What If WE Are In Dissent?
A reader writes in response to Thursday’s post, “Why Are They Here?”:
I feel that I am a faithful Catholic- attend Mass, pray regularly, try to follow the Church in all things. But I fall short on this with one issue- I do disagree about the Church’s stance on homosexuality and gay marriage. My beloved sister is a lesbian, is married (in her state and in the Episcopalian church) to her partner of 15 years. They have 2 beautiful children. I have prayed over this issue, talked to my priest, talked to my husband, read extensively. I know intellectually that what I feel goes against Church teaching. But I cannot/ do not look at what my sister is doing as wrong. I’m happy she found someone she loves to spend her life with. I love her children, and I’m so happy that they exist. My sister and her partner are raising them wonderfully.
So, in a way, I could understand where some of those posters on Jezebel are coming from. Sometimes conservative Catholic bloggers will talk about how they struggled with a Church teaching, but the post always ends with how they changed, and saw the light, and saw the truth and beauty in the Church’s teachings. But what are you supposed to do when that doesn’t happen?
Here is what I is what I think (and my theological credentials are: I am a housewife with a computer):
There are several varieties of obedience.
There are varieties where your heart, soul, mind and strength are in alignment with the Church.
Sometimes this happens naturally and easily, with joy.
Sometimes it happens violently, when we intellectually accept a teaching of the Church but struggle with weakness, resentment, etc., but eventually surrender our wills and find peace in the truth.
Or sometimes we reject Church teaching intellectually and emotionally, but, as the reader describes, we eventually come around, see the light, find peace.
But there are other types of obedience, and I believe they can be equally pleasing to God: when we are obedient even when we simply don’t see the point of Church teaching; or when we see it intellectually, but can’t reconcile what we understand with what we actually experience. This is very often the case when obedience seems to be in opposition to love — when obedience would cause someone we love to suffer. In these cases, we simply refrain from sinning personally, and wonder unesaily if it’s enough.
What does this kind of obedience look like? What does God want from us in these situations? A few things:
First, to continue to ask Him for enlightenment. This can sometimes be the very hardest part, because we often don’t actually want to be enlightened. We’re afraid that it will be the SCARY kind of englightenment, and it’s very hard to ask for it. But, come on: He’s God. He’s on our side.
Second, to remember that feelings are not the same as actions. If we feel one way, but struggle to act another, that’s not hypocrisy — that’s a great and worthy sacrifice of self, and much harder than doing the right thing when it’s easy.
Third, to think very clearly about what the Church actually wants from us. Sometimes people think that the Church requires us all to be prophets with bullhorns, or prissy grand inquisitors — that the only way we can ally ourselves with the Church is to be thoroughly obnoxious.
Or perhaps we believe that believing something means feeling good about believing it. These ideas are actually very handy temptations, courtesy of the devil. They make excellent obstacles to obedience.
So what is the reader supposed to do? Certainly not shun or treat her sister, the partner, or the children with disdain; certainly not wish them misery, wish that they hadn’t been born. Certainly not pick over their house, hunting for evidence of degeneracy. Depending on the situation, the Church may or may not want the reader to even speak to the sister about her lifestyle, now that it’s so firmly established.
Now, a priest who knows the couple may have a different obligation from what the reader has; and the parents of the sister might have had yet a different obligation, when the sister was still under their care. Someone with no gay or lesbian friends or family members might be obligated to speak out publicly against homosexual behavior.
But this reader? Who knows? She may very well be doing exactly what is required of her: showing love and affection to her beloved sister. She would be in dissent if she marched in a gay rights parade, for instance, or if she signed petitions in favor of gay adoption, or if she taught her own children that her sister’s lifestyle was moral. But having a good relationship with someone who is in dissent is not the same as being in dissent.
Here’s the thing: we are all in dissent from the Church. Some matters of dissent are obvious, but some are more subtle. Christ taught that the greatest commandment is to love. Well, sometimes I disobey this teaching because I’m weak — but sometimes I do it because I really just can’t see the point of putting so much emphasis on it, especially when people are jerks, or stupid. Sometimes I very publicly lead a lifestyle that flouts the Church’s teaching about loving our fellow man. And yet I still consider myself a faithful Catholic.
Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree here. Maybe I’m reading the reader’s letter all wrong. What do you think?
NOTE: Please do not attack my reader — that’s never helpful! And please don’t argue the question of why homosexual acts are against Church teaching. That’s not really the issue here. The issue is how to handle it when we find ourselves out of line, in heart or in mind, with the heart and mind of the Church.