Sunday, September 07, 2008

Softball Gospel

I will probably be adding to this list from time to time. I used to periodically post on boneheaded homilies and statements as they came up but didn't tie them together, but I think they deserve to be compiled. I will introduce this topic with three items:

  1. The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish was Jesus inspiring people to share.

    No, it was the creation of a plenitude of food from a dearth. It doesn't make sense that so many people would show up with so much food but still expect catering, and it doesn't take direct intervention from God to goad people out of hoarding their lunches.

  2. Doctrine X hasn't been defined de fidei by the pope, so we're at liberty to disagree with it.
    According to the Pontificator's Tenth Law, "All dogmas of the Church Catholic are infallible, but some are more infallible than others." In short, it means that we are obligated to hold true whatever the Church teaches, even if it's not one of the few items that has gotten an ex cathedra stamp of approval. For many of us, on a number of issues, the best we can muster is "The Church says X is true; I disagree, but it is the Church's place to make that call, so I will live in obedience and work within the boundaries of the Church to get the issues I have resolved," and that's good enough.

  3. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, came primarily to bring peace to the world. Take anything in the Gospel that sounds like Jesus being authoritarian or hard with a grain of salt. God is, after all, a Nice Guy.
    I like nice guys, I try to be one, but niceness is not the primary quality I want in a God or other authority figure. I didn't always (usually, but not always) think my dad was nice when I was growing up--and really, niceness is in the eye of the beholder--because he sometimes punished me or didn't let me do things I wanted, but it didn't make him a mean person, it just made him a good father--it made him right. I know my feelings are irrational, by definition, so while I like having them respected, I know that there are more important and better things to concern myself with than whether someone is every bit as polite and obsequious as I might like. I wouldn't want a doctor, either, that tried to comfort me by saying I wouldn't have to get some kind of major, risky surgery, but then let me die horribly from disease. So often today, though, genuine goodness is given no higher a definition than "be supporting of and unobtrusive to whatever people want."

This last item deserves a little unpacking. It ties in somewhat with the second item and something I heard during this morning's homily.

What trips people up on the third item so often is that last part--they use their conscience as an excuse to do whatever they want but still claim to be in good standing with the Church. On the surface, it's as silly as refusing to show up to work or badmouthing your product to potential customers and claiming to be an employee in good standing. I'm not talking about when people struggle to make the heroic effort to accept as true everything the Church teaches; it can take a heroic effort just to know everything the Church teaches. I mean that one's conscience is not an escape hatch from obedience. Yes, in principle you should follow your conscience, but if your conscience is properly formed, it will not disagree with the Church, and if you know it is badly formed, you shouldn't follow it in the first place--we see all the time in more secular arenas where people make errors in judgment, and no one bats an eye (okay, these days, not no one) when they're held responsible for their errors instead of being patted on the head and told "we understand, you must have been doing what seemed right for you at the time."

I think it's symptomatic of the "God is nice" school of theology. We see it also when people put an absence of physical violence at a higher priority than justice, or higher than an absence of moral violence--when people are expected to endure everything short of feeling a clenched fist or seeing a gun. We see it when people dissociate Jesus upsetting the moneychangers in the Temple from, well, Jesus upsetting the moneychangers in the Temple.

We also see it with today's Gospel reading:

If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector

The way I used to hear it explained, it was used sort of as a baseline for the practice of excommunication. The way it was homilized (is that a word?) to me this morning, Jesus was teaching His disciples how not to cause excessive harm--basically agreeing to disagree and avoiding situations where you and the person who you think did wrong might be forced together and have to bring the subject back up.

I'm not saying it's a bad practice. When you reach an impasse, all you can do is go away, pray, and try not to be a further obstacle to the other person's spiritual growth. While it's good advice for the laity, however, the Magisterium has additional responsibilities, so the bishops who come out and say "so-called Catholic politicians who support abortion will not receive communion if they present themselves for it" are not out of line. While the bishops who say "Abortion is contrary to Catholic teaching, but what more can we say if they do not listen?" are trying to be inclusive and warm and fuzzy, babies are dying by the thousands. While they're trying to give the benefit of the doubt to the errant member of their flock out of the fear that he might remain willfully in error, talking about how there's nothing more they can say, they are refusing to act to protect the lives of the children the politicians support the killing of (that is, to prevent the politicians from sinning in deed, since they cannot be prevented from sinning in thought), and they are refusing to protect the other Catholics from scandal.

This on the grounds that we are not to judge another's conscience? Please.

I can't judge a particular individual's conscience, but I don't need to be God to be shown a hypothetical person who thinks infanticide is a permissible means to achieving a comfortable economic end to know that the person's conscience is not properly formed. I don't have to try or pretend to look into a real person's conscience to judge that his actions are in fact bad; whether someone commits first degree murder or manslaughter, an untimely death has occurred, and to deny that it is a material evil is to lie, and to lie in order to protect someone's feelings is also evil.

The politician, or whoever, who steadfastly supports abortion has already cut himself off from the life of the Church. There is little harm one can cause a dead thing. We should not try to block any graces God might be sending an erring politician, but telling the unrepentant sinner that his sin is not so great that it needs to be forgiven is not doing him any favors, and allowing him to jeopardize the faith of everyone else who might get that impression does no favors to the Body of Christ, either.

Call me proud, but I'm not quite ready to say a spade's not a spade on the grounds that I am ignorant of the motivations of the digger.

Some look at excommunication as an outdated, barbaric exercise of power on the part of the Magisterium. I would point out that excommunication has been described, by greater Catholic minds than I, as analogous to amputation. Sure, cutting off a limb seems horrifically barbaric, but if the limb is gangrenous and does not respond to treatment, then removing it is necessary for protecting the health of the rest of the body. Neither would we want someone infected with a serious communicable disease to commune with healthy people who might be vulnerable to the disease; certainly, the ill man needs whatever help he can get, but "help" is not the same as "pretending there's nothing wrong and telling him he's fine, even if we find his raspy cough and oozing sores to be a little alarming in appearance."

Some translations don't use "Gentile," they use "pagan." Do we allow pagans to receive communion in the Catholic Church?

No, and we don't look the other way when they say Church officials don't have the right to deny them life in the Church (it is mortal sin that does that, not the Magisterium) and say "Hey, fine, whatever, but let's talk about something besides all the doctrines you don't believe in."

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