I feel sorry for most liberal Catholics. They've never really fallen back in love with our Church.
And when I say fall back in love, I mean that in a very particular way. I can illustrate it with a story. I know this is the kind of thing that happens to married people, so it won't be a surprise to them. But I'm not married and the memory of it still brings me a sense of wonder.
It was the 1980s, and I was in college. I had a girlfriend, a smart, funny person from New York. After being together for a couple years, we started having some problems. Part of it was just being tired of being around each other all the time. I was boozing it up pretty good, which didn't help. We had graduated and it was time for the real world.
There was a period of a few months when we could hardly talk without fighting. Then things just kind of went silent.
Yet we stayed together. It was strange, because there wasn't any hostility there, or love; it was more like a kind of limbo. We had been in each other's orbit so long that we couldn't break free, and perhaps didn't want to.
Then one morning it happened. I went to see her before work. I left her house but a few blocks away I realized I had left my keys back at her place, and dashed back to get them. I grabbed the keys from the kitchen table, and as I headed back out I said something funny about being late for work (my boss then was a jerk).
We looked at each other and laughed. We had fallen in love again.
I know this kind of thing is a feature of marriage, so perhaps it's nothing new. But what was so wonderful about it was not that we were in love again, but this time it was a deeper, more powerful kind of love. We had broken through to a new level. We were no longer two college kids dating. We had seen each others faults, bad moods, and emotional breakdowns (about college type problems). The other person was no longer perfect. But love could not only survive such a realization, it could intensify.
There is a metaphor there for the spiritual life. We live in such a narcissistic age that people adapt their spiritual needs to themselves, and not the other way around. But this can often be like altering a baseball field to fit your particular needs during a game -- shortening the distance between home plate and first base when you are up to bat.
To many liberal Catholics, if not all of them, the Church does not represent a challenge of any sort. It is there to adapt to their politics and satisfy their modern concept of what is true and right in the world. Thus the superficiality of their "spirituality." The Church is in effect a spouse whom they have fallen out of love with and have started to abuse. There are not moments of struggle and disappointment, to be followed by a deeper commitment in love. There is resentment and the anticipation of the next misstep.
Maureen Dowd and Andrew Sullivan rarely write about how some new (and perhaps difficult) book of theology or encyclical rekindled their love for Jesus Christ and the Church he founded, to say nothing of altering their own self-centered concept of themselves. It's always the wedding at Cana, with demands for wine. There are never 40 days in the desert.
When I returned to the Catholic Church over ten years ago, something wonderful happened. I actually fell in love with the Church, not only in my heart but in my mind. I read books by Chesterton, Dietrich Von Hildebrand, Mother Teresa, and even the sometimes difficult ones by John Paul II. I had the realization that many of these people are, yes, smarter than I. I began to reach a deeper level of understanding about the Church, and a deeper level of freedom.
Many liberals interpret this is the abandonment of reason and human instinct. It is in fact an invitation to truly think for oneself, whereas liberals hold fast to the most dreary and concretized form of orthodoxy. For the Catholic left, encountering a bad priest during confession (if liberals even go) or having their promiscuity -- both sexual and with other people's money -- questioned are deal breakers.
They never pushed past themselves and into a new realm of freedom. They never gained that moment my college girlfriend and I shared on the front doorstep, when we looked at each other, laughed, and fell in love again.