What Does it Really Mean to be a Practicing Catholic?
Unfortunately, the term practicing Catholic is bit squishy (or vague or ambiguous as lawyers might say) and subject to abuse by all manner of Catholics (in name only) who seek to justify their various stances
The person who claims to be a practicing Catholic while not giving at least religious submission of intellect and will to the all Church's teaching, including that related to the ordination of women, artificial contraception, abortion, and homosexuality (to pick a few of the hot-button issues) is being disingenuous. These moral teachings are part of the "standards of excellence" that are part of the Catholic practice. Without at least religious submission of intellect and will to these and similar teachings, one can be many things, but one thing one cannot be is a practicing Catholic.
Unfortunately, the term practicing Catholic is bit squishy (or vague or ambiguous as lawyers might say) and subject to abuse by all manner of Catholics (in name only) who seek to justify their various stances. Instances of abuse can be cited aplenty, such as when the former priest, writer, and Catholic dissenter James Carroll uses it in the most minimalistic and even perverse way in his book Practicing Catholic.
We likewise see it when the nuns involved in that hotbed of radical dissent and radical feminism known as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious--recently the subject of a doctrinal assessment by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith--when it insists that it is composed of faithful and practicing Catholics despite it and its members' public stances against the Church's teaching on such subjects such as the ordination of women, homosexuality, and a whole gamut of sexual matters.
The laity is similarly eager to use (or abuse) the term. We have such abuses when Vice President Joe Biden or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi--both politicians one would classify as pro abortion and pro-homosexual "marriage"--claim to be "practicing Catholics."
Outside politics we see the term practicing Catholic abused, for example, when the Ursuline-educated global promoter of contraception Melinda Gates claims to be a "practicing Catholic."
When trying to define the term practicing Catholic to determine whether it is being properly used, we might start by observing the obvious: that a practicing Catholic is a Catholic who abides by Catholic practice. The question then becomes, what is Catholic practice?
For help in understanding Catholic practice, we might with profit turn to Alasdair MacIntyre's definition of "practice" his book After Virtue. Applying his insights to the context of Catholicism, we can say that Catholic practice at minimum should have the following elements:
Catholic practice is a coherent and complex form of socially-established cooperative human activity;Catholic practice has identifiable goods internal to that form of activity which it seeks to achieve;Those identifiable goods are realized in the course of trying to achieve standards of excellence that are appropriate to, and partially define, the form of activity;In addition to standards of excellence, there are rules that seek to embody those standards;The result is that the human powers to achieve excellence, and the human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended.In this article, I want to focus on the third and fourth features of Catholic practice: (a) the standards of excellence and (b) the rules intended to embody the identifiable goods and standards of excellence of Catholic practice.
To enter into a practice, MacIntyre insists, one must accept the goods, the authority of those standards of excellence, and the rules intended to promote those standards of excellence. One has to be willing to allow the inadequacy of one's performance to be judged by those goods, standards, and rules.
To enter into a practice, therefore, is to subject one's "attitudes, choices, preferences and tastes to the standards which currently and partially define the practice." MacIntyre observes that "we cannot be initiated into a practice without accepting the authority of the best standards realized so far."
With respect to a practice, our feelings are irrelevant. Our personal druthers are likewise immaterial when it comes to a practice. "In the realm of practices the authority of both goods and standards operates in such a way as to rule out all subjectivist and emotivist analyses of judgment," MacIntyre observes.
MacIntyre gives examples. "If, on starting to listen to music, I do not accept my own incapacity to judge correctly, I will never learn to hear, let alone to appreciate, Bartok's last quartets. If, on starting to play baseball, I do not accept that others know better than I when to throw a fast ball and when not, I will never learn to appreciate good pitching let alone to pitch."
Now there is always danger in applying a purely human or philosophical concept ...
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