Q: Your book seems to echo G.K. Chesterton's statement that there was never anything so exciting or perilous as orthodoxy. Why do you believe this is the case?
Father Neuhaus: I am always honored to be associated with Chesterton, one of the great Catholic spirits of modern times.
Yes, orthodoxy is a high adventure -- intellectually, spiritually, aesthetically and morally. It is ever so much more interesting than the smelly conventions that so many, viewing orthodoxy as a burden, embrace in the dismal ambition to be considered progressive.
In the encyclical "Redemptoris Missio," John Paul II said that the Church imposes nothing; she only proposes. But what she proposes is an astonishment beyond the reach of human imagining -- the coming of the promised Kingdom of God, and our anticipation of that promise in the life of the Church.
It is a great pity that so many are prepared, even eager, to settle for something less than this high adventure.
For instance, in "Catholic Matters" I discuss the preoccupation with being an "American Catholic" when we should really want to be "Catholic Americans." Note that the adjective controls.
The really interesting thing is not to accommodate our way of being Catholic to the fact of our being American but to demonstrate a distinctively Catholic way of being American.
An interesting piece in InForum Blog by Sheila Liaugminas "Understand who Catholic Americans are". She writes on an article by Fran Maier "The Real Problem with Bishops". It is well worth full reading, but let me pull out this one excerpt:
What made Biden’s latest version of this same old melody so provocative, though, was this: He was running for national office and speaking to a national audience. As a practicing, self-described Catholic, he was defending an abortion policy gravely incompatible with Catholic faith. And he was talking—inadvertently but directly—to Catholic viewers in every local diocese in the country. That’s called scandal; in other words, the act of leading others into error or sin. And this time, unlike in the past, some local bishops, including representatives of the national bishops’ conference, had had enough. More than a dozen publicly challenged and corrected him.
Being Catholic demands more than tribal loyalty or nostalgic memories. It’s not a matter of sentiment. It’s a matter of creed and behavior, here and now. The problem that bishops have with a Catholic official like John Kerry or Rudy Giuliani or Joseph Biden or Nancy Pelosi is not his or her personal sincerity or professional skill. These are above question. The problem comes when these public leaders freelance what they claim Catholics can believe and do, while also claiming to be really Catholic.
For Catholics, individual conscience is sacred. But it doesn’t have absolute sovereignty over reality, and it doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Conscience must be formed by the truth, which we learn through the counsel and teaching of the Church. If Catholics reject what the Church teaches on a serious matter, they break unity with the community of believers. And if they break that unity and then present themselves for Communion anyway, they act dishonestly. They violate their own integrity and—even more importantly—they abuse the rights and the faith of other Catholics. Bishops have a serious duty to correct that.
So the question is ever pertinent: Are you an American who just claims to be Catholic or are you a Catholic American? There is a difference - a huge difference!