During vice presidential debates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan were asked what it meant to be a Catholic in public office. Biden talked about social justice; Ryan about religious freedom. I am amazed that this is still a hot topic 50 years after JFK, our only Catholic president, elected despite people’s concerns over his Catholicism.
I am a lapsed Catholic who hasn’t been inside a church in years. Like many others who’ve left the fold, I feel angry…at the church’s attitude towards gays, women and birth control; at the pedophile priests; at the crackdown on nuns who the Vatican thinks are too concerned with social justice and not toeing the line on Catholic dogma. Yet despite not being a practicing Catholic I still feel as if the church is a part of me. And I’m frankly angry that the most strident factions of the Catholic church have come to define its image.
As I write this I am looking out the window at our neighbor Ed, who is aerating our lawn. Normally my husband Bob would be doing this – Bob and Ed for the past several years have split the cost of renting an aerator for this annual fall ritual. But last week Bob fell down our deck stairs at night while trying to take our dog out for his pre-bedtime ritual, and now he is hobbled by a boot and crutches. Ed graciously offered to push this 200-pound aerator around our yard when Bob couldn’t.
Ed is what I describe as a “casserole Catholic,” those who wear their Catholicism like a humble brown robe rather than like a cardinal’s red cloak. He doesn’t preach or try to foist his ideals on everyone else. He and his wife Margie attend Mass every Saturday evening; Ed volunteers with the St. Vincent DePaul Society, which quietly helps people in need. Casserole Catholics quietly reach out to injured neighbors with casseroles, rides home from school for their children, comforting phone calls and offers of support.
This is the essence of the Catholic faith…not the fight over whether Catholic employers have the right to deny birth control, or whether a fertilized egg is a human being, or whether gay couples should have the right to marry. It’s in the Catholic nuns who work among the poor (as Nicholas Kristof, the brilliant New York Times columnist, pointed out, a few of them defy their church by handing out condoms in AIDs-ravaged African countries.) It’s in the story of St. Theresa, the saint who made it a habit to do good deeds in secret, without expecting a gold star or a feature story in the press.
Indeed, the best parts of all Judeo-Christian religions can be summed up not in Leviticus, or Revelations, or the story of Abraham, but in the Beatitudes:
• Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Verse 3)
• Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. (Verse 4)
• Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Verse 5)
• Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. (Verse 6)
• Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Verse 7)
• Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. (Verse 8)
• Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Verse 9)
• Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Verse 10)