Mercy for homosexuals? Everbody loses their minds!
NPR is calling it a “seismic change”. Hysterical Reactionaries like Christopher Ferrara in my email box are calling it a “catastrophe” while declaring that the Pope worships an “invented deity”. (Remind me again: the difference between Reactionary Catholics and Fundamentalist Protestants is what now?) And the Catholics in the middle are just trying to figure out what’s going on?
So what’s all the hysteria about? Well, to put it simply, it’s a sort of whirlwind of media theological illiteracy and Reactionary panic, all generated by the completely non-volatile mixture of Catholicism, politics and sex being tackled by #Synod14. Easy peasy!
First, some background:
The latest in months of Reactionary panic (ongoing since March 2013 with the election of Francis) was on display last week in the fears about “gradualism” being discussed at the Synod. What’s gradualism? Gradualism is the common sense fact that conversion usually takes a long time and sinners typically require baby steps to change. Calah Alexander, who is, like Yr. Obdt. Svt, a wretched sinner, has some rather appreciative words for gradualism. To which I say, “Hear! Hear!” I’ve never met a confessor who was not a gradualist and I doubt you have either. Indeed, most confessors I know tend to discourage gigantic vows of massive instantaneous conversion, particularly with entrenched sins. Why? Because when we fail to keep them, as we almost surely will, we can fly to the opposite end of the spectrum and despair. So the counsels tend to be “slow and steady wins the race”.
Unfortunately, Reactionaries (who tend to lack people skills) tend also to understand “gradualism” to mean “Let’s gradually change basic Church teaching until it conforms to the world, the flesh, and the devil.” When they hear “gradualism” they don’t hear “How can the Church welcome sinners and help them to become saints by baby step?” They hear “How can we slowly pervert the teaching of the Church until abortion and gay marriage are the eighth and ninth sacraments?”
In short, neither Progressive nor Reactionary dissenters really trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit or the indefectibility of the Church. Both believe the development of doctrine is, at bottom, not the Church coming to a deeper understanding of the will of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, but a random collision of power and mere human will in which anything might happen and any ideology might become top dog depending on who is the strongest. And therefore, they believe it is all on them to (for Progressives) Change the Church into modern reflection of Liberal Values or (for Reactionaries) Save the Church from mutating into a “dark and false Church“. Neither really believes the job of Savior of the Church has already been filled, so they need to make it happen. That’s also, I think, a major reason Reactionaries despise evangelism: because it brings in riff-raff (homosexuals among them) who screw up the Perfect Diagram of Catholicism that is often the Reactionary’s true object of worship. Also, Reactionaries simply tend to be rigorists: they tend to have a distrust of even the legitimate definition of gradualism and view expressions of mercy, love, gentleness, forbearance, and all that touchy-feely stuff as Kumbayah Catholicism–especially when directed at Selected Sin, homosexuality first and foremost.
(For my part, one of the things I love about the Faith is that it works on us, as a general rule, by a kind of slow glacial pressure on the soul instead of through impossible demands and Pharisaic worship of diagrams. The people who are screaming about gradualism tend to be the sort of people who insist that man was made for the law, not the law for man. Happily, they are not in charge. But they still do lots of damage to scrupulous people in comboxes. I recommend to such Pharisees a reading of Matthew 23, particularly where Jesus says, “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” (Mt 23:4–5). And to scrupulous people I say, “Do not, I beg you, let these Pharisees get their hooks in you and drive you into the dirt with their crushing judgmentalism. The very fact that you are so troubled in conscience about your sins, whatever they are, and so eager to try to do right by Jesus shows that you are not the calloused sinner the Pharisees tell you that you are. Stick with the Church and your confessor, and do not let the Pharisees burden you with a yoke of slavery.”)
Anyway, the point is this: this Synod is almost entirely about pastoral issues. It’s not there to debate whether the Church’s moral teaching is true and whether homosex might not be just fine after all, but what the Church is supposed to do about it in a real world full of complicated relationships, profound loves, deep fears, bleeding wounds, and crying needs. The Reactionary response to all that is “Forget that touchy-feely stuff. Kick out the people who don’t fit my diagram”. The Progressive response to all that is “Forget the Church’s moral teaching. Affirm everyone in their okayness. Consent is the sole criterion of the good. It’s what the Third Vatican Council, guided by the Spirit of the Age, would want!”
So, given two polarities so utterly certain of themselves, it’s not terribly surprising that, when the Synod released a document that sort of gives an “Our Story So Far” summary of what the Synod is mulling over, there would be dogmatic pronouncements galore, particularly since the document makes a few remarks concerning the pastoral care of (BUM BUM BUMMMMMM) homosexuals. It’s not a teaching document but a kind of preliminary report on what the Synod is thinking about and how they are thinking about it.It reaches no conclusion and carries no doctrinal weight at all. It’s a committee equivalent of “thinking out loud.” If you are of a mind to say, “The Church should not reveal its deliberations because it sows confusion” then do be sure to remember you demanded that the next time you contrarily complain “The Church is too secretive about its deliberations and thereby sows confusion.” Then, consider the possibility that the confusion, dear Brutus, is not in our synods, but in ourselves. And particularly in our eagerness to hear what we want–or fear–to hear.
For the document has sparked another one of those “the Church is just about to radically change everything and the Pelvic Millennium will soon be upon us!!!!!” moments in MSM and progressive Catholic media that have been so common (and so unfulfilled) since the election of Francis, and which always send Reactionaries into glass-shattering squeals of panic beyond the range of human hearing. It is, we are informed, an “earthquake“. Mhm.
Here’s the deal: As Simcha Fisher, who is her normal common sense self, points out, if we are going to welcome homosexuals into the circle of humanity for whom Christ died, that means, you know, treating them like human beings, both made in the image and likeness of God and fallen sinners. And that means, when homosexuals consistently report a sense that they are not welcome and not human beings to many of their fellow Catholics (and when those who are trying to live faithful lives report that even that effort is not good enough for some of their fellow Catholics), it may be time to do a re-think about how best to shepherd them. That is what this document is mulling over.
50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
That paragraph is the real biggie causing hyperventilation across both NPR and St. Blog’s Rightwingosphere, but what, exactly, is new (or wrong) with it? We do, after all, believe that every member of the body of Christ has gifts for the other members. There’s no asterisk in Romans 12 or 1 Corinthians 12 that says those who happen to experience homosexual temptations are exempt from having something to offer the Church. Ah! What about that line about “accepting and valuing their sexual orientation” cries both the Progressive and the Reactionary, carefully ignoring the bit about “without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony”.
Well, the only way to maintain the hysteria of the Reactionary (or the starry-eyed Progressive belief) that the Church will soon be blessing gay marriage is to doggedly ignore those last nine words.
“But… but,” the Reactionary cries, “accepting and valuing their sexual orientation???!!!!” Uh, yes. That’s right. You may remember that ours is the paradoxical faith that says weird stuff like “O happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam which gained for us so great a Redeemer!” We have an apostle who accepts and values his thorn in the flesh and martyrs who accept and value the chance to be roasted on griddles and be crucified for the sake of the Name. A homosexual orientation is, recall, a form of temptation, not a form of sin. The technical term is concupiscence. Here is what the Catechism says about concupiscence:
1264 Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, “the tinder for sin” (fomes peccati); since concupiscence “is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.”67 Indeed, “an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”68
We accept those we love who have other forms of temptation. We even learn to see that, as they strive to live faithfully to Christ, their particular forms of temptation can be part of what God uses to make them into saints, as Paul’s thorn in the flesh taught him to rely on grace. In short, we come to value everything about them, warts and all–because of love.
The problem is that many Catholics–and especially Reactionary Catholics–don’t really believe that homosexual temptation is not a sin, just as many Progressive Catholics don’t believe that homosexual temptation can, or should be resisted. I don’t expect “anything goes” Progressive Catholics, much less clueless secular journalists, to have the faintest idea about the Church’s moral teaching. But self-described “Faithful Conservative Catholics” whose entire boast is their superior fidelity to the Faith over that of the common herd? When they talk as though mere concupiscence is a sin and start declaring the Magisterium a catastrophe and the pope an idolator (which is what “worshiping invented deities” means) all because a minor advisory document remarks that homosexuals are really remarkably like human beings whom we should greet with love, I have to say that the question raised in paragraph 50–Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities?–turns out to be a very good one.
Sometime back, I remarked:
Nobody gets upset when a sober alcoholic stands up at an AA meeting and says, “I am an alcoholic”. Nobody gets upset when an anorexic woman declares, “I am anorexic.” But, for some reason, when even a chaste, celibate and faithful homosexual says, “I am a homosexual” he is told that he must not say that and, in some circles, told that he is a bad Catholic even if he lives chastely, merely because he experiences temptation. If we want to send the message to homosexuals that the Church has no place for them and that, no matter what, God will never accept them, I can think of no better way to do it than to identify this one form of temptation with sin.
The Synod doc continues:
51. The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.
So the eighth sacrament ain’t happening anytime soon.
52. Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.
And again, I ask, what is the problem here? It’s ironic that the subculture who perpetually appeal to “prudential judgment” as the means for blowing off actual clear Church teaching in every matter from just war to torture to the death penalty to whether you can attend the Ordinary Form are freaking about the Church using its wits to prudently assess a real pastoral problem. Again, recall what the Church’s actual teaching says: homosex–not the temptation or the orientation, –is the sin. The desire is disordered, as are the myriad forms of heterosexual temptation ranging from porn to adultery to lust, etc. But the reality that the desire for homogenital sex is disordered does not mean that the genuine sacrificial love, compassion, mutual care and responsibility lived out by homosexuals are also sins.
In short, the Church recognizes (because it deals with it daily all around the world) that people can be in relationships which, while morally thorny (like Servant of God Dorothy Day’s troubled romantic life) can be real places where grace and love happen. (This is also a problem facing the Synod as it tackles the problem of polygamy in the Third World). Again, Progressives want to solve the problem by simply ditching everything beyond consent as the sole criterion of the Good and Reactionaries want to solve it by simply telling gays, heterosexual obsessives and addicts, and polygamists “end the relationship or get out.” But the Church knows that this often does violence to the real loves and obligations in which the human person finds himself. A gay man who partner is dying cannot just show up at the hospice and announce his is ditching him. A polygamist (who may be the sole barrier between his wives and complete destitution for them) cannot simply abandon them to their fate. The Church, in untying such Gordian Knots, must act in the spirit of Mary, Untier of Knots and not in the Spirit of Alexander slicing his way across Asia and leaving a trail of corpses behind him.
Hence, a Synod to think about these problems and not a sudden announcement that, on second thought two millennia of teaching on marriage was all a silly mistake and gays can go ahead and marry. Nor will there be the Reactionary’s long hoped-for Great Cleansing Fire.
To conclude, people are both declaring the Millennium has arrived and announcing the End of Days and speaking of coming schism because of a draft version of an interim report by an advisory body–and a draft that makes some decent points in surprisingly accessible language.
My suggestion: Chill