What Are Catholics To Do? (Part II) | James Kalb | Catholic World Report
In the absence of agreement with the rest of society on human nature and the good life, Catholics must remain a sign of contradiction.
Last month I noted that Catholics need settings in which they can lead a Catholic life among Catholics. For most of us, loving God and living as Christians take schooling and support, which we aren’t going to get from the world at large. That may be one reason the Apostle Paul’s letters focus more on the practical internal life of Christian communities than on evangelism. The ultimate ideal may be the New Jerusalem, in which the distinction between the Church and the World disappears, but we’re not likely to get there any time soon.
Still, those who object to “fortress” or “ghetto” Catholicism have a point. Something of an inward focus may be necessary, because today’s world is so much at odds with the Faith, and we Catholics are not already everything we should be. It should not be exaggerated, however. Christ told his followers to go out and teach all nations, and love of neighbor means engagement with the world both individually and socially.
But how do we engage the world socially when Caesar—and the media—are ever more powerful and anti-Catholic? During the Christian centuries, when social leaders accepted Catholic Christianity as the norm, it was natural for them to recognize the authority of the Church regarding matters on which she has special competence. It was no odder for the king to accept Church authority on faith and morals than it is today for a government to accept the authority of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or defer to the National Academy of Sciences on an engineering question.
Those days are past, and it is less obvious today how the Church can play an effective social and political role. People mostly aren’t Catholic, and social leaders are less so than most. Vatican II, while reaffirming traditional doctrine on the duty of men and societies toward the Church and the true religion, recognized that reality. Ever since, Catholics have been trying to find practical ways to cooperate in building a better social order in a setting that does not accept Catholic doctrine as authoritative.
Cooperative efforts require common ground, and the more complex and comprehensive the effort the more common ground is needed. In the absence of agreement on the most fundamental issues, Catholics have tried to base their cooperation with the extremely complex and comprehensive activities of the modern state and other secular actors on natural law.
Natural law can be developed philosophically in various ways.