Msgr. Charles Pope is currently a dean and pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, where he has served on the Priest Council, the College of Consultors, and the Priest Personnel Board. Along with publishing a daily blog at the Archdiocese of Washington website, he has written in pastoral journals, conducted numerous retreats for priests and lay faithful, and has also conducted weekly Bible studies in the U.S. Congress and the White House. He was named a Monsignor in 2005.
Recent revelations of emails from high-ranking political officials indicate contempt and misunderstanding for Catholicism. We learn that certain Democratic campaign officials consider faithful Catholics to be “severely backwards” and “totally unaware of Christian democracy.”
Despite considering us out of date, these same political officials seem to fear us. For indeed, they converse in their emails and wonder how to “plant the seeds of a revolution.”
One of the interlocutors, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, quickly reassures his anxious associate that he and others in the party leadership have been working inside the Church to weaken it and sow seeds of revolution. He says: “We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this ... likewise Catholics United.”
Podesta continues, Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages [sic] dictatorship. He further describes himself (and presumably others) as bewildered by their philosophical language. Never mind that our “philosophical language” is a framework with which any educated undergraduate was once fluent. He says of us, They can throw around ‘Thomistic’ thought and ‘subsidiarity’ and sound sophisticated because no one knows what ... they’re talking about.
I am sorry that this challenges him so much.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has already spoken well against such dismissive attitudes and intrusive acts. Rather than reiterate his comments, I thought I might add a few other insights as well. They are as follows...
1. Take it as a compliment
The need to infiltrate, redefine and destroy the Catholic Church is odd considering that many on the secular left claim to dismiss us as irrelevant. If we are so irrelevant, why the need to infiltrate us? Why are we on their radar at all? Liberal Protestant denominations are not on their radar. Those denominations actually are irrelevant to the secular left, since they have already been assimilated.
But there is just something about the Catholic Church that inspires fear and an irrational hatred. If we are really so backward and arcane with all our Thomistic terminology, why all the fuss? Won’t we just be laughed out of existence (according to many)?
But of course all that dismissing of us as irrelevant is just stuff in the storefront window. Back in the storeroom there is very different product: a kind of obsession and a strange fear of us. Merely ignoring us seems dangerous to them.
It is like Pilate and the Temple leaders who posted a guard at Jesus’ tomb. If they really believed he was just a fake, putting a guard at Jesus’ tomb was pretty silly. But something inside them told them, “This guy might actually be for real.” And thus too for the Church. Something inside our opponents knows that the Catholic Church is bigger than the mere “backward” humans who make it up.
I take it all as a compliment. Though I personally see great human weakness in the Church, collectively speaking, our opponents still see strength. Satan too, who has likely inspired and deceived our worldly opponents, seems perpetually anxious and has made the Church his “public enemy number one.”
Why? Because the Church is the Body of Christ. Even despite sinful human members like us, the Church is the living active presence of Jesus Christ in the world today.
So take all the fretting and plotting as a compliment. To them we seem a necessary and (though they do not admit it) a dangerous opponent.
2. Be fools for Christ
The leaked memos call us “severely backwards” and “totally unaware of Christian democracy.” To all this I will simply add: If you are going to call me a fool, please at least add that I was a fool for Christ.
St. Paul writes: Let no one deceive himself. If any of you thinks he is wise in this age, he should become a fool, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness.” And again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” (1 Cor 3:18-20)
Yes, I admit I am a fool to this world. Thank you Jesus and please make sure that my foolishness is only a foolishness in you.
3. We’re in good company
Watch out if the world comes to you and says you’re just great, that you’re down with the struggle, and a true mensch. Jesus says, Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers treated the false prophets in the same way. (Lk 6:26) And again, If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. Remember the word that I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well…But they will treat you like this on account of My name, because they do not know the One who sent Me... But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated Me without reason (Jn 15:18ff) .
So the on-going the question for us all is, “Are you worthy of Jesus Christ or are you worthy of the world? Please, Lord keep me in the good company of you and your martyrs and confessors. Help me to rejoice in being worthy to suffer for the sake of your Holy Name.”
4. Catholic Truth defies sound bites
The fretful emailers say, “They can throw around ‘Thomistic’ thought and ‘subsidiarity’ and sound sophisticated because no one knows what they’re talking about.”
Well, a few people do. But this complaint makes an important observation. Catholic and Biblical truth does not reduce to mere sound bites. To grasp Catholic teaching, and biblical as well, requires a patient and thoughtful discussion.
Our fretful emailer and the position he represents reflects the modern loss of depth. Careful distinctions and delicate balance, a sense of history, and the premise that words actually mean something, are essential to understanding Catholic teaching and biblical truth.
In an impatient, get-to-the-point culture, this may produce irritation. But Podesta’s remark speaks more to the poor skills of modernity to engage issues with depth than to the Church which speaks from a legacy of intellectual tradition over 5,000 years old.
Who really needs to change and gain skill here? You decide. But I’ll give you a hint: the gospel does not reduce to a slogan or bumper sticker.
5. Be sober
And all this “positive spin” leads back to Archbishop’s Chaput’s well-stated concerns. If any in the Church ever doubted that special interest groups were inside the Church actively seeking to redefine us and sow dissent, such naiveté should cease with these email confirmations.
Many of us have said for years that certain “Catholic” groups are not Catholic at all. A Catholic group that is pro-choice is about as Catholic as a square calling itself a circle. Words are supposed to mean something.
But most sobering of all is the claim that these Trojan Horse groups are sponsored and/or funded by political operatives or parties. This is more than trying to influence Catholic voters, it about trying to change, and I would argue, destroy the Catholic Church. It is about trying to make the Church no longer be the Church.
In the future I would hope that our bishops can develop a way to sign off on groups that call themselves Catholic. Even if such a matter were not civilly binding, it would function much like a nihil obstat assuring faithful Catholics that the group was not merely using the term as a fake label.
We need to be more serious and sober to the fact that those who seek to destroy us are at times more serious about our faith and its claims than many of us are! Active agents among us, calling themselves Catholics and our brothers, are seeking to redefine and thereby destroy us. Many have been saying this for years. With this evidence, everyone needs to be sober and stop trying to see everything in benign terms such as pluralism, diversity, and “can’t we all just get along?” Without engaging in witch hunts, we ought to be more sober than we have officially been and be sure that the term “Catholic” is not just pitched around. Some (not a few) want to muddle this term and ultimately destroy the reality it describes. Don’t let them.