The challenge for Americans to identify as ‘Catholic first’

This week we report on the Vatican’s new document proposing solutions to the global financial crisis (see excerpts, Page 9; Editorial, Page 27). 

Though this is a fairly technical document about economics, it ignited a fair amount of passion among some Catholics, who either felt strongly for or against some of the more specific and controversial proposals, which included new taxes on financial transactions and creation of a new global economic authority. 

And the political partisans were out as well, shooting off press releases looking to leverage the document for any gain that they could. 

No doubt there’s plenty here that is subject to — even passionate — debate. 

But the obvious danger — amid the temptation to knee-jerk reactions, or scoring political points — is that Catholics don’t think of themselves as Catholics first. 

What got overlooked in a lot of the commentary was the core point of the document: We’re responsible for looking out for more than just ourselves and our own. And that means developing a stinging conscience not only at the plight of the poor in our own communities and country, but those of those on the other side of the globe. 

Pretty countercultural. 

Lisa Hendey, of catholicmom.com fame, also wrote recently about her own resolve to spend more time actually reading Church documents than engaging in heated online exchanges about them. “We ... need to work daily — each in our own ‘Little Ways,’” she said, for “an increased attentiveness toward the ‘common good.’ My challenge to myself is not only to find time to read (or at least read about) the document from reliable sources, but then to take that knowledge and to make change in my own little corner of the world.” 

A few years back, in the run-up to the presidential election, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, then of Denver but presently of Philadelphia, spoke about the need that Catholics see their religious identity as the primary way of seeing themselves. 

He said: “We should see ourselves as Catholic first — not white or black, or young or old, or Democrat or Republican, or labor militant or business owner, but Catholic first as the main way we identify ourselves. Our faith should shape our lives, including our political choices. Of course, that demands that we actually study and deepen our Catholic faith. The Catholic faith isn’t a set of clothes that we can tailor to a personal fit. We don’t ‘invent’ our faith, and we don’t ‘own’ it. If we really want to be Catholic, then we’ll live by Catholic teaching. Otherwise we’re just fooling ourselves and abusing the belief of other Catholics who really do try to practice what the Church teaches.” 

If you’re reading this, you’re likely already committed to studying and deepening your faith. What are ways to make sure we are “Catholic first”? Write feedback@osv.com.