Mark Shea: How not to evangelise

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As kids in our Catholic schools, eager to engage with the faith, find a perfectly legitimate way to do it—we crush it for no good reason, says Mark Shea. PHOTO: Lorie Shaull wiki

As an American, I generally try to make it a habit to stay out of the internal affairs of other countries, such as Australia.

How you guys choose to do life is up to you, though I do have strong views on Vegemite, several of your more extermination-worthy animal species, and your penchant for driving on the wrong side of the road. These things are, however, balanced by Mad Max films, the gifted Cate Blanchett, and your fetching accents, so in the interest of international amity, I usually can hold my tongue.

But when it comes to Catholic stuff I feel, as a fellow Catholic, an obligation to comment when the Catholic stuff is well, dumb and a terrible witness.

Case in point, this recent story from the Aussie Catholic press (“Students banned from wearing uniforms to climate strike”) about a climate protest in which some socially responsible Catholic youth wished to participate—and were shot down by their Catholic school for no good reason at all.

Here’s the story:

“Catholic school students have been banned from wearing their school uniform at tomorrow’s climate strike event in Hobart.

In making the ruling, Catholic Education Tasmania said the strike was ‘not an educational event’ and not part of the school curriculum.

Executive director Gerard Gaskin said there would be differing opinions among parents, students and staff in school communities about the events.

Most Catholics in Australia, as in America, do not seem to read their politics through the lens of the Church’s teaching. Rather, they read the Church’s teaching through the lens of their politics.

Dr Gaskin argued the goals of the strike were not specific, and it was not clear if organisers shared the vision of Pope Francis or the Catholic position on a range of social issues. He said for those reasons, students attending should not wear their uniform.

Really now. A march in support of an issue about which the Pope has written an entire encyclical is not something with which Catholic students are permitted to identify their Catholic faith? Because there might be some people there who are not Catholic or who hold non-Catholic views? Seriously?

Because the last I checked (in, among other places, the very pages of The Catholic Weekly), Catholics were beaming with pride when their kids participated in pro-life marches, even when they were packed with non-Catholics advocating all kinds of things the Church is either indifferent to or even opposed to.

“For the Embryology Textbook Tells Me So” read the sign of Atheists for Life at a recent March for Life in Washington, D.C, yet nobody feared that aligning with atheists in defence of the unborn would somehow give our Catholic youth atheist cooties or pollute their tender minds. When a smirking Catholic school kid in a MAGA hat made international headlines at a March for Life, nobody seemed to think that was a problem or an endorsement of an anti-Catholic ideology, despite the fact that MAGA is a deeply antichrist ideology. But somehow, Catholic kids marching in defence of environmental sanity endorsed by the Holy Father himself is a problem.

Why?

I think the answer is simple and obvious. Most Catholics in Australia, as in America, do not seem to read their politics through the lens of the Church’s teaching. Rather, they read the Church’s teaching through the lens of their politics. Things like climate change are coded “liberal” and therefore assumed to be incompatible with the Faith.

Things like opposition to abortion are coded “conservative” and therefore assumed to be identical with the Faith. And that plainly wrong assumption is so ingrained that the Holy Father is therefore attacked as a “heretic” or at least deeply suspect for taking climate change seriously while some thrice-married corporate thief and sex predator who says he opposes abortion is hailed as “the most prolife president in history” even when abortion rates spike under him.

And all the while, as kids in our Catholic schools, eager to engage with the faith, find a perfectly legitimate way to do it—we crush it for no good reason other than “it smells liberal”. Here was an issue that lines up directly with the teaching of the Church just as much as the dignity of the unborn does–and we went out of our way to distance the Church from it and drive these good kids to choose between allegiance to the Church and allegiance to conscience, science, and reason when no such choice is necessary.

“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.” – Hilaire Belloc

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