The Risk of Redemption

The Prodigal Son Among the Pigs

We’ve had a few days now to ponder the pope’s powerful interview last week. It is probably true, as one friend said, that most in the world and in the church will read the headlines and move on with a fuzzy idea that Catholics have finally accepted women priests, gay marriage and contraception and abortion…Alas.

But the world will forever misunderstand the Catholic faith in one way or another. One of the best comments I picked up was from an older fellow who said, “I seem to remember the media were in love with John Paul II for the first year of his pontificate. Things will soon settle down.”

We must try to put the media misrepresentations on one side and ask ourselves some more profound questions that come from the interview. Pat Archbold does here. He points out–like the boy who exclaimed about the emperor’s nudity–that “the pastoral approach”– in which we focus on the priority of the person over “mere” rules and dogma–has actually been the Catholic mainstream approach for the last forty years. The American Catholic church has been awash with puppies and kittens catechesis, soft feel good homilies about being nicer, kinder Catholics and a sentimental approach that avoids the mention of sin and is certainly NOT obsessed with abortion, homosexuality and contraception.

I cannot disagree with him. Furthermore, there does seem to be a certain element of what I call liberal insanity. You know the sort of idiocy when one is convinced of a certain ideology, puts that into action, and when you get the wrong result you assume that the problem is that you did not do enough of that seemingly correct (but wrong headed) action. Example: “There is a terrible rise of teen pregnancy, teen abortion and an epidemic of STDs among teens. The young people clearly need better sex education!” So the sex education becomes more explicit and is delivered to younger children. The pregnancy rate, STDs and abortions continue to rise alarmingly so instead of saying, “Hmmm. Could it be that all this sex education is encouraging children to become sexually active at a younger age? They say, “Gosh, it’s still  not working. We clearly need to have more sex education that even more explicit for children at an even younger age…”

Perhaps we are in the same situation with “the pastoral solution”. “See all those people sinning terribly? See them leaving the church? See them rejecting Catholic beliefs? Maybe we were too hard on people with all that sin, hell and damnation stuff. We should be more forgiving and kinder and walk with them. We must reach out and show that God loves them!” So for forty years we tell people that God loves them and forgives them. We say they should really only come to Mass because they love God and want to be there. We downplay rules and dogma in favor of feelings. People then draw the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what they do because God loves them anyway, and they needn’t go to Mass or follow the rules because what really matters is how much they love Jesus in their heart. We see them continuing to leave the church and live in sin and instead of questioning “the pastoral approach” we say, “We clearly were not pastoral enough. We need to reach out to them and walk with them in their pain and hurt.” It’s like putting orange juice in the gas tank of your car and when it doesn’t go you say, “I guess I didn’t put enough orange juice in the tank….”

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  • vox borealis

    How do we love them and accept them without sacrificing the principles of our faith?

    This is the key question, I think, and it betrays the central problem. What does it mean to accept them? As I understand it, and I think *they* understand it, to accept them is to accept that what they do is ok. And so from my perspective, we must *not* accept them. Love them, certainly. Accept them, no. I think here of my sister who divorced her husband after 25 years for no better reason than to eat, pray and love. I refuse to “accept” her, in that I refuse to accept that her decision is OK. It was wrong and remains so. But I lover her dearly. In fact, I would argue that my refusal to accept derives from my love for her, because I fear for her soul .

    Frankly, I think the question is another example of Catholic “pastoral surrender” (for lack of a better term), where we lose the battle preemptively by ceding terminology. We are playing with their terms, and so we allow them to frame the discussion. But maybe I’m wrong.

    However, until we are clear on the terminology, we can never properly answer it.

  • wineinthewater

    I actually don’t think we’ve had the Pastoral approach for the last 45 years. I think we’ve had a profoundly unpastoral approach. I think what has dominated has been a light-handed, passive approach. Let people have their way, don’t upset them. We’ve met people where they are in their sin, and then just encouraged them to hunker down. A real pastoral approach is to meet people where they are in their sin and then reach our hand out, help them up and walk with them toward God.

    The woman caught in adultery is the key. We’ve had 45 years of “neither do I condemn you” with almost no “go forth and sin no more.” The pastoral approach is not just the first part, it requires both.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    I’m currently reading, Holy People, Holy Land, by Michael Dauphinais and Matthew Levering, and what they say on p 183-4 about the foot washing in John’s Gospel seems to sum up the issue:

    ‘Moral obedience and purity, therefore, belong to receiving the indwelling of God and sharing in the divine kingship that establishes true justice. …Moral purity is not an end in itself, but rather is the intrinsic means through which one enters the dwelling of the Lord and shares in the Lord’s life. …The response of the believer to the invitation of Jesus unites faith and works of love. To believe in Jesus cannot be separated from keeping his commandments.’

  • johnnyc

    Jesus spoke of sin, the devil and hell out of love. Talking of them is a pastoral approach.The Church’s mission includes saving souls, no?

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    I love the sex ed/orange juice analogies. Spot on.

    to me, the problem is when most people (pro or anti) hear the term ‘pastoral’, they think ‘therapeutic’.

    Do-gooder Secularists and ‘Modernists’ tend to emphasise ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’, whilst Atheists and Traditionalists are the logic-choppers. Both are pastorally toxic, but the latter group is far more damaging as it completely alienates in most cases, so the fall-out is far greater. (You do get more flies with honey than with vinegar, as St Francis de Sales reputedly said.)

    I believe the correct ‘pastoral approach’ works in as much as one is a credible witness. In the first sense, one’s not a credible witness because the ‘witness’ is completely intransitive. One simply ‘loves’, utterly superficially, like air kissing. In the second sense, the credibility is lost with the witness’ need to put forward a cogent, water-tight, argument which finishes with a flourish or a QED, like a Catholic Zorro.

    One is ‘how to win friends and influence people’, but not convert them (Stanford Nutting’s ‘Church of Whatever’ comes to mind). The other is how to lose friends and make sure they stay away for good. (Michael Voris’ Church of Nasty anti-pastoral approach, coming to mind…)

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    It struck me as I’ve been mulling over this past week or so’s articles (amazing, despite the cold, and glad it was not something more serious) that a lot of what has been talked about in terms of the ‘post Vatican II’ ‘pastoral approach’ does have a modern theological term for it: Cheap Grace.