Someone told me recently that I have “firmly declared myself to be a conservative”. Indeed someone from New Jersey once said I am an “arch conservative.”

I am happy to take that label. I’m happy to take all the other labels too.

To see what I mean go to this post:  Call Me an Evangelical, Charismatic, Liberal, Conservative, Progressive Traditionalist.

What irks me in the climate which seems to be emerging in the church is that progressives seem to be setting up a false dichotomy.

If, like me and many other converts, you say that you have become a Catholic because you were drawn by the Holy Spirit to the barque of Peter, the fullness of the faith, the historic church which has held to the faith once delivered to the saints without ever falling into formal heresy, well then you hear the progressives sort of snuffling up their coat sleeves and you suspect that if such a statement does not infuriate them then at least they think it is quaint.

I can remember when I waited ten years in England to be ordained as a Catholic priest. One “magic circle” bishop after another delayed my applications, sabotaged my plans and undermined my calling to be a priest. My friends said, “Why don’t you go see bishop so and so? He’ll ordain you.”

I said, “Call me stupid, but I’m not going bishop shopping. I became a Catholic because I believed the Holy Spirit speaks to me through the bishops who are the successors of the apostles and I’m going to obey my bishop even if I think he’s an idiot (from a human point of view.)”

They said I was mad.

I once explained my views to no less than a Cardinal in the church. He looked at me incredulously and then suppressed a snicker.

What I mean is this: I honestly believe the historic Catholic faith and I wish to proclaim it in its glorious fullness, and this includes the church’s moral teachings. I not only want to proclaim it, I want to live it, fool and failure that I am.

It is assumed that you don’t have a sense of humor or humanity, that you are intentionally harsh and that you probably pull the wings of flies for fun.

No doubt there are some who wish to follow the fullness of the historic Catholic faith who lapse into Pharisaism, sober seriousness, legalism and downright ugliness. We’ve all met them. No doubt there are some who stumble into strict negativity and tumble into sour self righteousness. In their zeal for clarity of teaching they lose charity.

There are conservatives like that and guess what? There are progressives like that too–but the other way around. They are just as ugly, self righteous, seriously smug and judgmental as the conservatives they despise, and they are just as blind to their self righteousness as the other side. In their zeal for charity they lose the clarity of the faith.

A plague on both their houses.

We needn’t go there. We mustn’t go there. There is another way.

The other way is the way of charity, clarity…and hilarity

Come now.

Have we never experienced the tender reproof of a father who gently directs his child away from that which will harm him?

Haven’t we known that the same father who must discipline the child can also tickle him?

Have we never experienced the strong but gentle formation of a child by his father in complete love, happiness and affection?

Have we never known the voice of the loving father who sees his child doing something low, base and squalid and says, “Here now my son. You are better than that!”

Is it impossible to imagine that a father might discipline–even heavily–a recalcitrant child for that child’s own good, and that he would do so with tears in his own eyes one moment and laughter the next?

This is the sort of father I had and the sort of father I wish to be.

Why is it that I get a feeling that what is being promoted by many in the church is not this ideal, but a counterfeit form of tenderness which avoids reproof at all costs, tiptoes around correction and calling for “welcome”  takes the weak way out?

Surely the way is to embrace charity, clarity and hilarity.

Maybe that’s one of God’s little earthly Holy Trinities: Clarity enlightens the mind. Charity warms the heart. Hilarity tickles the spirit.

In other words, we need tenderness and teaching, affection and correction, guidance and goodness, warmth and welcome while we also offer a witness and warning…and all of it should be served up with some laughter, cheerfulness and joy.

I  have found this combination most powerfully as a Benedictine oblate. The best monks I have known have shown a tender toughness. They have been gentlemen of the Spirit–not compromising one bit of the faith, but always applying it with humility, humanity and humor.

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