Why I’ve been spending more energy learning and discussing Catholic Social Teaching…

Why I’ve been spending more energy learning and discussing Catholic Social Teaching… September 29, 2015

…then rehashing Greatest Hits on Apologetic Stuff my readers have already heard:

“A Christianity which does little in practice, while incessantly explaining its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced. I would even say that it is stuck in a vicious circle.

A pastor must show that the ‘Gospel of the family’ is truly ‘good news’ in a world where self-concern seems to reign supreme! We are not speaking about some romantic dream: the perseverance which is called for in having a family and raising it transforms the world and human history.”
– Pope Francis speaking at St. Charles Borromeo seminary Sat. Sept. 26, 2015

I often hear the lament, “Why don’t you stick to apologetics? Why are you on about Catholic Social Teaching and all that liberal stuff? You’re such a huge disappointment!”

Well, there’s no denying I’m a huge disappointment. But it still seems to me that I have a duty to learn and try to live the Church social doctrine and not just stick to apologetics, and the Pope just said why. Apologetics is for helping people get past intellectual roadblocks so they can embrace the proclamation of the gospel. It’s a useful endeavor, but it has a danger: you can get stuck there at the pitfall of “Tell me again how awesome I am for being Catholic and how dumb Those Guys Are for Not Getting It”.

Worse still, it can create a subculture in which simply repeating a small round of Catholic apologetics talking points can become a substitute for the whole teaching of the faith, particularly in a political atmosphere where it has become very much in the interest of one party to massage the faithful into believing that opposition to abortion takes away the sins of the world.

This is part of why Francis is disorienting for many. He has forcefully brought back something that most conservative Catholics had somehow convinced themselves was either ignorable or even heretical: the Seamless Garment. After 30 years of a politics that had taught them that virtually all of Catholic Social teaching could be ignored or edited just so long as you embraced the five non-negotiables (and most of all, opposition to abortion) Francis has very forcefully made clear that the unborn cannot be used as human shields for support for unjust war, torture, contempt for the weakest and policies that harm the family or the refugee. All this, thought to be “liberal”, turns out to simply be Catholic and requires more from us than simply saying “abortion is non-negotiable and everything else is prudential judgement that we can blow off”. It *challenges us to act*, which is much less fun than hearing again that we have the Real Presence in the Eucharist and Protestants are wrong about that.

Don’t get me wrong. Apologetics will always be important. I don’t unsay a word I’ve written on it and I will doubtless write more. But it’s only a weigh station. Action in response to the full-orbed teaching of the Church is critical. This pope is making that call urgent.

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