Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Irritation and Concern:

I have a sick baby at my side, and a talk to write, so no guarantees of coherence here. But then, there never are.

First, in regard to Sean Hannity. The problem is not what he or Bill O'Reilly believe or what variety of Catholic they consider themselves to be. The problem comes when they presume to make pronouncements about what the Church teaches - and they're wrong. No excuses, either. No "well, they're entertainers" or "they know as much as the average adult lay Catholic." Nope. These guys are in the process of making millions from spouting their opinions on television, radio, and in print. They have a responsibility - not just to be engaging, confrontational, or whatever it is their bosses want, but to be truthful and honest as well. As a person who has an audience that (when you take everything I write regularly together) numbers in the hundreds of thousands, I feel that responsibility very keenly, and try very hard not to make misstatements and to research whatever it is I'm talking about. Look at it this way: I write about religion, but, of course that ends up touching on everything. Say I want to write on something related to medical ethics. Would I have the right to say, "Well, the American Medical Association says..." without making sure that I'm absolutely positive about what the AMA does, indeed, say on a certain issue? Of course not. And neither do these guys who both (Hannity more than O'Reilly, though) make an issue of their Catholicism or Catholic heritage.

I only skimmed the Hannity thread below, but I noted that once again, the issue (naturally enough) of Catholic identity is rearing its head, and that's fine. But I wonder sometimes about our purpose and our starting point in such musings.

First of all, when it comes to Catholic identity, as much as the Kennedy's, Hannity's, Gibson's, Sullivan's and Daschle's of this world might irritate us, our primary, fundamental and really only responsibility in terms of Catholic identity is our own. Splinters and beams, people. Splinters and beams.

Secondly, if this is an issue for you and you wonder how and where you fit into this huge, diverse thing called the Catholic Church, please, please don't start looking at it from the point of this or that specific Church teaching on this or that issue.

Start with Christ.

Sure, on down the road you will confront these other issues, but as you begin.start with Christ.

Who do you believe Jesus is? What do you believe about Him? Have you read the Gospels lately? Well, go ahead. Listen to Jesus as he speaks, observe him as he acts and accept his invitation to pray. Where do you stand in relation to Jesus? Do you believe what He teaches is true? Do you believe that what happened to him - his death for us sinners and his resurrection - was absolutely real? Where do you stand?

And, of course, all of this must be done honestly and with a completely open heart, without any desire to justify our own sins or to mesh what we hear Jesus saying with what we think he should be saying or with what, as 21st century Americans, we dearly wish he would say.

And then, if we are Catholic, while we are studying and pondering, we are also encountering Jesus - in our personal prayer, and in the sacraments. We go to Mass, not expecting to be entertained by the personalities or inspired by human wisdom, but merely to encounter Jesus, bring our lives to him, and bring him into our lives. Let him change you. Let him speak. Listen.

I'm not being a fideist here, or saying that the other issues aren't important. They are. But way too many people unwittingly use them as an excuse to stay away, not just from the Church, but from God, period. I am not saying, either, that everyone who turns their focus this way will automatically end up as happy Catholics or even Catholics at all. I'm saying that if you are a Catholic who is struggling with that Catholic identity, start all over. Take a break from stressing about specific teachings that bug you, and go to Jesus - in the Gospels, in prayer, and in the Eucharist and in Reconciliation.

And let Him lead you from there.