Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Church Usually Figures It Out

Figures what out?

How to cope with curve balls.

The Church has had to cope with many curve balls -- like Galileo, for example.  And Protestantism and Democracy and evolution and public schools and the Hippies and inter-faith marriages and many other things.

And -- after stepping all over herself for a while and leaving some messes in her wake -- she learns to act graciously.  Usually, anyway.

Please don't get me wrong.  I'm not trying to excuse her messes.  In fact, one of my favorite things that Pope John Paul II did was make a grand apology for all her screw-ups through the ages.

Sometimes, when I think of the Church, I see in my mind an aircraft carrier trying to navigate a narrow, swiftly moving river.  And this does not always go well.

As I was growing up, my father used to tell stories of the "old days" in the Church (a.k.a. when he was growing up).  He attended Catholic schools through high school, and was taught by many old-time Irish nuns and priests.  He said that the nuns instructed them to make the Sign Of The Cross when passing a Protestant church, because "the devil was in there."  It was also quite frowned upon to attend a Protestant wedding, and it was pretty much forbidden to attend the wedding of a Catholic marrying outside of the Church (and God help you if you were actually a member of the wedding party).  You were also never, EVER allowed to attend a Protestant church service, for any reason.  And divorced Catholics had to wait for years and years for their annulments to become finalized.  This happened to one of my aunts.  She had been married at 16 or 17.  That marriage did not last.  She then met my uncle, but they dated for over five years because of the length of time it took for her annulment to go through.  For Catholic women who had abortions, things were quite hairy.  Just going to Confession wasn't considered adequate.  There was some long, involved, clerical process one had to go through in order to be fully reconciled with the Church.  This is no longer the case (at least in America.)  All priests have been given the authority to absolve women who confess abortion.  Now, some of you might get mad at this, as you believe women shouldn't have to feel guilty about having abortions.  But, my point is that -- out of mercy and a desire to show Christ-like love -- the Church decided that women shouldn't have to undergo a rather humiliating process in order to be considered formally forgiven for what the Church does consider to be a serious sin.  And my general point is that as new phenomena occur in our culture -- phenomena that the Church considers to be, shall we say, "problematic" -- the words and actions and attitudes which emanate from the hierarchy can tend to be rather harsh and seemingly insensitive.  Then, over time, out of merciful love, the Church kind of "changes its tune," if you will.  Words and attitudes and actions become gentler and more charitable. 

I understand that this is not enough for many people.  There are those who wish the Church would actually change her actual teachings regarding such things as the all-male priesthood and contraception and same-sex marriage.  To be honest, I don't think the Church is EVER going to change her teachings in these areas, because they are based on a theology of the Trinity and a certain philosophy of Natural Law that's not going to change.

I personally don't have an issue with having an all-male priesthood.  I know there are many who do, because they feel that this means that women are left out of key decision-making positions in the Church, that their voices aren't heard or acknowledged.  And I understand this.  There are times when I have felt this way.  One thing that encourages me is that Pope Francis seems to get this, also, and has spoken of developing a more formal Theology of Woman in order to begin to address the legitimate concerns of women who are both inside and outside of the Church.

Concerning the issue of contraception, the Church has also softened her voice over the years.  No, contraception is not "approved of" theologically, but people who practice it -- especially married couples in difficult situations -- aren't treated harshly (in my experience, at least).  There are no "witch hunts," no midnight condom raids,  no threat of excommunication if you are on The Pill.  Of course, the Church does exhort and teach about this issue.  There are some good reasons -- in my opinion, anyway -- why the Church views contraception negatively.  I would encourage you, if you haven't already, to read "Humanae Vitae."  I would ask you to consider what this document says, if you feel there is any wisdom contained therein.  This is what we call, in Catholic circles, "informing your conscience."  You are still free, in the end, to make up your own mind. 

Same-sex marriage is probably the most recent curve-ball thrown the Church's way.  And her reaction to this cultural phenomenon has caused much hurt amongst LGBT people.  For example, having your marriage and family described as a "danger" to our society would probably be painful.  I think, though, that as the reality of having same-sex couples and their children in our communities sinks in, the Church will recognize the need to behave graciously toward them, to not inflict suffering on them by using rather incendiary language to describe their relationships and family lives, and to extend Christ's love to them.  There is a saint (I forget which one) who said something to the effect that, when all is said and done, it is "important to get along with one's neighbor."  And the Church, usually and eventually, comes around to that.

No comments:

Post a Comment