What you call yourself means little in light of what you actually believe, and how your beliefs prompt you to act.
The Notre Dame controversy as it continues to play out is an excellent example of this, particularly when a prominent Catholic like Mary Ann Glendon publically refuses an honor on the basis of her faith's fundamental ideals. Click here to read the full text of Glendon's letter.
What Catholic ideals truly are and what many think they aught to be are now at odds in this issue, and the Church is once again attacked from within. Bishop George Murray, S.J., of my own diocese, states it the best in the Catholic Exponent: "While I greatly respect the office of President of the United States and the historic achievement of Mr. Obama, his policies to date have not recognized the intrinsic value of the life of the unborn. In politics, one cannot functionally separate a politician from his policies. Mr. Obama’s policies of expanding the availability of abortion at home and exporting that availability overseas have demonstrated that he does not believe that the life of the unborn is very important. As a result, I cannot but be deeply disturbed by the decision made by the president and board of Notre Dame. (Read the rest of the Catholic Exponent article here.)"
Our ideals, or those principles which guide each of us in our daily actions, lie at the very center of morality and ethics, and lie at the very center of this controversy. If we call ourselves Catholic, we should make our best effort to behave as Catholics. This includes accepting, upholding and living out the fundamental ideals that our faith teaches. "As a Catholic university and the premier Catholic university in the nation," writes Bishop Murray, "Notre Dame should be in the forefront of protecting all human life in word and deed. It is not sufficient for the university’s administration to issue a statement that they do not agree with President Obama’s positions on life issues while at the same time giving him an opportunity to stand before the graduates and receive a prestigious honorary degree. That is the contradiction Notre Dame has failed to resolve and what, I believe, is at the heart of this controversy. (Catholic Exponent)"
The feeling of being accepted by others is a powerful motivator. I think of the times that I've compromised some part of my faith-even what I think is a small thing-to appease others and gain their acceptance. But to be honored by others is much more seductive. I wonder, would I have the courage and humility that Mary Ann Glendon had to turn down such a prestigious award? It would be very easy to fall victim to pride and vanity, letting self-importance blind a person to the Lord and His Church and disregard a very specific rule laid down by our Bishops. It would be very easy to ignore the words of our creed: “We believe in ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC and APOSTOLIC Church.” In this single action, Ms. Glendon has reminded me that being a Catholic means being willingly united with my Church in EVERYTHING, and that unity is more important than any award. She has effectively evangelized me.