Catholicism Faces a Heavy Future, Full of Light

Catholicism Faces a Heavy Future, Full of Light July 14, 2015


A challenging future means an exciting time to be Catholic

by Kelley Cutler

“You can show your love to others by not wishing that they should be better Christians.” — Saint Francis of Assisi

What side are you on? Are you a traditional or progressive Catholic? Are you liberal or conservative? Are you Republican or Democrat? Are you on the right or the left?

I’m often asked these questions to which I reply, “I am a Catholic anarchist.”

I am simply a Catholic, but people feel the need for a label to follow, so this is the label that seems to be most fitting. I am a follower of the teachings of Jesus, not any political party. Politics is politics; there is no salvation in it.

It’s an exciting time to be a Catholic anarchist. The depressing 24-hour news coverage and seemingly endless political fighting, and the busy violence attempts to suck the joy out of our lives, leaving us to wander in a cynical haze of distrust and disillusion. And yet, I am feeling hopeful. Even as an advocate on homelessness who daily encounters the most vulnerable — people who suffer greatly, every day — I am feeling hopeful.

I am hopeful because I see we are in a time of transition.

We have a pope who is telling us to shake things up — to make a mess! Not that I needed permission; mess-making is in my nature, but the papal urging is inspiring. We are being encouraged to challenge our system of thought; to challenge how we see ourselves and others. We are especially being challenged to see the poor and marginalized, to go to the margins and get out of our safe little Catholic bubble.

The radical part of being a Catholic anarchist is that my source of hope and strength comes from Jesus. These days it’s pretty radical to go to daily Mass and Adoration, especially before heading out to a protest at City Hall.

Some Catholics in the U.S. are struggling with holding on to hope, or they’re feeling fearful due to recent political or legal outcomes. Some fear a coming religious persecution. Within this fear is a failure to see the tremendous opportunities before us. We have a chance, a moment right now, to reevaluate the spiritual health of our Church. How are we sharing the Good News? Are we suffering from what Pope Francis identified as a “spiritual worldliness, living in itself, of itself, and for itself”?

Pope Francis explained, “You do not convince people with arguments, strategies or tactics. You convince them by learning how to welcome them. For that, it is necessary to keep doors open, above all the doors to the heart.”

He has been encouraging us to make room in our church, in our parishes, for those who are on the margins of our society. He has called for the “welcoming those who do not think as we do, who do not have faith, or who have lost it, at times through our own fault. Welcoming the persecuted, the unemployed. Welcoming the different cultures, with which this land is so richly blessed. Welcoming sinners.”

And this is scandalous to some people.

Pope Francis has been rattling some cages by criticizing Capitalism. He has been accused of being a Marxist and a Socialist, when in fact he is just pointing out the teachings of the Church. It’s remarkable how quickly people, particularly Americans will jump to defend Capitalism, but let’s look at it in a different light, and at least cop to this one unassailable truth: Every system has a downside. None of them are perfect.

Within Capitalism a person’s value is directly connected to how much they contribute to the system. This is an American (and partly Calvinist) system of thought, but not a Catholic system of thought. The Church teaches that every human life holds dignity and value. What Pope Francis is criticizing is the lack of value we as a society have for the poor and marginalized; we do not know or care to ponder the value of the most vulnerable among us.

It becomes apparent how little we value the poor and marginalized when we consider the United States has the largest number of women and children experiencing homelessness among industrialized nations. We have not seen such dramatic numbers since the Great Depression. Somehow, we are not talking about it, much. It is not on anyone’s front page, above the fold.

The issue seems hopeless to many and yet, as Catholics, this is a gift to us. Homelessness, poverty and marginalization has become more visible, particularly in our cities. It can be seen on our streets; it can be seen seeking refuge on the steps of our parishes. This is a gift that can save our souls. Do we see this as a gift? Do we see this as an opportunity to encounter Christ? Because that’s what it is: a chance to reach out to Christ, who is wearing what Mother Teresa described as “the distressing disguise of the poor.” We’re being given the gift of an opportunity to be Christ back to that person. Christ-the-poor, reaching out, must encounter, Christ-the-feeder, Christ-the-healer, in us. There is Oneness in this.

It can be difficult to see this gift for what it is. Let’s be honest, this gift can make us uncomfortable; and yet it nourishes our souls. Working to relieve the poor, the shunned, and the marginalized is the medicine for souls dying of materialism and complacency.

St. Francis wasn’t born seeing it. After he encountered the leper he said, “What had previously nauseated me became a source of spiritual and physical consolation.” So it even took practice for St. Francis, before he understood, before he could see.

Can we “see”? Can we see the gift before us? Can we see the gift Christ thirsts for us to see — the gift that can save our souls? Can we see Jesus?

I think this is a very exciting time to be a Catholic. The future before us looks hard, but full of light.

::Editorial Note:: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on the Future of Catholicism in America. Read other perspectives here.

Kelley Cutler is a social worker and advocate for the homeless working and worshiping in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Kelley Cutler

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