The Catholic Difference | Fr. James V. Schall, SJ | CWR
We just happen to be Catholics, right? Does it make any difference what we are? Does being Catholic really, ultimately, mean much of anything?
“So the power of deception, which is over others’ minds (symbolized by the invisibility given by the Ring), is an essential component to the power over others’ bodies and lives and actions. Machiavelli and Hitler both understood that principle, that’s why they knew that propaganda was an essential part of war. The evil empire that controls modern world media knows that too, though its aim is not political conquest (like Machiavelli) or military conquest (like Hitler) but the far more apocalyptic spiritual and religious conquest of conscience, of soul.”
— Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien (Ignatius 2005), 181.
We live in a world of “just-happens-to-be.” That is, this man just happens to be a Mormon. That woman with the veil happens to be a Muslim. The man next door is a Baptist, and my boss says that he just happens to be an atheist. That young man is Chinese; the taxi-driver is from Ethiopia. My nurse is Russian, my doctor Irish, and my favorite restaurant just happens to be Italian. The fullback is black, the CEO is Japanese, and the man who mows my yard just happens to be from El Salvador.
And we just happen to be Catholics, right? Does it make any difference what we are? We are, after all, supposed to get along together, no matter what we hold. No “hate language” is allowed. Everyone loves peace. We are not to bother anyone in his “beliefs”. We are to tolerate most everything.
Again, do these varied identities make any difference? Or, perhaps, do they make all the difference in the world? The Shiites and the Sunnis seem constantly to fight over what appears to most of us to be quite insignificant issues. Yet to them they make a difference; they are life and death issues. The number of Protestant sects is given as anywhere from 20,000 or 30,000. They all differ from the Catholics, and, on some point or other of doctrine or practice, from each other. Hindus and Confucians just happen to differ, as do Communists and Capitalists. Some people call this situation “multiculturalism” and claim that it is a good thing. Others call it a mess, an endless confusion about fundamental issues of human living. One Supreme Court justice tells us that everyone has a right to his own view of the cosmos, whatever it may be.
Justice Ginsburg says that women should “choose” their own “destiny” But if we choose, it is not a destiny. If it is a destiny, we do not choose. Philosophers tell us that these positions just happen to constitute relativism.
While there was much anti-Catholicism in early American history, Catholics were said to have reached the mainstream in the latter part of the 20th century. That is, they did not seem to be different enough from anyone else to cause a stir. But, more recently, Catholics see themselves being singled out; they are becoming strangers in their own land. They are separated out because of a radical cultural change that they did not always notice. This separating out is not so much because of any specific doctrinal issue peculiar to Catholics but because of issues of reason and natural law concerning human life and family, the very pillars of civilization. Ironically, the attack on Catholics is an attack on reason. They are not persecuted because of their faith but because of their reason. The reason for this is that, in principle, faith itself is directed to reason at its best.
Ironically, Catholics today are different not because of any dispute about the Incarnation or the Trinity, as was the case in the early Church, but because of reason and its validity. Statistically, not a few people who say they are Catholic now accept the stances concerning marriage, abortion, contraception, single-sex marriage, and euthanasia that the culture not only embraces but more and more enforces as necessary to be present as participating members of the political order. These latter people still claim to be “Catholic”, even though they reject the rational grounds of faith. The Church itself excommunicates few (if any) on any grounds. These differences are not those of being unable or not wanting at times to practice the faith. Rather, they are statements about what the Church “ought” to hold but does not and never did. There is an implicit claim that the Church is “wrong”. But if the Church is wrong, it is not the Church and there is really no reason to stay in it on that hypothesis.
So what is the Catholic difference? Do we “just-happen-to-be-Catholics” as we might happen to be born in Philadelphia because our mother was there at the time? Or do what we hold and how we live because of what we hold make a difference in our very purpose for existing in this world?