English: Coat of arms of Francis cardinal Geor...

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?

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If Catholics want to be a part of the national conversation about important issues, they have to know what the Church teaches –not just to parrot the myths about Catholic teaching– and they have to authentically live the faith in order to be credible witnesses. Catholics in recent years have become complainers that they are excluded from the dialogue. And we have been. But we have also have gotten mired in our own nonsense and missed the boat.

The Church can’t –and doesn’t– fix the problems we Americans face BUT the Church does give a lens by which we can assess the reality in front of us so as to properly respond as people of a living, salvific faith. 

The operative question for the Cardinal’s council, and I think for all of us, is what he targeted: Values of the Catholic faith are coming to be defined as outside some current trends or “values” of mainstream American culture (e.g. abortion, immigration policy, gay marriage, etc.). How can parishes pro-actively work to ensure that the American consensus does not exclude the values of the universal Catholic faith?

Rita Kattner offers this summary of the meeting:

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.

  • Notice a slight disconnect between what the committees said, and what the cardinal said the evidence indicated: something is amiss.
  • Notice what the cardinal indicates: Christ is the center of our belief; we MUST be aware of the tendency to reduce the faith to moralisms AND we MUST look for ways to offer a reasonable response, not a rigid, inhuman bromide.
  • The Cardinal wants to close the gap between faith and reason. 
  • Are we prepared to help close the gap?