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A bit on random and illiterate heckling

Friday, January 11, 2013 1:01 AM Comments (37)

Kevin O'Brien writes:

My buddy Richard Aleman, tireless warrior for the Church, comes up with not only a great meme, but a great idea for episode one of Stanford Nutting's new internet series, SHARING WITH STANFORD.

This reminds me.  A reader of the "We will bury you!" school of Future Worship was remarking in my comboxes recently concerning the fact that the Church is, whatever the National Catholic Reporter demands, simply never going to ordain women priests:

These same naysayers also predicted that the mass would remain forever in Latin, or that Communion on the tongue was eternal and unchanging. No doubt that when the Church eventually allows women priests the announcement will be preceded by "as the Church has always taught....." But for now Catholic women will have to continue to ponder and tolerate the shame of this kind of thought:

Such Triumphalist Emmissaries from the Future really need to learn the difference between unchanging teaching and a reformable discipline. Otherwise they come off like ignorami, not like Time Travellers who know how the story is going to end. Neither Latin nor communion on the tongue were ever irreformable. (The clue about Latin would have been the fact that there are numerous other rites in the Church where Latin is not used at all.) Neither, by the way, is priestly celibacy irreformable. And the priesthood has nothing to do with letting women teach or speak, which is why women have been teaching, and speaking, and doing scholarship, and doing science, and running schools, hospitals, and countries for centuries in the Catholic tradition. You do know, don’t you, O Time Traveler, that there are women doctors of the Church? Really. Try learning before shooting your mouth off.

To which, the Time Traveler replies:

Yes, yes, it’s all quite complicated and mysterious how Church teaching gradually coincided with modern reality to help keep the pews from emptying. Other Christian sects allow birth control? A 20th century Pope fortunately reveals that timing sex to avoid pregnancy is no longer sinful, as long as the couple has a good reason. Women begin to claim their rights as equals to men in society in the 60′s and 70′s? A few women saints are titles Doctors of the Church. And what ever happened to the centuries old teaching that all go to hell except for faithful, baptized, card-carrying Catholics? That one seems to have gone the way of the dodo too. Semantics aside, maintaining first century gender norms shouldn’t be bragging points. You do know, don’t you, that these women doctors have been dead for some time? Only a male dominated hierarchy and cult of celibacy could spin this as a positive message for the gals

The curious way in which the "damned if they do, damned if they don't" critics do not mind contradicting themselves if only they can contradict the Church is impressive. On the one hand the Church is faulted for refusing to change. On the other, she is faulted for changing. And when you point out that some things are changeable and some things are not, the critic waves his hands about how it's all so complicated that he can't be expected to know what he's talking about as he complains and accuses.

Still, those of us capable of intellectual curiosity and not merely of random and illiterate heckling do in fact discern a reasonable pattern in what the Church sees as changeable vs. what is irreformable. Basically, it comes down to apostolic tradition about matters crucial to the nature of the faith and the sacraments, vs. changing cultural norms. It also comes down to knowing enough history so as not to buy into ignorant cartoons. So, for instance, if you are going to say the Church, until just yesterday, said all non-Catholics are damned, you should know that Justin Martyr thought that Socrates was illumined by the Holy Spirit, that Perpetua believed her dead pagan brother had been saved by the prayers of the Church, that there are Arian heretics in the Roman martyrology as saints, and that the Church has always held out the possibility of salvation for people who, through no fault of their own, have not heard the gospel and tried to be obedient to the light of conscience. This goes right back to Romans 2 and Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats, which turn out to have been written well before Vatican 2. Fr. Leonard Feeney was rebuked for saying only "baptized, card-carrying Catholics" could be saved in 1949. Similarly, the point about women doctors of the Church manages to overlook the fact that what got them canonized as such was not that their works were suddenly discovered in the 70s, but that they had been teaching for centuries through their work. If women were forbidden to teach, why have Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila been doing it for so long? How did Isabella of Spain or Elizabeth of Hungary wield all that power when women were forbidden by the Church to wield power? And why, as punishment, were these uppity women canonized or highly regarded by the Church? Similarly, the issue is not why Hildegard of Bingen is popular now. The issue is why was she popular in her own lifetime and ever since if the Church is so opposed to brainy women teaching stuff (and brainy Hildy was plenty brainy and, in addition to being one of those herbalist women the Church was supposed to hate and fear as wtiches, also admonished a king)? Why did a pre-Vatican II abbot insist that St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) delay entry into the Carmelites so that she could speak and teach?

As to birth control, it should hardly be a puzzle that the Church did not address which forms of birth control were legitimate before human cultures started asking, on a large scale, about birth control. Similarly, the fifth century church has remarkably little to say about the moral differences between embryonic vs. adult stem cell research. This is what some of us call "common sense". At the end of the day, what this all boils down to is the fact that my Time Traveler doesn't know (because he has no interest in knowing) what the difference is between what is essential and what is negotiable in the Catholic tradition. It's all just a bunch of stupid mumbo jumbo: something something Latin something something priests something something birth control something something celibacy something something unbelievers something something hell something something women. He dips a ladle into the swirling mix of "Catholicism", pulls it out, drops the undifferentiated slop on to the table and declares it to be a confusing mess, therefore women will be priests because communion in the hand and Latin and natural family planning and women doctors of the Church. There is not a clue about the difference between the sacerdotal priesthood, nor what a priest is, nor what a sacrament is, nor why Jesus and the apostles might distinguish between sacred tradition and human tradition. There is, in a word, not the slightest interest in or even awareness of the possibility that the Catholic faith might actually have its own interior structure and logic beyond "What baloney can we say this week that might make people like us?" It's an excellent way to set oneself up to be blind-sided when the Church turns out to not be as dumb as you thought.

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About Mark Shea

Mark Shea
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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.