To make Him better known
Over at First Things, Richard John Neuhaus has some nice things to say about DotCommonweal in general and this author in particular (scroll down after the link). So I thank him for that. But I’m not sure we’re entirely in agreement on every point.
But I’m almost reluctant to keep the debate going. I stand by my sociological observations, which I think remain true regardless of whether one feels they are positive or negative developments. But there has been too much of this “point scoring” lately, where we criticize each other for the various ways we fall short of the call of the Gospel. Isuppose my post on the Cardinal Newman Society can be criticized for falling into that category.
But the debate is important. It goes to the heart of what we are all about. How do we come to know Christ better? And how do we make Him better known?
To say that the answer is “Fidelity! Fidelity! Fidelity!” is to beg the question: fidelity to what? To Christ Himself? Or to an understanding of Him that is bound to a particular time and place? Is it hard to separate the two? Of course it is. The earliest Christians took a hell of a risk when they dispensed Gentile converts from circumcision. Pope John XXIII took a few risks too. Why? Because they thought it would be worth the risk of removing some unnecessary stumbling blocks if Christ could become better known.
At its best, the liberal Catholic project was about how to make Christ better known in a culture shaped by the Enlightenment. We’re still living in that culture, even if we are more conscious of the dark side of human reason, and more aware that perhaps not every “reform” has served its underlying purpose.
In the end, I’m drawn to the observation that Peter Steinfels made at the end of his well-known debate with Francis Cardinal George:
Not long ago I came across some notes from an interview I had with Gustavo Gutiérrez, usually viewed as the founding father of liberation theology. “I don’t believe in liberation theology,” Father Gutiérrez said. “I believe in Jesus Christ.” Let me take my cue from him. I don’t believe in liberal Catholicism. I believe in Jesus Christ, and I believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
But I would argue that insofar as we can humanly tell, liberal Catholicism is essential to the flourishing of that church in the United States and, I believe, in the rest of the world. I don’t deny the need for currents in the church that emphasize preservation and the risks of change or currents of either right or left that call for prophetic confrontation and sectarian witness. But if the church is to remain a healthy organism it needs the self-criticism, open inquiry, and spirit of dialogue that liberal Catholicism has provided.