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Rebutting the 'Catholic but'


Now is the time to rebut the Catholic but It is the time to say Yes when we mean Yes, and to say No when we mean No.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted

"I am a Catholic businessman but I don't let the Church influence what I do at the office or in the boardroom;" but Jesus says (Mt 7:21), "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven."

" I am a Catholic politician but I don't let my Catholicism impact on how I vote or what legislation I promote;" but Jesus says (Mt 7:26-27), "Everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined."

" I am a Catholic physician but I don't let my faith mold my decisions regarding abortion, contraception, or other medical practices;" but Jesus says (Mt 5:37), "Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one."

"I am a Catholic talk show host but I don't let the Church inhibit my right to say whatever I want on the air;" but in the Letter of James, God says (2:17) "Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

"I am a Catholic priest but I don't let Magisterial teaching keep me from dissenting from moral or doctrinal points nor let it limit my own 'pastoral solutions';" but at ordination each priest professes a solemn oath, "I believe everything contained in God's Word, written or handed down in tradition and proposed by the Church. . . I also firmly accept and hold each and every thing that is proposed by the Church definitively regarding teaching on faith and morals."Lent is the time to kick the "Catholic but..." out of our own daily lives. It is the time to expunge rationalization from our minds and to root out compromise from our hearts. Lent is the time to say a determined "No" to the temptation to water down our faith for personal gain. It is the time to say a much larger "Yes" to Jesus and His Gospel of Life. Lent is the time for Totus Tuus, the time to renew our commitment to love God with all our mind and heart and strength.

The "Catholic but. . ." syndrome stands in direct contradiction to Jesus' clear and unequivocal demand (Mk 8:34-36), "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?"

The "Catholic but. . ." syndrome is not without precedent in history. The fact that Jesus Himself directly and frequently opposed such rationalization shows its prevalence 2000 years ago. How often we are tempted to separate what we do in Church from what we do at home, to isolate what we believe from how we vote or what we do at work or at leisure. How easily we can compartmentalize our lives, thus keeping our adherence to Christ from shaping all that we say and do. This is why the formation of conscience holds such a pivotal role in our effort to grow to full maturity in Christ.

Each Lent, the Church urges us to rekindle our love for Jesus and to take a closer look at how completely we are taking up the Cross that fidelity to Him entails. This means we need to examine our consciences, and to insure that they are formed on the solid foundation of the Gospel.

During these 40 days before the Easter Triduum, the Father shines new light upon our souls so we can discover (or rediscover) the essential connection between truth and freedom, and between faith and culture. When freedom is detached from truth, objectivity goes out the window, relativism reigns, and ethical chaos gives rise to the "Catholic but. . ." It becomes impossible to establish right from wrong, good from evil. The pursuit of holiness is thrown off course.

To take the time, then, during Lent to form our consciences more fully in accordance with objective truth (known from God's Revelation and the natural law) not only brings wholeness and integrity to our personal lives; it also makes it possible for us to bring healing and reconciliation to society. Let us take advantage, then, of this Lenten season 2004 to engage seriously in the pursuit of truth and freedom. Here are some concrete suggestions for doing so:

  • Ask the Holy Spirit for His gifts of courage and understanding, humility and right judgment.

  • Consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church to find clear teaching about the moral conscience and its correct formation (See paragraphs #1776-1802).

  • Consider your own family situation, your work and your civic duties, and then ask: "Do I live my whole life as a vocation and a mission from the Lord?"

  • Carve out a few days for a spiritual retreat or at least set aside half a day to go apart from everyday life and examine, with God's help, how you are integrating the gift of faith in all dimensions of your life.

On the first day of Lent each year, the Lord says to us through St. Paul (2 Cor 6:2), "Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation."

Now is the time to rebut the "Catholic but. . ." It is the time to say "Yes" when we mean "Yes," and to say "No" when we mean "No." Lent is the time to profess our Catholic faith with gratitude and to put every part of it into practice.

This is J. Fraser Field, Founder of CERC. I hope you appreciated this piece. We curate these articles especially for believers like you.

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Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. "Rebutting the 'Catholic but'." The Catholic Sun (March, 2004).

This article reprinted with permission from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and The Catholic Sun. The Catholic Sun is the official newspaper for the Diocese of Phoenix.

The Author

olmstedBishop Olmsted was installed as Bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix on December 20, 2003. A 56-year-old native of Oketo, Kan., he studied for the priesthood in Denver and Rome and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., in 1973. He studied canon law from 1976 to 1979, graduating summa cum laudefrom the Gregorian University in Rome and then served in the Vatican Secretariat of State and as spiritual director of the North American College in Rome from 1979 to 1988. Bishop Olmsted went to the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, in 1993 as dean of formation and was appointed president and rector of the college in 1997. He speaks and writes Italian and Spanish.

Copyright © 2004 The Catholic Sun

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