Because Ultimately It’s Not About Politics

I am amazed how quickly this blog spreads and comments make their way back to me. My first post was just eighteen days ago. In fact, I began writing “Why I Am Catholic” mostly for my wife and daughters—to share with them my joy in being Catholic—and they continue to receive each of my posts automatically by e-mail. But others have been touched. It must be the work of the Holy Spirit. Or as my pal Ferde put it when I e-mailed him my astonishment, “Webstah, have you ever heard of GOD?!”

“I LOVE this blog that I have discovered,” a woman wrote.

“Thank you for reminding me of one of the reasons that I remain a Catholic,” wrote another, who read my post on Kristin Lavransdatter.

Most touching for me was the fellow convert, a man, who wrote, “I just want to say that I really appreciate your posts and look forward to reading in the future. I was confirmed a few years ago and your posts really resonate with me, and it’s just really pleasing to see someone so open and honest about their faith. Words often get in the way of faith, but yours are adding to mine.”

That captured best what I am attempting here: an honest, non-doctrinaire testimony to the joy I have discovered in being a Catholic. I cannot imagine my life now without the Church.

Someone alerted me to a blog that had mentioned “Why I Am Catholic.” The blog is The Anchoress of First Things. I’m so new to this blogging business that I don’t know how to create a direct link in that sentence yet (promise I’ll learn) but you’ll find an Anchoress link under “Blogs & Sites I Read.” It’s worth regular reading. Gotta love this lady: she’s writing at 4 or 5 in the morning, God’s hour.

I Googled The Anchoress and read her comment: “Added to my blogroll,” she wrote 9/2/09 at 2:13 p.m. (she also writes in the afternoon and evening), “a terrific blog written from a very faithful but center-mildlyleft position, ‘Why I Am a Catholic’ . . . ”

Now, I’m never going to look a gift “terrific” in the mouth and I appreciate the insight “very faithful,” though it was arrived at with very little data. My priest and confessor might be a better judge of that. But “center-mildlylefty”?! First Things First: I do not dispute this description. Not my point at all. What is remarkable to me is how quickly I earned that political label. Have we Catholics become that political?

First, how did she arrive at this designation? I’m almost as new to Catholicism as I am to blogging, but I imagine there are clues in every sentence I write. Just one example: Having America magazine alphabetically first in my list of “Blogs & Sites I Read” (and therefore a notch ahead of The Anchoress) is an immediate red flag. I have been a Catholic long enough to have heard the joke—

What are the three things God does not know? (1) How many orders of Franciscans there are. (2) How much money the Dominicans have. (3) What the heck the Jesuits are doing.

This is obviously a conservative’s joke. I know by now that, to some, Franciscan means “whatever,” and Jesuit means “liberal,” and America is a Jesuit magazine. A very good and balanced magazine, I think, and yes, its editor, Fr. Jim Martin, gave me a shout-out in his blog because I gave his book a shout-out in mine, so there. But what makes America “liberal”? I don’t have the discernment to say exactly. I imagine that while upholding the sanctity of life, America desists from throwing Molotov cocktails into pro-choice picket lines. And the Jesuits are smart, free thinkers—kind of like William F. Buckley, who was never accused of liberalism and who was, if you’ve been reading, a subject of one of my posts. And they are all spiritual sons of St. Ignatius, and I defy anyone to label him “liberal.”

But let me not stray. Amid my wife’s initial astonishment when I first told her that I was converting to Catholicism, the next sentence out of my mouth was: “I am not becoming a Catholic in order to get into political arguments with anyone. I am becoming a Catholic in order to pray and attend mass and receive the Eucharist and honor my God and thereby, I hope, improve the life of my neighbor.”

In recent days, we have witnessed a brouhaha over Cardinal Seán O’Malley’s presiding “in choir” at the Kennedy funeral. Please—please read his blog post about this. (Again, no link here but there’s another one to your right under “Blogs & Sites I Read.”) Like our pope—my pope—Cardinal Seán is committed to dialogue with those who disagree with the Church’s position on the sanctity of life. Prayer still works, and compassion. Most other tactics—and tactics are often all that differentiates Catholic “liberals” and “conservatives,” who agree on the sanctity of life or otherwise are not Catholics—are the down-and-dirty tactics of political life.

I think my wife, Katie, put it as well as I can, when we discussed this issue in detail. It seems to me, she said, that the Catholic Church risks becoming a wing of the Republican Party. Exactly. We saw that last election, when FOCA was the focus of vitriol against Obama, and we see it again now that a whole “wing” of the Church (see how political we are?) is aligned against the president’s health care initiatives.

If each of us is first and foremost a political being, with a political label immediately affixed to our foreheads the moment a word is out of our mouths, what’s the point in being Catholic? Let’s just all be Republicans, or whatever may be the conservative label of the month.

I have never been a political being, and in this post I am sure there is a large dose of naiveté. I do not dispute this. I am, however, a Catholic, and this is another reason why: Though it is completely illogical and completely apolitical, I look at the world and see all of its terrors (abortion, wars, genocide, racism, crushing poverty, AIDS), and I pray for it daily. Will my prayers help? I believe so, as St. Thomas believed so, and that makes me a Catholic.

When I die and my eulogy is spoken, I pray that the speaker will not say that I was a faithful Democrat or a Republican, or a righty or a mildlylefty, nor even that I was a writer or publisher. It’ll be OK with me (and I’ll be listening) if they mention that I was a good father and faithful husband, because those designations are much closer to my faith experience than any others. I do want to be a father and husband worthy of the Fourth Commandment’s honor.

But above all, I pray that when my eulogy is spoken, the speaker will say that I was a Catholic, and perhaps on a bit more evidence than “The Anchoress” had when she labeled me, that I was a faithful Catholic. What else matters?

(Finally here, a word of thanks to my fellow parishioner at St. Mary Star of the Sea, Adam DesRosiers. A fine young artist and photographer, he took several of the images I’ve used in posts, including this lovely detail from one of our Stations of the Cross. Please come see our church in Beverly, Massachusetts, some day. It is truly beautiful, as captured in Adam’s beautiful images.)

  • Tim Lacy

    Dear Webster,Congrats on your blog. I'll follow you so long as your posts don't become dominated by Catholic political talk!Here's my unsolicited advice from a fellow convert dealing with the politicization of Catholicism who might also be characterized as "center mildly left" or "center mildly right":In my experience, First Things can't decided whether being Catholic is a higher priority than being Right-wing/Conservative/Republican. This all because of the Democrats party platform. They're obsessed about the platforms without considering how many of their so-called platform followers violate their own party's planks. Anyway, some days First Things looks like the greatest Catholic publication and conglomeration of Catholics in the U.S., and on other days it looks like a wing of the Republican party and beholden to birthers/tenthers/states righters/abortion ideologues. If any part of your identity becomes wrapped up in First Things, all you'll end up doing is questioning whether every single little last thing you do is either "orthodox" or "liberal." And you'll realize that sometimes (not all the time), those categories are subjective.In sum, take *First Things* with a grain of salt. Nothing makes them happier than causing someone who ~they think~ is suspect (i.e. "slightly left") in terms of orthodoxy to chase their own tail. You'll never be at peace again.Peace,Tim

  • Eric

    Amen, Brother Webster – well said! Many of us Catholics – most prominently many of those with an online presence – are not so welcomiing to those who disagree with their politics. They are quick to define what is "true orthodoxy," without qualifying that it is really their own personal point of view. In actuality, neither the Republican nor Democratic party platforms fit perfectly with the Gospel, so no one does well to equate party loyalty to faithfulness. I appreciate the charity inherent in your approach – you have a lot to offer us all, and I'm grateful that the Ignatian Spirituality website steered me your way.AMDG,Eric

  • Julie D.

    Hi Webster,I was one of those who found my way to your blog via The Anchoress. I didn't notice her political comment in the comment that sent me this way and I surely didn't read your sidebar (as I dropped the link into an RSS feed which gave me simply your posts). However, I must mention in case you didn't know it that to The Anchoress, politics are meat and drink. Half of her posts are about her faith (those I read) and half are about politics (which I rarely read unless her faith is somehow intertwined as sometimes happens). At any rate, upon reading this post, you made me smile. In answer to your question, had I been asked to fill out a questionnaire about you then I would probably have also come up with those descriptors. I have never read such a joy filled account of loving the Church from anyone who is not faithful, or at least striving to be faithful as best they can. It simply permeates your writing.To a lesser degree, that political stance, although not spelled out ever, is likewise implicit in many of the little comments you have made here and there throughout your posts. I do not look for these things. As an American, there is just a cultural subtext that is there for the taking when reading someone who writes as well and as passionately as you do. I completely agree that there is no political party to which a Catholic can belong because none of them match our requirements in trying to live out the Gospel. However, to be an American is to also care about politics to some degree or another and you are also an American. (I may perhaps be helped along in this by the fact that I am now reading Chaput's "Render Unto Caesar" during which one comes to the conclusion that to be Catholic in America is to have to care about politics … and it has been from the beginning.)It is the same thing as when a blog reader characterizes me as a "science fiction lover" or a podcast review says that I am "a foodie." Both of which completely startled me. Well, yes, that is true, but I just didn't think I showed those particular preferences so much. However, I do and that is part of being me.As for Kennedy's funeral, which I didn't care about much one way or the other, other than that the poor soul was given a funeral mass … I agree that detractors were uncharitable. However, and this is a BIG however, I think that Cardinal O'Malley handed them the opportunity with both hands by allowing the funeral to not be run along the lines that the Catechism outlines: 1688 The liturgy of the Word during funerals demands very careful preparation because the assembly present for the funeral may include some faithful who rarely attend the liturgy, and friends of the deceased who are not Christians. The homily in particular must "avoid the literary genre of funeral eulogy"189 and illumine the mystery of Christian death in the light of the risen Christ.One must admit that the funeral was run with much eulogizing and that was the cause for much politicizing. Which is not the point of a funeral, even if, as my husband pointed out, it was of American royalty.So essentially, everyone was wrong in that no one was absolutely right.I didn't mean for this comment to be so long but I had been contemplating your post since I read it yesterday … so thought I would share these thoughts.I really have enjoyed reading your posts and the love you have for daily mass, "your" pope, and much else that is Catholic is something that resonates in me as well. Thank you for allowing us to all share it, even if you may not care for the attention. I appreciate both your passion and your excellent expression thereof.Cheers!

  • The Anchoress

    Worst part about blogging as often as I do is that I am frequently writing fast, particularly when it's a "roundup" or "housekeeping" post, and I'm just trying to get all the links in my head (and on my tab) out into the post so I can move on to my next obsession. So, when I went to describe your blog, I needed to be brief but also able to send my readers your way, so "terrific" that was self-evident. Anyone who reads only a few paragraphs into you understands. "Very Faithful" yes, a judgment for God, but in broad terms, your love of the faith shines all over this site, so not too poor a choice and "slightyleftofcenter" a bit of a tease, actually, although I do not know you well enough to tease, based on little lines you drop re your um…flowerchild days? ;-)But let me apologize if I presumed, because I really hate when people think they know all about me and my faith and my politics because of a dropped remark here or there, or based on one rant. In truth, I've remained remarkably close to the classical-liberal vein in which I was raised, but the markers keep shifting. And, more importantly, you and Julie are perfectly correct; there really is no political party for the Catholic, none of them really suit. Although we are a large family within society, the truth is, we Catholics don't actually fit in anywhere the way we're "supposed" to. When Reason does allow us to fill a mold, faith disallows it and vice-versa. Delicious! I love your blog – keep up the great work, and sorry if I offended. I'm just so glad to read you!

  • Webster Bull

    No offense taken from The Anchoress, who (now I'll make a judgment!) is prolific and committed to the faith (the volume of work proves that). Of course, we are all blogging off one another, and your description was the springboard for my liveliest post yet–to judge by the comments. Thanks again for the mention, Mme. Anchoress!

  • badsede

    I think the notion that Catholicism is not really compatible with either major political party, and not really any of the major political systems in our country, is one the reasonable Catholics need to put more focus on.If you take Catholicism on any particular issue, we are usually pretty extreme. We're left of most Democrats on social justice issues, right of most Republicans on life issues. So if you average all the issues out and stick that average on a political spectrum scale, Catholicism would be somewhere in the "centrist" range, even though on many issues Cathoilcism is well out in the "radical" range.Unfortunately, many Catholics latch on to one or the other of the radical stances and instead of grounding it in Catholic theology, they ground it in some political ideology or another. In the end, it leads them to downplay or discard some element of that comprehensive (and consistent) Catholic identity and ideology in exchange for a less comprehensive and less consistent political identity and ideology that is simply more familiar to people.But in the end, we are extremist centrists with radical libertarian and socialist tednencies. It's actually kind of fun.

  • Kelly

    Wonderful, thoughtful, a great post on how there is no one political party that totally encapsulates the tenets of the faith.