The Talking, Thinking and Wondering Will Continue


There is a saying attributed to St. Gregory of Nyssa, that I used to keep up on my header: “Ideas lead to idols; only wonder leads to knowing.”

I wonder about that phrase often, and continually draw new understanding as I apply it to different subject matters. It reminds me that I am not only free to ponder, but that as a Catholic, I am (quite contra-CW) required to think. Not to give in to the soft tyranny of sentimentalism until I’m so busy feeling that thinking is dismissed; not to sloppily indulge in kneejerkism or to (contra both the Bible and the Catechism) lose sight of the humanity of a person, or a group simply because of a line in the lawbooks or even a verse of scripture or a paragraph in the catechism.

Jesus Christ is Justice and Mercy, personified — he stays the hands that would stone but simultaneously says “go and sin no more.”

Many would balk at the idea that his church strains to continue that personification — her own terrible errors, compounded by headlines and narratives and memes and perceptions and agendas all say otherwise. Yet, if you really look at the church and her teachings, and the 2000 years of deep reasoning put forth by her great saints and doctors (of all sexes, all races, all manner of attractions) one cannot miss this deep commitment to balancing justice with mercy — imperfectly, of course, because we have human beings, not angels, working in administration, and we we’ve gotten sloppy in our work.

Since I was a little girl I have heard people cry for “peace” and “love” but, so often their words seemed conspicuous for an absence of mercy. “Love” was only meant for the right sorts, and “peace” was just a word. But I have always recognized that everything about the church — all of its outwardly-rippling echos and tireless gathering-ins — has been meant to lead us into the very depths of love, and the mysteries of mercy, which are God’s self-givings, freely bestowed upon us in precisely the measures we seek them, for ourselves and others. False narratives cannot survive at those depths; they crumble. Inflexible rods cannot reach it; they get caught up on something, en route, and miss out.

One of the things I love so much about our good pope, Benedict XVI, is that he is absolutely fearless in what he will discuss. There is no subject that is “off the table,” and nothing he will not address, as he has proved over and over again in his book-length interviews. He does this so easily, I believe, because he knows that any subject — any subject — that is thought through and discussed calmly, rationally, respectfully and honestly will inevitably lead to Catholic orthodoxy and the holiness to which we aspire. Therefore, there is no risk in honest discourse. If it is honest, it can only direct us one way.

Here at Patheos, my hope has been to bring into the modern aeropagus of the internet a solid representation of Catholic thought and teaching — at its wild depths and its inviting shallows — by bringing in a variety of voices; faithful men and women, who dare to ponder (some in a more conservative vein, some less) even if the world and some of their fellow-Catholics would sometimes rather they did not, because ideas lead to idols. Only wonder leads to knowing.

There have been eyebrows raised, in recent weeks,
among both Catholic-haters and Catholic super-lovers, because Marc Barnes has dared to love the gay person in “secularly incorrect” ways; because Mark Shea has written about his respect for a homosexual Catholic man whose virtue he did not think it his job to verify (a stand which some of his fellow-Catholics are, I am ashamed to say, taking as evidence of his own secret-homosexuality — see how these Christians shove one another). Max Lindenman is giving Shea some support by joining in with typical honesty:

My earnest hope is that my adopted Church, even if she cannot bend her rules regarding gay relationships, will enforce them in ways that offer gay people not merely compassion, but respect. Nobody should shout “mollites!” or “μαλακός!” at the opposing team when it’s fourth and goal.

Of course, gay rights activists aren’t shooting rubber bullets, either. Last fall, for example, the Rainbow Sash Movement challenged Cardinal Dolan to a debate on gay marriage. The challenge came in the form of a rude and fatuous letter that no self-respecting person would have felt obliged to answer. Given this context, it makes perfect sense that Mark’s praise for Lorenzo triggered a defensive response; why not circle the wagons when the Injuns really are charging? For that reason, I’m glad Mark was brave enough to take the hit. He did it for a worthwhile cause. Catholics of good will deserve a gentle reminder that gays and lesbians — particularly those crazy enough to want to share pew space with us — are individuals, not simply bearers of an alien agenda, and much more, in all cases, then the sums of their individual sins.

This is our faith, in which is contained, in its fullness, every mystery of life and death, holiness and sin, mercy and justice and love, in all of that sometimes hard-to-take truth. It is not a faith for wimps. We are proud to profess it.

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About Elizabeth Scalia