Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Liberals vs. conservatives: 'Anger' not a virtue?

"[C]harity demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communication..." -- Catechism of the Catholic Church #1829

It seems that Father Paul Byrnes and I have reached an understanding, a holy "friendship" rooted in charity -- the type of charity that germinates and grows in forthright communcation. And we've agreed to pray for each other. ...

I sent Father Byrnes an email last week expressing my disagreements and concerns with his teaching on "conscience." He emailed me back with some probing (perhaps defensive, aggressive) questions. We exchanged a few more "notes," finally coming, it seems, to a point where we discover that we share a good deal of agreement; otherwise, we consent to disagree.

I've concluded that Father Byrnes and I both love our Catholic faith, though we stand at opposite ends of the spectrum in approaching its beliefs. He is liberal. I am conservative. He reads Commonweal, a non-profit journal of lay Catholic opinion on a variety of religious, cultural and political issues, dubbed "decidedly liberal" by Wikipedia. I watch the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN),a non-profit broadcasting system that airs only Catholic programming, dubbed "conservative" by Wikipedia.

Liberal Catholics tend to believe that the Vatican should be run more as a democracy, open to change in order to better reflect trends in society; they like to challenge doctrines and push limits of obedience to them. Conservative Catholics tend to believe that the magisterium should reflect the Vatican authoritatively in our communities and exhort the faithful to adhere strictly to church teachings, in order to effect changes in society; they aim for literal interpretations of doctrines and honorable obedience to them. Liberals think conservatives are judgmental and unweilding. Conservatives think liberals are shortsighted and unthinking.

Liberal Catholics think the church will become a monolilth if it does not adapt within the secular society. Conservative Catholics think Catholicism (its ethics and lifestyle) will disappear if it accommodates the secular society. Liberals think the church should bend to serve its members. Conservatives believe we members should straighten up and serve our church.

Liberal Catholics cling to the memory of Pope John XXIII (1958-63) and keep alive what we conservatives consider to be the "radical" spirit of change brought about by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Conservative Catholics are grateful to Pope Paul VI (1963-78) for the saving wisdom and inspired truth in his "Humanae Vitae"(1968) encyclical (which still elicits contempt from liberals), and they cling to the orthodoxy renewed by John Paul II (1978-2005) and the tradition and reason engendered by Benedict XVI. Liberals hold (conservatives would say "rebelliously") to the "interpretive" teachings and "loose" liturgies of the tumultuous 1960s and '70s. Conservatives strive (liberals might say "naively") to re-learn "authentic" teachings and revive liturgical orthodoxy.

Liberal Catholics tend to like noisy "friendliness" in church and easy or lax behaviors in the presence of a familiar and personable God. Conservative Catholics tend to prefer a silent sense of awe in church, and respect and reverence in the presence of God, who, though accessible to us all, is worthy of honor and fear for His great power and grand mystery.

Liberal Catholics might consider conservatives to be pious "papists." Conservative Catholics might consider liberals to be phony "protestants." Liberals think that teachings of Vatican II produced independent-thinking, more "mature," responsible adults. Conservatives think that many of the Vatican II teachings produced ill-informed, sadly misguided, disillusioned fall-aways.

Chances are, even though Father Paul and I have found points of agreement, we never will see eye-to-eye on our points of contention. Hopefully, we will respect and appreciate each other...and keep trying to understand the meanings and minglings of our divergent journeys in our beloved faith.

I believe we both were a bit angry -- with each other. Anger is considered to be a vice; and when it is hurtful, no doubt it is. Like love, though, anger (sparing and careful) can be benevolent -- when it is rooted in right intentions (to give or gain knowledge, understanding, counsel) -- though inflamed by passions, and employed to express and elicit deeply held thoughts and beliefs. Anger, then, like detached and generous love, once having achieved reciprocity, harmony or equanimity, should flee, forgetting offenses and forgiving transgressions (but remembering important aspects learned about the other).

Last week's Why Catholic session focused on virtues -- holy habits that dispose us toward doing good, living an ordered life, drawing nearer to God and neighbor.

Faith, hope and charity are theological virtues -- infused by God at baptism -- to "dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have God for their origin, their motive, and their object -- God known by faith, God hoped in and loved for His own sake" (CCC #1840). These three graces from God flow upon us continually like a waterfall. We simply need to receive them. They balance and compensate, so that in times when we may lack one, we may draw on the other for strength or understanding and perseverance.

Of the three theological virtues, charity -- the love of Christ for us and the love He asks us to give to others -- is greatest, because it "upholds and purifies our human ability to love, and raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine love" (CCC #1827). When a Christian's life is motivated by love for God and others, then he stands before God no longer "in servile fear, or as a mercenary looking for wages, but as a son responding to the love of him 'who first loved us'" (CCC #1828). The fruits of charity are joy, peace and mercy. Think (and act) on that....

Perpahs the most beautiful and complete description of love is this: "[C]harity demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communication..." (CCC #1829). Wow. Yes.

From the theological virtues flow the cardinal, or moral, virtues: Prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice. "The moral virtues grow through education, deliberate acts and perseverance in struggle. Divine grace elevates and purifies them" (CCC #1839). We are tried in our lives by fire. These virtues, properly employed, make the fire our friend, smelting us into fortified steel, all for the glory of God, rather than melting us into a limp, gooey (stuck on ourselves) lump.

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which dispose us toward opening our minds and wills to discern and act upon His promptings in our hearts, are wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord (CCC #1831).

I had a dream many years ago; and God said to me: "In fear of the Lord, all things will be revealed." I hope for wisdom...and trust it will come...and try to love...and I pray now more than I used to.

by Nancy E. Thoerig (Article was expanded and revised significantly in parts through 11-08-08.)

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