Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Hiding The Truth is not Pastoral

Mark Shea wades into the recent controversy about Cardinal Marx's suggestion that perhaps the Church may in certain individual cases come up with some sort of blessing to be applied to same sex unions. (There's some dispute as to what Cardinal Marx meant, with initial reports suggesting he proposed a standard approach to blessing such unions and clarification from his spokesmen suggesting that he was more ambiguous, but that ambiguity does not come into Shea's piece so I won't bring it up here further.)

Shea proposes nothing definite, but argues that the cardinal may be onto something because the presence of same sex marriages will be an established fact that the Church must deal with, and failure to do so will, he argues, result in rejection by many younger people who support same sex marriage in large numbers. It's a long post, but I'll try to quote the key sections below:

[H]ow do the people who are currently shouting denunciations at Cdl. Marx propose the Church proceed in a world where, like it or not, gay unions are here to stay? Put bluntly, if they do not want some kind of blessing on gay people, would they prefer the Church devise a curse for them?

My guess is no. Very well then, my question is this: what do we want to do, as Catholics committed to the evangelization of the entire world, including gay people? What concrete course of action do we propose for the Church to engage the here-to-stay, not going anywhere, immovable, staring-us-in-the-face sociological fact of a world which not only has gay unions, but has a rising generation of people, gay and straight, who have absolutely no problem with gay unions and who are increasingly alienated from a Church that does, in fact, appear to them to curse gay people? (We’re talking roughly 75% of Millennials here.)

If you say (as I suspect most of Cdl. Marx’s critics do) that the Church should simply do nothing, then at least be aware that “nothing” will, in fact, be read as rejection, not as nothing–by that 75% of Millennials. Mark you, I’m not talking about gay unions per se. I’m simply talking about the mere existence of gay people and the straight people who care about them.
If the message the Church is sending to every gay person on the planet–and to their straight Millennial friend–is “You are rejected” then it will be only the most extraordinary and motivated person who persists in seeking Jesus in the face of such rejection. And make no mistake, the most zealous and vocal Catholics are typically the ones sending just that message to gays and the straight people who love them. Indeed, they send it even to gay people who have committed to live in chastity and celibacy. I cannot count the number of times I have seen gay Catholics I know–faithful, chaste, celibate ones–spoken of as sinister fifth columnists within the Church and regarded with suspicion simply because they are open, frank, and honest that they are sexually attracted to people of the same sex.
I think the entire “burn heretics, not make converts” approach to the Catholic life is radically wrong and foreign to the mind of Christ. So I return to my question: what do we propose about evangelizing people in a world where gay unions–and an entire generation of people who do not even see a problem with them–are already an established sociological fact?
Jesus didn’t tell the centurion, “Get out of my sight, slaveowner!” He commended him for the progress in grace he had made. He didn’t tell the Samaritan woman to depart from him. He met her where she was and helped her take a step toward faith in him. At no point, does he order her to go home and break it off with her fifth husband.

I suspect something similar is where the Church will wind up with gay unions. Gay people, like everybody else, will come to the Church for spiritual help sooner or later because the Holy Spirit cannot be denied and gay humans, like all humans, hunger for God. And when they do, real shepherds are not going to slap their faces and send them away any more than Jesus slapped the centurion for daring to approach him while still owning other human beings. Shepherds are going to meet them where they are in all the complexity of their lives.

This will offend Puritans, whose first and last impulse is always to drive the impure away from Fortress Katolicus. But it seems to me that the Church is pretty much bound to take this route. It will not mean sacramentalizing gay unions. Rather, it will mean finding some way to help gay people take steps toward Jesus (who is the only one who can untangle the human heart) where they are.
[You can read the full post here.]
Now I think it's important to say that Mark is right that there is a faction within the Church which is so suspicious of people who are gay (in the sense of being consistently sexually attracted to those of the same sex, regardless of whether they act sexually on those attractions) that they do indeed attack even faithful gay Catholic writers who write about ways for people who are gay to live chastely according to the Church's teachings. This is a problem. Christ came to being salvation to all who are willing to follow Him, and that includes people who are gay. We must have a welcoming place within the Church for those who are living according to the Church's teachings under difficult circumstances: those who are gay, those who are divorced, those who are unwillingly single, those who struggle to follow the Church's teachings within their marriages.

However, there's another problem which Shea's 'will we bless them or curse them?' dichotomy fails to address. There are many within the Church who believe that while perhaps the Church's official, on paper teachings on issues such as contraception, gay marriage, and divorce cannot change, that the Church can route around those teachings in her practice. Cardinal Marx seems to some degree to be aligning himself with this allegedly pastoral approach, in which the Church loudly affirms the good aspects of such things while never mentioning that by the way they are against God's law. The proposal that the Church perhaps in some cases offer some sort of non-sacramental blessing for same sex unions must necessarily be seen as participating in this kind of "let's pretend the Church's teachings don't exist" exercise.

The Church's job is in fact more difficult that Shea seems to acknowledge. Yes, a large and increasing percentage of the culture are not only accepting of same sex marriage but ready to reject as a bigot anyone who does not accept it. The Church has a divine mission to reach everyone with Christ's message: gay or straight, pro or anti same sex marriage. And yet the Church also has a duty not to conceal and obfuscate God's law. The Church cannot offer a blessing ceremony for civil marriages that follow the breakup of a valid marriage, nor can it offer a blessing ceremony for same sex couples. There might be those who would argue the Church should offer a blessing ceremony of sorts for same sex couples who are committing to live together chastely, and indeed there is nothing immoral about sharing a roof with someone who you love but are not able to sleep with. But because of our current cultural moment it seems particularly imprudent to offer something that would look so very much like a winking approval for a sexual relationship. We must be honest with ourselves: Many of those who find proposals such as Cardinal Marx's appealing are indeed looking for a tacit approval of sexual relationships that the Church considers wrong. Under the guise of being pastoral, what is actually being sought here is a change in practice if not yet of doctrine.

Jesus does not just accompany us where we are. He also calls us to do hard things. To see this we need look no further than the story of the rich young man, the young man who said he followed all the commandments and on whom Jesus looked with love. What does Jesus do then? Ask the young man to do something even harder: sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and follow me. And when the young man goes away sad, Jesus lets him go. He doesn't hold a blessing ceremony for the young man's attachment to riches.

This is the thing which all factions within the Church can forget too often. Jesus asks us to do hard things. He asks us to love people who seem unlovable to us. He asks us to give up things we love. He asks us to abide by God's law even when it seems impossible. He asks us to give up much in order to follow him. And in return, he offers us God's love and eternal life. This is hard, hard stuff which should not leave anyone feeling self satisfied. If you feel you're a great Christian, you're probably doing it wrong. And this is what those who are so eager to label themselves "pastoral" these days need to remember. That Jesus was willing to talk to anyone, to eat with anyone, to love anyone, but that he also called us all to take up our cross and follow Him.


Unknown said...

And as He said to the woman caught in adultery: "Neither do I condemn you. *Go and sin no more*." He *lovingly* called her to change her life... to conversion.

I fully support accompaniment, but accompaniment does not mean endorsement, which a blessing absolutely would. It's completely possible for me to walk with someone who has same-sex attraction without condemning *or* enabling/encouraging.

Foxfier said...

It also betrays those who have paid for speaking the truth, and helps silence those who recognize the truth but keep silent out of fear-- which makes it much easier to lie to those who simply don't know. Nobody who isn't willing to have their lives, and the lives of those they care about, destroyed will dare speak the truth.

Agnes said...

"Put bluntly, if they do not want some kind of blessing on gay people, would they prefer the Church devise a curse for them?"

This is so manipulative. Firstly, because of the forced false dichotomy (if we don't bless them it means we are cursing them), and also, becacuse the question wasn't about accepting gay people but about blessing their lifestyle as gay couples. Since the Church's teaching is that gay people may not form couple relationships with each other, they can't affirm those relationships.
It is also a secular interpretation of the word "blessing" (give one's blessing to something, particularly to a marriage) that they are trying to superpone over the Church's meaning. Blessing in the religious meaning of the word can only come from God. If the thing is against God's law, God won't bless it and the Church has no business issue a blessing, seemingly from God, in her own name. It's a sort of a reverse of Balaam's story who was asked to curse Israel but said a blessing according to what God ordered him to say.

Anna said...

Funny how Mark used to say "tolerance is not enough; you. must. approve." like it was a bad thing.

If it makes sense to bless gay unions, wouldn't we also use that for weddings where the couple intends to be "childfree" or have been married previously or want to keep divorce as an option - but also want a church wedding? Then some people could have the sacrament but we could keep the rest happy by blessing whatever form they want their relationship to take. After all, contraception and divorce are done deals for millennials too, right? Then, since you can receive the Anointing of the Sick if you're going in for surgery, we could have a not-really-the-sacrament blessing before abortive surgery or sterilizations. So many ways to accompany people! None of which give any clear path back to the freedom of truth.

Darwin said...

It is also a secular interpretation of the word "blessing" (give one's blessing to something, particularly to a marriage) that they are trying to superpone over the Church's meaning. Blessing in the religious meaning of the word can only come from God.

This strikes me as a really importation point Agnes brings up. When the Church recognizes a couple as having married (the couple are actually the ones performing the sacrament through the vows, so it's not as if the Church confers marriage on them) this is not some sort of award or recognition that their relationship is great or that they are the sort of people others should emulate.

God chose marriage, the joining of a man and woman together into a family with the intent to produce children, as a sacrament, a way for his grace to come to us. A valid marriage is thus a channel of grace to people whether they're particularly good or admirable people or not. It's not an achievement award. And relationships other than a marriage simply can't be the matter for a sacrament.

Darwin said...

The other thing that strikes me about Shea's piece isn't really about it's substance. Mark is a very, very tribal thinker. and it seems to me that much of what drives this piece is a line of thinking that jumps from

1) He really doesn't like (and recognizes real lack of charity) some of the louder critics of people like Cardinal Marx and Fr. James Martin


2) Therefore Marx and Martin must somehow be right

However, that doesn't follow. It can both be the case that some of Marx's critics are wrong and/or uncharitable and also that Marx's suggestion is really lousy one which shows little serious regard for Church teaching.

DP said...

Marvelous essay. I would just add that taking cues from one generation is unwise. The millenial acceptance of same-sex relationships is part of their overall relaxed attitudes towards any sex that is not adultery. Not, of course, that they share the same understanding of what the Church means by it. Following Mark's logic here, we should be prepared to bless hook-ups, too.

Agnes said...

"taking cues from one generation is unwise"

A good point. I'll add that US culture is not quite the same as the whole of Western world. In my Middle European background, I can discern quite a difference from the prevalent US attitudes. I can only go by my gut feelings as I have no scientific resource (and I may not accurately represent the Millennial generation here), but Middle Europeans are less accepting of same sex relationships, are much more accepting of nudity and don't make such an exception to adulterous relationships compared to Americans. The Church's message has slightly different barriers to overcome in each cultural subgroup, and worldwide, there are of course even more diverse opinions the Church can't and shouldn't always accomodate.

TN Papist said...

"indeed there is nothing immoral about sharing a roof with someone who you love but are not able to sleep with." If by love you include physical attraction, isn't living living with someone it's illicit to sleep with arguably a proximate occasion of sin (if not for actually committing physical acts, but also fantasizing in a moment of weakness), and thus a grave/mortal sin by itself?

Darwin said...

TN Papist,

I don't know if I'd say that it's always an occasion of sin, but it certainly could be, and if someone was going to do it I think he would have to be very clear on why and what moral ground rules he was going to set in order to avoid making it an occasion of sin.