Domestic-Church.Com

Stones instead of Bread

by Doug McManaman

A dialogue between a priest - obviously not entirely consistent with the Faith of the Church - and a layman (based on an actual conversation between a priest and the author.)

Editor's Note: the illustrations are intended to be ironic.)

Layman:

Hello Father:

Priest:

Hello. How are you?

Layman:

Quite well, thank you.

Priest:

Did you enjoy my homily?

Layman:

I found it extremely interesting, Father.

Priest:

I thought some people might. In what way, exactly?

Layman:

You got me thinking.

Priest:

Good. Then I've done my job. What are you thinking about?

Layman:

I'm wondering what I'm doing here.

Priest:

Why would you be wondering that?

Layman:

Well, you did say that "sex is reserved for serious and mature relationships, which most often means marriage". It sounded to me as if you were implying that sex is not in itself a marital act, as I was brought up in the Church to believe. I hear a lot of conflicting ideas from the pulpit these days, and this is just one more instance.

Priest:

When a person refers to genuine, serious, mature, committed relationships...and has just gotten through saying that sex is not a plaything, then perhaps what I should have said was that would certainly lead most folks to automatically know that this spells out marriage. But perhaps my own pastoral sense kicked in here when I said what I did. Yes, you are correct in the above comments you make regarding the Church teaching that sex is reserved for marriage. And if you open the door even a little bit, then, Pandora's Box. But is that a legitimate approach? Can you justify making broad, encompassing law, which makes for no exceptions? Is that loving? Just? Valid?

Layman:

You tell me, Father.

Priest:

Well, in the context of my homily, in which I spoke of fornication, a specific term, is it really -I mean really fornication when:

  1. elderly people who cannot marry because they would lose whatever small security they have, and yet have very genuine relationships which, I am sure, are good and holy before God.
  2. young people, (not kids) who, in their lives, have been burnt badly by institutions and don't trust what society calls marriage...yet make firm and loving commitments to each other.
  3. gay people--yes, gay people, who do not feel called to celibacy, fall in love, and live in loving, nurturing, committed relationships. Is a couple in a 30 year committed relationship "fornicating?"
  4. engaged couples who may even struggle to wait till marriage, but fail repeatedly. Yet are already committed to each other, can you rank this in a general level of "fornication? And there are many other various situations which, if I was not so tired, I could probably list. Is it just pastoral gentleness with "sinners" that is called for? Or is there also a genuineness about so many areas which are not marriage yet which contain sex. As for your comment about changing attitudes. The Christian life is one lived in relationship with the Lord. Relationships are not static but dynamic. They grow, develop, and as they do, our perceptions of what is right and wrong also develop, and not just as individuals, but as institutions.

Layman:

Changing attitudes? I think my comment was about "conflicting ideas."

Priest:

Whatever.

Layman:

Well, to answer your four questions according to my present understanding, let me just say "yes" to the first question, and "yes" to the second question, and "yes" to your third question, and finally "yes" to your fourth question. If the answer to the above four questions "no", then I wonder why I'm wasting my time with Catholicism.

Priest:

Ah, now I see where you're coming from. Philosophy was once called the handmaiden of theology. Certainly, it is still an important dimension. But Psychology is also a handmaiden of theology, and the input of knowledge into the human spectrum in the past 50-100 years far exceeds the sum total of human knowledge that preceded these few years. Theology has to constantly balance and re-address in the light of new understanding. If Rome itself did not believe this to be true, then why the spate of apology regarding past wrongs by the Church?

Layman:

Well, if it is true that sex is not necessarily reserved for the institution of marriage, then the Church was clearly wrong all these years. Why, then, am I listening to the Church? If secular society has been right all these years (in as much as secular society has always maintained that sex is not necessarily reserved for marriage, just mature couples--even same sex couples; and that nobody is infallible, especially the Church), then wouldn't it be wiser to follow secular society on other matters, for instance on the issue of abortion, euthanasia, contraception, in vitro fertilization, etc? After all, isn't it likely that secular society is right on these other matters as well, and that it will only be a matter of time before the Church really begins to see it?

As you can see, I'm in a bit of a dilemma. After listening to you, I'm beginning to feel that the Church is not quite as stable as I always thought. Many of us just don't have the time or the skill to do theological research, and so I have always looked to the Church to be my guide. I figured Christ established the Church for that reason -for ordinary people like myself who do not have the time to research every historical and theological detail. But if the Church is just another fallible institution among others and is changing her views with the times, well that puts another spin on the whole thing. It would be great if you can help me sift through these questions I have.

Priest:

The Church gives us guidance to the best of her ability. In some areas she is very specific. In others, general. She challenges us to form our consciences in the light of the clearest understanding available. But humanity is also free, not in the flippant sense, but in the responsible sense of searching out truth. And, at times, the human conscience comes, with great struggle, to conclusions other than what the Church teaches. In the final analysis, we must stand before God as having been authentic to our understanding of truth. And if a person, after personal struggle to balance and weigh and compare what the Church offers, decides that he may not authentically follow the Church in a particular area, then he must not do so. Freedom is not anarchy. Salvation is not blind obedience. Christianity is relationship, which is dynamic rather than static.

Layman:

Obviously then, sex is not in itself a marital act, but an act that is best performed in the context of marriage, but need not be. If I read you correctly, unnecessary restrictions, in this regard, can be very unloving. I think most people in the world would agree with that, Father. I know a lot of young people who would rejoice at hearing this. Moreover, since the Church gives advice to the best of her ability, and since her advice depends in large part on recent developments in psychology, and since She apparently has nothing to offer over and above all that, then we are really on our own, aren't we?

Priest:

The Lord gave you a brain for a reason.

Layman:

What I mean to say is that the world was right, the Church was wrong. The world is developing and growing faster than the Church. Why should I allow the Church to slow me down? After all, what is wrong with a loving couple who, unable to support any more children, chooses sterilization? Obviously the Church is a little slow coming around to this one. Or how about a couple who cannot have children at all. Is it loving to deprive them of the opportunity, through IVF, to have a child of their own? Obviously the Church is a little slow on this issue as well. Clearly the world is much farther ahead. Or, consider a couple who cannot conceive. Why should they not go to a sperm bank and allow a person with a high sperm count to donate and help a very loving couple who wishes to channel that love to a baby? It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Church is a little backwards when it comes to the moral life.

I am free, not in a flippant sense, as you said, but free to form my conscience as I see fit, and not as the Church has always taught- which is to form my conscience according to the teaching of the Church, a Church that is clearly behind the times and slow moving. I'd be wiser to form my conscience according to the culture, since the Church will catch up to it eventually.

The principle is love, and love is dynamic, not static, as you say. If a teenaged girl comes to me for an abortion, why should I unlovingly restrict her options and shove my values down her throat? She may not be where I am yet, and she may not be ready to be a mother. How unloving to refuse her a safe and legal abortion! And would it be all that unloving to give a lethal injection (perhaps an overdose of morphine) to a humble old lady suffering from throat cancer and who is going to die by suffocation? How cruel to tell that woman that she has to bear her cross patiently.

And yet the Church condemns both abortion and euthanasia, in the documents of Vatican II, as unspeakable crimes against life. The Church is obviously a very unloving institution, who pretends to be more than she is, and who is terribly behind the culture, a culture that is far more advanced in its ability to love than the Church has ever been.

So why should I have any respect for the Church, let alone obey the Church? And why should I even go to Church? I began to ask these questions after listening to your homily, Father.

Priest:

You've given me quite a homework assignment. Let me work on it and address it in my next homily.


Homily:

For the past few weeks now we have been listening to John's gospel. First, Jesus recognized his own call to action in the preaching of John the Baptist, and he responded to that call by being baptized in the Jordan. When baptized, Jesus had a genuine religious experience. He heard God speaking to him as His Son, and he saw the dove, the Holy Spirit, and he knew that he would have God's own strength to carry out his unique vocation.

In the last two weeks we saw the Lord choose those who would make up his select group. And in today's reading, he makes the move to launch his campaign. If man had a message from God to give, the obvious place to give the message would be the Church where God's people met, and so Jesus did just that. His campaign began in the synagogue. He did this because the synagogue had certain basic differences from the Church as we know it today. The synagogue was primarily a teaching institution. Its service consisted of prayer, the reading of God's word, and the explanation of the word. Any competent person could read a scripture and give an explanation of it. There was no music, no singing, and no sacrifice.

So Jesus was able, because of this system, to make his pitch. He was known to be a man with a message, and for that very reason, every community provided him with a pulpit from which to instruct and make his appeal.

The scriptures from which Jesus read that day would have been taken from the Torah. For the Jews, the most sacred thing in the world was the sacred law found in those books, for through the law was based their relationship with God. The law was understood to be completely divine in its origin, and therefore absolutely holy and completely binding. If the Torah was so divine, then it must be the guideline for all faith and life, and must contain everything necessary to guide and direct life.

Logically, then, the Torah, the law, must be carefully studied, and its understanding developed. Gradually, scholars, scribes, would emerge who were experts in Torah. The problem was that they took the great laws of the commandments, and became so legislative with rules and obligations for everything, that religion ended up as pure legalism. It became impossible for anyone to really live out their faith except the learned ones, who could spend all their time memorizing exactly what to do, and when to do it.

Because faith came to be understood in a legalistic sense of adherence to the law, every decision by a scribe had to be based on a decision of another teacher before him who based his decision...who based his decision. He never gave an independent judgment. Jesus, however, came along and taught from personal authority. When he spoke, he did so directly quoting the scriptures. It was as if he needed no authority beyond himself. He spoke with the finality of the voice of God.

I found this all very fascinating. When I was studying sociology, I found that the basic laws of societies initially come about because of a common understanding about what is right and what is wrong. This consensus is then put into law, and societies then use that law as a given to begin building an understanding about anything related which comes along. Law, then, is at the base of what people believe. We do not strive to fulfill the law, believing that, by doing so, we have therefore reached the ideal.

Rather, we obey the law as the way to begin building towards the ideal. The law provides a necessary foundation, but it is not itself the ideal.

I believe that is how Jesus saw it too. Jesus did not quote the Law as the scribes did. He had grown far beyond that point. The law that God had intended...the Ten Commandments, was already part of him. He understood the foundation, and he was confident about the stability of that foundation.

He was interested now, not in continuing to point to the foundation as the scribes were doing, and staying in a legalistic rut as a result, but in building upwards toward the ideal...Because he saw the idea as the reason for the foundation of law in the first place. And so he could say: Hey folks! Love God above all things, and your neighbor as yourselves. On this the whole law is based!"

Further, Jesus not only pointed towards the idea. He was the ideal. As he pointed to God, he pointed necessarily to himself.

How can we translate that today? The Church is Christ present on earth. Many of us, however, fail to see the Lord in the Church. We may see only laws...The have to's. Get to Mass. Perhaps we go to confession. Follow the ten commandments.

Do this, do that. We may wonder at times if the Church is just the scribes reincarnated. Why do we need all this structure? Why not go out and experience Jesus in nature? Or at least in some less structured way? And if we think that way, we may tend to ignore the Church. We may walk away from it altogether!

I always find it fascinating, though, that when Bill Graham preached one of his crusades, after all the huge numbers of people accepted Christ, he always encouraged them to get involved with their Church...or seek one out if they were not raised in one. He did that because he knew that even though they had made a commitment, the dropout rate would be enormous because they didn't have any structure or organization to help them nourish and support their spiritual experience.

When organization is absent, then there are no mature developed teachings, no trained personnel to counsel, no authority to settle problems of doctrine and discipline for their lives. There is no structured liturgy to provide ongoing prayer and worship. And there is no supportive Christian assembly with whom to bond and from whom to receive spiritual and emotional nourishment.

Instead, Christian life is seen too exclusively as an experience and an event in their lives that has no follow up, no support. The result is that many people who convert to the Lord, who undergo a real change in their lives, and who are temporarily committed to the gospel...find themselves back where they started, living as nonbelievers, perhaps again immersed in the same problems, the same disordered living as when they started.

A Churchless Christianity without the structures of ministry, teaching and worship cannot keep people going. The role of prophet must not only nag the Church, it must remain, even if uneasily, as I do, as part of the Church.

There must always be a balance. Too much structure can kill, as with the scribes. But too little structure can also mean death. The Church has, as her whole purpose, to base us in the law, and to point us past the law to our ideal, our goal, and that goal is the Lord Jesus! So when you listen to the Church, struggle to learn to hear the Lord rather than just the structure, strain to hear the one who speaks with authority. Jesus! When we hear the voice of the Lord, then we too will have moved past the legalism of the scribes. We won't get hung up over the "law" because we, as did Jesus, will have integrated the basics, the real law into our lives and are now ready to seek the idea.

We pray to get to the point where we will be ready to ask the Lord to drive out any evil that infests us, and, ask, instead, as Jesus did at his own baptism, for the Father to fill us with the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray for that grace.


Priest:

So, did you like my homily?

Layman:

It was interesting, but I am confused.

Priest:

Why are you confused?

Layman:

If what you said earlier was true, then what you said in your homily must be false. I am referring to the part where you said: "When organization is absent, then there are no mature developed teachings, no trained personnel to counsel, no authority to settle problems of doctrine and discipline for their lives. There is no structured liturgy to provide ongoing prayer and worship."

Priest:

I don't understand why you have difficulty with that.

Layman:

There are no mature developed teachings in the Church, as you have shown. For the Church can't seem to get it together with regard to sexual issues. Perhaps there are trained personnel to counsel, but I can always get that anywhere, from a good psychologist, for instance. As for "No authority to settle problems of doctrine", you have shown very clearly that the Church does not have this authority: for she guides us to the best of her ability, and has been wrong and continues to be wrong on many moral issues, like sex. And the Church is likely mistaken about a host of other issues. The Church progresses and develops along with society, along with our developing understanding of psychology. She has no more authority than I do, as you have preached before.

Priest:

Don't you think we need structure?

Layman:

I can still believe in the Lord without belonging to a Church that is telling me I cannot do this, I must do that, while her teachings are always discovered later to be wrong (especially in the area of sexuality, which is a very important area). I mean, if contraception is really okay, then the Church is doing married couples a major disservice. They are going to owe the world one enormous apology if there is nothing intrinsically wrong with contraception, for instance. Why should I use the "law" as a stepping stone when the law (the formulated moral teaching of the Church) is wrong or shaky? Why not by-pass all those silly moral teachings and proceed to "love the Lord and neighbor" as ourselves without getting all tangled in Church doctrines some of which are manifestly wrong and outdated?

Priest:

You might be going a little too far.

Layman:

How so?

Priest:

The Church speaks with authority; for the Church is Christ present on earth.

Layman:

Yes, you said that in your homily. You seem to be playing two different guitars, Father.

Priest:

Why do you say that?

Layman:

Originally you said "The Church gives us guidance to the best of her ability. In some areas she is very specific. In others, general. She challenges us to form our consciences in the light of the clearest understanding available". But now you say that "The Church is Christ present on earth". And prior to that you said "Christ needed no authority beyond himself...He spoke with the finality of the voice of God...He was the ideal,...he is God."

Priest:

And you see an inconsistency?

Layman:

Yes. If what you said originally was correct, then what you said in your homily is simply wrong. But if what you say in your homily is correct, then you left out an awful lot in the beginning. It would mean that the Church does not simply give guidance to the best of her ability. Rather, Jesus Christ gives us the guidance of God, through the Church (since the Church is Christ present on earth). You also said that many fail to see the Lord in the Church. It seems to me that you failed to see the Lord in the Church.

Priest:

I don't consider the Church to be just one of a number of different voices in the world. She comes from a particular understanding of life and of God that is not necessarily shared by other voices.

And I do feel that Christ speaks through her. It is just that there are different levels of understanding what kind of weight to put on her words. I have no problem at all with the deepest understandings of the doctrines. As for other issues, I have to weigh them in the light of history and see if they really portray the Sensus Fidelum (who knows if that is the correct spelling. I never gave a damn about Latin), the Sense of the Faith that comes to us across the centuries.

Layman:

And where then, does abortion and euthanasia fit into all of this, for example?

Priest:

Certainly something that I believe in very strongly, and which the Church championed in good times and in bad, is a respect for life. This sense of the faith is becoming ever more clarified as we begin to speak out, rightly, against capital punishment. All life, not just life which we somehow qualify as good or bad people, is sacred. If life itself is not sacred, then nothing within life can really be sacred, which would really open up the "whatever, what the hell" attitude which I strictly oppose as against the will of God.

Layman:

And these other issues that are not so clear?

Priest:

Here is where I butt heads so often myself with the teachings of the Church. How does one develop a pastoral sense (or in your case, a gentleness and empathy with patients) which sees the particular instance rather than saying: "NO, we cannot acknowledge that possibility because look at the possible ramifications!" One such issue you have raised is sex outside of marriage. The Church at this point in history is still seeming to try to base everything on a Thomistic philosophy mode. If She says that there is an instance where sex outside marriage is permissible, then that takes an action which also happens to be procreative, and, ergo, procreation does not necessarily reside within marriage. Since the Church must also safeguard society, and the sanctity of marriage, she immediately says, "NO".

Layman:

So what you are saying is that sex can be good and holy outside of the context of marriage, but the Church does not make this public because the world would not know how to handle such a teaching, and would likely misunderstand it, which in turn would lead to an undermining of the sanctity of marriage and the integrity of society as a whole.

Priest:

That's it.

Layman:

And you think homosexuality is a case in point?

Priest:

Well, are we at a point where we also need to respect those who don't fall into that category and yet are also sexual beings? Is there really a philosophy which so completely defines life that we can actually sin against others who don't fall into those categories, and call it just? Here, we enter into a field for which there are no immediate answers. The Church is indeed divine AND human. How does one respect and always reverence the divine principles within particular cultures and individual lives? The value of the Church is priceless in the sense that it confronts culture and forces it to struggle with those issues against the divine principles.

Layman:

So the Church confronts culture, yet it does so without necessarily having the truth. Perhaps it is the culture that finally enlightens the Church after a long and lengthy battle? A kind of mutual enlightenment?

Priest:

Without the Church, there would be no such confrontation, only the anarchy of individuals pushing their own thing and who could be ignored. Again, let's look at the sexuality issue as a take off. You made a particular point of Homosexuality, which, up to the time of the middle ages seems not to have been uniformly considered by the Church. In fact some research, from well respected historians, have indicated that the Church even blessed gay unions, but of course, today's Church denies that... But, at least with Thomas Aquinas, etc., the Church would develop the sense of who we are as human beings and say that it is part of our intrinsic nature to be male or female, with the sense of procreation, etc., being the divinely appointed outcome of all that. Homosexuality as such was not understood as a reality in itself and would therefore be seen as a freely chosen deviant behavior which, balanced against the nut screwed on the bolt, would be evil personified. The word "faggot" would come from the faggots of wood which burned these terrible sinners to death.

Well, we have come a long way, with the Catechism now defining the condition as not one freely chosen, and that gays be treated with respect as fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, but still condemning sexual acts because these are outside marriage, etc., and marriage is only between the opposite sexes. But, aha, the teaching has changed drastically as a result of a deeper understanding of the issue.

Another way of looking at this, though, is that, using the divine mandate of life being sacred, the dialog is in process. And the dialog is within the relationship we have with Christ. We will not see the end of the dialog within our lifetime. But when you look at cultures where the Church is not an influence, you see society/culture, coming to vastly different approaches. The execution of gays would still be a reality in other parts of the world. And what about Europe? Well, the people may not be going to church much, but the Church is still very much of a moral force to be in the dialog and the culture itself has been molded by the Church.

Layman:

So there is a dialogue going on, and it is the Church that gives us law and structure, yet that law and structure need to be rendered more flexible? Sort of like meeting in the middle?

Priest:

One thing you need to recognize in my own comments is through a rereading of that sermon I gave. I am one of the prophets, in a way, who coexist uneasily with the lawmakers. Together, we make up the Church. Together, sometimes in anger, always in tension, we move the Church forward in the relationship. If the Church were all prophet, and no one based in law...tradition...etc...we would be in terrible shape. But of course, we cannot swing the other way to total law, either. Rigidity, and insensitivity, self righteousness and arrogance are the result of that approach.

And so you cannot take what I say as totally indicative of where the Church is, but you cannot discount me either. I do believe the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the Church. But the Spirit does not operate in a ZAP mode. It is always through the People of God, struggling to continually redefine the ancient principles, the sense of God in our midst, in the light of continually unfolding new dynamics of culture, of new awareness brought on by scientific discovery. It is very much the sense of Vatican II that the Church is not just a "top down" pyramid which gives out the sense of God to the faithful. All of us have a responsibility to feed into the Body. Change comes from the bottom, not the top. Not to face up to our own vocations, to raise questions, to challenge, to uphold, to nourish, would be a grave sin against our baptism. So I don't go along with your statement "So the Church is wrong." That is far too simplistic. We are not talking about some kind of structure which somehow holds us in line. The People of God ARE the Church. It is the struggle today between the implications of this reality vs those who want the old, pre Vatican II concept of all answers, no doubt, tell me what to do so I don't make a mistake, that is the real challenge for us. Unlicensed freedom is not the answer. But neither is the execution of the prophets! (troublemakers like me). Ongoing dialog, struggling to see where the Spirit wants to lead us...that is the search.

All the questions, abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, tubal etc., all need to seek the answers from that ultimate that life is sacred. But of course, that statement only makes sense if one is in relationship with a sense of the divine. If you are not, then you won't understand what I mean. If you are, especially at your level, then I don't need to explain myself.

Layman:

The sacredness of life only makes sense if one is in relationship. Hmm! Interesting.

Priest:

Relationship relationship relationship. Faith is relationship. Love is relationship. Relationship is not static, nor does it know all the answers. But if the relationship is real, then it is dynamic and open to change and growth, and the Spirit. Christ is present in the Church, but he doesn't send emails. We have to discover him, sort him out, seek the pearl in the field, one shovel full at a time.

Layman:

It is indeed true that the Church is in relationship with Christ; for She is the Bride of Christ, and Christ is her Bridegroom. Husband and wife certainly describe a relationship. That is why I was struck by what you said earlier. You said "She (the Church) comes from a particular understanding of life and of God..." Doesn't she come from the pierced side of the crucified? Isn't she born of Christ himself? Isn't her understanding given to her from the Holy Spirit? "Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures...And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you" (Lk 24, 45-50. Cf. Jn 14, 17; 16, 8-15). Doesn't she understand herself in the Holy Spirit, who is the soul of the Church?

Priest:

Yes, Christ does speak through her, but as I said before, there are different levels of understanding what kind of weight to put on her words.

Layman:

Yes, and who has the right understanding? You? What does the teaching Magisterium say regarding the kind of understanding we must have of her words?

Priest:

As I said before, I have to weigh them in the light of history and see if they really portray the Sensus Fidelium.

Layman:

Isn't that the job of the Magisterium, to interpret the sensus fidelium? You interpret the sensus fidelium one way, a Church historian interprets it another way, a theologian another, a Catholic Philosopher another. Who is right, especially when there is so much conflict, as there is today? It is the Church who pronounces the final word, is it not? In the Declaration in Defense of the Catholic Doctrine on the Church Against Certain Errors of the Present Day (1973), the CDF wrote:

"Thus, however much the Sacred Magisterium avails itself of the contemplation, life and study of the faithful, its office is not reduced merely to ratifying the assent already expressed by the latter; indeed, in the interpretation and explanation of the written or transmitted Word of God, the Magisterium can anticipate or demand their assent."

That seems to be very different than what you are saying, Father.

Which brings me to my next point. You said that respect for life is something that you believe in very strongly. You believe in it very strongly, but other Catholics do not. Your understanding here just happens to agree with the Magisterium. I agree with you that "if life isn't sacred, then nothing within life can be sacred." But some people draw their own line. Some say abortion is wrong, but not contraception. I believe you're one of them, Father. And yet, those who defend the Church's teaching on contraception employ the very same principle, namely, the sacredness and intrinsic goodness of human life. And yet we have priests who are weak on contraception, like you, Father, not to mention some of the laity, and who dissent from Church teaching on this. They have chosen where to draw the line. But the Magisterium has chosen another line. And yet other groups, like Nuns for Choice or Catholics for choice, have drawn an altogether different line. And you know all of them claim to be prophets. Who is right? And how are we to avoid this chaos that you speak of?

You also said "the Church at this point in history is still seeming to try to base everything on a thomistic philosophy mode". But isn't it really the other way around? It is St. Thomas who based what he said on Church teaching.

And you speak of developing a pastoral sense. Does one become more pastoral by abandoning the truth and making exceptions to the principles? If abortion is wrong, it is wrong. I don't become more pastoral by making an exception. I become more pastoral by my ability to establish a rapport with the person I am dealing with, by reverencing this person, by leading her to Jesus, not with theology per se, but with the heart of Christ, empowered with the gifts of the Spirit. It is here that I have to bring to life the teaching of the Church, which exists for this person's good and his salvation. Church teaching as applied to a particular person in a particular situation will not damage him or alienate him. No, it is the pastor that will do this by his insensitivity. But surely there is a distinction between dogmatism and dogma. The troubled person who comes to me needs not cold teaching--for teaching is not cold, rather persons are cold--but a person who can bring the person of Jesus to bear upon a situation. But some people are confused here and with poor logic conclude that this person before me does not need the truth (the teaching/the doctrine). The teaching exists to serve persons. Knowledge exists to serve love, which is directed towards persons. The pastor is one who brings the two thousand-year-old wisdom of the Church to life and he makes it relevant to the particular situation in which this person finds himself. But he cannot do this by abandoning Church teaching or by making exceptions to principles. This is not pastoral. It is a cop out, a failure to pastor under the guise of being sensitive and caring. It is also an instance of arrogance: the pastor believes that he sees farther and has more insight than the Church, which has had 2000 years of experience behind her. St. Irenaeus spoke of this in the year 140 AD:

"But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, and which is preserved by means of the successions of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth" (Adv. Haer., 3:2).

You also said that if the Church were to say that there is an instance where sex outside marriage is permissible, "then that takes an action which also happens to be procreative, and, ergo, procreation does not necessarily reside within marriage. Since the Church must also safeguard society, and the sanctity of marriage, she immediately says, "NO."

But this does not make sense if you think about it, Father. If there is indeed a situation in which sex outside of marriage is permissible, then speaking the truth on this is needed. Why would it prove to be unsafe for society and the sanctity of marriage? The truth is not unsafe. There are situations in which euthanasia is perfectly justified, and the Church explicitly says so. This is a real exception. The Church has not decided to hide this in the fear that such a teaching will be misunderstood and prove socially dangerous.

If there is a situation in which non-marital sex is permissible, then the sex act need not always be open to procreation or need not be an expression of married love. In that case we will need to find the real criterion that determines the integrity of the sex act. It would follow that the criterion of the unitive and procreative goods was clearly not it. For principles do not allow of exceptions. Only rules allow of exceptions. If I have a rule that no one may leave my classroom during an exam to go to the bathroom, I can make an exception to the rule if I see that this boy has a bleeding nose, or this person is going to pee his pants, etc. Exceptions are reasonable. For rules are based on certain principles. The rules themselves are not principles. A principle is different. We cannot make an exception to a principle. For instance, the principle that one ought always to be impartial unless partiality is required by basic human goods, is absolute. No one may give me permission to proceed with a preference for anyone that is not grounded on basic human goods, but only prejudice. No. That would be unloving, unethical, and unjustifiable. The situation of passive euthanasia under extraordinary treatment, for instance, is not an exception of the principle. Removing a seriously burdensome treatment does not involve the intention to snuff out human life. Therefore, the principle that human life be revered is not violated.

But the precept against non-marital sex is not a rule. Engaging in non-marital sex violates certain moral principles. If there is a situation in which non-marital sex does not violate those principles (as there is in euthanasia), then one may have sex in such a situation. But there is no such situation. Why? Because the sex act is, of its very nature, a conjugal act. The two actually become one flesh in the act of sexual union, and they become reproductively one organism. The goodness of the sex act, and its sacredness, is nothing other than the goodness and sacredness of marriage. Two people of the same sex cannot become reproductively and humanly one organism, that is, one body. It is an impossibility. So it is impossible for a homosexual act to have any human and moral goodness whatsoever. This does not mean that the two homosexuals cannot be loving and have good motives. Indeed they can. But motive does not make an action morally good. If it did, then anything can be justified, even terrorism, abortion, and active euthanasia.

Priest:

But we are sexual beings!

Layman:

So is my cat, Father. But you and I are more than sexual beings. You and I are a human kind of being, a being of reason and will. Having a sexuality does not entitle me to experience an orgasm. It means that I can father a child and become one body with a woman. More fundamentally, to be a human being means to be a moral agent. I can know my destiny and choose it. I can also miss it. The distinguishing characteristic of the human person is not "sexuality", but reason and will, or knowledge and love (not sexual love, but divine love: I can love with the heart of Christ).

You also said I quote: "Here, we enter into a field for which there are no immediate answers. The Church is indeed divine AND human. How does one respect and always reverence the divine principles within particular cultures and individual lives? The value of the Church is priceless in the sense that it confronts culture and forces it to struggle with those issues against the divine principles. Without it, there would be no such confrontation, only the anarchy of individuals pushing their own thing and who could be ignored."

Which is why priests should be very careful not to sow seeds of dissent. You describe well the culture in which we live. But my point is that if you can dissent from Church teaching on this or that, then why can't I dissent from you on this and that? Sooner or later, we have that chaos again, that anarchy you spoke of, in which everybody is doing what they judge to be the best for them.

And yet, I am not guided by the Holy Spirit. I am a member of the Church. We are not Church, but members of the Church, Christ's Mystical Body, and the Church as a whole is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church as a whole has the charism of infallibility, just as the human person as a whole has the potentiality to imagine something, or the power to hear, or the power to see. But just as these powers that belong to the whole person need an organ by which they can be realized, so too doesn't the Church need an organ to exercise that charism of infallibility that belongs to the Church as a whole? The Magisterium is that organ, according to the Church's self-understanding. And I am not the Magisterium, and neither are you, Father. A priest is not an official teacher of the Church. The bishops in union with the Holy Father are the official teachers of the Church. To the degree that I insert myself into the Mystical Body, I will be guided by the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ's Mystical Body, the Church. Christian life is ecclesial, not individualistic--as you well know. But a small seed of dissent can quickly lead to Christian individualism.

You also said that "homosexuality as such was not understood as a reality in itself, and would therefore be seen as a freely chosen deviant behaviour which, balanced against the nut screwed on the bolt, would be evil personified. The word "faggot" would come from the faggots of wood which burned these terrible sinners to death." But I ask you: did the magisterium teach this, or was this just assumed on the part of the people? And consider the following: imagine a priest taking it upon himself to interpret the sensus fidelium on this issue, and after his investigation, recommends burning at the stake, because most people (80%) think that the homosexual orientation is chosen one. From our vantage point we can readily see how faulty is such theology. And yet there are priests today, including you, Father, who employ that very same reasoning with regard to the issue of contraception - since 80% of Catholics believe its okay, it must be okay, that is, in accordance with the sensus fidelium.

Furthermore, you say we have come a long way in that the Catechism now defines the homosexual orientation as one not chosen. You say that this indicates a drastic change in the teaching as a result of a deeper understanding of the issue. But the teaching has not changed at all. Attitudes have changed. Please show me where the Church officially taught at one time that the homosexual orientation is a chosen condition.

You also say, "the dialog is within the relationship we have with Christ. We will not see the end of the dialog within our lifetime." But Father, you can use this line of reasoning to justify anything. I can call myself a prophet and maintain that the dialogue with regard to abortion is still in process and within the relationship we have with Christ, and that the dialogue will not end in our lifetime. I can then maintain that the Church's teaching on abortion is rather strict, but generally true--only generally. It is easy to conclude that a 15 year old girl, alone and pregnant, should be given an abortion in this circumstance. If anyone confronts me on this with Church teaching or moral principles, I can just reply that the dialog is in process and we cannot pretend to have final answers to these questions. And I can do this with any moral issue.

My relationship with Christ is indeed dynamic, not static. You are right. But that has no bearing upon the teachings of the Church. Let me employ an analogy. I have a relationship with my little girl. It is not a static one, but dynamic and ever growing. But I teach my little girl many things. I tell her that when she dies, she and I will rise again to new and everlasting life, just like the Beast on her favorite movie, Beauty and the Beast, or her second favorite movie, Snow White, who awakens from the sleep of death from the kiss of the Prince. I talk to her like that, according to her level and ability to understand. Our relationship will continue to grow. And our conversation will change, the level of which will become increasingly more profound. I wouldn't talk to her like that if she were a teenager. But my message would hardly change. It's not as if the day she turns 18 I will tell her that we will not rise again from the dead. No, my teaching remains the same, only the mode of expression will change to suit her age level.

I tell her not to steal and to always tell the truth, at this point in the context of Pinocchio, for instance, another favorite of hers. But it is not the case that on her 14th birthday I will tell her that she can now steal and lie, or do so under certain circumstances. No. I'll use a different strategy, but my message will remain unchanged. I'll tell her about integrity, personal integration, split personality, etc. She wouldn't have been able to grasp this as a child, but certainly as a teen she could. Again, the content of the teaching remains unchanged, but the mode of expression changes. A dynamic relationship is dynamic, but the relationship itself is enduring. In other words, it is a permanent but growing relationship. We have change within permanence.

You say that you are one of the prophets who co-exist uneasily with the lawmakers. But how do you know you are? I've heard it said that Mother Teresa is a prophet. I've heard others, like Billy Graham, say that Pope John Paul II is a prophet. Both Mother Teresa and John Paul II would certainly disagree with you on your theological contentions. How do we distinguish between the false prophets and the authentic prophets? Traditionally it has always been that the false prophet is inconsistent with the express and perennial teaching of the Church. That would make you a false prophet, Father.

You say, "together, we make up the Church. Together, sometimes in anger, always in tension, we move the Church forward in the relationship. If the Church were all prophet, and no one based in law...tradition...etc...we would be in terrible shape. But of course, we cannot swing the other way to total law, either. Rigidity, and insensitivity, self righteousness and arrogance are the result of that approach." But wouldn't one need an unusually high sense of self-importance (arrogance) to call oneself a prophet?

The question is who are the real prophets that we should listen to, and who are the false ones? If a prophet is saying something that is inconsistent with the very principles of Catholic teaching (not just rules, but principles), then we can safely say that this is a false prophet.

So when you say: "you cannot take what I say as totally indicative of where the Church is, but you cannot discount me either", this is true. I have to measure what you say against the teaching authority of the Church.

You said that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the Church, and that "the Spirit does not operate in a ZAP mode. It is always through the People of God, struggling to continually redefine the ancient principles, the sense of God in our midst, in the light of continually unfolding new dynamics of culture, of new awareness brought on by scientific discovery...It is very much the sense of Vatican II that the Church is not just a "top down" pyramid which gives out the sense of God to the faithful." There is some truth in this, but it can be dangerously misused to justify all sorts of dissent. Always through the people of God, you say, but liberal dissenters say that it is through the liberal consensus that we find that Spirit. Others say you must consider the entire history of the Church. But one thing is certain. I am not the Magisterium. Neither are you. I quote again from the Declaration on Catholic Doctrine:

"For," as the Second Vatican Council says, "there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (cf. Lk. 2:19, 51), through the intimate understanding of spiritual things they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure charism of truth." And the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI observes that the witness the pastors of the Church offers is "rooted in Sacred Tradition and Holy Scripture and nourished by the ecclesial life of the whole People of God."

But by divine institution it is the exclusive task of these pastors alone, the successors of Peter and the other Apostles, to teach the faithful authentically, that is with the authority of Christ shared in different ways; so that the faithful, who may not simply listen to them as experts in Catholic doctrine, must accept their teaching given in Christ's name, with an assent that is proportionate to the authority that they possess and that they mean to exercise.

For this reason the Second Vatican Council, in harmony with the first Vatican Council, teaches that Christ made Peter "a perpetual and visible principle and foundation of the unity of the faith and of communion"[21]; and the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI has declared: "The teaching office of the bishops is for the believer the sign and channel which enable him to receive and recognize the Word of God."

And finally, you say you are a true prophet and that execution of troublemakers like you is not the answer. If you are a true prophet, you may yet receive the crown of martyrdom. Isn't that the sign of a true prophet? He's hated by the world? Your ideas would make you very popular with the world. CNN would award you "Prophet of the Year". The Homosexual community would make a statue of you in your honor. But what prophet in the history of the Church or Israel was ever so widely loved? Didn't Jesus say: "You will be universally hated because of me" (Lk 21, 17)? Or, how about "If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you" (Jn 15, 18ff).

Shouldn't that be a sign that maybe you are not the prophet you think you are? A true prophet challenges the world to listen to God and to obey his commandments: "If you love me, keep my commandments." The world hates the prophet for this reason. The world wants and demands all sorts of exceptions. Which is why the world embraces the idea that everything is in process. They'd crucify a true prophet. But the false prophet tells them what they want to hear.

Relationship with Christ does not take place outside of his Mystical Body. If I am inserted into Christ, I am inserted into his body, and my 'sense of the faith' will accord with the formulated teaching of the Magisterium, who is the sole interpreter of what authentically belongs to the 'sense of the faith'. Jesus did say that the Holy Spirit will lead you to where you don't want to go. The problem is that our culture has no notion of what constitutes authentic freedom. We are only free, according to popular culture, when we are free from anything that ties us down. Authority is regarded as a threat to our own personal freedom. But authority exists to serve human freedom. It is the condition for the possibility of genuine freedom. The authority of the Church is a gift and it exists for my good. We should be very wary of those who see the authority of the Church as a threat to their freedom.

You have a very serious responsibility, a terrifying one when you really come to think of it. How horrible the thought that what we say could lead to somebody's eternal loss. Indeed, the teaching of the Church is a wonderful gift.

FOR SOME REASON, FATHER CHOSE TO DISCONTINUE THE DIALOGUE.

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