Monday, October 13, 2014

Meh. (Or, #Synod2014 and Me)

I'm off the Synod.

I liked the idea for a while once. It was a Monday, as I recall.

But now I'm off it, and would more-or-less rather it not be happening, I think. But it is. And so I'm going to say something about it and then shut up.

Today the Vatican published something I don't care a whole lot about.


The ultra-liberal online brain-crap generator Think Progress promptly swooned with the headline, "A ‘Pastoral Earthquake’: Catholic Church Proposes Extraordinary Shift On Gays And Lesbians." Its readers took to the comboxes to cheer this great and progressive step, saying (in effect) that now all that needs to happen is for all those $@#%ing Christian's to die and then things'll finally be swell, because #tolerance.

On the other hand, Patheos blogger Fr. Longenecker decried some of the same rhetoric from today's document-that-nobody-should-care-about that had gotten T.P. all exercised:
Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
Fr. Dwight called this "sentimentalist, wishy washy, secularist nonsense."

And there was more, ad nauseam: my news feed full of progressives celebrating, traditionalists lamenting, the sky falling, the smoke of Satan wafting fab-u-lous-ly into the Sistine Chapel, and Henry VIII being canonized or something.

As for me, I'm taking a deep breath and saying my word on the Synod before, as promised, shutting up.

Meh.

That's my word on the Synod.

There's a term I haven't used in a while: Cafeteria Catholicism. 

I haven't used it because I've somewhat repented of it as a useful description.

I get what it is meant to mean: it is meant to indict relativism, and to condemn those who would choose from the Church's Doctrine the parts that they like, and ignore the parts they don't like.

But Catholicism is more than Doctrine. [Oh, man, some of you are thinking, he sounds like Pope Francis! Ugh... -- chill out, k?]

Catholicism is more than Doctrine. And, frankly, a lot of what Catholicism is about other than Doctrine - which is nonetheless related to and of a piece with Her Doctrine - is kind of like a Cafeteria.

Think of the alternate image to the Cafeteria: the Church as mother saying, "Eat your vegetables and like it." Now, that's all well and good. Yes, the Church knows what's good for us even if we don't, and it does "serve" us what we ought to eat. 

But I don't like this image. I don't think it fits. The Church is like a great buffet, a rich offering of everything good. If I don't like some vegetables, there are other vegetables there that will get me the nourishment I need. It isn't just "what's being served that day." 

[Ironically, this is more of a true mothering image, too. A mother will often consult the family about what they would like to eat. A mother knows her children and is better than anyone usually at getting the kids to eat their veggies, because she knows those sprouts just need some bacon bits and brown sugar and then Timmy gobbles 'em up. But the quintessential Cafeteria -- the school cafeteria -- isn't a buffet for the choosy, but a rigid and dictatorial offering like one finds in a prison. Today is meat loaf and mashed potatoes. Don't like it? Tough. And nota bene, the meat loaf and mashed potatoes, while certainly loaf and mashed, contain neither meat nor potatoes.]

Now, what does any of that have to do with the Synod? 

Well, because I'm not havin' it.

Not because I think it lacks nourishment or is wrong in any deep or intrinsic way. But it's not to my taste. And that's okay. Because I don't think it was made for me...

[Now others of you are scratching your head and saying, But wait, you can't do that - you're no different from the X, Y, and Z-defending folks who ... -- and you need to be quiet inside your head and keep reading, k?]

It wasn't meant for me. I'm not divorced and remarried. I'm not in a wounded marriage. I'm not a homosexual. I don't struggle with the Church's teachings on chastity or contraception. I'm not a polygamist. I'm not a confessor or pastor. 

I'm just a guy with an apostolate and an awesome dog.

So, I'm not going to hang on with baited breath to every pronouncement from the Synod, because it's liable to give me heartburn. I like less fatty, less sugary fare. 

But - if push comes to shove, I will endeavor defensively to demonstrate to any such who need demonstration that the pastoral guidance (n.b.: that's what we're getting here; not new Revelation; not even doctrinal development or definitive teaching; just pastoral guidance) of the Synod Fathers is not in opposition to the deposit of faith or the moral theology handed down through the ages.

To take an example: I get Father Longenecker's wariness about today's unimportant document's wording regarding the unique gifts of homosexuals. But let's look more closely at the language:
Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
Note, first of all, that you could, without changing the meaning of the sentence, insert "just like everyone" at any point in the first clause. There is no reason to read this as having any kind of exclusivity: that is, as implying that homosexuals have such gifts and qualities precisely having to do with their homosexuality.  But I'm going to tease out the "what if?" -- What if it did mean this?

If we're serious about the orientation being merely disordered and not a sin in itself, then why can't we "accept and value" this and see how certain kinds of gifts and qualities might arise from this? Doesn't Saint Paul speak beautifully of the mystery of how his areas of weakness become his areas of strength? Isn't our mystical tradition redolent with images of the shining wounds of Christ? We say that disordered sexual desire is suffered, borne as a Cross. Why is it hard for us to imagine boasting in the Cross on this particular issue, when we celebrate -- as we just recently did with Saint Jerome in the case of his (in)famous anger--the way that holiness takes and transforms one's trials into one's testimonies?

Well, of course, I know why we don't like it. I don't like it myself, as I think I've made clear: We don't like it because "Religion Reporters" in the mainstream media are either idiots or pathological fibbers. We don't like it because it does make the job of some of us in the trenches a lot harder, and sometimes we feel like the Generals who issue the orders are listening to all the wrong advisers. We don't like it because Think Progress. Because what will be reported as a "pastoral earthquake" is experienced by us more like an uncle who's had a bit too much to drink at Thanksgiving making a mess in the dining room and making everyone feel uncomfortable with his flatulence and bad jokes before he falls asleep.

But I think we also don't like it -- at least a bit -- because we're "the older son." You know, from that parable. The one with the little jerk who goes off and acts like a little jerk, and then comes back and dad's all like, "Hooray," and we're all like, "What the hell?" (Cf., Luke 15:11-32; New Revised Meh Edition).

That is the only thing we must guard against. And it's okay if we feel challenged to put on a smiling face and attend the banquet. But there are leftovers in the fridge, and they're still good to eat, and we're welcome to 'em.

For my part, I will be revisiting the Catechism, and the Compendium of Social Doctrine, and Humanae Vitae and Dignitatis Personae and other sources of the Church's unchanging moral doctrine. But I'll be challenging myself to read them and find them new: find them fresh: find them "good news" for people who really do struggle with the Gospel's demands in such matters.

If I'm going to take the Synod's decrees with a grain of salt - as I certainly may - I must in fealty at least do this much, while I also pray for the guidance of the Spirit over the Synod Fathers and the whole Church. I must at least struggle with the very real questions that the Synod Fathers are trying to open their hearts and their ears and their minds to -- even if I would rather they kept their mouths shut.

So, that's my piece on the Synod. I'll be called a Cafeteria Catholic, a homophobe, a liberal, and a grumpy-pants, I'm sure.

I'm not married to my project of re-envisioning the term "Cafeteria Catholic" - in fact, it's probably a bad idea and would confuse people more than anything. (Interesting, though, isn't it, how that works? With the best intentions, too... Maybe we're all a bit like the silly Synod sometimes?)

I'm not a homophobe, so shut up.

I'm ... yeah, actually, that's fine, you call me liberal.

And I'm definitely a grumpy-pants.

But above all, I'm just a guy with an apostolate and an awesome dog who is, really, 100% okay with not being 100% thrilled all the time with everything that everybody in the Church does, ever. And all that means is that I'm a Catholic.
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