Mrs. W bought be a Reuben sandwich at our favorite bagel shop yesterday and we got talking about Catholic extremists. I’m planning to show a video at school about Central American immigrants. It’s produced by Jesuits in Calilfornia and it criticizes the American government for harsh treatment of children who cross the border. I’m likely to get some flak for it because it will be perceived as a ‘bleedin’ heart liberal left wing Jesuit justice and peace’ piece of agitprop.

Why is it that Catholics so often jump into the right wing or left wing camps so predictably? We’ve got traditionalist Catholics who seem to equate the right wing of the Republican party with ‘true Catholicism. It’s Bush, Cheney and military America to save the world! Heck, that would be liberal for some of these folks. Dig into some of the rad trad material and you’ll find full blown anti-Semitism and a kind of right wing monarchism that is only a hop, skip and a jump from Franco’s fascism. So I find myself agreeing with my right wing friends on matters of personal morality, family values, liturgy, culture and an appreciation for true conservatism–which means conserving and upholding all that is best of the past. But geesh, when these folks turn a blind eye to the troublesome corruption and cynical power grabs of right wing politicians, when they overlook abuses in the name of patriotism and support war it gives me the creeps.

The left wing Catholics are just as bad. We’ve got radical Catholics on the other side who equate the Democratic party with ‘true Catholicism’. It’s Obama, Clinton, Greenpeace and the whole socialistic shebang for them. Furthermore, just as there are extremist Catholic right wingnuts, so push a little further to the left and you find nuns who work in abortion clinics, New Age Jesuit theologians and Catholics who push the whole feminazi, homosexuals on the march crusade. Nevertheless, I often find myself agreeing with left wing Catholics on matters of social justice, a preferential option for the poor, proper stewardship of the economy and God’s gifts in the natural world. But when these folks get all political and start campaigning and get into bed with the left wing enemies of the gospel I’m outta there.

If only Catholics would be truly Catholic. If so, we would follow a kind of Catholic via media. We would seek out the truth wherever it is found rather than relying on worn out left wing right wing propaganda masters to give us our opinions. Someone has said the Gospel is only good news when it is subversive, and a good Advent message undermines all the systems of this world–both right and left. The Catholic message rightly criticizes the greed and abuse of power of the wealthy elite. It rightly criticizes warmongers and men of violence. It rightly stands with the poor and demands fair wages, fair opportunities and fair treatment. The Catholic message rightly criticizes smug left wingers who campaign for animal rights while supporting abortion, or those who so worship the natural creation while denying the existence of a creator.

You see this balance in St John the Baptist–the essential Advent preacher. He tells soldiers to be satisifed with their wages, tells tax collectors not to be guilty of extortion and then turns around and criticizes Herod for being a lustful fox. Beneath all the right and left wing ideologies, the Catholic faith appeals to something deeper– a morality that both transcends and undermines all the world’s wisdom.

This is the Catholic task, to be so close to the everlasting Truth that is Christ that we can sift through all the distorted truths that are out there. The right wing preaches truth, but it’s mixed up with error. The left wing preaches truth but it is mixed with error. It is only the Catholic faith truly held which challenges us to go beyond categories of ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’ or ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ to discover the truth within them all. We must stop and think. In any debate our opponent has some truth on his side–otherwise he would not have believed his position and held to it so fervently in the first place.

The trick is to find that truth, affirm it and then in the light of that truth, discover the error and sift that out. This process requires a discerning mind, a mind that is rightly critical and a mind that humbly submits to a greater authority for guidance. Critics of the Catholic Church like to imagine that Catholics are all brainwashed religious zombies controlled by the infallible thought police. Doubtless there are some Catholics like that, but the true Catholic is called to think more than anyone else, and to discover and cling to the truth wherever it is found, and to let go error wherever it is found.

The teaching authority of the Church is not there to give all the answers all the time to all the mysteries of the universe. Instead it is there to teach the revealed wisdom of God which gives us the necessary light for the journey.