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Recent news item: Cardinal Timothy Dolan responds to those (the majority of Americans) who think the Catholic Church is out of touch. Of course, he says. The Church deals with eternals; it is bound to be out of step with our ever-changing, fad-driven world.

Only one problem: No one is asking the Church to hand down a dictate on skirt hemlines this season, or whether pink is the new black. (It isn’t, is it?) There are eternals, and then there are those things thought to be eternal — like the Earth being the center of the solar system — that we learn are simply wrong. Knowledge must not be shunned because it is new. Just ask poor Galileo.

But Dolan’s right about one thing: The Catholic Church is likely to be at odds with Americans because it is not very American. America is all about racing to the finish line and getting there first; the Church concerns itself with shepherding the entire flock to its destination. Americans focus on individual success; the Church with sharing. In many ways, America can be boiled down to its mythologized icons, both real and imagined: We are Daniel Boone, forging the way West, doing just what we want to do — gollblamit! — rugged individualists to the core.

That’s not how the Church works. Take the sacrament of Reconciliation, for example. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing, but it only takes one person to do it. Reconciliation is different in that it insists on mutuality. And not just between a person and her God, but between the sinner and her Church — the body of Christ. It emphasizes the notion that what we do we do not do in a vacuum: Our actions affect others. And to be truly forgiven demands that both sides are reconciled to one another. This notion hasn’t much place in an America that accepts half-hearted “apologies” from sports figures, musicians and others for their bad behavior but does not demand from them any real action to promote healing. Saying “I’m sorry” is considered enough. And for a minor slip-up, maybe it is. But for ongoing, unrepentant, ingrained proclivities to violence, abuse, prejudice, or hatred, it falls short.

One more funny thing about the American Catholic Church: Most of us tend to be conservatives. I’m hoping Pope Francis will get us to expand our thinking on that front by promoting social justice — which includes working for the poor, immigrants and marginalized among us. Me, I’ve never much understood the correlation between Catholics and conservative thinking. I tend to agree with the great and wise Graham Greene:  “Conservatism and Catholicism should make…impossible bedfellows.” There’s nothing conservative about love. And shouldn’t that be the heart of any religion?


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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