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.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In Which I Manage Not to Vent About the Synod

The recently published, ruminative report of the Synod on the Family (which can be found in English here) has been throwing the Catholic blogosphere into conniptions. This has, in turn, driven me nearly frantic. I wrote about half of a rant last night, but then wondered whether it was quite wholesome to publish it, given the internet's incredible poutrage surplus. And then, I came across the following, in the combox of Mark Shea's post on the subject, from a commenter going by the name Linda Daily:

I invite all Catholic bloggers and commenters to schedule a one-week Shut Up Synod, during which no one reads, writes, or comments on things Catholic. Spend the week in silent prayer and humble service, minding your own business, working out your own salvation, and trust that God in his heaven can guide the Church without your analysis.

Nailed it. In the spirit of said Shut Up Synod, but with the concession that I find it very hard indeed to shut up, I will confine myself to the following few remarks.

Let's remember, brethren, that the Synod on the Family is about discipline, not doctrine. Pope Francis and the other bishops are not going to change the Church's doctrine of marriage or anything else (indeed, as Catholics, we believe they aren't in fact able to do so). It is the Holy Ghost who protects the Church's faith, He and no one else. On today's memorial of Saint Teresa of Jesus, who wrote and prayed earnestly for heretics to be recovered into the bosom of the Catholic Church and committed herself totally to its maternal care and authority even as a reformer, it is specially fitting to recollect that the faith did not come from us, and does not depend on us, and that we do not need to think, speak, or act as if it did.

"Let nothing disturb thee; let nothing dismay thee; all things pass; God never changes."

In the same vein, consider our Lord's saying: The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. The Church's pastoral practice -- which is nothing other than how she applies the truth she teaches to the lives of men -- is meant to serve man. We don't exist as mere vile bodies for confessors and canonists to practice their theological training upon. Still less should any pastoral standard be valued for the number of people it excludes from the Eucharist, ugly hints of which I have noticed here and there.

Whether to admit divorced Catholics to the sacraments without their relationships being regularized,* or what kind and degree of recognition the Church should give to a homosexual orientation and homosexual partnerships, are all questions of pastoral and prudential judgment. Nobody (not at the Synod, anyway) is proposing that the Church simply approve of divorce and gay sex, contrary to twenty centuries of dogma. And while acknowledging that there's lots to be said against altering current pastoral guidelines on these and other subjects, I would also venture to point out that, if the pastoral practices of the ancient Church were in force today, the line for Holy Communion would get very short indeed; I'm not certain I know a single person who would be eligible (certainly not me). And, since Confession back then was public, everybody would know why.

Lastly, one hears a lot from conservative Catholics about the dangers of scandal in irregular or apparently irregular relationships, and still more of the prospect of scandal in admitting these persons to the sacraments. I would ask my beloved brethren to consider gravely the scandal that may be given by people who profess total loyalty to the Catholic faith, and at the same time seem to set themselves up as competent judges of the words and actions of the Holy See. I don't say there is never a time to do so. But you had better be damn sure of it.

I found Calah Alexander's post on Barefoot and Pregnant wonderfully insightful; Sarah of A Queer Calling has written an open letter to Cardinal Burke that I appreciated; the ever-excellent P. E. Gobry of Inebriate Me has some illuminating remarks on the Synod's report; and my goodness does Elizabeth Scalia have a lot at The Anchoress. Enjoy.

*This would chiefly mean a Catholic who has been divorced and remarried civilly, without an annulment from the Church. Such relationships can be regularized ordinarily in one of three ways: if it's possible (which it may not be), obtaining an annulment; the new couple agreeing to separate; or the new couple agreeing to "live as brother and sister," i.e. continue living together but without sexual intimacy. This last is, I understand, commonest in situations in which there are children from the new union who of course need the care of their parents.


  1. I could be wrong about this, but back when I audited the course on sacraments, we were taught that the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which was celebrated publicly with public penance preceding the actual reconciliation (on Holy Saturday IIRC), was only employed in cases of big public sins. To me this means that for private sins, there was no sacramental absolution. The sinner had to reconcile with God on his own and judge for himself whether he could receive Communion.

    Actually, I don't believe there was the elaborately developed theology of sin either. We never hear St. Paul say, "Those who do such things must go to Confession," yet I very much doubt that one who fell into sin occasionally would have been excluded from the Table of the Lord for life. I think repentance must have been a private matter, between the sinner and God — a matter of conscience — except for the really big sins which called for public penance.

    1. What I have read indicates the following:

      1. The sacrament of Penance was not widely practiced in the primitive Church. Certainly it existed (the controversies over the exact extent of the Church's authority to forgive show that), but, since Baptism was seen as practically a promise to stop sinning, it was frequently postponed, sometimes until a person was in extremis, as in the Emperor Constantine's case. There was, correspondingly, less opportunity for Confession to be practiced, and people who persistently sinned after being baptized (I gather) were apt to apostatize.

      2. The distinction between mortal and venial sins did exist (or, as St John put it, between sins that do and do not lead to death), but its application to Confession I'm not sure of.

      3. Some sins were widely thought to exceed the Church's power of the keys: specifically, murder, adultery, and apostasy. One can imagine how much more drastically sin in general was viewed in an age that could countenance an outer limit of forgiveness.

      4. Until the advent of private Confession, an innovation of the Irish Church in the fifth century (introduced to the Continent later still), all Confession and penance were public affairs. Confession was made to the bishop, but before the congregation, and penance included or could include being barred from the liturgy of the sacrament and asking the prayers of communicants.

      There may easily be details about which I'm wrong, and obviously this isn't totally inconsistent with what you've said. But that is the outline of what I understand from my readings in church history.

  2. This is a good post and thank you for posting the link to the Queer Calling open letter to Cardinal Burke. I had an argument with a FB friend the other day about this issue and he's very rigid in his view that gay couples, even if they are family members should be barred from family gatherings because of the "children". In fact, he told me that he does have a family member who is angry at the Church, rejects Church teaching, is gay, etc and is now ostracized from the family and my FB friend thinks it a good thing. I said that was not and that it should be fine to invite a gay person with their partner to a family gathering. No, its not condoning the behavior but I don't see a problem with condoning the relationship and I think it is a worse scandal to anyone, children included, to ostracize a family member because they are gay and want to take their partner to the family event. I seriously doubt they would be making out in front of everyone just as a straight couple wouldn't be either. I had to back away from the argument since he just reiterated what Cardinal Burke said. He's very closed minded. Sometimes I think that the "causing scandal" trope is used as a tyrannical weapon for some who want to police everyone else.

    I think in this instance, there definitely needs to be clarification from the Church. Charity begins at home and if that can't extend to our fellow gay family members then what kind of Christians are we?? Our nephew is bisexual and has/had (its complicated) a boyfriend. We've invited him to our home and in fact have gone out to dinner with him. I like my nephew's boyfriend. He's a nice and intelligent guy. He's welcome in our home anytime. Of course they aren't going to have sex in our home, etc. They know the boundaries and are fine with that. In fact, that is another problem I have with the Cardinal's objections and my FB friend's comments. They seem to have the impression that gay people can't control themselves or have no sense of propriety in public situations and I believe that view is nasty. It definitely doesn't show any respect for the person. Sometimes I wonder if many Christians don't want to actually show love to anyone who doesn't first think/act/talk/dress like them. I think charity is growing colder and colder and it will decrease more and more.

    Some lament there is too much secularism/atheists and Christian persecution in western society. Honestly, I hate to say it, but in regards to Western Christianity, I think we've had it coming. We've had a LONG history of discrimination, hate, and nastiness toward people we don't like (blacks, native americans, etc). When we had a veneer Christian society, it was nasty and lacked so much in charity (granted there were definite exceptions but the general culture...UGH). So, yeah, we have it coming and with the continued lack of love, it will just get worse.

  3. For some reason I haven't quite sorted out yet, I think I needed to read this today. It's calmed some turmoil.

  4. For me, the worry is not whether people will be scandalized by people in apparently irregular situations receiving communion. For one thing, I doubt most people in Catholic parishes know most other people (in American parishes anyway), let alone the status of their relationships. Rather, my concern is not to cause confusion among the faithful, resulting in their coming to believe that it's OK to receive communion when it's not.

    Because once you believe it's OK to receive communion in an irregular situation, it's natural to conclude that there's really nothing "irregular" about the situation in the first place. What then happens to the incentive for people to stick with their marriages for better and for worse, or to avoid sin even to the point of shedding blood (Heb. 12:4)?

    For me, in times of great temptation, the threat of not being able to receive communion has been the strongest incentive for me to resist sin. It's hard enough to get through this life without losing faith or being stained by sin. Where will I be if I can't receive communion?

    Whereas if communion is not to be withheld from those who violate the commandments, how many people will acquiesce in sin rather than struggling against it to the utmost?

    It's not that this harms me, or harms Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. But it could very well harm individual souls as well as the Church Militant as a whole.