Some while back I told one of my sisters in the Dominican Laity that I wanted to be “as Catholic as the Pope: no more and no less.” And she, getting entirely the wrong idea, lauded me for having such a worthy goal. She thought I meant to be as devoted, as loving, and as holy as the Pope. And that is a worthy goal (assuming that the pope is indeed devoted, loving, and holy, which has not always been the case), and in line with the Church’s universal call to holiness, but that’s not what I meant—I just didn’t have any better words at the time.
What I meant was this: that I want to do no less than Christ’s Church requires of me…and (here’s the kicker) require no more of anyone else. The former does speak to personal holiness, and it’s limited by my own sinfulness and ignorance (like everybody else, I don’t know what I don’t know). But it’s the latter that I was really aiming for.
Uncle Screwtape tells Wormwood,
What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’. You know— Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring.
And I might add to that “Christianity and Gay Marriage”, “Christianity and the Latin Mass,” “Christianity and Women Priests,” “Christianity and the Pro-Life Movement,” “Christianity and Inclusiveness,” “Christianity and the Environment,” “Christianity and the Third Secret of Fatima,” “Christianity and the Poor,” and any of a number of other things, some of them consistent with Church teaching and some of them not.
We are not as a people called to “Christianity and X,” for any particular value of X you choose to name. We are called to “Christianity, therefore X,” where “Christianity” is the same for all of us, and there are as many values of “X” as there are people. Because here’s the thing: as Uncle Screwtape notes, if we pursue “Christianity and X,” we will soon find ourselves pursuing “X, and Christianity in support of it,” or even “X” all by itself. And when that happens, we are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.
I don’t want to oversell this. To do good without Christ’s love is still to do good. A man who feeds the poor is objectively doing good, even if there’s no shred of genuine Christian charity in his heart. But that’s not our call. Our call is to love the poor because Christ loves the poor, to pray for the victims of abortion because Christ loves them, to pursue any good because of Christ’s love.
We are each called to “Christianity, therefore X” for some X. There are general requirements: Jesus makes it quite clear that we are to feed and clothe the poor, and comfort the sick and imprisoned. But in the body there are many members, and each of us has our own emphasis. It is simply wrong for me to take my own emphasis and its particular requirements, and levy them upon all of my brothers and sisters; it is wrong for the gall bladder to censure the foot for not having enough gall, but it happens all too often.
And so: as Catholic as the Pope, but no more, and to put Christ first in all things. There you go.