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.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Gerry

    Nope – not gonna read Shea, but if a comment I saw elsewhere was true, he defended the bullying bigot Savage while taking a cheat shot at Rick Santorum. That sounds par for Shea’s miserable course.

    ['re not going to "read Shea" but you'll read something else, somewhere else, saying something about him, and you'll choose to believe that, rather than actually reading the man himself? Seriously? Good thinking and wondering. And you believe yourself to be well-informed and capable of rendering judgements, based on what someone else is saying rather than what the primary source says? And you vote, right? Holy smokes. -admin]

  • Mark Shea

    Wow. Just wow.

    Yeah. Right. I defended Dan Savage. Cuz I’m secretly gay. Don’t let facts or information impede your thought process, Gerry.

  • Pingback: Lizzie Scalia is about to discover the truth of Chesterton’s remark

  • Andy

    Gerry – I read Mr. Shea on a regular basis, don’t always agree with him, sometimes laugh with him, sometimes rage with him, and sometime utter that world famous huh?. Mr. Shea did not defend the Savage character, he was very clear that he finds Savage at best less than admirable, but actually find Savage to be a bully. Please Gerry read what you want to write about before you comment, it at least gives you the appearance of thinking and able to discern something.

  • The Ranter

    Anchoress, I think you should add Calah’s story (at Barefoot and Pregnant) to your roster: Challenging reading, all around.

  • John C

    I’ve been following this controversy on Shea’s website, Gerry, and I gotta tell ya: You’re totally upside-down on this one.

  • Brett Powers

    Mm hm. Defended Savage while assaulting Santorum. Exactly what sources are you citing? Are they the same ones that tell me I have to wear my tinfoil hat to block out the brain wave control fibers that are secretly blanketing the upper atmosphere, and are causing Global Warming to boot?

  • Max Lindenman

    I can’t speak for the Anchoress, Ranter, but I read that piece, and was deeply impressed. Thanks for the link.

    [I thought it was remarkable -admin]

  • John C

    Wow! I just read Ms. Scalia’s essay on Sentimentalism. Printed it out and put it in the keeper file. Excellent!

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Is there going to be any movement towards extending charity towards Catholic women, who married previously married men, outside the church?

    There are a fairly good number of those, and they don’t receive much attention. . .

    [A question for the deacon, I think! :-) -admin]

  • Bryan

    I wonder how much of the trouble over on Shea’s site is a result of the fact that he writes with such a profound lack of nuance and in such bad faith that he reaps exactly what he sows. Maybe half?

    I mean, look: Shea’s attacks on any Catholic with whom he disagrees hardly shy away from making sweeping assuptions about his targets’ sinful acts (cf. his extraordinarily intemperate comments about Marc Thiessen or Paul Ryan). Yet, in this case, we get a huge dose of Shea being circumspect. Well, nobody knows what to make of it.

    Of course, it is silly to suppose this means Shea is secretly gay or something. Though, true to form, Shea is using the most absurd comments on the thread to prove to himself that all his opponents are absurd. And, of course, part of the Shea ouvre is relentless name-calling against those who disagree. I guess we see that, too.

    Anyway, Shea is a bomb thrower. What we see over on that site is exactly what happens on every bomb-throwing site: people,well, throw bombs. It doesn’t really have anything to do with what is going on here in the Catholic section of Patheos. I wouldn’t read too much into it.

  • Steve Colby

    It’s that “Go and sin no more” part that causes trouble.

    For many years I have heard that “Jesus hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors”, an argument that seems to want to justify prostitutes and tax collectors. The “Go and sin no more” didn’t play a big part in the retelling of those stories.

    I have lately come to think that Jesus was so compelling that prostitutes and tax collectors took him seriously, quit their jobs and then hung out with him.

  • Andy s

    Great post, Anchoress. It is easy even for orthodox Catholics too get sucked too far in to the secular positions of arguments of the day. As a conservative, I’m tempted daily to wade too far into the political swamp, but the Holy Father and his faithful Bishops, along with 2000 years of tradition, provide me with a fairer and more just path to follow.

  • Jane Hartman

    Shea is a stumbling block. I understand what Gerry was trying to say – It seems as though he’s respecting Savage enough to give him consideration, while at the same time, Shea has written uncharitable, verbal attacks (I considered them near hatred) for Santorum. It’s very confusing when I feel all Christians of good will should come together. It’s very confusing for people who have no faith to witness Christians beating up on other Christians. He gives evil Savage much more respect and I really don’t understand this.

  • Andy

    It is interesting that in one of the links in this article takes us to a place where people in the com-boxes talk about lack of catechesis. These are the same people who then make rash judgments about others, who label people they don’t agree with as less than important, who attribute beliefs, actions or behaviors to others without knowledge, you get it the list could go on.

    I have many friends who are gay, some I like a great deal, because they are good and caring people, others not so much, we don’t agree on a wide range of issues, not that they are bad people. I don’t think of them as gay, I see Adam who is an excellent mechanic, he kept our youngest daughter’s car going long past its lifetime, and never once complained about her pleas for help. Adam also pours a mean draught of Harp. Another is male nurse who cares for infants born with terminal issues, he is perhaps the most comforting human being I have ever encountered. A great basketball palyer. A third is a woman my wife works with – they both work in early intervention for children under three with severe and/or multiple disabilities. My wife’s co-worker has the “patience of a saint”, but more important she sees each child as precious. She has eaten many times at our house and her brownies, you know the double chocolate with sour cream frosting, sinful to look at and a my doctor’s biggest nightmare for me.

    I have been a catholic all of my life, and went to pre- and post Vatican II schools. I learned across both eras, if you will, that making judgments and casting statements designed to impugn another (calumny) are sins, among many others. I learned that throwing verbal bombs at people is wrong. I was taught that we should always look and listen to others with charity and see what is good, long before we see what is bad. I also memorized the Baltimore Catechism and actually got really good grades in religion class, a shock to my parents I might add. However, it is not the Catechism I remember, it is the understanding that the nuns and priests left with me of the two greatest commandments. From Matthew 22:37-40 – Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    I work hard at Number One, but just recently realized, at least for myself, that if I do not work hard at Number Two, I am failing at Number One. This created a quandary, how do I respond when I disagree with someone? How do I come across when I feel I know the answers? It is causing me to re-examine my life, a painful yet I think in the long run a rewarding activity.

    Returning to the topic at hand – SSA. If I cannot accept a person with Same Sex Attraction as a child of God, then I am failing in loving God. This is hard, because that is what the Catechism says we are to do, accept the person, but not the sin. Yet I think many respond to SSA out of fear – not knowing what it means, believing that they, the responders are not safe. If I reject or attack a person because of their sexual orientation how then am I honoring God with my whole heart and soul?

    I think back to my wife’s co-worker, her name is, Samantha, I would trust her with my children (and pray my wife doesn’t learn how to make her brownies, the 15 lbs. I recently lost might magically reappear.) I think of Adam, the mechanic, I would trust him completely. I think of my friend the nurse, Jerome not Jerry, I envy him his abilities and would trust him with my life, the lives of my wife and children I don’t worry about their sexual orientation, nor am I curious about what they do in their bedrooms, nor are they curious about what happens in my bedroom. But, I am curious how many of us actually rely on folks with SSA and do not know it, and how many of us would turn away from their help if we knew it?

    It is so easy in the anonymity of the Internet to cast bombs, to be righteous, to hide our fears behind bravado, yet we would not dare do the same in a face-to-face encounter.

  • Todd Flowerday

    “Shea is a stumbling block.”

    Well, of course he is. He’s been one for years. To his credit, he takes the occasional issue (which for him is about a post a day), mulls it over, and comes up with something that doesn’t pander to the garden variety internet Catholic.

    This is a 1 Cor 1:23 event for his critics, an opportunity to move past narcissism and encounter the Gospel in a new, perhaps unorthodox way.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    A big off-topic, but Dan Savage, the great anti-bullying champion, is a man who enjoys bullying Christian students.

    His anti-bullying campaign pertains only to students who identify as gay, or transgender. Fat kids? Geeky girls? Awkward boys? Kids who just aren’t liked? Sorry, guys, you’re out of luck—doesn’t matter if you get bullied or not. You’re not on the approved victims’ list.

    In our rush to embrace “The Other”, please, let us not stick a totally underserved halo over his head.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    . . . And Savage’s anti-bullying program most certainly doesn’t apply to Christian students, who cling to their “B*S*T” Bible (his words, not mine.)

    I recommend reading Savage’s column, “Savage Love” for those tempted to canonize him a some sort of secular saint. It will be an eye-opener.

  • L Daily

    As I suggested to Deacon Kandra and on Mark Shea’s blog, perhaps it is time for all Catholic bloggers to be quiet. The church does not need to hear your every thought. Those who know little but speak often only cause division, which is evident in our church today. Focus on your own faith journey, live it with integrity, and stop analyzing others. Prayer, silent reflection, reconciliation, and presuming the best rather than the worst about another would go a long way.

  • Stefanie

    Well said, Elizabeth. Thank you. And God bless the good work you are doing. Onward!

  • Les

    I enjoy your blog greatly, and Catholic blogs in general, because they give me the understanding that we all struggle with our humanity in some way or another, yet by holding fast to the Faith , we come closer to Him. Often time, when i struggle with doubt, or misunderstanding of some aspect of my Faith, i ask Him the question the Apostle asked…. ” where else shall I go?”

    that said.. i also learn things i never knew … till i read your blog, i thought aeropagus was a vegetable .

  • Jane Hartman

    Mark Shea and perhaps other Catholic bloggers are a stumbling block to many Christians, to those on the journey who are struggling. Sorry – not the I Corinthians variety. Savage has been a bully to Rick Santoram for years with his “definition” on Google Search. Shea gave Savage a very respectful article while absolutely undeserving. Shea’s articles on Santorum were just the opposite, so disrespectful, nearly hateful. Shea and others are stumbling blocks of the Mark 9:42 or Luke 17:2 variety. L Daily has it right.

  • Gerry

    As always, Shea responds to any criticism with sneering unworthy of a mature ten-year old?

    Did he or did he not say “It Gets Better” was good?

    Yes or No, Mark.

    [Comments have automatically closed on this thread, but the answer to your question, Gerry -- assuming you really are interested -- is NO. You are confusing Mark with Max. Also, why not refer to the link Mark provided to you at the very beginning of this comments thread. With all due respect, you seem to get it all wrong where Shea is concerned, so perhaps you SHOULD read him so you will understand that you're maligning him pretty badly. -admin]

  • Marcus Letz

    So “It Gets Better” is not good? I certainly won’t defend Savage’s many unsavory comments (the bit at the High School is only the recent in a long line), but will you honestly argue that a program which encourages the bullied, even the suicidal in some instances, to hang in there and continue on in this life is somehow a bad thing?