Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

O Almighty God, who alone makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will: grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Fire In My Bones

I've sometimes been asked, and more frequently of late, why, if I believe that celibacy is impracticable, I don't adopt a different theology. There are, as they are described on the Gay Christian Network, "Side A" Christians: believers who fully accept the Nicene Creed, but who do not believe that homosexual sex is immoral. This runs the gamut of everything from people who just don't think that sexual mores are that important, to devout and earnest believers like Justin Lee, John Boswell, or Matthew Vines, who have analyzed the Scriptures and come sincerely to the conclusion that they have simply been misinterpreted on this subject.

Now, I don't think that most, or even many, of my friends and other interlocutors who ask me why I don't adopt a progressivist stance on sexuality are implying that I ought to adapt my beliefs to what I find easy or appealing. That would be despicable. At any rate, intellectual dishonesty is nearly the only vice for which I feel nothing but contempt, and I do my best to give it no quarter in myself. I dare say there are plenty of people who do choose their beliefs thus dishonestly, based on their desires; but it is none of my business to disparage anybody's character by suggesting either that they have done this or that they would encourage others to do so. I therefore decline the motive game and resume my topic.

I think, rather, that what they are suggesting is that if a moral project is as hard as this, if it raises in me such questions about the generosity and benevolence of God -- might that not be grounds to reconsider whether I am not believing it merely out of habit or unexamined ancestral prejudice? Is a theology that effectively shuts me and most men and women like me out of erotic love, one of the loveliest and most powerful of all human experiences, right? The thought has crossed my mind, more than once; I spent a year trying to convince myself of Side A theology.

But in becoming a Catholic, I accepted the teaching office of the Church. My reasons for becoming a Catholic I will explore in future posts. If I were a Protestant I wouldn't object (in principle) to reinterpreting Scripture; but it was precisely that libertarian approach to the Scriptures that I found myself finally unable to accept. Indeed, that's the reason I became a Catholic rather than a high Anglican. For the Bible doesn't exist in a vacuum. It was recognized by the Church -- which means that if we accept the canon, we implicitly accept that the Church did have the right so to recognize divine revelation. And once that is granted, it seems odd, to say the least, not to accept equally her authority to interpret that revelation. If there is no authority that can define, then I am essentially left to myself; for I can get pretty nearly any meaning I want out of the Scriptures. I have done.

Many believers will answer that I am guided by the Holy Spirit in interpreting Scripture, since I am after all a believer. Well and good. And what about all the other believers? Aren't they, equally, guided by the Holy Spirit? Am I to believe that the Spirit guides us each individually, but that the Church (i.e. all who coinhere mystically with Christ) is not guided by the Spirit -- that it is actually less than the sum of its parts? I couldn't take that proposition seriously. Does that, by itself, make the Church infallible? No. But it does mean that, when I set my conscience against the united testimony of the Church, I might at any rate consider the possibility that it is I who am incomplete and the Church that is universal; that is, catholic.

There is an exchange in the brilliant film A Man For All Seasons (I'd put it up, but YouTube fails me) where Thomas More's daughter is trying to talk him into signing the Act of Succession, through some intellectual sleight of hand or other, and thus obtain his freedom. He calmly refuses, giving ground after ground, until she at last bursts out, "But in reason! Haven't you done as much as God can reasonably want!"

Placidly, tenderly, he lays his hands on her shoulders and says, "Ultimately, it isn't a question of reason. Ultimately, it's a question of love."

To a certain extent, that is where I find myself with the Catholic faith. Admittedly, my fidelity is a fidelity of belief; my practice is unlike St. Thomas More's. But what fidelity I can practice, I want to. I cannot pretend that I don't believe what, in my heart of hearts, I am convinced of: that the Catholic Church, for all her horrible flaws, bears the truth of God. I can't do anything else. I said, 'I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name. But His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.

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