Chicago’s archbishop, Francis Cardinal George, soon to be 76, spoke to 45 members of his Archdiocese Pastoral Council on November 17th about the need to clarify what we as Catholics believe and how we ought to live if we want to make a contribution to any of the national dialogues. For example, had the topic been center stage at the time of the meeting, the cardinal may asked a question like, given the tragedy in Newtown, CT, how would an informed and reasonable Catholic respond to matters: of mental health, to the Second Amendment, to God’s role in our life with such violence?
All of the APC standing committee reports included catechesis at all age levels as one of their prioritized responses. In the open discussion many members expressed, either their own or their constituents’ lack of clarity as to what “universal Catholic values” were and how they differed from those of mainstream American culture. The Cardinal expressed surprise at this lack of understanding, since our own results showed that people knew the faith even if they questioned it. He affirmed that Catholic values are embodied in the person of Jesus Christ, in Scripture, in the Creeds, and the Catechism. They inform how we think and act. Mysteries of faith are often reduced to “rules” by our legalistic society and often formulated negatively by the media (e.g. a “ban” on same sex marriage; “refusing” priesthood to women). American values are becoming increasingly secularized. There will always be tension between mainstream culture and our values. We need to work to keep the tension between the two flexible enough to coexist in our society. We need to focus on universal truths and rely on human reason to shape our opinions and values. If we don’t strike a proper balance between “mainstream” cultural values and our own, we may face the challenge of not being able to live publicly as believers.