A frequent question we’ve been getting about the upcoming Good Discourse conference is a variation on “Am I the right type of Catholic for this?”
It looks like . . .
What? You’re inviting people from that publication?
Are you sure I should come? I don’t think the other people there are going to want someone like me.
I sorry but I can’t come, because if people saw I was attending a conference with that person, it could wreck my career.
These worries stem from candid recognition that there are significant, important disagreements among Catholics concerning liturgy, theology, politics — you name it. These issues matter.
I care deeply about some of these debates. I hold on certain questions the conviction that some well-known Catholics are pushing views that are not compatible with the Catholic faith. I consider it extremely important that we as Catholics accurately teach what is and is not essential to our faith.
And yet . . . I completely, 100% agree with Sherry Antonetti, genius mastermind behind the Good Discourse conference, that Catholics of every stripe belong at this event.
1. Ugly Infighting Hurts our Christian Witness
Catholicism is called “the thinking man’s religion” for good reason. We should argue in favor of what is true, and we should do so firmly, cogently, and honestly. We absolutely should not take a “hear no evil” attitude when someone touts as Catholic an opinion we find contrary to the faith, or announces as mandatory an opinion or practice that we know is not required.
Healthy debate and charitable correction are both essential parts of the Catholic faith. We aren’t DIY theologians, slapping Catholic externals on whatever we feel like believing.
But that does not mean we have to be horrible to our fellow Catholics.
Sooner or later — likely sooner, unless you are just an amazingly good person all on your own — some aspect of the faith is going to be Not What You Want.
You will have to wrestle with a moral issue that doesn’t make sense to you, or a devotion that rubs you the wrong way, or a teaching that you accept intellectually but fail at applying, or goodness knows what else. Catholicism is a demanding religion because Jesus Christ wants to rescue you from your fallenness and turn you into a spotless, pure, perfect-for-all-eternity image of Him that is also uniquely and unrepeatably you. (And He wants to do it with your freely-chosen cooperation, yikes.)
Therefore, someone who is considering converting, returning, or persevering in the Catholic faith should expect to have moments of discovering he or she is dead wrong about xyz Catholic thing.
Because that is a normal part of being Catholic, you shouldn’t have to steel yourself for all kinds of nastiness from the people who ought to be helping you see your way more clearly.
There will be plenty of times when you have to face the uncomfortable reality that you have not been living the way that you ought. We who love the Catholic faith should endeavor to make those moments easier to face. We can do that by learning to engage in sharp-witted but gentle-tongued* discourse with our worthy opponents sitting in the pews with us.
2. This is a Single-Topic Event
The Catholic faith applies to every part of our lives. In the course of your life as a Catholic, no doubt you’ll attend retreats on prayer, conferences on life issues, talks on dogmatic theology, workshops on the liturgy . . . lotsa stuff.
My heart was warmed the day I saw my parish music director get all stirred up in an internet Catholic food fight over a completely different topic, because it meant he cared, and I just loved that he was so passionate about this other aspect of the faith. But when someone comes to him for choir practice, he doesn’t ask at the door: How about NFP? How about Marian apologetics? He’s there to teach to music. It’s okay if a volunteer is still working on some other issues. They can grow in their Catholic over time.
(In fact, storytime: My husband reverted to the faith with some typical reservations about Mary due to his evangelical background. It was through music that he was able to gently make progress in that area, thanks to a music director who did not have a theological litmus test, but did have a profound love of the Blessed Mother.)
Our conference is about learning how to not be quite such a jerk when debating other Catholics. If someone is a radical progressive on some other issue about which I’m ultra-conservative, or vice versa, so what? If we both want to learn how to be more peaceful and more productive in our dialog, we can work together on this.
Maybe we’ll be a good influence on each other in some of our areas of disagreement as well. But at the very least, we can be a good influence on each other in this one thing we both know is important.
3. This is Not an Exercise in Self-Congratulations
Come on y’all: What kinda conference involves me going all Proverbs 15:1 on people. Seriously? You know very well that without an editor to slap sense into me, I go off the rails in that department pretty easily. Some would say I make a hobby of it.
So maybe you, too, need a membership in Cantankerous Anonymous. You have realized you need to change.
Guess what? No one’s going to be like, “Wow! That bellicose ol’ jerk really turned over a new leaf!” when you’re busy gushing over the brilliance of someone you agree with.
It’s your ability to behave like a civilized creature towards people you strongly disagree with that we are attempting to cultivate.
So if you’re puzzling over why we have encouraged other Catholics who are so, so wrong about xyz hot-button issue that seriously gets your dander up — maybe it’s the issue that you feel is the most serious threat to all that is good and holy in our precious faith — why we have invited that person to also come to the Good Discourse conference . . . maybe it’s so you can practice being nice for 48 hours?
Scrolling through the registrations so far, we have a super group already signed up. The names I recognize are all people who are nicer than me, just FYI. There are still some spaces though, if you want to spice things up for us. Zoom format, so request your Zoom invite here.