Tuesday, May 1, 2012


We all know the Catholic Church has problems as do the Jews, the Protestants, the Muslims, the Hindus and even the poor Atheists not to mention the agnostics. In terms of Catholic problems with scandal, dissent, division over the liturgy,how parishes are run and the types of priests we have today, how many Catholics in the pews really obsess about these things? Don't most of us just want some sense of God's real presence in the world, His love for us, His forgiveness and that most of us just pray that the bickering of academics over their hot button issues of ecclesiology, authority and (most importantly who has it, which is really all about power) would just be resolved and go away? Just wondering?

I know as a priest I want to be pastoral to my parishioners. Many of them have very messy lives and simply want to find some peace, direction and love in their lives, not necessarily from the Church(meaning us poor miserable sinners) but from God where coming together with poor miserable sinners, God is made present, especially in the Sacraments and in the Most Blessed Sacrament. It really is all about God. Community is important, but most of us find that in a variety of places, not just Church, but in the Catholic Church we find God, so the vertical aspect of the Catholic Church trumps the horizontal because fixating on the horizontal always leads to some kind of disappointment, because, (and this is a big secret folks, so let's just keep this between us) Catholics are a sinful bunch of people and not very nice because of it!

Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said some things to his priests (about 400 of whom are actively disobedient toward him and the Holy Father) at his Chrism Mass during Holy Week that are true and applicable even in little old Macon, Georgia"

In his chrism Mass sermon on April 2, the Monday of Holy Week, he offered his own Jesus-solution on how priests can cope with three of the most problematic situations confronting them in their pastoral work today:

1. The large number of people, including many young, conservative Catholics, who cohabit without being married;
2. The large number of divorced people who remarry;
3. The increasing number of same-sex partnerships.

“We priests usually give up when we are faced with complete incomprehension at what the church teaches about marriage and abstinence, proliferation and indissolubility. ... There is only one way, the way his disciples learned: get to know Jesus himself better, grow into his friendship,” Cardinal Schönborn told his priests. Priests should learn to walk the tightrope between canon law and true mercy as Jesus practiced it by asking themselves what Jesus would have done in each problematic situation and then following in his footsteps, the cardinal said."

As a pastor, the tightrope that I walk is calling people to holiness (which includes Catholic morality in many areas and not just sexual morality, but sexual morality is the most personal and intimate type of morality because sexual morality goes to the core of who we are, doesn't it?).

About 99.9% of my parishioners and the priests I know have imperfect lives. They rely upon God to assist them and to make up what is lacking in their moral lives. They rely upon the Church to teach them what perfection is and how our lives will be in heaven. As far as I can tell, heaven is pure union with God who is all holy and we will be chaste, not marrying or being married and we won't be pro-creating. So whatever one's state in live, we are called to chastity (fidelity, first to God and then to our spouses and fidelity to natural law whether we are single of married). Therein lies the rub, the easiest way to sin is to sin sexually in thought, word and deed!

Thus the sacrament of penance gives us the grace of desiring perfection, relying upon God's mercy and recognizing that the salvation of our souls as with our bodies occurs over time and not instantly and even needs some time of purification in purgatory.

Are we impatient or do we want to change the meaning of natural law, divine law, and what sin is to make us perfect prematurely? Which brings me back to my point, is perfection all about perfect structures in the Church that only 1% of Catholics obsess on and castigate others for not implementing their perfect solution or is perfection about moral perfection of the individual and that 99% of Catholics who practice their faith seek meaning, purpose and grace to figure out just where is God leading them (heaven of course and its perfection). Just wondering.


Gene said...

I have some problems with this article:

1) "Walk the tightrope between Canon Law and true mercy..." This is an invitation to dissent. Why should there be a conflict between canon law and true mercy? Is there one? Does not canon law embody the foundations for true mercy in practice? Does it not set limits within which true mercy can be shown without endangering the souls of the flock? This is careless talk.

2) "ask themselves what Jesus would have done in each SITUATION..." This is an invitation to "situation ethics." As I have pointed out before, one cannot take the sayings of Jesus...the Beatitudes, the Parables of the Kingdom, etc. and build an "ethic" upon them, at least not an ethic in any rationalistic, philosophical sense of the word. There is no distributive ethical "first principle" one can derive from the NT other than the will of God and the freedom of the Holy Spirit. Jesus taught a highly individualistic, intuitive code of behavior based upon the individual's response to the will of God and his awareness of the Holy Spirit in his life. Of course, this has its own difficulties for the devout Christian, but it avoids...even rejects...the categorical ethical systems that trap us in a hopeless maze of failed programs, sloganistic morality, and stupid books.

This is why the Church embodies her morality in Canon Law and Dogma. She tells us how to behave and what to believe. I know that just drives some progressive Catholics crazy (it is a very short trip, anyway), and it can be very frustrating even to devout Catholics. But, the alternative is having Cardinals and Bishops like this make stupid and trite statements which lead to dissent, division, and individual hermeneutical license. Christ have mercy!

Hammer of Fascists said...

I think that what you describe is the difference between the pastoral and theological. I also think that there's a lot in what you say; many canonized saints were very simple (read: not very smart) people who knew very little, if any, theology or doctrine.

But it can be pushed too far, can't it? The point of doctrine is to make sure we know Whom it is we're worshiping, so we don't end up worshiping the wrong thing. For instance, if someone wants to "find some peace, direction and love in their lives" by practicing Thuggee (the Indian religious cult of assassination), I think that any responsible priest would simply have to tell that person that his theology/concept of the Divine was not only wrong but that it was endangering his soul. In that case it isn't some empty intellectual exercise about how many angels can dance on Gene's head--excuse, me, the head of a pin. ;-)

If we can agree on that, then the question becomes not whether to tolerate erroneous ideas but rather how far, if at all, erroneous ideas are to be allowed.

I gather that, just as you as a priest normally presume that people who present themselves for Communion are 1) Catholics 2) in a state of grace, you likewise don't carry out a proactive witch hunt in parishioners' lives in (or out of) the confessional. But what do you do when someone volunteers that he simply isn't going to do something that the Church very clearly says he must, and it's clear from the conversation that he _knows_ that he'll be violating doctrine? And what do you do in the same circumstances, but it's obvious that he _doesn't_ realize that his proposed course of action would cause him to violate Church teaching?

I'm particularly interested in how you go about handling it, because these are cases that often do come up in some particular contexts, such as RCIA for example.

Templar said...

I would be in the 1% who obsess about the stuff. I do so becasue I believe it's important. It's important because people and organizations which claim an authority need to be seen to hold themselves to the same standards they hold others to, or their authority is undermined by their actions. As a Father I must set the standard for my children. As a Manager at work I must set the standard for my employees. As a Catholic I expect the Church to actually enforce their own laws, work to the standards they have set, and enforce discipline in those who are part of the organization. You can not expect anyone to take seriously a lecture about morality and the importance of being scrupulous in following it, if the person doing the lecturing can't even manage to be scrupulous about something as simple as following the order of the Mass as prescribed.

Lex Orendi, Lex Credendi

If one must obsess about something I suppose it is better that it be connected to my eternal soul and not a Football Team, or a Golf Handicap, or how I look.

Pater Ignotus said...

A few thoughts... In the Church, "Authority" is not about power, but about service. From pope to pew-sitter, the commission to Christians is to serve others, not to obtain, hold, and exercise power over others.

The vertical does not "trump the horizontal" but exists with it, holding an equally essential place in our relationship with God. Again, this flows from the mystery of the Incarnation. It was through both natures - Human and Divine - that salvation was given to us in Chirst. It is not one OR the other, but both.

100% of the priests and people you know, not 99.9%, have imperfect lives.

I'd not agree that "the easiest way to sin is to sin sexually." It's just as easy to lie, cheat or steal, to bear false witness, or to commit calumny, or to make grotesque racist statements about "feral minorities."

The perfection to which we are called has little or nothing to do with Church structures, since these cease in the life to come. "Oh Lord, at last, when sacraments shall cease, may we be one with all the church above..."

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

PI, I do think we can call it what it is in terms of lying, cheating, stealing, murdering (unless the victim isn't born yet)and racism,etc, but try calling someone a fornicator, sodomite, disordered, etc and see the wrath of God come down on you from the secularists trying to change Christian teaching in the areas of sexuality!

Templar said...

A few thoughts about a fe thoughts:

Service but not power? So feed them, clothe them, shelter them, but don't correct them, lecture them, or discpline them? The Church doesn't wield worldly authority except as it pertains to God's Authority which is absolute. All you babble about service is nothing more than feel good Protestantism if you don't serve up some fear of the Almighty with the soup bowl. Here's the Soup Brother, but I'm only giving you the Soup so you'll stay and hear what you NEED to hear, not because you need a bowl of soup.

Gene said...

Authority provides us with a theological, a belief structure within which to properly serve others. True Christian service to others can only take place within a context of right belief and a Sacramental understanding of the world. And, BTW, our first commission in this service you so love to harp about is to "preach the Gospel to every creature" (that'as right belief) and Baptize them in the name of the Trinity (more right know, the salvation of souls). This is a top-down deal, Ignotus. That is why Doctrine of God comes first in all our Dogmatics and systematic theology. Oh, and about those Church structures you secretly can't stand, they are the matrix within which we seek to do God's will. They are Christ's ordained and commisioned structures put there to protect us from error and from listening to socialist/progressives priests like you.
Oh, and those feral minorities...that is not a racist statement. It is an observation...hey, they're coming soon to a theater near you. Throw on your cassock and go out to meet 'em... and be sure you explain all about how we don't need any structures in our law and order, values, morality, you know, stuff like that.
Oh,I see you are using Margaret Nutcase Ralph in your Bible study. Great choice, that...

Pater Ignotus said...

I agree that offering pastoral correction (a function of ecclesial service, not ecclesial authority) for sexual sins may be a more delicate matter than offering a correction for shop-lifting. But your assertion was "Therein lies the rub, the easiest way to sin is to sin sexually in thought, word and deed!" and I don't think that is necessarily true.

Also, I think you overstate the case for sexual activity (moral or immoral) and its relation to the "core" of human existence. All moral laws - against stealing, lying, calumniating, etc - relate directly to our essence as humans.

In fact, since we and non-human animals share the behaviour of genital sexual activity, it might be said that sins relating to our "higher thought processes" are those that relate more directly to our humanity, since it is these processes, and not sexual ones, that separate us from the dumb beasts.

Joe said...

Sin only makes sense in 'context' of whom we offend. So to the degree people believe in God and love Him, they care about pleasing Him and grieve for offending Him.

There is great power in "context"; the moment of temptation is always a knife edge of decision when we face the enticing "apparent good" and yet know that this action or omission is not "actually good"... but how do we defeat temptation unless by remaining "ourselves" or keeping in mind our relationship to God and one another, our other loves?

So it is with preaching about the Kingdom and morals - if you would drive out sin, you must focus on what we are (creatures, baptized, in a loving covenant with God, called to be light, salt, leaven...called to greatness and glory...chosen to bring Christ to the world...)

Only then when people see their dignity and glory of their baptism does it make sense to then speak of avoiding the misery and sorrow that comes from sin.

"For we live not for ourselves but for the Lord" to paraphrase St Paul... it's when people only refer to themselves that they easily jettison "rules" that get in the way of their vices that always "appear good".

The apparent good is revealed as misery only in light of the Maximum Good who is God... the conterfeit happiness is only revealed as a fake in light of the presence of the genuine Happiness who is Christ.

So if you would reject sin and live in virtue, "seek first the Kingdom".... seek first the Law Giver and Giver of Life in whose presence all 'rules' alone make sense when we're tempted to deny the good we know for the good we imagine.

Gene said...

But,Ignotus, sex is perhaps the strongest and most elemental drive and is identified in Scripture as both the means whereby original sin is transmitted and the source of the shame and guilt of Adam and Eve. You speak of our "higher thought processes" which relate more to the core of our humanity, but it is the elemental drives such as sex, greed, and self-preservation that continually start wars and corrupt nations and individuals. Also, the reproductive drive is at the very core of all existence. Haven't you watched Nat Geo recently? LOL! From salmon in the Northwest, to lions in the Serengeti, to Bathsheba, Helen of Troy, Cleopatra (man, Liz Taylor was smokin' in that one!), Mata Hari, and Monica Lewinsky (oh, wait, that wasn't sex... LOL). Plus, all that lying, cheating, stealing you are talking will do all that and kill, too, to satisfy that drive.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like we are trying find a way of avoiding feeling bad about our sins. What are we reconciling if there is no contrition? As pack animals we are trying also to strike a bargain with our neighbours: I won't condemn you if you won't condemn me.

We have talked about this before. A real friend will tell you if you are messed up. It may or may not be nice.

Try this: people WANT you to care enough to tell them they are messed up. If you do it in the manner that you are condemning them to burnish your place in Heaven then they will resist you. If you tell them because they will suffer for it and correction benefits them then they will often listen. It may take a while and reapplications, but they usually will. And I think that is true altruism, not giving money or pretending collusion is tolerance.


Anonymous said...

God first, people second.
When done in that order then the result is the vertical and horizontal exist together as Jesus does, the human and the divine.
The Mass itself can be weighted more vertical than horizontal, and in my most humble opinion certaily should be.
Yet, in life as a whole, if the vertical and horizontal don't share equal importance, then the dignity of the human person is lost...and we know what happens then. (too many Calvinists...haha..just kiddin')

God first, people when we draw a cross: first the vertical line, then the horizontal line...resulting in a complete cross.

Thanks for being pastoral while being in that 1%...not too many can pull that off.