Wednesday, February 6, 2013

George Weigel - Evangelical Catholicism

Another book to read. Evangelical Catholicism by George Weigel. A friend emailed me an interview by Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, with George Weigel. This friend is a former Anglican priest, so it is interesting that he sent this article on to a number of friends. It seems that quite a few Protestants are taking an interest in Catholicism these days.

Weigel says that Catholic theologians are looking at Pope Leo XIII because he was the pope who decided that the Vatican should not continue in "retreat mode", as it was doing in the mid 1800's. Pope Leo set in motion Catholic reform movements that would mark the 20th century:  the liturgical movement, the development of Catholic social doctrine, and rigorous study of Church history to mention three. These set the groundwork for Vatican II which is now being interpreted by Pope Benedict XVI as the "new evangelization". 

All I know of Pope Leo XIII is that he was the Pope who predicted that the Church was like a ship sailing into safe harbour after the threat of the open sea, with the Mother of God standing guard on one side and the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist on the other. I believe he is also the Pope who began the practice of saying the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel after Mass, a practice that should be resurrected. I will have to learn more about him.

One of Lopez's questions to Weigel was about the "Catholic vote". I found his response very informative and so clear. Right to the point.

 Well, let’s begin by noting for the umpteenth time that there isn’t any such thing as “the Catholic vote.” There are voters who self-identify as Catholics, but their degree of Catholic commitment and practice varies widely, and their voting patterns tend to mirror their commitments. Regular, weekly-Mass-attending Catholics skew heavily Republican; once-a-year Catholics skew heavily Democratic; and the scale slides in between — the once-a-month Catholic is more likely to vote Republican than the once-a-quarter Catholic. So it really makes no sense to talk about a “Catholic vote,” any more than it makes sense to talk about a “gender-gap” in our electoral politics. The “gap” in the latter is between married women and single women; the “gap” among Catholics is between practicing Catholics and occasional Catholics.

... to get down to specific cases, I can think of several members of Congress and senior administration officials who fit the bill. These people self-identify as Catholics, and they may even go to Mass with some regularity. But they are leading lives of such theological and moral incoherence (by, for example, supporting Roe v. Wade or agitating for “gay marriage” or defending the HHS mandate while ignoring its threat to religious freedom) that their communion with the Church is seriously damaged.

The politicos aren’t the only problem here, of course. There are aging, tenured members of theology departments at prestigious Catholic universities whose teaching and writing make clear that they are in a defective state of communion with the Church, because they deny what the Catholic Church teaches to be true. The entire fracas with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is, in fact, about precisely this: Is the LCWR living in communion with the Church, or is it living (and propounding) what amounts to another faith — indeed, another religion? We know that there are schismatics in the 21st-century Church: people who are, in a formal, canonical sense, living outside the legal boundaries of the Church because they have broken communion with the Church by breaking its canon law (think of the Lefebvrists). What I’m suggesting with the, admittedly provocative, term “baptized pagans” is that the Church has a much bigger problem than the tiny and marginal Lefebvrist sect, because there are a lot of people who are still inside the canonical boundaries of the Church but who aren’t in communion with the Church in any other meaningful sense. And it’s the job of all Catholics — but especially the Church’s pastors — to call those “baptized pagans” back to living in the fullness and integrity of Catholic faith.

On the question of Church authority and how can he believe that the Catholic Church is correct, Weigel responds:

The key question is, as always, “Who do you say that I am?” as Jesus put it to the disciples when they were strolling through Caesarea Philippi. If I embrace Jesus as what he says he is — the way, the truth, and the life — then it seems reasonable to think that Jesus would have wished his followers, the Church, to be preserved in that truth. Catholics have always believed that that truth is preserved by the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church through the “apostolic succession”: the bishops in union with the Bishop of Rome, who “succeed” the apostles, the original witnesses to Jesus, the Risen Lord, as Christ’s witnesses in the world, and as the authoritative teachers of the Church.

Finally, I see what has happened to Christian communities that have lost any sense of a teaching authority anchored in, and responsible to, Scripture and the Church’s settled tradition: They crumble in the face of a hostile culture, or they simply become expressions of the culture rather than the Gospel. That’s a cautionary tale, and, at least along the via negativa, it’s another argument for the Catholic Church’s understanding of itself as guided by authoritative teachers in the apostolic succession.

Speaking on the subject of homosexuality and same sex marriage, Weigel continues to speak clearly:

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who is quite probably the most intellectually accomplished bishop in the history of Catholicism in the United States, put this brilliantly in a January column in his archdiocesan newspaper: “Sexual relations between a man and a woman are naturally and necessarily different from sexual relations between same-sex partners. This truth is part of the common sense of the human race. It was true before the existence of either Church or State, and it will continue to be true when there is no State of Illinois and no United States of America. A proposal to change this truth about marriage in civil law is less a threat to religion than it is an affront to human reason and the common good of society. It means we are all to pretend to accept something we know is physically impossible. The Legislature might just as well repeal the law of gravity.” Now, in a culture where the idea that some things just are has become severely attenuated, this is, as the disciples once remarked of something Jesus said, a “hard saying.” But it happens to be true. And if the state successfully asserts its capacity to redefine reality in the matter of men, women, and marriage, where does its capacity to redefine reality stop? Why not redefine the parent-child relationship, or the doctor-patient relationship, or the priest-penitent relationship, or the counselor-counselee relationship? Why not redefine citizenship as adherence to the state’s redefinition of reality?

On the subject of sexuality and Catholics' just wanting to take the fun out of it, Weigel delivers my favourite line of the interview:

The Incarnation teaches us that God takes our enfleshment very, very seriously because human flesh and blood became the material by which the Son of God entered history.

And finally on the need for "divine mercy", Weigel sums up the tragedy of this century.

The 20th century was the bloodiest in human history, by orders of magnitude. Add the new slaughter of the innocents in abortion to the slaughters of the World Wars, the death camps, the Gulag, and all the rest of the politically induced horrors, and you have a world awash in guilt over the cruelty and inhumanity it has visited upon itself. To whom can the sin that produced that guilt be confessed? By whom can it be expiated? By what authority can it be forgiven? The answers to those three questions cannot be Dr. Freud, Amnesty International, or the United Nations. The answer, I believe and the Church proclaims, is the God of the Bible, who comes into the world and into history — first in the people of Israel, and then in his Son — to offer humanity the embrace of the divine love, which alone can heal the brokenness of our lives, our societies, and our cultures.

Definitely a new book on the list.


Elena said...

Do you mean Leo XIII, not XVIII? I believe that he was the pope who fainted when granted a vision of hell.

Julie Culshaw said...