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”→
As you know, in a monastery the monk–priests take turns as principal celebrants of the conventual Mass. At Douai most of us usually offer a few words of reflection, a homilette, of a greater or lesser degree of depth according to the monk involved. (nb depth is not always a virtue!) So this morning I was slated for the Mass, and I was struck by the gospel Mark 3:22–30:
The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
It is accomplished. Amoris Laetitia (hereafter AL) has been read from go to whoa. It was a bit of a slog at times. There are moments of golden lucidity and crystal clarity, with flashes of insight and inspiration. There are moments of ambiguity and the avoidance of plain speaking. There a stretches where the subject seems laboured, over-worked and even, at times, uneccessary. There are moments when one thinks when is reading the words of an earthy parish priest rather than the magisterial teaching of a sovereign pontiff to the Church and the world.
Many of us will remember that much of the justification for the liturgical reform lay in an appeal to the early Church, a return to the sources and primitive purity, when liturgy had not yet acquired the accretions and “useless repetitions” of more recent centuries. It is more than open to debate that the subsequent reform has been successful. In part this is due to a failure to see that rituals can legitimately develop as the understanding of their significance expands. Some might argue that the liturgical reform’s exaltation of the primitive involved selling off a Porsche 911 in order to obtain a Model-T Ford.
One thing sadly, disastrously, absent from the Synod from the scanty information we have been permitted to receive, is eternity. We look to the woefully deficient Relatio, or working document, that was so unwisely released (perhaps as a belated gesture of transparency and consultation). In its opening paragraphs it seeks to set the synodal discussions in a context, and that context is purely this-worldly. It is as if it is only this life, this world, that truly matters. The focus is entirely socio-anthropological. The closest it comes to moving our eyes away from our navels is the exhortation to have our “gaze on Christ” (#4, et infra). Yet this phrase is never adequately unpacked, except that we look to Christ for teaching on marriage.
As Archbishop Sheen was so fond of reminding us, Christ came to die. That was his mission: that by the self-sacrificial death on the Cross of his mortal human body we might share in his divine life for eternity. Christ made a condition of following him that we deny ourselves and take up our cross to share in the eternal fruit of his Cross. So intent was his own gaze on eternity that he admitted that following him would divide families, setting one against another. His moral teaching was oriented toward a full identification with him in every aspect of our lives and our dealing with others. He commanded us to love, yes; but then taught us that love is essentially and necessarily selfless, its summit found in laying down one’s life for another. As Christ did for us. We know not that day nor the hour. Live, he bids us, so that you are ready for death and judgment.
What the Relatio calls the “Gospel of the family” can only make sense if it is related to the core gospel of Christ. Family, marriage and sexuality for a Christian must serve eternity and help prepare us for it. Yet the Relatio seems intent on trying to make things as easy as possible in this life for people who do not follow the core Gospel of Christ. If eating and drinking unworthily of the Eucharist brings dire judgment upon us (1 Cor 11:29), and if unworthily has always been defined as labouring under grave, unremitted, sin, then how can granting those in grave sin the Eucharist be helpful to them? Only if our focus is not on eternity, but on here and now, feeling accepted, included and the like. Nowhere in the Relatio do we hear the fundamental gospel proclamation: Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.
The temporal, secular focus of this document is lamentable. We see now through a glass darkly, but then face to face (1 Cor 13:12). Surely the Synod needs to be reminding the Church that what we experience and feel now is no guide to anything but the nature and degree of our need for God and his truth. The answer, then, is to satisfy this need for God and his truth by focusing on that which he has definitely revealed to us through scripture and the timeless teaching of the Church.
The bottom line of Christianity is that it is to prepare us for death and eternity, the last things that are so starkly absent from the Relatio. There is comfort in the knowledge that the Relatio is only a “working document”; but if it is representative of the Synod’s work, they have been wasting a great deal of time and money. It has no binding force whatsoever. It should, must, be ignored.
Instead, for now let us live well as the Church has always taught us in fidelity to Christ, with our eyes set in hope on death, and eternity.
Anthony Fisher OP, Archbishop-Elect of my hometown, Sydney, has penned an article posted on the website of his new diocese. Its context is the Synod, and he addresses some very topical issues. But it is his opening lines that arrested this reader’s attention:
I think the biggest challenge to the family today is that people have forgotten how to love. That sounds odd, I know, but what I’m getting at is the cross-shaped Easter sort of loving rather than the heart-shaped Valentine’s sort of loving. We are less and less willing to commit, for the long haul, to another person or a small community of persons, come what may, even when the loving is hard. We are less and less willing to engage in the self-sacrifice that requires, the compromising of our willfulness, even unto death.
One of my homiletic preoccupations (obsessions?), as the boys at this morning’s Mass at Winchester College will attest, is to replace the concept of love that is rammed down our throats by amusing but vacuous romantic comedies, sitcoms, light literature and substance-less magazines – of emotional intoxication with another: “falling in love” – with the Christian concept of love. The Christian concept of love – Christian because perfectly modelled in the person of Jesus Christ – has less to do with transient emotions and more to do with selflessness and self-sacrifice. This is not love as a state of being or an emotional state; but love as a state of doing, a way of living.
This love is pithily and effectively summed up by Archbishop Fisher: it is Cross-shaped, not valentine-shaped. for when the emotional buzz of what is often mistakenly called love (instead of infatuation or even, sometimes, lust) has passed, what are we left with? All too often today the result is broken marriages, or broken relationships since so many do not make that permanent commitment which is the basis of marital love. When “love” is defined by what I feel rather than what I give, we are dealing with a chimera at best, a counterfeit at worst.
This is not to deny that love has an emotional element. Christ does not advocate a soul-less, robotic form of loving. Rather, it is that the emotional element – the “buzz”, the high, the pleasure, the sweetness, the joy – is meant to come after, or at least concurrently with, the doing of love, the self-giving, the self-sacrifice. Emotions come and go, so they can be no real test of love. Commitment, self-denial, self-sacrifice, self-giving: these are the marks of authentic love.
“Greater love has no one than to lay down one’s life for a friend; you are my friends if you do as I command you”. And what did Christ command: to love God and to love our neighbour. Christ laid down his life for us, and we prove ourselves at least partly worthy by doing as he did. “I have left you an example”. “If you would be my disciple, take up your cross, and follow me”. God’s love, Christ’s love, is cross-shaped.
It is this commitment to self-less self-giving that is the best, yea the only, human foundation of marital love. So if the Church’s, which is to say Christ’s, teaching on love – its duties and its limits and its measure – leaves some people feeling exposed or judged, the problem lies not with the teaching but with people’s faulty living, imperfect choices, unwise decisions. Shooting the messenger will help no one. Denying the message will do even worse damage. If Christ has taught us the truth about love, the love that brings us to life eternal, though vales of tears and dales of joy, then there is only one message the Church can teach, and only one choice we can legitimately make for our own good.
The Christian teaching of two millenia on love have the guarantee of Christ and the validation of experience in the lives of those who all too often do not make the news, the women’s magazine or the lad-mag, or popular music. But these do not reflect the reality of most people’s lives. Most people’s lives are too mundane to make for arresting music or literature or cinema. They set up an ideal impossible to attain; indeed it is no ideal at all. It is a snare, trapping the unwary in the vicious circle of self-obsession.
Perhaps the greatest need today in popular theology, and certainly in the homiletics of our parishes and chaplaincies, is to recover and promote the truth about love and expose the toxic sham that modern secular culture substitutes for it. Love is, as the archbishop said, cross-shaped not valentine-shaped, and our loving will be vain until we fully comprehend this.
Rome is proving to be as much a hotbed of intrigue as it ever was. This Synod is frightening in that, given this day and age, so little direct information is coming from it. Yet some are doing their detective work, and some of the news is heartening, some of it not.
From Rorate comes a fascinating bulletin, containing a little joy to balance its affliction. The joy is that Cardinal Burke is not the pariah some have been making him out to be. A few weeks ago came the ominous rumour that he was about to be removed from the Signatura, and thus from the Curia, and into a benign and powerless sinecure. Then some (as noted in the Rorate artcile) said his interventions at the Synod were received coldly. We cannot know for sure given the information quasi-blackout. Yet Rorate took a factual list and deduced quite soundly that he cannot be in such low esteem with the bishops given that a group of them have elected him moderator of one of the groups preparing a final submission. If this is an accurate measure of the esteem in which he is held, it will be a brave move indeed to move him out of the Curia. However, Pope Francis is not timid.
Indeed it seems several very orthodox bishops have been elected to these reporting committees. Now we can see why Cardinal Kasper might want a news blackout, and why Cardinal Mueller wants every bishop’s speech published. Cardinal Mueller’s logic is quite defensible: all Catholics have the right to know what their bishops have said. But with so many orthodox, hold-the-line bishops being elected, Pope Francis’ “ad hoc, and without prior announcement” appointment of six extra prelates to help the (orthodox) Cardinal Erdö of Budapest compose the final document to be sent to the pope, we see what can not unreasonably be seen as an attempt to head off the orthodox school. Given that Cardinal Kasper regularly falls back on “I have discussed this with Pope Francis” as his defence of last resort, one could deduce with some confidence that he has had a hand in these appointments.
Has Fr Z and Fr Hunwicke have pointed out, among these new appointees will be found no Africans. Three hispanics, but no Africans. The Africans have very strong views on family and marriage in their local context, as witnessed by South African Cardinal Napier this week, and he makes some excellent points. The Africans speak boldly. They represent the fastest growing region of the Church. They are not trusted to help draft the final relatio. A pity.
So Burke waxes, and transparency wanes. Let’s all stay tuned.
An article by Louise Mensch in The Spectator recently is beginning to get some attention. Indeed, it is worthy of attention in the context of the Synod of Bishops now underway in Rome. Louise Mensch is Catholic and a former member of the UK Parliament. Her article was remarkably timely, and really rather brave. She is upfront about her status vis-à-vis the Church that has arisen because of her civil divorce and remarriage.
Yet she is adamant that the Church’s teaching and practice cannot be changed to make her feel better. She goes to Mass but does not approach the altar save for a blessing. She clearly believes in the importance and integrity of the Eucharist. She does not support those who would change Church practice (and thereby its teaching as well) to suit her.
She makes some interesting suggestions, authentically pastoral ones, that deserve attention and a fulsome answer. Hopefully some bishops are listening to this particular voice from among the faithful. We should pray that the day will come when she can licitly receive Communion. Her solidarity deserves a similar response from us.
The end of the article is fascinating. It recounts the one time she did partake of the Eucharist after her remarriage. On that occasion, she actually did a good thing. Do read it.
A cold so far kept somewhat at bay decided last night to move its entire wagon train down my throat and into my chest. This is probably not a good moment to be writing. But prudence was never my forte.
One of the annoyances of the Synod of Bishops underway in Rome is that none of the speeches or interventions are being published. Rather, the Press Office is providing summaries. This is a real problem. The summaries raise as many questions as they answer. It would not be so worrying if some of its members had not conducted often vigorous media campaigns before the Synod began, preparing a type of Synod of the Media, reminiscent of the Council of the Media concurrent with Vatican II that Pope Benedict lamented before he left the papal office. This Media Council held the world’s attention and not the ecumenical Council itself. Many have likened the flurry of hopes and opinions expressed before the Synod to the situation before the release of Humanae Vitae in 1968: having set up an expectation of probable change, the reaffirmation of the Church’s teaching was experienced as a great disappointment by those whose hopes had been unreasonably raised.
Friends on Facebook posted a link to a blog of commentary by Catholic Voices. Yesterday’s post there by Austin Ivereigh was fascinating and disturbing. To quote,
[Archbishop] Fernández embodies the pastoral focus of this reformed synod, a focus which hasn’t been so evident in Rome since the Second Vatican Council.
The synod fathers have suggested, he said yesterday, that the light of Gospel truth be seen less as a spotlight or lighthouse — which remain fixed — as a torch which is carried and moves among the people, and especially among the poor, the suffering, and the sinners.
The first sentence is a gratuitous assertion of an ideological position that will stand little close inspection. But what it implies, and which is taken up in the second sentence, needs unpacking.
Yet again, “pastoral” is being distinguished from and opposed to “doctrinal”. Doctrine is “the light of Gospel truth” that is fixed, “like a spotlight or lighthouse”, whereas pastoral sensitivity is a “torch” – do you get it?: not an artificial light but a living flame – which “moves among the people, and especially among the poor, the suffering, and the sinners.” Who are these sinners that are given especial focus? Is not the Church on earth composed entirely of sinners?
It seems Archbishop Fernandez tried to have it both ways and cover over the implication of his words by later saying “When we say it’s a pastoral synod that doesn’t mean we can’t deepen doctrine, otherwise it would suggest that the pastoral is some kind of second-tier theology, that doesn’t involve thinking.”
Yes, well, that sounds good. Yet just before this Mr Ivereigh says that Archbishop Fernandez maintained that as the torch of Gospel truth moves among the people, especially the poor, suffering and sinners,
the pastors learn as well as teach. The greatest lessons about marriage and family are learned from people who live the Gospel in the love and mercy they show to each other yet who may never have read a single church document.
What lessons are these? Lessons in the truth of Christ’s teaching, or lessons in the messiness of human living, a messiness very often arising from people’s poor choices and sinfulness? The distinction is important.
The answer comes later when Mr Ivereigh turns his attention to Archbishop Durocher of Gatineau in Quebec. The bishop maintained that,
In the Church usually there is a deductive method, but in the synod we are trying a new inductive method. We’re learning to use the Harvard case study method in reflecting on peoples’ lives. This will take time for us to learn to do.
So, the Gospel torch is not so much to shine the truth on sinners that they might be enlightened and shown the path back to God. Rather, it is to reveal the reality of their lives as lived so that we can reflect on this reality in a doctrinal context and adapt the latter accordingly. Is this reading too much into it? Not really. Says Mr Ivereigh:
It’s an approach that says there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, for example, of the divorced and remarried, and that what the Church needs is greater flexibility in applying solutions tailored to particular cases.
This sounds very much like situation ethics revived. Morality “tailored to particular cases” is in effect to say, Gospel truth edited to suit particular cases, presumably so as not to impose burdens, such as guilt, on people, and so make them feel even worse than they do already as they cope with the messiness of human life, their choices and their sins.
There is a lot more in this Catholic Voices blog post that deserves attention, but for now this dichotomy set up between pastoral and doctrinal needs to be considered carefully. To paraphrase a little, the pastoral approach does theology from below, starting with the people and their lived experience; the doctrinal approach does theology from above, from God and his revelation. The one is anthropocentric, the other theocentric.
While the lives of sinners, for example, may have much to teach us about earthly human reality, they have much less to teach us about divinely-revealed truth. God has revealed his will and his commandments with a precisely pastoral purpose, to show us how to live in a fallen world in which we make fallible, selfish even sinful choices; to live in a way that will allow us to share in His life both here and now, and in eternity. The way to God is determined by God and has been revealed by Him above all in Christ, for us and for our salvation.
Given the once-modish mantra “What would Jesus do?” is still repeated occasionally, we look with profit to Jesus’ teachings and actions. Jesus, who mixed with the sinners and the outcast, gave them some hard truths. One was to reaffirm the permanence and indissolubility of marriage in the Christian dispensation. Divorce in Mosaic law had been a provisional concession, taught Jesus, that he was now bringing to an end:
Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:5-12)
Is Jesus somehow not being pastoral? Or might it not rather be that he is teaching the full truth, and not resiling from it, precisely because this is God’s truth, and the way to reach Him and all that He has promised us? Who are mere humans to change God’s revelation? If these questions can be answered in another way I would really like to hear it.
Perhaps now we can deduce the best conception of what is pastoral: the presence of the Church among sinners, holding the fixed light of Gospel truth to reveal to them a way out of self and onto the path to God, and thus to true consolation and lasting joy.
When it comes to morality, perspective is all important. If morality starts with humanity, and becomes primarily a tool to ease human discomfort then we tread a dangerous path indeed, that very path Christ warned us against. If morality, instead, starts with God and is seen as the means by we live as God intends us to live, we are on much safer ground. And it is about safety. Our eternal life depends on it. It is this eternal perspective that seems too often absent in the current debates.
Mr Ivereigh quoted Cardinal Pell in his blog piece, and that quotation bears repeating:
Some may wish Jesus might have been a little softer on divorce, but he wasn’t. And I’m sticking with him.
At the beginning of the Synod of Bishops on the Family and Married Life, an Australian married couple, the Pirolas, addressed the Synod Fathers. It was not terribly helpful except in that it gave voice to the world and the secular viewpoint, and perhaps even the sentimental one.
In a breathtaking display of apparent partiality, a Polish married couple involved with the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family were not invited to speak. Indeed it seems no one from that worldwide Institute (founded in 1982) was invited to speak to the Synod, Sandro Magister has revealed. Thankfully Ludmila and Stanislaw Grygiel were invited to address the pre-synodal meeting of the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe. Magister quotes extracts from their speeches. Do read them at Magister’s blog page. For now, a few quotes are worthy of highlighting.
From Stanislaw‘s speech:
John Paul II approached every marriage, even broken ones, as Moses approached the burning bush on Mount Horeb. He did not enter into their homes without first taking the sandals from his feet, because he saw present in them the “centre of history and of the universe.” […] This is why he did not bend himself to their circumstances and adapt his pastoral practice to them. […] At the risk of being criticized, he insisted on the fact that it is not circumstances that give form to marriage and the family, but it is instead these that give form to circumstances. First he accepted the truth, and only afterward the circumstances. He never allowed the truth to be left out waiting in the wings. …
One evening at his home, during the 1960’s, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla had been listening in silence for a long time to the talk of some Catholic intellectuals who were predicting the inevitable secularization of society. […] When they had finished speaking, he said only this: “Not even once did you use the word ‘grace.’” What he said then I remember now every time I read the statements of theologians who speak of marriage with no awareness of the love that comes about in the beauty of grace. Love is grace, it is a “gift of God.” …
If this is the way things are with love, inserting into theological arguments the adage, full of pity but opposed to mercy, nemo ad heroismum obligatur, no one is obliged to be a hero, is demeaning to man. It demeans him by contradicting Christ, who on the mountain of the beatitudes says to all men: “So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
With broken marriages and families, we must com-patire [suffer with] and not have pity. In that case, pity has within itself something disparaging for man. It does not help him open himself to the infinite love to which God has oriented him “before the creation of the world” (Eph 1:4). Pitying sentimentalism is a forgetting of what the things of man are like “from the beginning,” while com-passion, suffering along with those who have gotten lost “in the dark forest,” reawakens their memory of the Beginning and indicates the way back to it. …
Basing his insights not only on his personal experience but on the truth of Christ, especially as elaborated by St John Paul II, he reminds us that to leave truth and grace out of human marriage is to direct such unions towards failure. Marriage, a gift from God and a grace, involves a commitment to truth that should shape the lives of the married couple – their fallible life choices should not shape their marriage. It is another way of saying that Christians have a mission to transform the world with God’s grace, not to be transformed by the world.
Stanislaw also puts before us the true meaning of compassion, a brave and painful “suffering with”, not some quick-fix sentimentalism, or worse, condescending pity. Pity would ignore the truth to make the sufferer feel better; compassion involves walking with the sufferer and leading him or her back to the right path of truth, and to the reason for our creation.
Stanislaw is warning the Church not to enthrall itself to a purely worldly, temporal, humanistic view of human living and suffering, but to embrace the Christian concept of the centrality of the Cross in the life of all disciples, a Cross that leads from this short life to the eternal life of heaven, where the suffering of this short life finds its meaning and its resolution. The Church needs again to preach courage!
Ludmila came at the issue from a different angle entirely, but perhaps even more powerfully.
Chesterton said that we do not want a Church that will move with the world, but a Church that will move the world. Paraphrasing his words, we could say that families today, those in crisis and those that are happy, do not need pastoral care suited for the world, but pastoral care suited for He who knows what the heart of man desires. …
Christ agrees to speak with a woman who is living in sin. Christ is not capable of hating, he is capable only of loving, and therefore he does not condemn the Samaritan woman but reawakens the original desire of her heart, which is obfuscated by the experiences of a disordered life. He forgives her only after the woman has confessed that she does not have a husband.
In this way the Gospel passage recalls that God does not make a gift of his mercy to one who does not ask for it, and that recognition of sin and the desire for conversion are the rule of mercy. Mercy is never a gift offered to someone who does not want it, it is not a product on sale because it is not in demand. Pastoral care requires a profound and convinced adherence of pastors to the truth of the sacrament. …
lack of confidence in the family on the part of pastors is among the main causes of the crisis of pastoral care for the family. This cannot ignore the difficulties, but must not dwell upon them and admit discouragement and defeat. It must not conform to the casuistry of the modern Pharisees. It must welcome Samaritan women not to hide the truth about their behavior, but to lead them to conversion. …
… in spite of the hardness of heart of his contemporaries [Christ] re-proposed a model of marriage as God had wanted it from the beginning.
I get the impression that we Christians talk too much about failed marriages, and too little about faithful marriages, we talk too much about the crisis of the family and too little about the fact that the community of marriage and the family assures man not only earthly happiness but also that of eternity, and is the place in which the laity’s vocation to holiness is realized. …
Ludmila joins her husband in reminding the Church that marriage has a supernatural and eternal end, above and beyond its temporal and natural end. God’s mercy is something only the repentant can receive, and our mercy must always directed not to indulgence, but to gently leading the sinner to repentance, and thus to God. God might be present to us in the depths of our sin, but only that we might move from sin to holiness.
Yet she is most striking in her bold challenge to the clergy of the Church: marriage must not be defined but its failures but by its essential truth. Moreover, the clergy must have confidence in the family and marriage; if they do not, they undermine the people’s confidence. This clerical crisis of confidence, this lay woman says, is “among the main causes of the crisis of pastoral care for the family”. Many clergy obsess so much about the pastoral care of those who have failed to commit to marriage in times of trial (for whatever reason, some of them profoundly sad, some of them strikingly selfish), that they leave to themselves those married couples struggling to endure times of marital crisis. Concern for those who have divorced (in civil terms that is) must never preclude the duty to support married couples and families as the Christian norm.
If pastors will not commit 100% to the truth about marriage and family life, and thus about the role of human sexuality, is any wonder so many Catholics are in a crisis of living, and a crisis of faith. Perhaps the implication of Ludmila’s speech needs to be stated clearly: the modern crisis in human sexuality and marriage is in large measure due to the failure of clergy to speak the truth in love.
With Ludmila and Stanislaw we can truly say we hear the voice of God’s faithful people, the sensus fidelium so often misidentified.
This couple should be at the Synod. They have more to say that is from God than the Pirolas.