“Life, Death and the Catholic Imagination”


On Monday night, Franciscan University hosted one of its own graduates, Professor Samuel D. Rocha, to give a talk on “Life, Death, and the Catholic Imagination”. He is an assistant professor of philosophy at Wabash College, Indiana. On Monday, he shared his thorough ideas regarding the sufficiency of the Catholic Church in the lives of its members.

Rocha’s initial comments focused on what it means to be Catholic, and how this is a way of life, rather than a definition. He used relevant examples to support this statement, including how Catholic Social Teaching had an orthodoxy grounded in orthopraxy. Rocha clarified this point with a simple statement.

“If Catholics were as excitable as they get around elections, Easter, and Christmas, then we’d get more than just a Catholic candidate in office, but a Catholic culture,” Rocha said.

He went on to say that even Scripture was rooted in a life of practice, and how Catholics should not merely define themselves by their beliefs, but also act on such ideals. Rocha’s idea of Catholic imagination envisioned a voice that was not in need of politics, and spoke for itself, a politic of its own. In this way, Catholicism should express complete sufficiency.

In addition to these points, Rocha based the second part of his lecture on a quote from Carl Schmitt: “All politics are grounded in theology,” Rocha quoted.

Rocha’s talk traced three political theologies that he believed were instrumental throughout history, as well as their effects on Catholicism over the course of time. The first, monarchies, occurred primarily before the Enlightenment and was noted in the Bible in several instances. His concept of modernity, or the time after the Enlightenment, was initially caused by skepticism of theology and monarchism.

This Enlightened time advanced to liberalism, the second political theology. Rocha further explained that liberalism is often given a bad connotation by Catholics, while its essential meaning has to do with it being the first voice to speak out against monarchy, and a politic with two tenets. These tenets of liberalism include the idea that human beings have rights rooted in autonomy, and the state must respect that individual autonomy. These individualistic and secular beliefs, Rocha explained, were to be found in both of the political parties of our nation.

“In both cases, we don’t have a case of liberal and non-liberal. Rather, we have two different kinds of liberalism,” Rocha said. He believes that the problem with Catholics in today’s modern society is that we feel as though our two-party system is the only option; we must define ourselves within the platforms, which may conflict with our Catholic culture.

“Catholics see themselves as condemned to operate within a political ideology,” Rocha said. “We live in the greatest experiment of the Enlightenment.”

His argument was that Schmitt did not account for our belief in the Trinity. Our Catholic faith is not only rooted in monotheism but also in the Trinity, and this unique belief cannot be excluded. In his final topic, Rocha explained his belief of what Catholic politics is not, and his notion that society attempts to create problems, thus objectifying human beings into problems or issues.

“Life is not an issue. It is a reality. We’re going to have to understand that a life must be sustained by a culture that sees it not as a problem or issue, but supports it,” Rocha said. “I think there are a lot of Catholics who are dancing in a burning room,” He continued, referring to a song by John Mayer. “The problem is that we are not trying to get out. We can’t dance in those rooms if we wish to follow orthopraxy, living out Catholicism.”

As a solution, Rocha encouraged the complete rejection and absolute denial of all things anti-cultural, things that did not support a culture of life. Sponsored by Students for a Fair Society, professor Rocha’s highly philosophical presentation was a timely reminder of Catholicism’s sufficiency and its role in respect to modern thought, specifically in politics.

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