I really appreciated this piece by Father Robert Barron, which looks at past challenges of the church, in light of the Obergefell decision legalizing gay marriage.
His piece, along with many other headlines and blogposts I’ll link to below, got me thinking, and — as Father Barron would say — “here’s the thing…”:
My email is full of people wringing their hands and fretting — really fretting — “how do we fix this? What to do, what to do, what to do?”
What do people mean, when they say they want to “fix” this situation? They mean they want it to be not so; they want to turn the clock back, shove the genie back into the bottle, and the toothpaste into the tube; they want to return to the realities of a few decades ago, when “tolerance” meant “put up with” and the religious right seemed ascendant.
“Fix it, Daddy,” said Zuzu, when her flower petal fell. George Bailey, knowing a fix was impossible, presented instead a gentle illusion of reparation and fullness, as he slipped the fallen petal into his pocket, and handed the bloom back to his little girl.
Zuzu was content with illusion, but we cannot be. There is no “fix it” to this story, and only the truly deluded will continue to assert that there is. When people are awarded new rights, they do not get taken away again, except through a tyranny of governance, which no one wants to see.
Whether those who have lived with rights they have been born to — “privileged” to enjoy, if you like, from the moment of constitutional conception, will lose them under a tyranny of social correctness and eventual legal wrangling is an interesting question. Having enjoyed the right to the free exercise of religion lo, these centuries, we Catholics are already seeing calls for a diminishment of that right, from “freedom of religion” to a mere “freedom of worship”. Says New York Times columnist, Frank Bruni:
I respect people of faith. I salute the extraordinary works of compassion and social justice that many of them and many of their churches do. . .And I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish — in their pews, homes and hearts.
This is muddled thinking that gives lip service to respect; it’s slimy gladhanding as we’re shown the door: “we respect what you’ve done in the public square before, but we don’t want you in the public square, no more.”
It’s illiberal. It is a soft tyranny of sentimentalism that could only credibly arise in a world full of “microaggressions” and “trigger warnings.”
And it is where we very soon will be. Mr. Bruni, again showing his hand, here supports the destruction of a small business, because an owner — having no interest in stopping gay weddings — simply said she had no interest in catering one:
[Mitchell] Gold told me that church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.”
His commandment is worthy — and warranted.
I’ve read (but cannot find a link) that Gold eventually walked that “commandent” back, but Bruni clearly wants to obey it, and endorses the idea that human beings are now the capable and sole arbiters of what constitutes sinful behavior, not God. We are forever in Eden, biting the apple; forever in the desert, polishing our idols.
So, folks who want to know how to “fix this situation” need to put that idea to rest. People are already making noises about taxing the churches and legalizing polygamy; the thrust of narrative is always forward, and as formerly fringe ideas become the “new normal”, traditional ones must find a way to not only co-exist with, but to transcend them, entirely.
“What to do, what to do, what to do” is this:
- we go forward, in faithfulness to the gospel, and with a determination to love in the face of so much confused disdain.
- we double down on our efforts to renew and redesign how we teach the faith, especially to adults — articulating it in a manner that is accessible to modern minds (which are overwhelmed by directives to sentimentalism and utilitarianism) and speaking the truth in love.
- we work with the mind of a missionary church, meeting people where they are.
- we pastor the people and the reality and the world that we have, not the one we’d prefer. Certainly, let us note the political ideologies that are at play against us, but then let us remember that we are all about saving souls: our first calling is not to wail about Caesar — we give him what is his — but to save the souls of whoever comes to us with questions; with confusion; with malice borne of misunderstanding; with a need to be healed.
- we say, “yes, come in, it is good that you exist! Jesus is waiting for you; Jesus wants you to remain with him, and even to feed on him.” and then we teach them how that is done, and as we are welcoming and instructing, we are baptizing their children and teaching them the catechism of the church and the even-greater catechism of transcendent love.
- we give them exposure to the most prophetic idea to come out of the church in years: not only the truth that “all are welcome” but that a gay life can be an entirely Catholic, wholly alive, deeply loving life — one that can instructs the world (and the church) on the deep meaning of agape.
- we clarify that while a gay couple might not marry in the church, (nor receive the Holy Eucharist if sexually active) they may still serve the church, and the parish, as full and free members. I knew a man who stayed away from Holy Communion for over 30 years because he and his wife used contraception. He still attended Mass; he baptized his kids; he worked the carnival booth and built the side-altar. He was part of the family, to the degree that he chose to be, and no one thought less of him. Rather, they respected the obedience that accompanied his dissent, which could be summed up as, “I will refrain, but remain.”
- we show the world there is no such thing as “you don’t belong here” in the Catholic Church, except in people’s minds, where the words “yes, but…” sadly, and too often sound to too many like, “no, and go away…”
If we really want to “fix” the world, these are “what to do”. We work with, and through, not around; we keep our eyes on Christ Jesus. We prepare to be really hated (by both activists and some Catholics), and to answer that hatred with love.
And the very first, most primary thing “to do” to “fix” the world, is to pray for the salvation of every soul you encounter. Nothing is more powerful; nothing is more needed; nothing keeps us more rightly oriented and humbled.
Is the Free Exercise of Religion Imperiled?
Why Proselytizing is Folly
Some advice on Same Sex Marriage for US Church Leaders, via Canada
An Open Letter to the Gay Community, from a Catholic
Why the Church Cannot Change its Teaching
It’s time for saints?
The Courage to Love, No Matter What
5 Ways we can save marriage, now!
Like this piece? Like my Facebook page, here