Monday, May 31, 2004

a working definition of "orthoprax"

I was on one of my usual soapboxes the other day, and a kind commenter now wants to know what I mean when I say "orthoprax". I've never tried to systematize that before; it's an idea I grew up with and pretty much just accepted as an assumption about life. But now I'll try to make a beginning, for M.David's sake. Please comment, and help with hashing this one out!

"Orthopraxy" means "right acting" or "proper behaviour", just as "orthodoxy" means "right teaching" or "proper belief".

Catholic orthopraxy, at its core, is an internal disposition --- a determination, with God's help, to have the Faith inform every aspect of one's life, and to do absolutely everything in a way worthy of one who is loved by God. There is not the "spiritual" realm at church on Sunday and the "secular" realm everywhere else, but only a life lived in Christ at all times and places, submitted to Christ in and out of church.

In my own experience and observation, orthopraxy nearly always manifests externally in a few specific ways: an unobstentatious devotion to the Holy Eucharist, daily prayer and/or lectio outside of Mass, a willingness to do the unheralded less-favored parish chores, and, most especially, frequent and joyous commission of the Works of Mercy, which, for me, define "what Catholics do". In the Spiritual Fitness Program for Beginners, a major component is a prescribed daily act of mercy, to instill a taste for merciful behaviour and a habit of acting mercifully, on the athletic theory of "fake it till you make it."

Just how important this has always been in the Church is manifested extremely early in our history when we named the holy Eucharistic Liturgy after its final words --- "Go, you are sent," "ite, missa est." We call the Eucharistic Liturgy the Mass, the Sending service, for from it we are sent out to be the Body of Christ in the world outside and beyond the walls of the church; maybe the only contact some will ever have with Christ will be their contact with Christ in us. May we never obscure Him or put Him to shame in us.


Paul Rex said...

Catholic orthopraxy is obviously a must for anyone to have a living faith. However, in my experience, this ideal has often been emphasized at the expense of orthodoxy, somehow implying the latter is not as important. A faithful Catholic cannot have one without the other.

Karen Marie said...

Of course, Paul. That was the soapbox I was on when I got asked the question. We can't treat any of the indispensable parts of being Catholic as though they were in contradiction ---- but we have to at least seek to be orthodox and orthoprax and radical and etc. all at the same time together. [And, by the way, along with all of our siblings, including the prodigal, the ignorant, and the ones we like to pick fights with.]

karen marie

Anonymous said...

Karen Marie:

Thanks for the reply.

What spurned my question was your comment “…make every single one of us orthodox, orthoprax, radical” – the definition of ‘othropraxy’ (noun, right practice) makes sense, yet what is ‘orthoprax’ (adj) is more difficult for me – but maybe that’s because it isn’t in my on-line dictionary :-).

I asked this question because I feel I have a good working definition of how people use ‘orthodox’ today – i.e., “someone who professes that they agree with my interpretation of the Catholic Church’s teachings”. Yet I never heard the label ‘orthoprax’ and was thus curious as to how you use it.

Having read your posts for awhile I find your definition of ‘orthodox’ to be very close to mine, which is: an ‘orthodox’ Catholic is obedient to their bishop’s interpretation of the faith (which would thus automatically include regular practice, following the CCC, etc.). I call this the “Occam’s Razor” approach – it’s simple, but not too simple.

I would thus define someone who ‘lives out’ his faith (as understood by his two Church shepherds – bishop and pope) to be thus ‘orthoprax’ – or, even a better definition, saint! What do you think?

BTW, I make a point of never using labels for Catholics or Catholic communities who are not excommunicated; if needed, I rather address specific issues where they take a position opposed to the teachings of my bishop – or their bishop, as the case may be.

Cheers and goodwill,
M. David

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