The Sin-nod — Clarifying some of the Nonsense

It has taken some time, but it is coming finally. It’s in a more subtle form than usual, and perhaps far less subtle in places I have not seen.

It is, of course, the old chestnut that bishops and clergy preach down to the faithful, have no knowledge of “real life”, and that their recourse to doctrines is divorced from reality, and almost inhuman. So we hear the drivel that the Church needs to “listen” to those in irregular situations (ie sinners) so that the Church can better “accompany them”. So this article seemed one of the more temperate versions of that rhetoric. Sr Maureen Kelleher, an auditor at the Synod, reworks the language into that of a cultural chasm between laypeople and the bishops. The bishops she paints almost as victims, desperately trying to please both the institution and the people.

“And they’re very, very – well, they’re in pain, I think, to deal with the pastoral situation and reaching for particularly the remarried after divorce in a way that would be accompanying them … and yet being faithful to their understanding of Jesus’ sentences on divorce and its consequences,” she continued.

“I am watching people who have been very formed and steeped in language and concepts really trying to reach for a way that won’t confuse us faithful laity and will be sensitive and yet be faithful to everything they believe,” said Sr Kelleher.

The mildness of tone should not blind us to the tendentious manipulation at work in what she is quoted as saying. The bishops are in “pain” because they are torn between the supposed needs of the people and the demands of the unfeeling, unyielding institutional Church. The bishops want to be “accompanying people”, yet (somehow?) remain faithful to “their understanding of Jesus’ sentences on divorce and its consequences”. So Jesus’ solemn teaching, the commandments of the Son of God, are reduced to “sentences”, and of course the bishops are trying to be faithful only to “their” understanding of them. It’s a double lie: that the Lord’s teaching is but “sentences” and the timeless preaching of that divine teaching by the Church’s pastors is now relativized, and thus diminished, to “their understanding” and “their beliefs”.

So it is “us” (God’s people) and “them” (clerics and the institutional Church), and the latter has no more importance than the former.

Let us not be sucked in by this subtle manipulation. It is not us and them. This is what really ticks me off. When this argument, or variations of it, are trotted out a totally false, and indeed insulting (among other things), division is made. The laity are struggling with the burdens and imperfections of their messy lives, and by implication the clergy are not. What utter rot.

Most clergy I know, and most bishops I suspect (I know so few!), are more than conscious of themselves, ourselves, as sinners. We also struggle with temptations, inclinations, urges, moral lapses, uncharitableness, resentments, poor judgements, misunderstandings. “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Yes, we are sinners too. I am a sinner, and I have temptations to sin everyday, temptations that will remain with me for the foreseeable future and become in many ways a burden, an ongoing trial, an obstacle to joy.

On the one hand, the bishops and the pope could come out and say (hypothetically) that all the sins the trouble me are no longer to be seen as things that keep me from God, not things that impair me from communion with His Church. Don’t feel excluded because of your sins, they would be saying.

But does that change reality? Does that help me towards salvation and eternal life, which is the very purpose of the Church? Or is it little more than a sop to my self-pity and my desire not to feel bad about myself? Should I not feel shame for my sins? Why are we not hearing the first word of the gospel – “Repent”? What little value does it give to those who struggle honestly and daily to overcome their sins and strive, faithful to Christ’s clear teaching, to be holy.

In case someone should assert that I do not speak for them, I shall revert to the perpendicular pronoun. I, a cleric and not a layperson, am a sinner too. I do not want the Church to “accompany” me, or “walk with” me or whatever term one might employ. I want the Church to teach me the truth, that truth which sets us free. I want the Church to teach me what God has revealed about humanity, its fallen nature, its redemption in Christ, the offer to humanity of redemption though faith in Christ, the daily demands that faith makes upon me in particular, and I want it to give me all the spiritual and sacramental helps it can to heal me of what separates me from God and to strengthen me to carry on the struggle, the carrying of the Cross, that is the essential element of Christian life. I want to be conformed to God’s law in Christ’s teaching, and do not want the pathetic lie involved in conforming it to suit my sinfulness to make me feel better.

In fact, and in sum, I do not want the Church to make me feel better; I want it, need it, to call me to repentance. I want it to make me truly better. Worthy of heaven. A blessing to my neighbour. A bearer of a treasure not made of gold in the feeble clay of my flesh. I want to please God not myself.

Who is it that some of the Synod fathers are trying to please? Man? Or worse?

Let’s pray for them. To them much has been given; and from them much will be demanded.

7 thoughts on “The Sin-nod — Clarifying some of the Nonsense

  1. Absolutely well said, Fr. I totally agree. The last thing I need is a “church” which tells me my sins are OK. The world can do that far more effectively and rewards every vice properly. Sin would be just so boring if the Church endorsed it. I can’t think of anything less appealing than being “accompanied” by the likes of our current synod delegates with their sickly, patronising sentimentality – it would drive me to murder. (Come to think of it, the bigger sins would be more doable in that kind of regime I suppose.) 😉

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  2. oh Father, the voice in the wilderness you are indeed!! and refreshingly so to those “others” of us—
    Imagine… if the Catholic faithful are the “thems” and the Clergy are the “theys” then I shudder thinking what that makes those of us who are not Catholic 🙂 —perhaps the “its” 🙂
    One of the very first words you quoted here was “accompanying”—as in its usage, the word accommodating then comes to mind–as in accompanying while accommodating the masses—ie the sinning laity–or faithful followers—
    yet that is a huge part of the trouble—the clergy and the Church should by no means be about the businesses of accompanying the masses nor accommodating the masses as the masses skip merrily down the dark and dismal path of blatant disobedience of the Holy Scriptures and are now stuck in the mire of grave sinfulness in the name of modernization, tolerance of anything and everything—-
    And if the clergy, the bishops, cardinals, etc ever think that they are any better than us their “people” or truly lost sheep, then they have another thing coming as the world is still reeling from and coming to terms with the sexual abuse scandal—of which many an upper ranking clergy, as it seems, were busily turning blind eyes left and right—-
    So now. as those of us who are so rooting and pulling for the Catholic Church to pick its self up, see its own flaws and errors, repent, regroup and refocus—all of which is to be found in the Holy blood of the Lamb that must wash us all clean of our sinfulness, that this lame Church can become the light that steers the doomed ships back to safe harbor.
    We don’t need a church to accompany us on a journey or accommodate our poor choices of lifestyle, etc—we need a voice, like that very voice of John’s in that wilderness—crying out to repent.
    Our time on this earth is drawing nigh–the shadows have fallen—the battle lines are being drawn and we need a Church who will lead the faithful back home!!!
    Oh dear Father—I seem to have gotten a bit wound up—-apologies 🙂
    Hugs Father and may God richly bless you and shore you up during these troubling times—-
    Julie

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  3. Hah, glad to see your post’s title; I made the Sin-Nod joke to my wife a while back and she didn’t laugh. Thought I was alone but apparently great minds think alike. Cheers, Jason

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