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Mr. Magoo Catholics.

During a visit to Rome late last year, I began a Sunday morning by attending Mass in the cramped, second century crypt of the Church of St. Salvatore In Onda, then walked over to St. Peter's Basilica for some sight- seeing.

It was a 15-minute walk across 15 centuries that left me with a physical sense of the full meaning of Catholicity. One moment I was on my knees receiving the body of Our Lord on my tongue in a place of worship constructed by the earliest Christians. Minutes later, I was ascending the series of elevators and sinuous internal staircases that lead to the external catwalk circling the top of the Basilica.

The transition was so abrupt it produced a kind of spiritual vertigo, followed by an extraordinary awareness of the Church's unity and universality.

Standing in the mild autumn sun looking out over the rooftops and spires of Rome, the morning's liturgy still in my ears, I marvelled not only at the symmetric precision of Bernini's piazza below and the synonymous majesty of della Porta's dome, but at the universality of Christ in history and geography, the unifying nature of His presence through the Church.

True, it is equally possible to discern these qualities from a pew in a parish church or, more importantly, during any moment of prayer.

Yet standing where I was standing, looking back to where I had knelt, I couldn't help thinking how much it might benefit the internal and external critics of the Church to share such a chance to physically experience her as the embodiment of Our Lord across time and space.

Since returning home, I've had ample opportunity to turn that thought into a wish as I'm confronted by large and small evidence of how little those who oppose the Church acknowledge her inviolable vertical and horizontal identity in Christ.

An almost comical example of this occurred recently when a copy editor walked into my office and snapped down a four-paragraph wire story about the Holy Father reminding divorced Catholics of their obligation to abstain from sex after remarriage.

"Somebody should tell your pope to get real," he said. "Doesn't he know the divorced people remarry because they want to have sex?"

I replied I'd been under the impression people marry because they love their spouses-to-be. Then I asked him what he knew of Catholic teaching on marriage. To his credit, he admitted ignorance. To his greater credit, he actually showed interest when I explained to him the 2,000-year-old teaching of Jesus as the Bridegroom of the Church, and marriage as a reflection of that perspective.

"Oh," he said. "I guess there's a little more to it than I got from this wire story."

Well, just a little. But if his understatement of misunderstanding by someone outside the Church prompts a smile, how painfully sad is it when those who call themselves Catholics deliberately seek to sow confusion and discord?

Take, for example, the self-styled Catholics of Vision, and their tragic North American petition campaign to overturn everything the Church teaches and represents.

In some circles they've been re-labelled Catholics `R Us and Catholics of Division. It strikes me an equally appropriate name would be Catholics of Myopia -- or Mr. Magoo Catholics -- for the quality they display most prominently is an embarrassing spiritual near-sightedness.

Even squinting hard, they simply cannot see beyond themselves. They cannot recognize the Church as a manifestation of anything but their wants. Their needs. Their beliefs.

Indeed, the future they pretend to be trying to bring into focus is, in reality, but a fuzzy projection of their self-image.

Their monocular "vision" of change for Church teaching on homosexuality, abortion, priestly celibacy, and in the structure of her hierarchy, owes no more to the future than to the past. It is only a representation of the maudlin liberalism that pervades this moment in history.

Peter Stockland writes for the Calgary Herald as well as for Catholic Insight.
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Author:Stockland, Peter
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Apr 1, 1997
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