A Reading from the Prophet Sheed…and a Mystery, and a Musing—All on Sex

I think the title counts as what is called in the cyber world, clickbait. Anyway…

Frank Sheed (1897–1981), the great Australian Catholic publisher, apologist and missionary to England and America, manages the feat of being orthodox without being pious, and of being comprehensive without being complex. He was also, and often, remarkably prescient.

His ecclesial autobiography, The Church and I (Sheed and Ward, 1974), charts his life in relation to the Church, its heroes and villains, its triumphs, and its crises. So what he writes about “The Church and Sex” (chapter 16) still reads as fresh and relevant as it must have back in 1974. I will cobble together some sections below, much as the lectionary often does with its scripture. But whereas the lectionary often does that to pull some punches, my purpose here will be to allow no breathing time between each punch: Continue reading “A Reading from the Prophet Sheed…and a Mystery, and a Musing—All on Sex”

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and Amoris Latetitia

As you know, in a monastery the monk–priests take turns as principal celebrants of the conventual Mass. At Douai most of us usually offer a few words of reflection, a homilette, of a greater or lesser degree of depth according to the monk involved. (nb depth is not always a virtue!) So this morning I was slated for the Mass, and I was struck by the gospel Mark 3:22–30:

The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

It is a dense and not particularly clear passage at first reading, or even second. But it merits extended reflection in light of the current crisis over the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. Continue reading “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and Amoris Latetitia”

Amoris Laetitia: a work of many hands

It is accomplished. Amoris Laetitia (hereafter AL) has been read from go to whoa. It was a bit of a slog at times. There are moments of golden lucidity and crystal clarity, with flashes of insight and inspiration. There are moments of ambiguity and the avoidance of plain speaking. There a stretches where the subject seems laboured, over-worked and even, at times, uneccessary.  There are moments when one thinks when is reading the words of an earthy parish priest rather than the magisterial teaching of a sovereign pontiff to the Church and the world.

Continue reading “Amoris Laetitia: a work of many hands”

Synodalia: Fathers, here’s a thought.

Synodalia: Jottings on the margins of the Synod

Many of us will remember that much of the justification for the liturgical reform lay in an appeal to the early Church, a return to the sources and primitive purity, when liturgy had not yet acquired the accretions and “useless repetitions” of more recent centuries. It is more than open to debate that the subsequent reform has been successful. In part this is due to a failure to see that rituals can legitimately develop as the understanding of their significance expands. Some might argue that the liturgical reform’s exaltation of the primitive involved selling off a Porsche 911 in order to obtain a Model-T Ford.

Continue reading “Synodalia: Fathers, here’s a thought.”

Synodalia: Have you noticed what’s missing?

One thing sadly, disastrously, absent from the Synod from the scanty information we have been permitted to receive, is eternity. We look to the woefully deficient Relatio, or working document, that was so unwisely released (perhaps as a belated gesture of transparency and consultation). In its opening paragraphs it seeks to set the synodal discussions in a context, and that context is purely this-worldly. It is as if it is only this life, this world, that truly matters. The focus is entirely socio-anthropological. The closest it comes to moving our eyes away from our navels is the exhortation to have our “gaze on Christ” (#4, et infra). Yet this phrase is never adequately unpacked, except that we look to Christ for teaching on marriage.

eternity

As Archbishop Sheen was so fond of reminding us, Christ came to die. That was his mission: that by the self-sacrificial death on the Cross of his mortal human body we might share in his divine life for eternity. Christ made a condition of following him that we deny ourselves and take up our cross to share in the eternal fruit of his Cross. So intent was his own gaze on eternity that he admitted that following him would divide families, setting one against another. His moral teaching was oriented toward a full identification with him in every aspect of our lives and our dealing with others. He commanded us to love, yes; but then taught us that love is essentially and necessarily selfless, its summit found in laying down one’s life for another. As Christ did for us. We know not that day nor the hour. Live, he bids us, so that you are ready for death and judgment.

What the Relatio calls the “Gospel of the family” can only make sense if it is related to the core gospel of Christ. Family, marriage and sexuality for a Christian must serve eternity and help prepare us for it. Yet the Relatio seems intent on trying to make things as easy as possible in this life for people who do not follow the core Gospel of Christ. If eating and drinking unworthily of the Eucharist brings dire judgment upon us (1 Cor 11:29), and if unworthily has always been defined as labouring under grave, unremitted, sin, then how can granting those in grave sin the Eucharist be helpful to them? Only if our focus is not on eternity, but on here and now, feeling accepted, included and the like. Nowhere in the Relatio do we hear the fundamental gospel proclamation: Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

The temporal, secular focus of this document is lamentable. We see now through a glass darkly, but then face to face (1 Cor 13:12). Surely the Synod needs to be reminding the Church that what we experience and feel now is no guide to anything but the nature and degree of our need for God and his truth. The answer, then, is to satisfy this need for God and his truth by focusing on that which he has definitely revealed to us through scripture and the timeless teaching of the Church.

The bottom line of Christianity is that it is to prepare us for death and eternity, the last things that are so starkly absent from the Relatio. There is comfort in the knowledge that the Relatio is only a “working document”; but if it is representative of the Synod’s work, they have been wasting a great deal of time and money. It has no binding force whatsoever. It should, must, be ignored.

Instead, for now let us live well as the Church has always taught us in fidelity to Christ, with our eyes set in hope on death, and eternity.

Synodalia: What is Love?

Anthony Fisher OP, Archbishop-Elect of my hometown, Sydney, has penned an article posted on the website of his new diocese. Its context is the Synod, and he addresses some very topical issues. But it is his opening lines that arrested this reader’s attention:

I think the biggest challenge to the family today is that people have forgotten how to love. That sounds odd, I know, but what I’m getting at is the cross-shaped Easter sort of loving rather than the heart-shaped Valentine’s sort of loving. We are less and less willing to commit, for the long haul, to another person or a small community of persons, come what may, even when the loving is hard. We are less and less willing to engage in the self-sacrifice that requires, the compromising of our willfulness, even unto death.

One of my homiletic preoccupations (obsessions?), as the boys at this morning’s Mass at Winchester College will attest, is to replace the concept of love that is rammed down our throats by amusing but vacuous romantic comedies, sitcoms, light literature and substance-less magazines – of emotional intoxication with another: “falling in love” – with the Christian concept of love. The Christian concept of love – Christian because perfectly modelled in the person of Jesus Christ – has less to do with transient emotions and more to do with selflessness and self-sacrifice. This is not love as a state of being or an emotional state; but love as a state of doing, a way of living.

valentine-heart

cross

                   OR

 

 

 

This love is pithily and effectively summed up by Archbishop Fisher: it is Cross-shaped, not valentine-shaped. for when the emotional buzz of what is often mistakenly called love (instead of infatuation or even, sometimes, lust) has passed, what are we left with? All too often today the result is broken marriages, or broken relationships since so many do not make that permanent commitment which is the basis of marital love. When “love” is defined by what I feel rather than what I give, we are dealing with a chimera at best, a counterfeit at worst.

This is not to deny that love has an emotional element. Christ does not advocate a soul-less, robotic form of loving. Rather, it is that the emotional element – the “buzz”, the high, the pleasure, the sweetness, the joy – is meant to come after, or at least concurrently with, the doing of love, the self-giving, the self-sacrifice. Emotions come and go, so they can be no real test of love. Commitment, self-denial, self-sacrifice, self-giving: these are the marks of authentic love.

“Greater love has no one than to lay down one’s life for a friend; you are my friends if you do as I command you”. And what did Christ command: to love God and to love our neighbour. Christ laid down his life for us, and we prove ourselves at least partly worthy by doing as he did. “I have left you an example”. “If you would be my disciple, take up your cross, and follow me”. God’s love, Christ’s love, is cross-shaped.

It is this commitment to self-less self-giving that is the best, yea the only, human foundation of marital love. So if the Church’s, which is to say Christ’s, teaching on love – its duties and its limits and its measure – leaves some people feeling exposed or judged, the problem lies not with the teaching but with people’s faulty living, imperfect choices, unwise decisions. Shooting the messenger will help no one. Denying the message will do even worse damage. If Christ has taught us the truth about love, the love that brings us to life eternal, though vales of tears and dales of joy, then there is only one message the Church can teach, and only one choice we can legitimately make for our own good.

The Christian teaching of two millenia on love have the guarantee of Christ and the validation of experience in the lives of those who all too often do not make the news, the women’s magazine or the lad-mag, or popular music. But these do not reflect the reality of most people’s lives. Most people’s lives are too mundane to make for arresting music or literature or cinema. They set up an ideal impossible to attain; indeed it is no ideal at all. It is a snare, trapping the unwary in the vicious circle of self-obsession.

Perhaps the greatest need today in popular theology, and certainly in the homiletics of our parishes and chaplaincies, is to recover and promote the truth about love and expose the toxic sham that modern secular culture substitutes for it. Love is, as the archbishop said, cross-shaped not valentine-shaped, and our loving will be vain until we fully comprehend this.

Synodalia: A Mixed Bag

Rome is proving to be as much a hotbed of intrigue  as it ever was. This Synod is frightening in that, given this day and age, so little direct information is coming from it. Yet some are doing their detective work, and some of the news is heartening, some of it not.

From Rorate comes a fascinating bulletin, containing a little joy to balance its affliction. The joy is that Cardinal Burke is not the pariah some have been making him out to be. A few weeks ago came the ominous rumour that he was about to be removed from the Signatura, and thus from the Curia, and into a benign and powerless sinecure. Then some (as noted in the Rorate artcile) said his interventions at the Synod were received coldly. We cannot know for sure given the information quasi-blackout. Yet Rorate took a factual list and deduced quite soundly that he cannot be in such low esteem with the bishops given that a group of them have elected him moderator of one of the groups preparing a final submission. If this is an accurate measure of the esteem in which he is held, it will be a brave move indeed to move him out of the Curia. However, Pope Francis is not timid.

Cardinal Burke
Cardinal Burke

Indeed it seems several very orthodox bishops have been elected to these reporting committees. Now we can see why Cardinal Kasper might want a news blackout, and why Cardinal Mueller wants every bishop’s speech published. Cardinal Mueller’s logic is quite defensible: all Catholics have the right to know what their bishops have said. But with so many orthodox, hold-the-line bishops being elected, Pope Francis’ “ad hoc, and without prior announcement” appointment of six extra prelates to help the (orthodox) Cardinal Erdö of Budapest compose the final document to be sent to the pope, we see what can not unreasonably be seen as an attempt to head off the orthodox school. Given that Cardinal Kasper regularly falls back on “I have discussed this with Pope Francis” as his defence of last resort, one could deduce with some confidence that he has had a hand in these appointments.

Has Fr Z and Fr Hunwicke have pointed out, among these new appointees will be found no Africans. Three hispanics, but no Africans. The Africans have very strong views on family and marriage in their local context, as witnessed by South African Cardinal Napier this week, and he makes some excellent points. The Africans speak boldly. They represent the fastest growing region of the Church. They are not trusted to help draft the final relatio. A pity.

Cardinal Napier
Cardinal Napier

So Burke waxes, and transparency wanes. Let’s all stay tuned.