(LifeSiteNews) — We Catholics are quite clearly enduring an era of great trial and testing in both the outside culture and the Church itself. Those of us deeply concerned about the direction taken by many in the Church’s hierarchy are not worried without reason.
I pray that God’s peace and love are with you and all of us in this confusion and anxiety.
Amid rampant confusion and tension, I wanted to share a reflection that has been immensely helpful to me in sorting out the role of average laypeople like you and I during this time of difficulty — a time much like those throughout the Church’s tumultuous history in which great saints have always stood up to cry, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).
The concept consists simply but challengingly of holding fast and staying the course in our Catholic faith by refocusing on Who Jesus really is in a personal and authentically lived-out way — a practice that will guard us from falling to extremes or being lost in the tempest as the storm around us increases in ferocity.
It’s the idea of the “radical center,” a term coined by Dr. Ralph Martin, president of Renewal Ministries, professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, and author of numerous books, including the 2020 title A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward.
The ‘Radical Center’
Dr. Martin is a clear-thinking, earnest intellectual whose diagnosis of our current crisis and proposed solutions seem to me among the soundest and most thoroughly Catholic that I have yet heard.
He’s not seeing the state of the Church through rose-colored glasses.
He has openly warned of a “‘fifth column’ in the Church,” which he describes as “a network of high-ranking prelates, low-ranking theologians and pastoral ministers, and many ordinary Catholics who no longer believe what God has revealed to us and what the Church has taught faithfully for 2,000 years,” particularly on matters of sexuality.
Yet, the solution Dr. Martin offers doesn’t emphasize a renewed grappling with Church politics, per se, or “taking sides” as we are often accustomed to doing in democratic politics. It also doesn’t mean burying our heads in the sand. And he certainly doesn’t recommend rejecting Church doctrine on one side — heresy — or rejecting Church authority on the other — schism (Canon 751).
Instead, he posits the beautiful notion of the “radical center,” a rootedness in Scripture and faith that should ground our prayer lives and inform our thinking.
“The radical center isn’t triangulating between positions,” Martin explained in an April episode of Catholic podcaster Matt Fradd’s show Pints with Aquinas (the entire long-form interview is highly recommended and immensely edifying).
Responding to Fradd’s question of how the “radical center” differs from “the mere middle,’ Dr. Martin explained that “it isn’t trying to get a neutral position that doesn’t offend anybody.”
Instead, “the radical center is the radicalness of Christ … of what He’s asking us to do, and … what the Church actually teaches,” he said.
For Martin, this is a challenging place to be and forms the very core “of the Gospel message.” In a separate, earlier interview with Fradd, Martin emphasized being in “the very center of divine revelation,” explaining that “meditating on His Word is so essential to knowing the real Jesus.”
Focus on Christ, and don’t fall to the left or the right
I would envision that, to reference Scripture, holding the “radical center” can look like stepping out into the tempestuous waters and then moving forward in faith, eyes focused on Jesus and on Him alone (Matt. 14:22-33).
To maintain that position, we must avoid being distracted or consumed by the surrounding storm and the unique dangers on both sides.
We must obviously refrain from tilting toward the errors dangerous to left-leaning Catholics, including relativism, laxity, and a sort of scandalous broadmindedness concerning sexual immorality. We also must avoid the errors more dangerous to traditional Catholics, which (as Fr. Chad Ripperger highlighted in 2019) can include isolationism, despair, and disrespect for the Magisterium (up to and including, I would add, the refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the pope at all).
As rumors swirl concerning the content of the synod, Catholics are understandably worried about the scandals to be occasioned by potential “blessings” of homosexual “couples” and other concerning implications of a “synodal” approach. And controversy also rages on the “right.”
To briefly address the recent controversy concerning the papacy, I will only note that the Church has affirmed that we can trust in having an unbroken line of Petrine succession. We were not promised a good pope, a holy pope, or even a halfway decent one. The doctrine of papal infallibility cannot be misread, as our Protestant brothers and sisters often do, to mean that the pope will always be and do good, and that his comments will aways be clear, and that any deviation opens the possibility that his identity is null.
Moreover, as Crisis Magazine editor-in-chief Eric Sammons recently told LifeSite’s John-Henry Westen, it is integral to the nature of a Catholic (as evidenced by disparaging accusations of “popery” lobbed at unsuspecting Catholics in the past) to be in communion with the pope in Rome: in this case, Pope Francis. This doesn’t mean unthinking or groveling acquiescence to every remark or opinion (as the insult “popery” would suggest”), but it does mean recognition and due respect for the visible hierarchy of Christ’s Church. Sammons describes more of what he means by “communion” in the article linked below. Matt Fradd also addresses the issue in a succinct response here.
The everyday work of the Catholic
But beyond abstract theological debates, there is the everyday work and strife of the Catholic. To return to Dr. Martin and his advice, staying in the “radical center” gives us a way to chart a straight course even in stormy seas. For us ordinary Catholics, the turbulence in the world is an invitation to reconnect with what our Catholic faith means in its real, raw, down-to-earth essence of practicing charity toward our neighbor, personal repentance, a deepening of our prayer life, and the frequent reception of the sacraments.
It’s a refreshingly simple message for challenging times, even though the nitty-gritty work of it is tough.
In closing, there is ample reason for reassurance. We know from Scripture that Christ is the “Way, the Truth and the Life,” and that “no one comes to the Father except through [Christ]” (John 14:6). We know He established His Church on earth, giving the keys of the Kingdom to the deeply flawed, impetuous, and brash Peter, our first pope, promising that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matt. 16:13-20).
Moreover, the Holy Catholic Church has affirmed the truth that there is no salvation outside the Church that Christ Himself founded, so our primary goal is to cling to this glorious but storm-battered ship — It is our means of salvation, and as Peter himself said to Jesus, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Therefore, we as ordinary Catholics have only to hold the line, not allowing ourselves to be swayed by false teachings or letting understandable fears and frustrations separate us from Christ and His Church.
While the storm rages, it’s a perfect time to refocus on Christ Jesus through Scripture and the sacraments. Only then will we keep our footing, through the mercy and grace of God.