Friday, September 4, 2009

Because Ultimately It's Not About Politics

I am amazed how quickly this blog spreads and comments make their way back to me. My first post was just eighteen days ago. In fact, I began writing “Why I Am Catholic” mostly for my wife and daughters—to share with them my joy in being Catholic—and they continue to receive each of my posts automatically by e-mail. But others have been touched. It must be the work of the Holy Spirit. Or as my pal Ferde put it when I e-mailed him my astonishment, “Webstah, have you ever heard of GOD?!”

“I LOVE this blog that I have discovered,” a woman wrote.

“Thank you for reminding me of one of the reasons that I remain a Catholic,” wrote another, who read my post on Kristin Lavransdatter.

Most touching for me was the fellow convert, a man, who wrote, “I just want to say that I really appreciate your posts and look forward to reading in the future. I was confirmed a few years ago and your posts really resonate with me, and it’s just really pleasing to see someone so open and honest about their faith. Words often get in the way of faith, but yours are adding to mine.”

That captured best what I am attempting here: an honest, non-doctrinaire testimony to the joy I have discovered in being a Catholic. I cannot imagine my life now without the Church.

Someone alerted me to a blog that had mentioned “Why I Am Catholic.” The blog is The Anchoress of First Things. I’m so new to this blogging business that I don’t know how to create a direct link in that sentence yet (promise I’ll learn) but you’ll find an Anchoress link under “Blogs & Sites I Read.” It’s worth regular reading. Gotta love this lady: she’s writing at 4 or 5 in the morning, God’s hour.

I Googled The Anchoress and read her comment: “Added to my blogroll,” she wrote 9/2/09 at 2:13 p.m. (she also writes in the afternoon and evening), “a terrific blog written from a very faithful but center-mildlyleft position, ‘Why I Am a Catholic’ . . . ”

Now, I’m never going to look a gift “terrific” in the mouth and I appreciate the insight “very faithful,” though it was arrived at with very little data. My priest and confessor might be a better judge of that. But “center-mildlylefty”?! First Things First: I do not dispute this description. Not my point at all. What is remarkable to me is how quickly I earned that political label. Have we Catholics become that political?

First, how did she arrive at this designation? I’m almost as new to Catholicism as I am to blogging, but I imagine there are clues in every sentence I write. Just one example: Having America magazine alphabetically first in my list of “Blogs & Sites I Read” (and therefore a notch ahead of The Anchoress) is an immediate red flag. I have been a Catholic long enough to have heard the joke—

What are the three things God does not know? (1) How many orders of Franciscans there are. (2) How much money the Dominicans have. (3) What the heck the Jesuits are doing.

This is obviously a conservative’s joke. I know by now that, to some, Franciscan means “whatever,” and Jesuit means “liberal,” and America is a Jesuit magazine. A very good and balanced magazine, I think, and yes, its editor, Fr. Jim Martin, gave me a shout-out in his blog because I gave his book a shout-out in mine, so there. But what makes America “liberal”? I don’t have the discernment to say exactly. I imagine that while upholding the sanctity of life, America desists from throwing Molotov cocktails into pro-choice picket lines. And the Jesuits are smart, free thinkers—kind of like William F. Buckley, who was never accused of liberalism and who was, if you’ve been reading, a subject of one of my posts. And they are all spiritual sons of St. Ignatius, and I defy anyone to label him “liberal.”

But let me not stray. Amid my wife’s initial astonishment when I first told her that I was converting to Catholicism, the next sentence out of my mouth was: “I am not becoming a Catholic in order to get into political arguments with anyone. I am becoming a Catholic in order to pray and attend mass and receive the Eucharist and honor my God and thereby, I hope, improve the life of my neighbor.”

In recent days, we have witnessed a brouhaha over Cardinal Seán O’Malley’s presiding “in choir” at the Kennedy funeral. Please—please read his blog post about this. (Again, no link here but there’s another one to your right under “Blogs & Sites I Read.”) Like our pope—my pope—Cardinal Seán is committed to dialogue with those who disagree with the Church’s position on the sanctity of life. Prayer still works, and compassion. Most other tactics—and tactics are often all that differentiates Catholic “liberals” and “conservatives,” who agree on the sanctity of life or otherwise are not Catholics—are the down-and-dirty tactics of political life.

I think my wife, Katie, put it as well as I can, when we discussed this issue in detail. It seems to me, she said, that the Catholic Church risks becoming a wing of the Republican Party. Exactly. We saw that last election, when FOCA was the focus of vitriol against Obama, and we see it again now that a whole “wing” of the Church (see how political we are?) is aligned against the president’s health care initiatives.

If each of us is first and foremost a political being, with a political label immediately affixed to our foreheads the moment a word is out of our mouths, what’s the point in being Catholic? Let’s just all be Republicans, or whatever may be the conservative label of the month.

I have never been a political being, and in this post I am sure there is a large dose of naiveté. I do not dispute this. I am, however, a Catholic, and this is another reason why: Though it is completely illogical and completely apolitical, I look at the world and see all of its terrors (abortion, wars, genocide, racism, crushing poverty, AIDS), and I pray for it daily. Will my prayers help? I believe so, as St. Thomas believed so, and that makes me a Catholic.

When I die and my eulogy is spoken, I pray that the speaker will not say that I was a faithful Democrat or a Republican, or a righty or a mildlylefty, nor even that I was a writer or publisher. It’ll be OK with me (and I’ll be listening) if they mention that I was a good father and faithful husband, because those designations are much closer to my faith experience than any others. I do want to be a father and husband worthy of the Fourth Commandment’s honor.

But above all, I pray that when my eulogy is spoken, the speaker will say that I was a Catholic, and perhaps on a bit more evidence than “The Anchoress” had when she labeled me, that I was a faithful Catholic. What else matters?

(Finally here, a word of thanks to my fellow parishioner at St. Mary Star of the Sea, Adam DesRosiers. A fine young artist and photographer, he took several of the images I've used in posts, including this lovely detail from one of our Stations of the Cross. Please come see our church in Beverly, Massachusetts, some day. It is truly beautiful, as captured in Adam's beautiful images.)