Here at the Pilgrim Center of Hope, I do a number of things, including screening telephone calls for our weekly show, Catholicism Live!. (That means if you called and weren’t given time to talk about your question or comment, you can blame me. Please send all hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last week, we had a show about pornography, it’s toxicity, and tools for attaining freedom if you are one of the many men and women trapped in the grip of porn addiction.
The promo for this episode got thirteen shares on Facebook. Thirteen! But you know who didn’t share the promo?
The one lady who called in during the show.
I know this because I talked with her for a few minutes, and she vented her spleen about just how terrible it was that we were trying to educate the public about pornography and help for those mired in addiction.
Couldn’t we talk about something else?, she wanted to know.
There’s so much beauty in the faith and rich history of the Church, it would be better to tell others about those things, she asserted.
Do we really think someone who views pornography would listen anyway?, she posed.
And what if a child was listening and, you know, getting ideas!, she fretted.
Maybe she has that last point; we could have put a disclaimer. But it was clear from the conversation that she just thought the subject was disgusting and didn’t want to be made uncomfortable. Nevermind mercy, forget hope – she just didn’t want to deal with the ‘ew’ factor!
Well, let me tell you: all sin is ugly. All sin. And there will always be particular kinds of sins that bother us more than others, often for good reasons. There is wisdom in being disturbed. But repugnance is no reason to draw up the Church’s lifeboats while casting an eye-roll.
There was one other comment this woman made that I found particularly revealing: she complained that our program had replaced the EWTN program on the Crusades. That, she asserted, is the kind of thing people should be learning about. We need to be able to defend our faith against the secular media, after all, and misinformation about the Crusades is always being used against the Church. In other words, why worry about sinners who are already lost? We need to defend ourselves!
No, people. This is exactly the wrong attitude, the un-Christlike attitude, and its ironic to worry about being misunderstood while advocating ignorance of others who need our help. I bring this up not because this woman has kept me up at night, but because I’m reminded of this episode as I read some of the feedback on the bishops’ recent document, Relatio post disceptationem, the result of a week of discussion at the ongoing Synod on the Family in Rome.
Much ink has been spilt over the emphasis on what’s called the “law of gradualness” – a long established, common sense rule of pastoral theology which encourages pastors to keep in mind that people grow into spiritual life gradually, rather than all at once.
The bishops have voiced a desire to ponder whether we have failed to create a welcoming atmosphere in the Church for people in “irregular unions” (homosexuals, divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, cohabitating couples), and whether keeping the “law of gradualness” in mind would allow Church leaders to seek out, walk beside, and love mercifully such people even while they are not living in full communion with the Church.
Here is one beautiful section of the document:
21. The Gospel of the family, while it shines in the witness of many families who live coherently their fidelity to the sacrament, with their mature fruits of authentic daily sanctity, must also nurture those seeds that are yet to mature, and must care for those trees that have dried up and wish not to be neglected.
22. In this respect, a new dimension of today’s family pastoral consists of accepting the reality of civil marriage and also cohabitation, taking into account the due differences. Indeed, when a union reaches a notable level of stability through a public bond, is characterized by deep affection, responsibility with regard to offspring, and capacity to withstand tests, it may be seen as a germ to be accompanied in development towards the sacrament of marriage. Very often, however, cohabitation is established not with a view to a possible future marriage, but rather without any intention of establishing an institutionally-recognized relationship.
23. Imitating Jesus’ merciful gaze, the Church must accompany her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love, with attention and care, restoring trust and hope to them like the light of a beacon in a port, or a torch carried among the people to light the way for those who are lost or find themselves in the midst of the storm.
25. …The Church has to carry this out with the tenderness of a mother and the clarity of a teacher (cf. Eph 4,15), in fidelity to the merciful kenosi of Christ. The truth is incarnated in human fragility not to condemn it, but to cure it.
Many Catholics in the public sphere have praised this unified shift in tone from the bishops. While there are challenges and open questions left to be carefully contemplated (as always), it is clearly addressing issues with due consideration, that have been seen as needing this kind of attention for a long time.
But not all are happy with the document. Many Catholics, in fact, are downright panicky. Consider these comments gleaned from Facebook:
“The truth is that if it’s approval people want, there are many other better places to find it. The Church’s role should simply be to proclaim the truth. Those who have ears will hear and God will build His Church.”
“Having just attended a retreat on the family, and restoring family life, I got a very clear perspective on the family, and how broken the family is in our society, and how fundamental the family is to our society. This synod, if it persists in the homosexual context, will completely break what the family is.”
“Jesus called a spade a spade way more than anybody else in the Bible. The results of the questionnaire sent out last year should have the Fathers of the Church scared for their eternal lives having allowed so many people to not only fall into but also to embrace grave sin. Their response: to focus on the positive aspects of the sinful choices Catholics have embraced.”
Do you see the same defensive irony in these comments as the lady who called into last week’s show? On the one hand, the Kingdom of God deserves to flourish, to have its truth understood and its rich splendor appreciated; and on the other hand, the Kingdom of God is as poor as a ghetto, so if the doors were opened, the roof would likely come tumbling down.
One of these views is correct, and here’s a hint: who would want to live in a ghetto?