Light is shed upon many aspects of the world in which you live, when you start from these truths. Take your activity as citizens, for instance. A man who knows that the world – and not just the church – is the place where he finds Christ, loves that world. He endeavours to become properly trained, intellectually and professionally. He makes up his own mind, in full freedom, about the problems of the environment in which he moves, and he takes his own decisions in consequence. As the decisions of a Christian, they derive from personal reflection, which strives in all humility to grasp the will of God in both the unimportant and the important events of his life.
But it never occurs to such a Christian to think or say that he was stepping down from the temple into the world to represent the Church, or that his solutions are the Catholic solutions to the problems. That would be completely inadmissible! That would be clericalism, official Catholicism, or whatever you want to call it. In any case, it means doing violence to the very nature of things. What you must do is foster a real lay mentality, which will lead to three conclusions:
– be honourable enough to shoulder your own personal responsibility;
– be Christian enough to respect those brothers in the faith who, in matters of free discussion, propose solutions which differ from yours; and,
– be Catholic enough not to make a tool of our Mother the Church, involving her in human factions.
It is obvious that, in this field as in all others, you would not be able to carry out this programme of sanctifying your everyday life if you did not enjoy all the freedom which proceeds from your dignity as men and women created in the image of God, and which the Church freely recognizes. Personal freedom is essential for the Christian life. But do not forget, my sons, that I always speak of a responsible freedom.
Interpret, then, my words as what they are: a call to exercise your rights every day, and not just in times of emergency. A call to fulfil honourably your commitments as citizens in all fields – in politics and in financial affairs, in university life and in your job – accepting with courage all the consequences of your free decisions and shouldering the personal independence which is yours. A Christian lay outlook of this sort will enable you to flee from all intolerance, from all fanaticism. To put it positively way, it will help you live in peace with all your fellow citizens, and to promote understanding and harmony in the various spheres of social life.
So perhaps the most important thing we can do, as lay Catholics, is recognize those things which are left to conscience, and respect the consciences of others in these areas. Just because someone doesn’t agree with you on the flax tax doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, or even less Catholic than you.
With that in mind, I was heartened to see that the USCCB announced that the “kinetic military action” in Libya “appeared to meet” the just-cause criterion within just war theory (just kinetic military action theory?). In announcing this, the USCCB noted, “As pastors and teachers, we have refrained from making definitive judgments because the situation on the ground remains complex and involves many prudential decisions beyond our expertise.” That nod towards the fact that good Catholics may freely disagree is something we need to carefully preserve. There’s a tendency to want one acceptable Catholic answer for every question, but for many issues, this is just not the case. Meanwhile, the pope is troubled by the outbreak of violence and threat to civilian populations, calling for peace talks in Libya, while the North African bishops are flatly against the war, because of its effects on the poorest of the poor.
I largely agree with all three. The fact that Qaadafi, Libya’s dictator, wanted to massacre his own people was just cause for external intervention, but we must be careful that in intervening we don’t end up making life worse for those on the bottom rung through our intervention. Arming the rebels seems like a particularly short-sighted idea, given that many of them are al Qaeda-affiliated. We’ve rightly stopped them from being murdered en masse (at least for now), but if we’re not careful, we may end up enabling them to murder Americans and other Libyans.