Francis Cardinal George is definitely on my list of heroes! Through his courageous, articulate and faithful preaching of the Gospel (in both words and actions), he is someone that has inspired me to be a better and more faithful priest!
In his final days as Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago he gave an interview in which he identified something that bothers many of us, namely, the dichotomy between the traditional and progressive groups in the Church. (Note: it wasn’t he that brought this subject up, but rather the person doing the interview trying to sensationalize the issue). It isn’t, however, the dichotomy itself that the cardinal spoke about, but about the attempt of putting political labels on people, things and ideas in the church, calling them either liberal or conservative, traditional or progressive, left-wing or right-wing.
The cardinal, arguably one of the greatest intellectual minds in the Church in the United States, clearly explained that these titles have no place in the Church, stating that they are, “Destructive of the Church’s mission and her life.”
Cardinal George is also wise and experienced enough I am sure to understand that there are some real differences and agendas within the church, so he isn’t denying the reality of such divisions or tensions, but rather he says, the more proper “category that matters is true or false.” I would add that “faithful or unfaithful” are also important categories when speaking about our approach to our Lord, His Church and His Gospel.
Oftentimes when people are speaking of those in the Church who are labeled conservatives or traditionalists, they are speaking of those who seem to be more connected to the culture wars on hot-button issues, taking hard lines on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception; those who are less concerned with social justice issues such as poverty and immigration and healthcare; those who embrace a more solemn and reverent celebration of the Church’s liturgies; those who seem to put greater emphasis on doctrine than on messy real-life situations.
Oftentimes when speaking of those in the Church who are labeled liberals or progressives, they are speaking of those who seem to be more open to discussions on cultural hot button issues such as a woman’s right to choose, gay rights and opposition to the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception; those who are more concerned with social justice issues such a immigration reform, universal health care and concern for the poor; those who would have a greater attachment to more modern and community-oriented celebrations of liturgies; those who rank mercy and compassion above the Church’s teachings or practices.
I am sure that some could (and would) add to, remove or modify my generalizations of those different positions. My point simply is that there are real differences within those in the Church. Cardinal George went on to explain that he “rejects the whole liberal/conservative deformation of the character of our lives. If you’re limited to that … then somehow or other you’ve betrayed your vocation as a bishop and a priest.”
I know that many would probably put me squarely in the more traditional and conservative camp, and I am okay with that in the sense that I think there are real cultural wars going on in our society and defending the unborn is greatest among them. I do try to celebrate the Mass and the sacraments with the reverence that they deserve. HOWEVER:
I resent the fact that by being labeled a conservative or traditionalist that somehow I don’t have a concern for the poor and the homeless.
I resent the fact that because I prefer to wear beautiful vestments for Holy Mass and don’t change parts of it according to what I think people might prefer, that somehow translates into the idea that I am not concerned about affordable healthcare or the families who have come to the U.S. from another country and are facing real struggles.
I resent the fact that some would think that because I have an unwavering respect for the clear teachings of the Church which are difficult to accept that I am somehow lacking in mercy or compassion, or unable to understand the challenges of God’s people.
The dichotomy between right and left does exist, but is not of God! It is the father of lies who seeks to divide us, to separate us, to label us! We are not called to be traditional or progressive, we are not called to be conservative or liberal, WE ARE CALLED TO BE FAITHFUL TO JESUS CHRIST! Orthodoxy without Charity is not Christianity, and Charity without Orthodoxy is not Christianity either.