He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Podcast Interview: Jack, Out of the Box

In the interest of fostering constructive religious dialogue, I have begun doing interviews of people who have interesting religious journeys.  The first series of interviews is collected here.

Part I

In this podcast, I begin the interview of a man who has stepped outside the box of his parents' religion and is still trying to find his own, a man who has been to many different churches and read many different books on his search for truth. I hope his journey can help others with understanding their own.

Part II

In this continuation of our previous conversation, we discuss Jack's military service, his encounters with Islam in the Middle East, and how he came to find Saint Therese of Lisieux's theology so compelling.

Part III

In this half-hour wrap-up to the interview, I ask Jack about where he's heading on his journey, and he asks me some tough questions about the hard choices he's facing.

Note: The image associated with the podcast is a picture of an icon given to me by a friend from the Middle East (made by Orthodox nuns), and the script naming Mary the Theotokos and Jesus Christ her son is in Arabic.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Fair Questions: How long was I an American Rite Catholic?

I entered the Catholic Church at Easter when I was 14, and I just turned 32 years old.  I entered the Catholic Church in a Houston, TX parish that had a wonderful thriving community of immigrants from all over the world (Africa, Asia, Latin America) along with plenty of people of various ethnic backgrounds who were born and raised in Texas.  The one thing that connected us all was love and a shared home in the American Rite of the Catholic Church.

I should stop here and point out that there is no American Rite of the Catholic Church officially.  The Bishops have not recognized any such thing, and might be either confused or offended by my calling our Christian way of life here in these United States the American Rite.  And for some of them, it might even be due to the fact that there is an American Rite (better known as the York Rite) of Freemasonry, especially because becoming a Mason is still something Catholics are obliged not to do.

So why do I think it's important to call the set of unique musical, devotional, theological, and liturgical practices and beliefs common to the average Catholic parish in the United States the American Rite?  It's primarily because I like precise language that reflects the facts of the situation without being pejorative about those facts.  I tend to think that many Catholic Traditionalists are unfairly pejorative in their labels for what I'm describing here, and I do not want to engage in that sort of thing myself.

A Roman Catholic pre-Vatican II Traditionalist, by the way, would definitely not refer to the common Catholic way of life in the U.S. as the American Rite.  They generally take for granted that what has been officially recognized by the Church in the past is correct, and they are not generally fond of novelties.  So my use of the phrase "American Rite" would probably not be viewed positively at all.  They would likely argue that I was using the wrong term by calling it a Rite, and at least in part because calling it a Rite would seem to them like giving what they sometimes call New Church or Neo-Catholic too much credit.

For them, the American Rite is just an abused and neglected Roman Rite, stripped of the beauty of its Gregorian chant, divested of the piety of its traditional Roman Rite devotions, lacking in the theological riches of the Scholastic period, and forced to live in the horrible conditions of aging Hippie camps surrounded by formerly drug-addled wannabe revolutionaries.  And on occasion, subjected to Masses in which the participants and/or celebrants wear clown costumes or Halloween costumes and perform "liturgical dance" as if their gyrations were some form of worship.

The average Catholic Traditionalist is a devout Roman Rite Catholic, and won't put up with the U.S. Baby Boomer customization of the liturgy to suit their generational fads or their subsequent clinging to those fads even as their popularity and relevance fades.  And though it's true that the Baby Boomers captured the liturgy in the U.S. and re-made it in their own image to a certain extent, I don't think that inculturation is inherently a problem.

It's perfectly natural that as the Church grows and spreads throughout the world, just as it did in the first few centuries after Christ's death, the process of a healthy inculturation will take place.  That's how we got slightly different expressions of the Christian life like the Divine Liturgy of St. Mark and the Coptic Rite, the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great and the Byzantine Rite, and the Divine Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great and the Roman Rite.

I've attended a variety of different liturgies and participated in more recent and more ancient Christian cultures.  I know from experience that having a culturally influenced and culturally appropriate set of Christian practices is perfectly fine.  While it's true that the disobedience of many Baby Boomer priests and their students is a serious moral problem that has had very deleterious effects, inculturation itself is not a problem.

I hope that there is one day an officially recognized American Rite, that a genuine inculturation happens so that the best of American culture can fuse with the best of ancient Christianity that both meets the needs of Americans and stays true to Church teaching and praxis.  But for now, what we have is an American Rite that was manufactured by one generation rather than an American Rite that gradually developed by holy Saints of the American Church seeking to reform their lives by the teachings of Christ's Church.

And that American Rite, with its Anglo-American hymns and African-American spirituals (which I really enjoy), its distinctly American sign of peace and receipt of communion in the hand during the liturgy, its theology shaped by the American experience, and its American-style Bible studies, is what I was shaped by as I became Catholic.  It's what continued to shape me as I grew into my twenties.

As a teenager who was newly Catholic, I was profoundly moved to deepen my love of God in Eucharistic adoration as the amateurish guitar strumming so characteristic of American Rite Catholicism provided the background music for my angst-ridden teenage prayers.  My most profound mystical experience (a Eucharistic miracle) was set in the context of an American Rite liturgy surrounded by touchy-feely teens and their equally touchy-feely Baby Boomer chaperones.

As a college student still working on my first degree and taking too many philosophy courses, I learned a great deal about developing Christian relationships and systematic moral theology, about the Franciscan spirituality and the Jesuit spirituality which was appropriated by Baby Boomers and customized to fit their political leanings in many cases.  And it did me a lot of good.  It also kept me from becoming orthodox for a while, but I would be remiss to not recognize the many good ways in which it shaped my life.

Over the course of my 20s, as I read the Code of Canon Law and the Vatican II documents on the liturgy and sacred music, I started to gradually become a Roman Catholic, realizing that while Pre-Vatican II Traditionlists might be wrong on certain things, they were correct that what most churches were doing was routine disobedience and not faithful to the traditions of the Church.  And then reading the early Church Fathers, the Desert Fathers, and the Western mystics made it clear to me that we had lost a treasure of immeasurable value in the post-Vatican II revolution.

While I am glad for the many gifts of my years in the American Rite, I am saddened by the tendency of its manufacturers to toss away the many gifts of the ancient Church for the passing fads of contemporary culture.  I look forward to the healing of the rift between the Roman Rite and the American Rite, and to one day returning to the American Rite when it has been reformed by the saints of the Church into a healthy expression of the orthodox Catholic faith.

I'm not sure when exactly in my twenties I became a Roman Rite Catholic, but I do know that it has happened as I dived ever more deeply into Church history and theology and prayer, and that I can't go back to the American Rite as it exists today until it accepts the fullness of the heritage the Church wishes to give it.

Related: The War of the Traditionalists

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bhagavad Gita: The Yoga of Krishna

Listen to the embedded podcast version of this post or read the written version below.

Yoga classes are offered at my gym, and I have friends who attend those classes regularly.  This is not the kind of yoga I'm interested in learning more about.  The modern popularization of what is called yoga in the West has left many people with the general impression that yoga is a matter of fancy stretching and breathing techniques.

It's particularly popular among those who see it an alternative way of increasing their general health, and there is some limited evidence that it may contribute to some improvements in physical and psychological health when practiced regularly.  The practices most Westerners think of as yoga are derived from certain portions of Hatha Yoga, which were disseminated fairly widely in the West in the past century.

Unsurprisingly, over the decades it became clear that what many Westerners wanted was something that they could easily fit into their worldviews and into their schedules, something that was exotic enough to be interesting and fun but didn't require a deeper understanding of the cosmology and spiritual practices shared by multiple Indian religions.  Of course, yoga as practiced in West did draw some people to explore Indian religions more seriously, but most seem content to enjoy the stretching and breathing techniques without going so far as to really appreciate the traditions from which those practices were born.

This form of yoga, a yoga which is stripped of much of its traditional religious meaning to accommodate those who weren't particularly interested in learning about such things, is not the yoga spoken of by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.  The Bhagavad Gita is a discourse that strikes at the heart of spiritual matters, and it is a discourse that takes place on a great battlefield at the climax of the great epic known as the Mahabharata.

The battle is about to be joined by great warriors, and it is at this time of calm before the storm that Krishna helps Arjuna to understand his place in this life and the nature of spiritual fulfillment.  Arjuna is in no hurry to kill the other great warriors, and expresses sorrow at the thought that he might deprive them of life and then have to live with such a great weight of guilt.  Krishna tries to offer him some perspective first:

"You speak sincerely, but your sorrow has no cause.  The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead.  There has never been a time when you and I and the kings gathered here have not existed, nor will there be a time when we will cease to exist.  As the same person inhabits the body through childhood, youth, and old age, so too at the time of death he attains another body.  The wise are not deluded by these changes.  
When the senses contact sense objects, a person experiences cold or heat, pleasure or pain.  These experiences are fleeting; they come and go.  Bear them patiently, Arjuna.  Those who are unaffected by these changes, who are the same in pleasure and pain, are truly wise and fit for immortality.  Assert your strength and realize this!
The impermanent has no reality; reality lies in the eternal.  Those who have seen the boundary between these two have attained the end of all knowledge.  Realize that which pervades the universe and is indestructible; no power can affect this unchanging, imperishable reality.  The body is mortal, but that which dwells in the body is immortal and immeasurable.  Therefore, Arjuna, fight in this battle."

After explaining that death is not the end and that life continues ceaselessly for the warrior after his death in battle, and that this should steel Arjuna's resolve, Krishna goes on to conclude that Arjuna should fight rather than avoiding the deaths of other great warriors.

He continues to elucidate the degree to which we are eternal, the seemingly impossible persistence of Ātman, which is translated in the Source I'm using as "Self" and is a concept shared by many Indian schools of thought.

"One believes he is the slayer, another believes he is the slain.  Both are ignorant; there is neither slayer nor slain.  You were never born; you will never die.  You have never changed; you can never change.  Unborn, eternal, immutable, immemorial, you do not die when the body dies.  Realizing that which is indestructible, eternal, unborn, and unchanging, how can you slay or cause another to slay?
As one abandons worn-out clothes and acquires new ones, so when the body is worn out a new one is acquired by the Self, who lives within.
The Self cannot be pierced by weapons or burned by fire; water cannot wet it, nor can the wind dry it.  The Self cannot be pierced or burned, made wet or dry.  It is everlasting and infinite, standing on the motionless foundations of eternity.  The Self is unmanifested, beyond all thought, beyond all change.  Knowing this, you should not grieve.
O mighty Arjuna, even if you believe the Self to be subject to birth and death, you should not grieve.  Death is inevitable for the living; birth is inevitable for the dead.  Since these are unavoidable, you should not sorrow.  Every creature is unmanifested at first and then attains manifestation.  When its end has come, it once again becomes unmanifested.  What is there to lament in this? 
The glory of the Self is beheld by a few, and a few describe it; a few listen, but many without understanding.  The Self of all beings, living within the body, is eternal and cannot be harmed.  Therefore, do not grieve."

Unlike the Buddha, Krishna does not propose that the end of Ātman is either possible or desirable.  Instead, he asserts quite strongly that it is not possible for the end of the Self to be reached because it is grounded in an all-pervading eternal reality.

Krishna also points out that even if it were true that death is the final end of our consciousness, this is not good cause for sorrow at the thought of death for one's self or others.  It would be irrational to feel sorrow that what did not exist before has returned to non-existence at a later time, especially when this is the inevitable expected end.

"Considering your dharma, you should not vacillate.  For a warrior, nothing is higher than a war against evil.  The warrior confronted with such a war should be pleased, Arjuna, for it comes as an open gate to heaven.  But if you do not participate in this battle against evil, you will incur sin, violating your dharma and your honor.
The story of your dishonor will be repeated endlessly: and for a man of honor, dishonor is worse than death.  These brave warriors will think you have withdrawn from battle out of fear, and those who formerly esteemed you will treat you with disrespect.  Your enemies will ridicule your strength and say things that should not be said.  What could be more painful than this?
Death means the attainment of heaven; victory means the enjoyment of the earth.  Therefore rise up, Arjuna, resolved to fight!  Having made yourself alike in pain and pleasure, profit and loss, victory and defeat, engage in this great battle and you will be freed from sin."

The term dharma can have a fairly wide range of meanings depending on the particular religious and literary context of its usage, but in this case Krishna is using it to refer to Arjuna's moral duty, to the correct way of living that follows as a natural consequence of what Arjuna is: a warrior.  If Arjuna were to avoid war, he would be denying his own nature and his own place in the natural order.

Krishna continues with additional arguments to persuade Arjuna to fulfill his dharma, first applying the stick and then the carrot.  He notes that it would be a terrible dishonor for a warrior to turn away from battle, and that it would have lasting painful consequences as a result.  He also suggests that Arjuna set his sights on reaching Svarga, translated here as "heaven" though it differs significantly from Western understandings of what the word "heaven" means.

"You have heard the intellectual explanation of Sankya, Arjuna; now listen to the principles of yoga.  By practicing these you can break through the bonds of karma.  On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure.  Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear.
Those who follow this path, resolving deep within themselves to seek me alone, attain singleness of purpose.  For those who lack resolution, the decisions of life are many-branched and endless.
There are ignorant people who speak flowery words and take delight in the letter of the law, saying that there is nothing else.  Their hearts are full of selfish desires, Arjuna.  Their idea of heaven is their own enjoyment, and the aim of all their activities is pleasure and power.  The fruit of their actions is continual rebirth.  Those whose minds are swept away by the pursuit of pleasure and power are incapable of following the supreme goal and will not attain samadhi."

But Krishna does not stop at proposing the pursuit of heaven; he calls Arjuna to something even greater: the liberation of the mind from all worrisome thoughts...and any thoughts at all.  This is samadhi, the single-pointedness of mind which frees us from the terrible torrent of our own thoughts, rushing and crushing our happiness as they flow along the currents of our mind.

This protects us from our fears, which must be eliminated as we strive toward the lack of striving which accompanies samadhi.  It also liberates us from entering into the action of the gunas, the three sets of qualities which anchor us to this world and prevent us from fully participating in the divine life of the One who lies beyond even the happy afterlife of svarga.

"The scriptures describe the three gunas.  But you should be free from the action of the gunas, established in eternal truth, self-controlled, without any sense of duality or the desire to acquire and hoard.
Just as the reservoir is of little use when the whole countryside is flooded, scriptures are of little use to the illumined man who sees the Lord everywhere. 
You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work.  You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction.  Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself - without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat.  For yoga is perfect evenness of mind."

The point Krishna is making here is deeper than a mere admonition against greed; he is calling us to be fully detached from the outcomes of our actions in all circumstances, to fulfill our dharma completely without regard to whether or not it leads to material success.

The yoga of which he speaks is the union experienced by one who sees the Lord everywhere, who viscerally knows that the divine life is pervading everywhere we look and move, and is even in our very being.  This constant sense of being united to the divine life produces evenness of mind; joining the source of our life fully leads to a full life.

"Seek refuge in the attitude of detachment and you will amass the wealth of spiritual awareness.  Those who are motivated only by a desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do.  When consciousness is unified, however, all vain anxiety is left behind.  There is no cause for worry, whether things go well or ill.  Therefore, devote yourself to the disciplines of yoga, for yoga is skill in action.
The wise unify their consciousness and abandon attachment to the fruits of action, which binds a person to continual rebirth.  Thus they attain a state beyond all evil.
When your mind has overcome the confusion of duality, you will attain the state of holy indifference to things you hear and things you have heard.  When you are unmoved by the confusion of ideas and your mind is completely united in deep samadhi, you will attain the state of perfect yoga."

This is a life in which we are not weighed down by the burden of worrying about material things, a life in which we are single-minded in our awareness of our oneness with the One who pervades all things.  This yoga of which Krishna (the avatar of Vishnu the Preserver who pervades all things) speaks is a joining in the magnificent dance of the divine life by which we move beyond the reach of the attachments that keep us chained to the wheel of saṃsāra.

The Yoga of Krishna - The Wisdom of Krishna - The Meditation of Krishna

Note: The above is a depiction of Krishna dancing.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fair Questions: Why do I call most American churches Post-Reformation churches?

For a while now, I've been calling most American churches by the general description of Post-Reformation churches.  This is not how most of my fellow Catholics described them, nor is it how members of most American churches would describe themselves.  I certainly didn't describe myself that way when I was attending Pentecostal churches, nor did anyone I knew.

Catholics generally describe the members of all American churches as Prodistants and label their churches Protestant churches, and the members of those churches generally use the term Christian without for themselves any additional qualifier beyond the name of a denomination, a claim to be the one true Christian church, or a claim to be non-denominational.

My fundamental reason for calling these churches post-Reformation churches is that I believe in the importance of using precise and accurate terminology to the degree that it's possible.  When I use the term Protestant, I'm specifically referring to churches whose teachings are or contain a primary element of protest against Catholic teaching or the corrupt Church officials in pre-Reformation Europe.

The Protestant Reformation was the seminal event of the Great Western schism, but it was far from the end of it.  The Protestant Reformation ended in the 1700s, but the schisms among the churches that had sprung up among Christians after the Reformation continued unabated for the next couple of centuries.  Many of these churches were not operating in protest against Catholic teaching or corrupt Catholic officials at all; they were breaking away from the Protestant churches or from other Post-Reformation churches over internal doctrinal, pastoral, or social disputes.

Because it is very difficult to use a blanket term for these churches that were formed over disputes among Protestant church members or other Post-Reformation church members to describe such a wide array of churches who have been established based on thousands of minor variations, I decided to use Post-Reformation churches as a catch-all term while acknowledging that it has obvious limits.

Despite those limits, I find it very useful because it makes it clear that the theology, worship, and praxis of these churches is influenced by the Reformation while not over-emphasizing their connection to Reformation figures like Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, or John Calvin.  In many cases, these Post-Reformation Christians have not read the works of Luther, Zwingli, or Calvin.  Even those who have some basic understanding of Calvin's view of predestination have usually not read the Institutes of the Christian Religion to gain a deeper understanding of Calvin's form of Christianity.

The other reason that I prefer to use Post-Reformation as a descriptor is that it's not prone to be used as a pejorative term like Protestant or Prodistant.  In general, I prefer to avoid pejorative terms that might prejudice the reader or listener against a particular point of view, even when I disagree with that point of view, which I now do.

I gave up the Protestant Intuitions long ago myself, but they live on in the minds of many of my fellow virtuous and upstanding citizens, and there's no good reason to go around insulting them or describing them uncharitably, so I'll continue calling them Post-Reformation Christians.

Related Post - Unfair Questions: What is your denomination?

Note:  Above is a picture of Martin Luther's edited Bible translated into German.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Fair Questions: When did I stop being Catholic because of my dissent?

A friend of mine recently posed a couple of questions that I've been wrestling with for some time, and I will provide an answer to those questions, though I'm not sure it will be a very good one.  I will start with the second question and work my way back to answering the first question.

"To what extent can a Catholic disregard the Church’s moral & social teaching and still remain in full communion with the Church? The anathemas of Trent, and the other ecumenical councils, were quite clear on a number of doctrinal issues. For example, no true Catholic can deny the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or Baptismal Regeneration, or the Immaculate Conception of Mary. But since many of the social doctrines of the Church have no clear “anathema” of an ecumenical council for those who would oppose them, some seem to think that these doctrines are still therefore “up for grabs.” This is in spite of the fact that the affirmation of a “right” to abortion or the admission of homosexual couples to the sacrament of Matrimony would not only mark a complete break from Tradition, but would actually contradict everything that the Church taught on these subjects for the first 1900 years. I know it’s not likely that secular figures will ever agree with the Church’s position on some issues, but how can the Church best address the dissent that comes from within?"

Question 2: Because I used to dissent from the Church's social teaching on abortion as it relates to the legality of procuring an abortion and changed my mind years later, I have some personal experience in what works to bring someone to a point at which they can understand the Church's teaching and assent to it.  I don't think my experience can be straightforwardly generalized into a formula for bringing people to that point; I will simply lay out some strategies that do not work well and others that seem to have a chance to be more productive.

First, let's examine some strategies that I've seen fail miserably over and over.  One of the most common ways I've seen people address other individuals who dissent from Church teaching on controversial political topics in the West (i.e. abortion, same-sex marriage, the death penalty, euthanasia, immigration policy, etc.) is to advise them that they cannot vote for members of a particular party and be Catholic.  Or that they cannot hold to a particular political philosophy and be Catholic.

This is sometimes followed by an insistence that the person addressing someone else's dissent has found the right party's members to vote for or the right political philosophy that all Catholics should adopt.  I've never seen this work, at least not in the short term and a quick response to dissent.  People do occasionally make large changes to their political beliefs and party affiliations, but it generally happens over the course of months or years rather than over the course of one or two conversations, and so rapidly informing someone that they're wrong about all that stuff and that you have the right answers generally doesn't lead anywhere productive.

Of course, even people who take a long-term approach to dialogue with those who openly dissent from Church teaching often still manage to do a poor job of it for much the same reasons.  A long-term dialogue in which a person maintains that only those who hold to one particular political philosophy or votes for members of one particular party is also very unlikely to be productive.

Going for the best chance at productive dialogue with those who dissent means that we have to admit that there is a range of political philosophies that can be coherent with Church teaching and that we generally don't have a political party in the West that conveniently lines up perfectly with Church teaching.  If we don't admit these inconvenient truths, any dialogue we have with someone who dissents (including ourselves) is likely to be frustrated because it appears that we are just being rankly partisan or fanatical about our own political philosophies.

Once we've learned to steer clear of those common pitfalls, we are in a better position to dialogue with someone who is dissenting from Church teaching for political reasons.  But we still have a lot of work to do.  The first step in that work could well be showing them how to make their existing political philosophy more coherent with Church teaching.  Or by showing them examples of people of high integrity who assent to the Church's teaching while still being a member of their preferred political party.

When someone is walking toward a cliff, we don't have to immediately drag them back a few hundred feet and rough them up in the process.  Getting someone to take one step away from the cliff is a good start.  And when someone is walking toward the cliff, the smart thing to do is not to run up behind them and tackle them to the ground, but rather to invite them over for a nice cup of tea.

In the same way, my experience is that it's much more effective to address those who dissent from Church teaching by means of helping them take small steps away from dissent and positive invitations to explore ways of engaging in political philosophy that are both rational and compassionate.

This was not, by the way, how my friends approached helping me work through my dissent from Church teaching.  The tactic I've described didn't work on me, but it might have if it had been tried.  Or more likely not, primarily because I'm unusually stubborn and independent.  My friends confronted me in a much more argumentative way, which is a perfectly fine way of dealing with me because I don't get angry and shut down in the face of opposing arguments.  I consider them at length, come to a preliminary conclusion, and then consider them again after I have more data.

But because most people don't process arguments the way I do, I don't recommend the approach that was helpful for me to use as a strategy for everyone else.  If you do use it, make sure you know the person as well as my friends knew me.  Specifically, make sure they are comfortable with robust arguments that don't necessarily respect their feelings.

Question 1: I'm not sure how my friends knew that I was dissenting from Church teaching, but I can certainly hazard a guess.  I was openly taking the position that abortion should be legal despite the Church's teaching that it's murder in most cases (murder already being illegal).  And I was stubbornly insisting that there was not a problem with me doing so, holding the position for several years.  In hindsight, it is pretty clear to me now that others could have reasonably concluded that I was in a state of heresy on the topic.

It's not always an easy thing to determine when someone is in a state of heresy.  I've written at some length before on the difficulties of doing so, and they require us to spend some time and effort rather than just writing off anyone who disagrees with our understanding of what the Church teaches as a heretic.  It's very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that our own overly simplistic understanding of Catholic teaching is the only correct one, or that our philosophical methods are the only ones allowed, or that our political views are the only ones that could be compatible with Church teaching.

Those things tend to lead us to over-diagnose others of catching the contagion of heresy.  And this is especially complicated in the case of the intersection of politics and Church teaching because Jesus didn't provide us with a political philosophy or ideology.  Nor has the Church always had the same relationship with every instance of an empire or a state.  And even the Code of Canon Law doesn't provide easy answers to these questions, as canon lawyer Edward Peters points out in his piece on Joe Biden's decision to officiate a same-sex wedding.

While it's difficult to map out a clear line over which one cannot step without incurring a latae sententiae excommunication for heresy, some people do manage to run past the line so fast and so far that it's fairly obvious that they have long since crossed the line.  When someone demonstrates that they are aware that they believe something which contradicts Church teaching and publicly speaks on that point for years with no sign of attempting to assent to Church teaching, it's a fairly obvious case.

Many cases are not so obvious, and my own personal experience helped me to realize something relevant to this state of affairs: I have no idea at what point I became a heretic.  It was pretty clear at a certain point, but there was no flashing sign along the way that said, "Welcome to Heresyville!" at the border of the Excommunication Township.  That's why I'm very reluctant to propose that someone ought to be excommunicated or that they hold heretical beliefs on a particular topic.

It's not that I don't think plenty of people may well be heretics, but that I doubt my own ability to judge that accurately without a mountain of evidence piled up.  And this is especially true when the additional difficulties of the relationship between Church teaching and public policy are added into the analysis.  Are there a few people (including me) who have run so far past the line that I can be fairly sure they meet the precise technical definition of the word heretic?  Sure.

That said, outside of those cases, I give people the benefit of the doubt and try to have a productive dialogue with them in such a way that they can see that it's possible to have political views that are coherent with Church teaching and that it's a good thing for Catholics to do.  And even when the person is clearly a heretic with regard to a particular topic (or several), it helps to remember my own heresy and remain humble in how I approach that person about the matter.