Conservative and Liberal: Arbitrary Labels

Dear Pope Francis,

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many other Christians, and people of other faiths. Sometimes these conversations were a little tense, especially around areas of the papacy, saints and the role of scripture, but most of them were enlightening. Oddly enough, I don’t find these conversations the most challenging. The hardest conversations I have are typically with other Catholics.

These are the conversations that I find the most challenging because every person has their own idea about what it means to be Catholic. This creates many definitions of what who a Catholic is, and in some instances, it creates deep divides between people which can be difficult to overcome. Most often these divides are called ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’.

The most frustrating part of these terms is that they are completely arbitrary. I’ve been told that I’m a liberal Catholic because I study at a Jesuit school, and I’ve been told that I’m conservative because I observe the teachings of the Church. In reality, I’m a Catholic trying to follow Jesus’ example, who happens to love studying theology so I can understand what the Church teaches, and also happens to have an affinity for Ignatian spirituality. I think it’s safe to say, that for the most part other Catholics are also trying to follow Jesus in the best way that they know how, even when those practices are different from my own.

All too often these labels are used as an excuse for one group to avoid working with another group. Instead of focusing on our differences, we should be focusing on those places where our goals overlap. We should be striving for unity in diversity, acknowledging that we are different but that there are common elements, like the Sacraments, or belief Jesus’ death and resurrection. When we can focus on these core beliefs, and agree to discuss our differences in ways that are helpful, then maybe we can start to bridge the gap between the ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’, and focus on building the body of Christ.

Faithfully yours,

Lauren

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