A Reading from the Prophet Sheed…and a Mystery, and a Musing—All on Sex

I think the title counts as what is called in the cyber world, clickbait. Anyway…

Frank Sheed (1897–1981), the great Australian Catholic publisher, apologist and missionary to England and America, manages the feat of being orthodox without being pious, and of being comprehensive without being complex. He was also, and often, remarkably prescient.

His ecclesial autobiography, The Church and I (Sheed and Ward, 1974), charts his life in relation to the Church, its heroes and villains, its triumphs, and its crises. So what he writes about “The Church and Sex” (chapter 16) still reads as fresh and relevant as it must have back in 1974. I will cobble together some sections below, much as the lectionary often does with its scripture. But whereas the lectionary often does that to pull some punches, my purpose here will be to allow no breathing time between each punch: Continue reading “A Reading from the Prophet Sheed…and a Mystery, and a Musing—All on Sex”

Further Thoughts on Papal Silence

Recently I made use of Frank Sheed to suggest that the cloud of papal silence over the Amoris Laetitia crisis, and in particular the dubia of i quattro cardinali, might perhaps carry with it a silver lining. In a nutshell, Sheed explained that papal infallibility can be secured by the Holy Spirit in a positive way, definitive teaching for example such as that on Our Lady’s assumption, or in a negative way, in that even the most scandalous of popes were preserved from teaching error ex cathedra. In that case, their silence was at least silver, if not golden. So too now, papal silence might not be as bad as we think.

For we do well to remember that the papacy does not exhaust the teaching authority of the Church. Historically popes have not been doctrinally very active, save as courts of final appeal. The dubia were presented to Pope Francis precisely in his capacity as the final and magisterial arbiter of doctrinal contention. It would be wonderful if he answered them by reaffirming the teaching of Christ.

However his silence is not the end of the world, nor grounds for his deposition as a heretic as some commenters have suggested. Continue reading “Further Thoughts on Papal Silence”

Cardinals’ Dubia and Papal Silence: The Silver Lining

**NB Some further thoughts can be found here.**

The five questions, or dubia, submitted by Cardinals Caffarra, Burke, Meisner and Brandmüller to Pope Francis regarding his Apostolic Exhortation on family life, Amoris Laetitia, have been mentioned here before. Many commentators have expressed frustration that the pope has yet to answer them. Plain rude, some say. Probably quite a few liberals also would like Pope Francis to answer the dubia, and make the de facto practice in many places de iure: that divorcees who have entered into a subsequent civil remarriage might be allowed to receive Holy Communion.

So far the pope has been silent, and his defenders—not a few of them self-appointed and self-serving—have taken it upon themselves to attack i quattro cardinali, and even to advocate what it is said the pope thinks but has never quite said: that civilly-remarried divorcees should receive Holy Communion, as part of the Church’s “accompaniment” of them. There is a supremely strong case that the Chief Shepherd of the Flock should answer the dubia and clarify once and for all the Church’s teaching. Continue reading “Cardinals’ Dubia and Papal Silence: The Silver Lining”

Clericalism and culture

The perceptive among the regulars here will have noted that I have a mild mania at the moment for a long-time favourite Catholic writer and theologian, Frank Sheed. Recently circumstances have only afforded occasional dips into the charming yet vigorous memoir of Frank and his wife, Maisie Ward, by their author-son, Wilfrid Sheed. Taking a stroll in the 20+˚C sunshine, said memoir in hand, Wilfrid had arrived at the narration of the family’s move, early in World War II, to the United States to found an American outpost of the family publishing concern, Sheed & Ward, but which was to become home for them all. Wilfrid begins this section by explaining the difference between the Catholic Church in England and in the States in the 1940s. It bears extensive, though necessarily selective, quotation here: Continue reading “Clericalism and culture”

Filial piety

So many matters are worthy of attention at present—Cardinal Sarah’s latest treatment of the Church’s liturgy, for example, or Martin Mosebach’s searching critique of the modern liturgy recently renewed; Dubiagate; the infamous demotion of the papal nuncio to Ireland.

But when one is in a strop (probably only Poms and Aussies will get the meaning of that word in this context) it is best to leave weighty matters aside lest one’s true feelings be too forcefully expressed.

So instead, let me recommend a book. It is not in print but easily obtainable at a reasonable price secondhand. I have not yet finished it but already I think it one of the best biographies I have read. Continue reading “Filial piety”

There is nothing new under the sun: James Martin SJ and Christology 101

As part of our Lenten penance, we are listening to James Martin SJ’s Jesus: A Pilgrimage in the refectory at lunch. It has been not too bad, the bits I have heard; until today. So many blasts from the past: Jesus “discovering” his “call”, “embracing his vocation” as at the wedding feast at Cana. It was the same old tired Christology-from-below (to put it at its best) that triumphed in the 70s and 80s. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

But then it turned a great deal worse, in one brief phrase: Martin referred to Jesus as “a fully human person”. It is a sad indictment of the last 50 years or more of deficient catechetics that many will not see the problem. Jesus is a man, isn’t he?

Continue reading “There is nothing new under the sun: James Martin SJ and Christology 101”

Words of wisdom (not mine, naturally)

Since recovery from the cold/throat infection etc is slow, and the latest papal offering (11,000-odd words) is too long for me to face at the moment, I will plagiarize a little. Consider it a nod to a great tradition.

With all the renewed guff from campaigners for the impossible dream of women’s ordination; and those who seek to minimize the Church’s teaching on abortion, the admission to Communion of remarried divorcees or publicly pro-abortion politicians, or other moral issues, a decades-old reflection from Frank Sheed seems apt. Frank Sheed was an Australian layman who was doing the New Evangelization before it was even a twinkle in a future pope’s eye, a street-corner apologist who was both remarkably faithful to Church teaching and wonderfully clear and direct in its expression; he was the “Sheed” in the great Catholic publishing house Sheed & Ward.

Invariably when dissenters pipe up, they bring up the matter of conscience, usually a rather skewed version of it. So many of them use “conscience” as a pretext for acting for “justice” outside the earthly boundaries of the Catholic Church, even as they profess to be more faithful to God in doing so. Mr Sheed is dealing with sensitive issues, writing at the time of Humanae Vitae in 1968, and admits that there may be occasions when a rightly-formed conscience might move one to reject a particular precept or teaching of the Church (he is speaking mainly of non-dogmatic, non-infallible teachings). Let what Mr Sheed writes sink in:

Following conscience and acting against some Church ruling might mean being deprived of the Blessed Eucharist. And that could mean anguish. It would not be a reason for leaving the Church: the only reason for belonging to it is the belief that it is Christ’s, and it does not cease to be His because its officials have judged wrongly or acted unjustly. The anguish must be borne, must be offered to God. must not turn into bitterness against the authorities. Seeing things as he does, the man has no choice. He must remind himself that the authorities also, seeing things as they do, have no choice… The troubled Catholic’s belief may be right or wrong, but if his love for the people who have barred him from sacraments is not diminished but increased, then he is suffering not only for his belief but for the Church, and his suffering works for its renewal.  (Is it the same Church?, F J Sheed, 1968)

Again it must pointed out that Sheed has in mind here matters of Church discipline and the consequences of its moral teaching. Nevertheless, it is even more apt for those who deny magisterial and dogmatic teachings of the Church. But the principle is clear whatever the case: if you think the Church is wrong, you will only ever be vindicated and the Church changed (should either actually be possible) not by leaving the Church, not by disobedience to her, but by humbly suffering what you see as injustice. That is what “works for its renewal”. And if you are wrong, as chances are you might be, then you have the merit of obedience to your credit. Why is such suffering obedience so crucial? (Think about that word – it comes from crux, “cross”.) Because Christ could have achieved nothing without his own obedience.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.     Philippians 2:8

Has the universe known a greater injustice than that worked on Christ by humanity? Yet he endured it, though he was indisputably in the right. How much more, then, should we, so rarely right, endure our petty little sufferings for his sake.

dali Christ

As St John the Baptist so profoundly taught about Christ,

He must increase, but I must decrease.  John 3:30

Until we fully grasp these truths, I suspect we can never fully be Christians.