Gradualism: Two More Thoughts on its Gravity #Synod14 – UPDATED

Image courtesy of shutterstock.com
Image courtesy of shutterstock.com

I:
It is instructive, and a little depressing,
to watch Catholic social media come alive with reactions to the synod’s relatio text, which — let’s remember — is going to be revised and clarified in another week, and then studied, thought about and prayed over for at least a year. The secular media is, naturally, trying to drive the narrative to its preferred talking points (and they’re making sure to beat up on poor old Pope Benedict XVI, so whisper up a prayer for him).

In social media, there are a number of people screaming that the synod is promoting a false gospel (it is not), and that the Holy Spirit cannot possibly be at work, here. They are stamping mad. There seem to be an equal number of people — who, when Benedict was pope, pretended the Holy Spirit was absent a lot, too — who are now carrying on about how the Holy Spirit has “finally been let loose” or “has finally arrived.”

What nonsense. The Holy Spirit has always been loose. We just don’t always like to say that when it is not cooperating with the things we think we want.

The reactions I am seeing are a good reason why we should welcome a return to principles of gradualism while also guarding the church carefully as they are implemented. It’s very serious, because if people go off half-cocked and not listening (as they tend to do) they’re not going to understand what the church is saying, anymore than they understood that when meatless Fridays ended, they were still supposed to take some sort of sacrificial action on that day, every week.

Most people still do not know that, and if something that clear could be lost in the noise of media and spin, then much more important and nuanced thinking can become terribly misrepresented.

If a principle of gradualism is implemented as poorly as was the Second Vatican Council recommendations, and if the church allows the secular media to drive the narrative, this could also be a mess.

The church, in correcting one thing, cannot risk losing the souls of others. Balance is key. I don’t know if we will ever learn that.

II:
People are either cheering or screaming about Paragraph 50
of the relatio:

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?

Lots of people asking “how do we ‘value’ their sexual orientation? I don’t pretend (or presume) to have any sort of “official” answer on that, but these are my own thoughts, because wondering is still permitted and wondering, as Saint Gregory of Nyssa taught us, is what leads to knowing!

All I can do is suggest — bc it’s what I suspect — that God has plans and designs that perhaps we do not understand and which will eventually leave all of us, both gay and straight, gasping in wonder.

My own deep suspicion is that the orientation may, finally be meant to a full and complete understanding of the nature of agape, which I think is nebulous for most of us, and there is certainly value in that. I look at people like Eve Tushnet, who speaks and writes so well on being “Gay and Catholic and how her celibacy empowers her to practice agape on a profound level — and I see similar writings from other celibate gay folk — and I wonder if there isn’t a bit of “Only Nixon Could Go To China” about it all of it.

Hear me out: our culture is ridiculously obsessed with their orgasms and convinced that a life without orgasms cannot have meaning or fullness. Perhaps it will take our gay Christian members to fully communicate what a lie that is; how valuable will their orientation then seem? God has done stranger things.

Don’t think that doesn’t entail humility, courage, and sacrifice on the part of these gay Catholics, to speak out on chastity to the world, because it does. It is, in fact, a cross. They get enormous abuse, from the people who say they are “self-haters”, and the people who want them out of sight, or “prayed away”, and the people who tell them that celibacy is not enough, they must hate their gayness, and never bring it up. Which does not work with Truth.

I said all of this to a friend who replied:

Embracing obedience in the face of a cross makes perfect sense. But even Jesus embraced the Cross not as a good thing in itself but as a means to an end. (“Lord, let this cup pass….”). A gay man or women can be a great blessing by embracing their SSA as a cross–but if it were good in itself it wouldn’t be a cross. (Note, I’m not saying that SSA is sinful in itself.)

My response: Think of it this way: Jesus might have embraced the cross as a means to an end, but because the end was so profoundly good and restorative, the cross becomes a “good” and has positive value. I have a cross in every room of my house because of its positive value — rendered positive by what Christ teaches us from it. In the same way God’s design within this question (if it is, again, meant to help the society recover from its obsession with orgasms) can render orientation into a positive through the good restoration they can help to effect. If God is using our gay Christian brothers and sisters to repair something that has become downright demented, how is it all, in obedience, not rendered good?

Sez my friend: My point is that it is rendered good in obedience, but was not good on the face of it. The language in the relatio doesn’t make that distinction.

This is true. The language used in paragraph 50 is so unqualified that it paradoxically leaves us wondering what it means; it is also an “unofficial translation” and those have been troublesome in the past.

This week will see the relatio looked at, talked over, argued over, refined, clarified. We’ll see what we can see in a week, and then a year.

The Holy Spirit uses all things toward God’s purposes. That’s something we don’t say enough.

Until then, let us breathe; let us pray; let us not forget all that we do not know within the mind of God.

We don’t know a great deal, obviously, and — just as obviously — we will not know more when the sun goes down tonight. But there is a great deal here that matters gravely. We must start thinking and praying and wondering, because guess what? Our gay brothers and sisters are not going to disappear, or go back into their closets, and they’re not going to be shoo’d away from Christ Jesus, either.

UPDATE: I’ve managed to write two other posts on this relatio. Find them here and here.

Francis “if the law does not lead people to Jesus Christ, it is dead.

Related:
Rebecca Frech: If I Can Quote Encyclicals But Have Not Love
Simcha Fisher:
No Earthquakes here

Rod Dreher: The confessor is a spiritual doctor. . .
Tom McDonald: Fisking the Relatio
John Allen and “Lifestyle Ecumenism
CWR: “Relatio”includes some troubling language that will likely be misused or bludgeoned by many in the media
Rebecca Hamilton: A video collection of Dueling Bishops

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