Criteria Catholicism and the Mercy of Twilight
As in the wake of Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama, the message Weigel and the like-minded are sending is clear: one's position on abortion is the defining feature for faithful membership in the Roman Catholic Church.
To link so imperiously authentic Catholicism with one's attitude toward abortion, however, confines the fullness of discipleship. It encourages people to think, "I am against abortion; thus, I am a good Catholic." The position incites people to exalt viewpoints alone, and to license an illusory holiness without setting one foot forward on behalf of the poor, without visiting the imprisoned, or without feeding the hungry or ministering to the sick; without sustaining a renunciation or commitment reflecting the complete change of heart and the heroic agape love to which Our Lord calls us.
To make this point is not to deny the need to speak about controversial moral truths. The evil of abortion is the chief disgrace of American public policy and constitutional law. Moreover, as Blessed John Paul II notes in Veritatis Splendor, Christian discipleship is intrinsically linked with the moral law. The protection of unborn life demands a courageous, at times uncompromising, posture. Martino's contributions rightfully drew questions and concern.
But Weigel has taken Martino's pro-choice affiliations as criteria to declare Notre Dame unserious about its Catholic identity, which, by extension, indicts Martino as unserious about hers. In an otherwise exhaustively detailed polemic, Weigel omits mention of Martino's assistance to the mentally ill, her service to Catholic Relief Services, and her recent statement that she remains committed to all aspects of Catholic teaching. In his closing paragraph, instead, he dismisses her as the "Emily's List contributor."
We don't know precisely why Martino made the donations she did. We also don't know of her private devotions or private sacrifices that her humility keeps secluded. We do know, however, the words of then-Cardinal Ratzinger on a theme well worth considering in the wake of Weigel's assessment.
In his Introduction to Christianity, the Pope had this to say on the relationship between the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount:
[A]s Jesus illuminates the depths of these demands, it becomes evident that man shares in these sins through anger, hatred, failure to forgive, envy, and covetousness. It becomes clear how very much man in his apparent righteousness is besmirched with what goes to make the unrighteousness of the world. If one takes the words of the Sermon on the Mount seriously, one realizes what happens to a man who moves from party politics to reality. The beautiful black and white into which one is accustomed to divide men changes into the gray of a universal twilight.
This twilight drifts upon the deliberations of all men and women and over the institutions they serve. It is a twilight that balances light and dark, one that invites charity and caution—the shadow of a doubt—before we leap to conclusions that were never ours to make.
Matt Emerson writes from California, where he teaches at Xavier Prep.