What does it mean to be a ‘good Catholic’?

Daily Southtown - - Opinion - By Pa­trick T. Rear­don

Back in the 1980s, dur­ing a hol­i­day get-to­gether, one of the fam­ily el­ders, whowas known for sweep­ing dec­la­ra­tions, made a sweep­ing dec­la­ra­tion:

“You can’t be a Repub­li­can,” she said, “and be a good Catholic.”

From couch to couch, we looked at each other and smiled gen­tly. This wo­man in her 70swas up­set with the ef­forts of GOP politi­cians at the time to cut ser­vices to the needy and boost mil­i­tary spend­ing, in­clud­ing nu­clear arms. But those of us in the room, good Catholics all, knew it­wasn’t that sim­ple.

Ro­man Catholi­cism may have a pope who has the ex cathe­dra power, used rarely, to state that a par­tic­u­lar dogma is ab­so­lutely and es­sen­tially at the core of the faith. But the re­al­ity is that the church’s nearly 1.3 bil­lion ad­her­ents across the globe have a wide range of per­sonal and of­ten idio­syn­cratic views about what is most im­por­tant in the Catholic be­lief sys­tem.

That hol­i­day fam­ily scene came back to me re­cently when I heard that a priest in La Crosse, Wis­con­sin, put up a YouTube video in which he as­serted, “You can­not be Catholic and be aDemo­crat.”

Later, in an in­ter­view, the Rev.

James Alt­man la­beled lib­eral Catholics and other lib­er­als as “fas­cist bul­lies,” act­ing “just like Hitler’sNazis did.” For him, the only test of whether one is a Catholic is whether one sup­ports Repub­li­can can­di­dates, es­pe­cially Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, be­cause of their op­po­si­tion to abor­tion.

You don’t have to be Catholic to knowthat the church has long taught that abor­tion is morally wrong.

By the same to­ken, you’re also likely to knowthat, for mil­len­ni­ums, popes and Catholic teach­ing have prophet­i­cal­ly­warned the­world against a host of other moral wrongs. For in­stance, a half cen­tury ago, Pope Paul VI told the Unit­edNa­tions,“War no more. War never again.” St. Pope John Paul IIwas a staunch op­po­nent of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, and, fol­low­ing on his lead, the present pope preached its abo­li­tion.

In ad­di­tion, Pope Fran­cis has called for a “broad cul­tural revo­lu­tion” to con­front and make amends for “our sin” of de­stroy­ing the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, and he has preached against huge in­come dis­par­i­ties as the re­sult of “the idol­a­try of money.”

At times, in­di­vid­ual priests and bish­ops as­sert that Catholic ci­ti­zens need only con­sider one is­sue— abor­tion— when cast­ing their votes, but the of­fi­cial church has never done so.

So, I got towon­der­ing: What­would

Cit­i­zen Je­sus do?

I doubt hewould vote for Joe Bi­den sim­ply be­cause he’s Catholic. And I doubt hewould vote for Trump solely be­cause the pres­i­dent has nom­i­nated an­other Catholic to theU.S. Supreme Court, JudgeAmy Coney Bar­rett.

The thing is: Je­sus nev­er­wrote out a po­lit­i­cal plat­form. All he had to say about pol­i­tics—“Ren­der to Cae­sar the things that are Cae­sar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”— leaves a lot of room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Of course, Chris­tians have spent 2,000 years in­ter­pret­ing what he said and what he did.

Forme, I don’t think so much about who’s a “good Catholic.” I think more about who Je­sus said­were “blessed.” Ac­cord­ing toMatthew’s gospel, he spelled this out in the Ser­mon on the Mount. (Luke’s gospel has fewer items, and says the ser­mon­was on a plain, not on a hill. Just an­other ex­am­ple of the am­bi­gu­i­ties around Je­sus.)

Iwould never claim to knowhow Cit­i­zen Je­sus­would vote in­Novem­ber. But it seems tome that the Beat­i­tudes— the “blesseds”— from the Ser­mon on theMount­would come into play as he got ready to mark his bal­lot.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he says as he starts. Blessed, too, he says, are those griev­ing, the meek, the mer­ci­ful and the clean of heart.

He’s de­scrib­ing peo­ple­who are on the edges of things, not those in the cen­ter of power or try­ing to get there. No politi­cian is go­ing to fit that de­scrip­tion, but maybe the mea­sure of can­di­dates is the de­gree to which they see these peo­ple on the mar­gins as blessed.

Je­sus has two other things to say: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for right­eous­ness. ... Blessed are they who are per­se­cuted for the sake of right­eous­ness.” Oh, and one more: “Blessed are the peace­mak­ers.”

Great saints and great ge­niuses over the past 20 cen­turies have strug­gled to un­der­stand what Je­sus is say­ing in that ser­mon and­what the im­pli­ca­tions are for those whowant to fol­low his ex­am­ple and live by his teach­ing.

I can’t say what Cit­i­zen Je­sus would do in five­weeks. But when Cit­i­zen Rear­don goes to vote, I’m go­ing to keep those Beat­i­tudes in mind.

Pa­trick T. Rear­don is the author of nine books, in­clud­ing “Faith Stripped to Its Essence: ADis­cor­dant Pil­grim­age Through Shusaku Endo’s ‘Si­lence,’” the po­etry col­lec­tion “Re­quiem for David” and the forth­com­ing “The Loop: The ‘L’ Tracks That Shaped and Saved Chicago.”


Pope Fran­cis salutes wor­ship­pers at the San Da­maso court­yard in The Vat­i­can on Sept. 23 amid the COVID-19 pan­demic.

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