How many Catholics do you know today who are not frustrated or angry about something? Generally their frustration stems from the fact that they are fiercely committed and loyal to something that they perceive as sacred, critical, and non-negotiable … and they feel is not being properly valued by the powers that be or is being devalued by self-interest groups.
For example, conservatives are frustrated because certain cherished traditions are being by-passed, trampled upon, militantly challenged as backward, or simply benignly ignored. Liberals, who are often doing the by-passing, challenging, and ignoring, are themselves generally frustrated because, to their mind, the real power structure in the church has not substantively changed. Ministry and power are still essentially in the hands of a small group of male celibates (whom they have little say in choosing) who ultimately make the rules. Then there is still another large group of persons who are interested in neither the conservative nor liberal agenda and are frustrated because they cannot have a tranquil, unpolarized, community within which to meet and worship.
What all of us, no matter which group we belong to, must realize is that we are Catholic and that word itself suggests that all these tensions should be there. Catholic means wide, universal, a heart with many rooms. That brings with it the call for wide loyalties, for a commitment to many things. Catholic community is not fundamentalistic community. Catholicism opposes sectarianism. Sadly, today, there is a creeping tendency towards intellectual fundamentalism, emotional sectarianism, and simple intolerance within both liberal and conservative groups alike. This is what non-catholicism really means … not the protest- for-God of the Protestant, but the intolerance of a narrow heart!
What is called for, beyond simple charity and respect, is wide loyalties. A true Catholic is loyal to the following components within community:
1) The Gospel template … Christianity has certain non-negotiable creeds, dogmas, ethical stands, and moral and religious challenges. It has certain normative parts. To be Catholic is to be loyal to these, in season and out of season.
2) The sociology of community which includes a certain authority of office … All communities have certain offices and authority structures. Catholics should not believe that Christ left a specific ecclesial blueprint (which fits present structures) but they should believe that any large community necessitates certain authority structures, legitimately established of course, which must be respected.
3) The role of special charism and gift … Certain people should be listened to because of office, others need to be heard because of charism, namely, because their words and actions, of themselves, manifest a certain spiritual and moral authority.
4) The link to the universal church … To be a Catholic is to be part of a very large community of faith (circa one billion of us on this earth, not counting our ancestors in the faith who are part of the communion of saints with us). At times, individual needs will have to be sacrificed for the sake of larger unity.
5) The needs of the local community … To be Catholic is to be fiercely militant for the needs of one’s own small base community. A body generates life in its cells. This is also true for the church.
6) The unique experience of the “artist” … Every community – aesthetic, political, moral, familial, intellectual – has its “artists”, persons who are, by nature, gifted with an extra sensitivity. These are given to the community as a gift, to generate greater sensitivity and creativity. Their voice may never be ignored.
7) The experience of the ordinary person, especially the experience of the poor … All these other loyalties need to be constantly re-examined against the common experience and especially against the presence and experience of the poor. In fact, given our preferential option for the poor, this always needs special attention.
Freud once said that the only body with no tension in it is a dead one. Given the need for wide loyalties, perhaps it is not untrue to say that one can tell how open-minded we are by the degree of pain under which we labour.