obligations, and who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age."

The phrase has been repeated numerous times by Pope John Paul II and most recently became the framework for the Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life"

"It is a question of the lay Catholic’s duty to be morally coherent, found within one’s conscience, which is one and indivisible. "There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life’, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture.

The branch, engrafted to the vine which is Christ, bears its fruit in every sphere of existence and activity. In fact, every area of the lay faithful’s lives, as different as they are, enters into the plan of God, who desires that these very areas be the ‘places in time’ where the love of Christ is revealed and realized for both the glory of the Father and service of others. Every activity, every situation, every precise responsibility – as, for example, skill and solidarity in work, love and dedication in the family and the education of children, service to society and public life and the promotion of truth in the area of culture – are the occasions ordained by providence for a ‘continuous exercise of faith, hope and charity’ (Apostolicam actuositatem, 4)».[25]

Living and acting in conformity with one’s own conscience on questions of politics is not slavish acceptance of positions alien to politics or some kind of confessionalism, but rather the way in which Christians offer their concrete contribution so that, through political life, society will become more just and more consistent with the dignity of the human person."

4) Catholic Christian faith involves living our lives "incarnationally"

The Catholic Christian, by virtue of his/her Baptism, is called to a life of Participation. The faith is not something we "put on and off" like clothing. It is meant to inform all of our lives and to change the way we both view reality and live it! We do not check our faith at the door of our participation in the "stuff" of life, whether that be art, entertainment, culture, economics, or even politics.

Now, let me turn to our political participation. Perhaps more than in any other area, I believe that we have fallen short in our citizenship. We often do so by either divorcing the implications of our faith from our public life or by confusing the relationship between the two. Among faithful Catholics, I think this latter mistake more common. We see our identification as "Catholic" as an adjective. Therein lays the mistake.

Catholic is the Noun

My experience in political action and policy work has all too often been with folks who act as though "Catholic" is an adjective. In other words, they are "Catholic" conservatives. Or they are "Catholic"------, fill in the blank.

First, you simply cannot "fit" faithful Catholics in the prevailing categories of "left" or "right", "liberal" or "conservative." Nor should either major party ever have a "lock" on our support.

However, there are some contemporary issues where it is crystal clear.

On the predominant human and civil rights issue of our age -- the inherent dignity of every human life - no matter what the age or stage of that life, from conception to natural death and all in between -- the current ruling class of the party calling itself "Democrat" has left behind those of us who understand the infallible teaching of our church on life, (which is the same the truth revealed by the natural law), in the dust. One simply cannot be both a faithful Catholic and what is euphemistically now called "pro-choice"-period.

I, like many of my fellow Catholic Americans, grew up equating being Catholic with being a Democrat because -- at least so I thought --Democrats cared more about the poor, the working class, the marginalized and those with no voice. The current ruling elite of the Democratic party has proven just how wrong that stereotype probably always was…but now definitely is. The current Democrat party has come to embrace a notion of "freedom" as a power over others and "choice" as a right to do whatever one wants.

The absolute failure to hear the cry of the child in the womb is simply one more example of the unbridled hypocrisy of the current leadership of the party that claims to care more about the poor. Medical science has confirmed what our conscience has always known, that child in the womb is one of us.

His or her voice cannot be heard because it is muffled in the once hallowed home of the womb and disregarded by political opportunists. Once the first safe home of every human person, too many wombs have now become hostile environments that can be invaded, at any time and for any reason, and reduced to chambers of horror for thousands of smaller persons, children, who have an inalienable right to be born.

However, that other party called "Republican" has all too often earned the stereotype of its opponents that it cares about children only when they are in the womb and that once outside, it proposes a public policy of "every person for themselves." This could become the case if a "survival of the fittest" approach to the market economy becomes the most important priority of the leadership of the Republican Party and its leadership.

The Republican talk of a "compassionate" conservatism must be confirmed with a reaffirmation of our obligations in human solidarity- we simply are our brother’s keeper- and a public policy that acknowledges our special responsibility for the poor in our midst. Though "big government" solutions have arguably not worked all that well in the delivery of charity, they must now be replaced with a new approach to empowering the mediating associations to deliver that charity and not with a "libertarianism" that cares little about our social obligation.

Also, the dynamism of the market economy must be infused with the values that make us truly free. We must build a moral market economy and affirm the truth that markets were made for man (and woman) and not man for the market. That will best be done through expanding participation in the market economy to all who yearn to be truly free.

Informed, faithful and engaged Catholic citizens are beginning to see the connection between the "social teaching" of their Church (which is true for all persons and not just those "who believe") and their politics.

They are gathering around what I call four pillars of political and social participation; the dignity of life, the primacy of family, authentic human freedom and solidarity with the poor. They are not first Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals. They are Catholics. Catholic is the Noun.

Though the movement simplistically called the "religious right" tried to include them in their movements at the latter end of the twentieth century, they were never at home there. Those Catholics who tried to fit in to the culture of the "religious right" often learned they had about as much of a home therein as their immigrant ancestors did in some of the original colonies.

However, they are less at home in what is left of the "left." It left them behind when it ceased speaking of a "living" or "family" wage and catered more to the elites in the current Hollywood establishment and the crowd who defines "choice" as unimpeded abortion along with the bizarre collection of "liberals" that have co-opted a once decent label and now populate and control much of the Democratic Party.

The 'religious right" (even though mostly well intended) was built upon --and thrived within --a "persecuted minority" model of activism. The term was used to marginalize and denigrate many well intended Christians who engaged in political activism out of good motives.

However, much of the movement was premised upon an "anti-" approach to effecting social, political and judicial change. Its emphasis was mostly on opposing the current problems and not on proposing alternatives. It spoke more often of what was wrong with the culture rather than proposing a better way and how to build a truly just social order with the principles derived from the social teaching of the Christian Church.

Some of the efforts associated with that movement were also built upon on a model of engagement with the "world" that was, at root, at odds with a Catholic worldview and founded on flawed principles of engagement.

The "principles of engagement" that motivated some of these efforts were limited at best and terribly flawed at worst. They had limited mobilizing potential. For example, the concept of "defending our rights" that permeated some of the efforts of sincere Christians, missed a deeper truth -we ultimately are called to give our rights away if it means bringing others to the Lord.

 Then there was the call to secure a "place at the table" that operated (and still operates) as a mobilizing principle. In fact, this is the model of political action that mobilized many Christians associated with the "religious right" initially to rise out of their apolitical complacency and "protect themselves." Again, it was –at least at times- well intended but limited and consequently often very ineffective.

Christians are not one more "interest group." We are, in the words of the ancient Christian manuscript, a "Letter to Diognetus" called to become the "soul of the world" We are called to carry on the redemptive work of the Lord by "going into all the word" and humanizing, transforming and elevating human society. Our purpose is to promote the common good. We serve the only eternal table, to which the entire human race is invited.

These limited visions of political participation were not only present among some of our evangelical friends. Many of the Catholic efforts at political participation were also rooted in them. Some of our efforts were first "conservative" movements which we figuratively "wrapped a rosary" around. We sometimes put proof texts from Church documents on our own political ideas.

This approach was often "outside in" rather than "inside out." It sometimes had the effect of trying to support "our" positions with the teachings of the Church, as though catholic faith was a coat that you put on, rather than the core of our identity from which we inform all of our participation in the social arena.

A Catholic approach should be to first inform our political participation by the great principles found in our faith. It also should recognize the great truth of human freedom and the vast area within which prudential judgment can lead to otherwise faithful Christians disagreeing on matters of public policy. There is a hierarchy of values.

We need to always promote the truth as taught by the Church, no matter what it is "labeled" in limiting political parlance. As Francis Cardinal George said so well at his installation in Chicago, "The faith is neither liberal nor conservative, the faith is true". Things are true not BECAUSE they are Catholic; they are Catholic because they are true.

And if they are true, they are true for all.

We must build a different model. Our political participation is rooted in our baptismal vocation and geared toward serving the "common good" by promoting human life and dignity, the family, authentic human freedom and solidarity with the needy.

We must now present a redemptive model, a model of being the "soul" of the world.

We must now present a Catholic model of political participation.

There are MANY issues in the so-called "political arena" where faithful Catholics can-and do-differ. We must be careful to remember that we are first Catholics and from that base we seek to inform our participation by our faith.

We are not first "conservatives." There is a "hierarchy of truths" we speak of in Catholic theology. We now need an understanding of the "hierarchy of values" and how it applies to political participation. We need to be particularly careful on two other fronts.

1) The Competency of the Church

The Church IS an "expert in humanity". She does have much to say about every area wherein human persons are involved. While it is true that she may not speak directly to a lot of fields of human concern, she gives us guiding principles that must always be our roadmap.

For example, when as citizens we are required, as we are now, to discern whether military action fits the "just war" analysis, we need to listen to Pope John Paul II and the Magisterial teaching and not dismiss the clear cautions coming from those sources of direction, under the notion that they are somehow not "competent" on these issues. The Church IS Competent, she is an "expert in humanity.

If the Church is the continued presence of Jesus Christ on the earth, which she is, would we say the same about Him? I am certain we would not. Yet, there is a growing tendency in some "conservative" circles to do just that. Again, here is where making sure that Catholic is the Noun becomes so important!

2) We must inform all of our life and our participation by our Faith

There is an extraordinary treasury of teaching in the Catholic Church that has great relevancy on economic issues, justice issues, family and living wage issues, human relationships, technology and indeed every area of human relationships, the family, the affairs of nations…. The Councils, the Encyclical and Apostolic letters, the "Social Teaching"… we simply have to find it, read it, pray through it and apply it.

In fact, that process is part of what it truly means to live our lives informed by faith. If we act as though the Church speaks only to "faith and morals" and assume by that expression that Church teaching only affects our "personal life", we do not understand the very heart of our faith, our baptismal obligation, the implications of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ or the mission of the Church.

It is time for Catholic Christians to serve the common good and to lead by proposing, modeling and building a better way. We need to have our message and our mission be clear at all times. Our spokespersons, our leaflets, our manuals, all must speak from the heart of the Church, be popular, understandable and defensible.

Your Catholic Voice

The Mission of "Your Catholic Voice" is to motivate, educate and activate Catholic citizens for political and social participation as a response to their baptismal vocation and the call of our Church to be faithful citizens. It engages that mission by education and action, encouraging all who participate to both "Cultivate your faith" and "Activate your voice." Both are absolutely essential.

"Your Catholic Voice" is a movement of lay Catholic citizens promoting the Common Good and responding to the hour.

Now is the time for all faithful Catholics, other Christians and all people of faith and good will to double our prayer and roll up our sleeves of service.

I am a Christian. I am a Catholic Christian. I am an American Catholic Christian.

All three terms found my identity and my obligations in my efforts to be a "faithful citizen."

I believe that the social teaching of the Catholic Church provides the raw material out of which a new public philosophy can and must be constructed. It is filled with the truth about the human person and how we are to live together. It is not simply for "the religious" - rather, the Church walks the way of the person and speaks truth for all who will listen.

This public philosophy must be built around the major themes so beautifully articulated in the document of the American bishops entitled "Faithful Citizenship." Those themes are neither "liberal" nor "conservative," but truly human and rooted in truly human values.

There is a lot of talk in anticipation of the presidential election of 2004 about a "Catholic vote," again. But the problem is - there is none. Perhaps there never truly was in the sense of a fully informed and activated Catholic voice. Gone is the past demographic, rooted in the large cities with their ethnic neighborhoods, of a predictable blue-collar "Democrat" Catholic vote. Those days are over.

However, there is no real "Republican" Catholic vote either - in the sense of a Catholic rush to the G.O.P., no matter what some of our friends in engaged conservative evangelical political movements, or some Catholic pundits seek to tell the world. Even though Catholics are socially "conservative," they do not consider themselves to be a part of the "religious right."

Don't get me wrong; it is possible that there could be a "new" Catholic voting pattern built—and that is why I have helped to build "Your Catholic Voice." A lot of work has yet to be done. In doing the work we must always remember that Catholic is the Noun.

It defines who we are, in relationship to Jesus Christ, his Church, and her saving mission to the whole world.