Love One Another

As regular readers have probably figured out, I've been staying out of the recent Catholic Cultural Wars. You most likely know what I'm talking about ... Obama at Notre Dame. And local folks in the know may also have been aware of the hullabaloo about the conference recently sponsored by my place of ministry. For those not in the know, it wasn't too far off the mark from the Obama/Notre Dame thing, except on a much smaller scale (but closer to home).

I was inspired to briefly touch on the matter here on the blog -- before I hear how the speech went -- by this column in today's Washington Post: Who is a Real Catholic? by David Gibson.
All you need to know to diagnose the state of the Catholic Church in America today is that Pope Benedict XVI -- who has a knack for ticking off Muslims and Jews -- spent the past week wandering the Middle East, yet Catholics here barely noticed. They were too busy fighting over Barack Obama's appearance as commencement speaker at Notre Dame or arguing about the fate of a popular Miami priest known as "Father Oprah," who was caught on camera sharing a seaside embrace with his girlfriend.
I've read lots of other great commentaries--including in America, Busted Halo, and many others--but I was inspired to write by this one. Why?

Because I think it makes so very clear the crux of the matter. He goes into much greater detail and analysis, but basically I think that we as American Catholics have forgotten what it was that Jesus guy taught us:
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (Gospel of John, Chapter 13).
Now, there is something about saying the truth in love, but I don't think that's what we're dealing with here. There's too much nasty stuff going about for it to be grounded in love.

I left the Church once--as a young woman. I couldn't deal with all the negative propaganda and accusations that people weren't Catholic enough, all focused around one issue ... abortion. I've written here before about my feeling of homelessness on the issue or abortion, so I'll just summarize those thoughts here:
Over my 33 years I've spent time in both camps, and currently find myself homeless. Most of my friends are in the pro-choice camp, but I really do believe in my heart that a life is a life (whether it is a death row inmate or a human being growing in a mother's womb). My church (big C here for the Catholic Church) is part of the pro-life camp, but I've been uncomfortable with the dogmatic narrow minded approach for a number of years. Ever since I was a teenager in fact.
Looking back at my journey (now at 36+ years), I find it interesting and more than a bit ironic that it was the "dogmatic narrow minded approach" of my childhood Conservative Catholic parish that pushed me pretty far into the pro-choice camp in my teens/early 20's. And it was a gradual experience of the love of Christ for all of us, embodied in the Progressive Catholic parish of my late 20's/early 30's, that brought me back to an acceptance of the dignity of all life, from womb to tomb.

Yes, that's right, it was my experience of self-titled "Orthodox" Catholicism that pushed me out the door and into the arms of the pro-choice movement. And my experience of "Cafeteria" Catholicsm that invited me to reconsider my position in the context of God's all encompassing love. (I'm using the labels of the debate, although there's a reason why I have them in quotation marks). Like I said, it's a bit ironic. Especially since I'm now a nun! (Although I'm sure there are some out there who would question even the veracity of that. Further proof of how far from Jesus' teachings the debate has come)

I know that my outlook is colored by my experiences. I also know that, having left the Church once and been gifted by my loving God with an invitation to return and live my faith more fully, I plan to stay. Furthermore, I have been gifted by my religious community which grounds and supports me on my journey. I no longer feel homeless which is an incredible blessing.

But I do feel sadness. For our Church. For the everyday folks in the pews who are just trying to live the message of Jesus in their lives, looking to the Church for guidance, and instead being confused by the debate between Conservative/Liberal Catholics.

I inite us all to reflect, once again, on these words of Jesus:
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (Gospel of John, Chapter 13).
My comment box is open, if you so desire. Please be nice. I'm off to mass!


Anonymous said...

At one point in my life, I was vehemently pro-choice, seeing it as the "only" option for a young feminist.

But it was my fighting AGAINST the death penalty that made me realize my own inconsistency. Like you said, from womb to tomb. And of course, the seamless garment idea.

In the current chatter there is not one word about the death penalty. I would feel much more supportive of our Church's stance on abortion if they weren't such hypocrites about adults' lives.

If, for example, Obama were blatantly pro abortion AND pro death penalty, I could see the reason for the outcry.

Don't even get me started on American flags in the churches and the support of war...

Since when was Christ in bed with the Empire?!

Anne Welch said...

Gosh, I would be thrilled to be present at Obama's speech and, at the same time, I appreciate the protesters who follow the guides of their own consciences. They offer a touchstone moment that allows those on both side to better define their position.

It's not those involved, but the commentators on both sides of the issue that are fueling the fire. See James Carroll's piece at salon.com--over the top. I was so irked I finally registered on the site, so I could comment on it.

Anonymous said...

thanks for linking to our BustedHalo article. I liked your points.

Sponsa Christi said...

Dear Sr. Susan,

Hi…I read your blog from time to time, but don’t comment much. I myself hope that I would be considered an “orthodox” Catholic blogger, in the sense that I accept all of the Church’s teachings and strive always to obey the magisterium as the successors to the Apostles. I also whole-heartedly agree with the 70+ American bishops who expressed their opposition to President Obama’s reception of an honorary doctorate at Notre Dame.

But I do appreciate your frustration with the lack of charity that can often be exhibited on both sides of the “Culture Wars,” and I’m truly sorry that this lack of charity had at one point made it difficult for you to feel at home in the Church.

I don’t think anyone knowledgeable could disagree with you in pointing out that love is the center, source, and goal of Catholicism. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that “love” is not the same thing as unconditional and unqualified “niceness.” Certainly we should avoid being deliberately harsh or insensitive as much as possible. Yet as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, love “does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.” And at times, the truth can initially seem difficult or painful to us.

Love also “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Of course, peace, joy, kindness, and gentleness are all fruits of the Holy Spirit, and as such are the hallmarks of a solid spiritual life. But nevertheless, love calls us to be patient with the weaknesses of our fellow sinful Christians, even when these weaknesses include bitterness, anger, pride, or self-righteousness. While there may be situations where some appropriately sensitive fraternal correction is called for, we shouldn’t let the presence of these sorts of sins and character flaws discourage us from loving the Church or standing up for what she teaches.

Anonymous said...

I too have been disturbed with some of the nastiness that the pro-life people have shown. When I commented on one blog about the death penalty, the reply was when someone commits a crime they give up their right to life!
It's very easy to fight for little babies, but what about the life of someone elderly, sick, physically or mentally ill.
If you are going to be pro-life it has to be from womb to tomb.
Where were those protesters in the previous 8 years.

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. And thanks for posting in the "nice" spirit - ie) respect and dialogue.

I generally avoid the hot button topics these days, in large part because when I would try to host a dialogue on them in the past I would be deluged with negative, inflammatory and often times very nasty comments.

So again, thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts!

Sister Susan

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...

One more comment, and then early to bed for me!

I want to be clear that while in the most current episode of the CCW (Catholic Culture Wars), there was a great deal of uncharitable rhetoric on the part of the more conservative circles the same has been true of the more liberal or progressive circles at other times.

I'm not just calling one side to be charitable and letting the other side off the hook.

Instead, my hope and prayer is that we can stop having sides and be brothers and sisters. That we can celebrate and congregated in our common ground, and open into honest and respectful dialogue on those areas where we seem to differ.

My suspicion is that once we do that, three things will happen. One, we may realize that we have far more in common than what separate. Two, we may realize that many of our "differences" are in some part languaging or ascetic differences and we're not that far off from each other. Three, there may/hopefully will be conversion of heart.

There's a reason why Jesus called together his friends. A reason why the Holy Spirit guided the beginning of the Church. And a reason why we're still here. And I don't think that reason is to cause further divisions and infighting.

I spent a lot of time in the sun today, so I'm not sure if that makes sense.

In any case, peace my bloggy friends and thanks for sharing your thoughts in the spirit of the post!

Garpu said...

Either you've got a great asbestos bra, or you're one brave woman, considering some of the nastiness about this subject that's in the blogosophere.

A friend of mine, who was heavily into the Catholic Worker movement (and knew Dorothy Day) said that back in her day things were every bit as polarized, but all sides never questioned the Catholicism of the opposing sides. They could meet in the Eucharist. Sadly I see that being lost--there's too much hurt, division, and finger pointing to really see that there's a person who's every bit as much a part of the Church as you are.

god googler said...


Great post. I would say that I had a similar experience. I grew up in the "conservative" church--where they were clearly pro-life and I admired that but I also saw them as alienating. The Italians hated the Irish. One parishioner said that the neighborhood had changed into the (and I quote for accuracy not because I want to further her racism) "spics, the spooks and the sparabs." A priest even remarked to me "I'm not racist, I just don't like blacks."
It seemed the poor were always being shooed away from the church steps by everyone except a more sensible and open minded pastor.

A young priest came onto the staff and was bringing some new life into the place. He rode a motorcycle and was a good preacher. One morning he found his motorcycle completely destroyed in front of the rectory with a note taped to the mailbox: "Next time, it will be YOU."


College gave me, needless to say a more progressive view of church. Focused on social justice and less on dogmatics--though they were always there in the background. The divisiveness always came from the more traditional crowd. The pro-life club would argue about why the campus didn't do more for the life movement for one. I always saw their point and always thought it was valid--but at the same time they were nearly impossible to have a conversation with.

My work against the death penalty and hearing the stories from my Jewish brothers and sisters with regards to the holocaust have led me far more to value life than anything that the more traditionalists have been able to come up with.

Sad, but true.

Garpu said...

God Googler, I'm assuming you grew up in the midwest? that's the only other part of the country I've encountered racism at the parish level. I'm sure it exists elsewhere, but I haven't ever seen it like I did in Chicago. I'm also one of those, who rediscovered the RCC in college. If I hadn't gotten out of my family's parish and influence, I doubt I"d be Catholic today. But that's a long story for another time.

Sponsa Christi said...

After re-reading my comment from last week, I noticed it seemed overly vague so I thought I should clarify where I stand on this issue. I really do think it is regrettable that “orthodox” Catholics can come across as harsh and uncharitable (although as Sr. Susan, noted, there are problems like this on both sides). Certainly all Christians should be as kind as possible in any given situation, and human warmth is much more effective than coldness and criticism in conveying the Gospel.

However, my point was that we shouldn’t let personality flaws deter us from accepting or defending what the Church actually teaches. Just because an individual (or particular group of) “conservative” Catholics happens to be cranky or condescending, it does not therefore follow that his or her arguments are wrong or immoral. I think we can all agree that seeking and sharing the truth is by its nature a loving action, even if it is not always a pleasant one.

And if you believe, as the Church teaches, that abortion is truly the murder of innocent children, then (non-violent!) outrage is the only logically consistent reaction to its legalization, just as outrage is an appropriate reaction to other forms of social injustice.

The thing to keep in mind is that outrage at the availability of abortion, and at the honoring of those who promote it, is in and of itself VERY different from a lack of Christian charity.

I hope this helps better illustrate the “conservative” point of view.