*Sidenote; this is a slightly revised version of something I wrote a while back. It’s just that the topic has come up once again.*
It is natural for young people to embrace things with zeal. Whether it be social and political opinions or religious fervor, youth lends itself to jumping into things with both feet. I was no different. During my college years, when so many of my friends were abandoning their faith, my Catholic faith took on a much more orthodox appearance. Some would have even called it borderline traditionalist. With time, temperance and a great deal of education, I shed some of the rigidity and, in turn, adopted a more discerning and patient brand of faith. I learned to avoid being quick to rashness or judgment, as well as refraining from fruitless, pedantic debates over issues that need not be debated. That being said, we must also be mindful of the fact that while judgment is God’s and His alone, we nonetheless retain the right to call something what it is–or isn’t, provided that we have factual basis for our proclamations.
I’m all for an inclusive Church–a Church that understands that it literally takes all kinds. Much like our civic society, I’ve long felt that we are much better off when we are open to and respectful of all points of view, even if we disagree with those points of view. We can certainly point out the erroneous beliefs that people hold without resorting to vitriolic judgment. My own beloved University of Notre Dame has been the subject of controversy this week, criticized by both alumni and “fans” for allegedly not being Catholic enough as a result of presenting Vice President Joe Biden and former House Speaker John Boehner with their distinguished Laetare Medal. Critics from both sides of the political aisle have cast stones at Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins C.S.C. for inviting both statesmen; those on the right claiming Biden is pro-abortion and those on the left claiming Boehner is pro-death penalty.
The Laetare Medal is presented annually by Notre Dame to Catholic individuals who have performed outstanding service to both the Church and society as a whole. The charges against both men might very well be accurate, but we cannot deny that both men have spent their lives working towards the betterment of American society and both men have spent their lives practicing their shared Catholic faith. Furthermore, shouldn’t we as Catholics pride ourselves in the fact that our universities expose us to different points of view? Fr. Jenkins made it abundantly clear that neither he, nor the university were endorsing either man’s political viewpoints. Instead, they were simply commending them for decades of distinguished public service. The history of universities as bastions of academic excellence is deeply intertwined with Catholicism, especially with the Jesuit order. I am a product of both Jesuit and Holy Cross institutions and I, for one, can speak directly to the fact that it was my exposure to that which was different that served to strengthen and fortify my faith. To shelter ourselves from reality, opting instead to live in a proverbial bubble of possibly obtuse thinking, does us no good.
With all of that being said, we nonetheless reserve the right to call someone out for promoting or supporting something that is in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The danger with this, however is that oftentimes, those who do so possess a rudimentary understanding of Church teachings and theology and instead opt—unknowingly– to speak from their political soapbox in the name of defending their faith. While Biden has in fact been a supporter of abortion and Boehner has likewise been a supporter of the death penalty—not to mention promoting other economic policies which have at times been detrimental to the needs of those of limited means—the fact remains that both men have attempted to do what they have believed was right and both men have attempted to remain true to their Catholic faith. At that point, it becomes a matter of conscience; ergo, it is between them and God. We reserve the right to point out their mistakes, but we hold neither the right to judge them, nor to arbitrarily excommunicate them in the court of public opinion.
We cannot know what is in the hearts of other men. What we can know, however, is that when your political views blind you from that which is Christ-like, you allow them to take precedence over behaving in a Christian manner, which then leaves you open to the judgment of others. To equate a university’s desire for dialogue and compassion with being liberal or harboring a subversive—even heretical—political agenda is irresponsible. That is not to say that we can never know that something is definitively right or wrong. On the contrary, if we have well-formed consciences, we can safely engage in dialogue with those who think differently than we do without fear of being somehow corrupted and maybe, just maybe our Catholic charity and our willingness to live the Gospel through our actions might open their eyes to something they’ve been missing all along.