So recently, my friend Paul Snatchko and I were talking about the myriad of Catholic Conferences that we attend. It’s a varied bunch of groups to be sure. Some couldn’t be more different. To avoid using the usual liberal-conservative claptrap, I’d like to offer two pretty interesting views of the Catholic Church based on the conferences I’ve attended with Paul.

So there’s the social justice based crowd, like those you’ll find at the Catholic Network of Volunteer Service. They’re a great bunch. Mostly extroverts and they are all about doing the work of the church in the world –by providing programs that gives service to the poor. Now at this conference, we’ll find people who are very interested in social justice but not so interested in personal piety or even pious liturgy. Their liturgy is far from quiet, often extroverted and pushes the limits of the rituals of the Roman rite at times.

Contrast them with the National Catholic Family Conference, filled with home-schoolers and Catholic school parents–another great bunch. These are people concerned with their nucleus, marriage issues and the passing of the faith to the next generation. Their liturgies are quiet, humble and they are strict when it comes to rubrics. They are very concerned about prayer but might not be all that concerned about the church’s social teaching.

The members of these two groups I would say also have their own orthodoxy tests. The Family Folks will say if you don’t follow the church’s teachings on sexuality, or vote for someone pro-choice or anything that would even mildly violate the church’s teaching on issues like these, then you are not Catholic.

The Social Justice crowd, not much ones for orthodoxy tests, at least publicly certainly have their own version based on those who don’t stand up for the needs of the poor. Their counterpunch is that there’s a great need for us as Catholics to not merely be concerned about ourselves and the personal morality of others. We need an outward look to bring the good news to the poor and to care for their needs. If we don’t then, we’re not Catholic either.

But the real orthodoxy test is in today’s scriptures I think.

“But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you.”

And none of us are very good at doing that. Those in the personal piety camp will quickly vilify a pro-choice Catholic politician, while those in the social justice camp will point out the hypocrisy of the church leaders who don’t protect the poor. But there are very few of us who are at the heart of the gospel message today.

Ron Rohlheiser once said (and I’ll paraphrase him) that a lot of us don’t really care about our enemies, do we? Do we ever try to mend fences at all costs? Do we ever call for forgiveness of terrorists and child molesters? Do we ever look to forgive our parents, spouses, children their own faults that have hurt us?

I think that’s the real sign of being Catholic. But we’d probably say it was more of a sign of being Amish. Why? They immediately forgave the murderer of schoolchildren without thinking about it.

John Paul II’s forgiveness of his attacker and his call for his release gives us all a model to follow, hard though it certainly is. Do we have the same kind of passionate love for Timothy McVeigh, or the 9-11 terrorists, or the shooters at Virginia Tech and Tucson, Arizona? Have any of us called for their forgiveness? How about your own most hated enemy?

Well, that should start today. While in radio I had a very bad relationship with a manager who I felt slighted me for a promotion. I had outlined a job where I would split time working for three different departments. Two department heads thought it was a good idea and approved it. The third one was said manager. He later went on to give a similar job to someone else. And when I questioned the fairness of that (to his boss) our relationship was severed. Later in my career, he accused me of a serious allegation that was far from true and was summarily dismissed after a period of time. I’ve held a lot hatred in my heart for that man.

That ends today. I forgive you. You know who you are.

Forgiveness means that hatred no longer can hold you hostage. Jesus knew it was the way to being truly free and a true believer. Do we need to hold on to hate or can God’s perfect love set us free from that pain?

That’s our real orthodoxy test and most of us fail time and time again.

So today, let us pray that we might be more orthodox in our lives by being forgivers of those who are our enemies. Perhaps by doing so, God’s mercy can reign with freedom among us instead of us holding it captive.