The title of this blog is intended to be descriptive. But it is possible that some will misinterpret the title, thinking that the term “American” someone how qualifies the term “Catholic”. Father Richard John Neuhaus speaks of this problem in his recent book Catholic Matters:
“the great thing to discover is not what it means to be an American Catholic but what it means to be a Catholic American. One might think the noun is more important than the adjective, but that is not necessarily so. The adjective qualifies and, in qualifying, controls. To say that I want to be an American Catholic assumes that I know what it means to be an American but am uncertain about the Catholic part of ‘American Catholic.’ The goal, rather, is to be a Catholic American; to be a person who knows what it means to be Catholic and is working on what it means to be Catholic in America.” (pp. 166)
Fr. Neuhaus is right. We are first Catholics, disciples of Jesus Christ. Our political ideas are not our faith. Rather, when we are at our best, our political ideas are informed by our faith. And that is perhaps the primary goal of this website: to express clearly and persuasively the influence our Catholicism has on our political life in America. Despite protestations to the contrary, this website is not about the American influence on Catholicism, but the influence Catholics ought to have on America.
A basic way Catholicism can influence politics is in our relationships with one another. Peter Kreeft says that the most important political act you can do is to be a saint. What does he mean? Well, if politics is about how we ought to order our lives together, and saints show us how we ought to live, then saints show us how we ought to order our lives together. And saints don’t just tell us what goodness is, they show us. And human beings learn better from examples than we do from syllogisms. So our first political priority should be to work to be saints (I know this isn’t easy!). For: the most essential element of a good society is good people.
This picture, while appealing, is incomplete. We are not all saints, nor will we ever be. And our political thinking needs to account for this dimension of reality as well. We must try to build a civilization of love, but we should not be tempted by the Utopian promise. History has shown that when men make Utopia their first priority (i.e., an idol) they usually end up ushering in horrible tyrannies. Lord Acton was right when he said “power [not authority] corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Our political thinking should try to take this into account as well.
So: I hope it is clear that in terms of our identity, Catholic Christian is first, not American. And our first priority as Catholics is to be saints. All of this “blogging” is for nothing if it is not helping each other to become saints.