Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A "Cult of Well-Being"?

Are you following the Synod on the Family?  There was testimony from a Brazilian couple, Arturo and Hermelinda As Zambeline, at the Synod on October 9th.  They head up something called Our Lady's Team or the Equipe Notre-Dame Movement in Brazil.  They spoke about the role of sexuality in marriage, but they ended by calling on the bishops and priests to better educate the Catholic laity on contraception.  They said:
Holy Father, Synodal Fathers, ladies and gentlemen, if at least married couples found light and support with the clergy it would already be a great encouragement! Many times contradictory advice aggravates their confusion. We ask, the Magisterium to give the Fathers and faithful the great lines of a pastoral pedagogy, which helps to adopt and observe the principles agreed by Humanae Vitae.

Here is the text of their remarks.

In contrast to the Catholic view of marriage expressed in Arturo and Hermelinda's concern for "openness to life"  and the way in which marriage serves to "sanctify," here's another take on marriage from this human interest piece that was up on AOL the other day.  I read it against my better judgment and then spent way too much time wondering why I had bothered to read it, but it got a lot of comments. Families and marriages must be important to people.

To save you the possible misery of actually reading this piece, one Kama Shockey, a military wife, decided to move herself and her young daughter out of their remote location in southern California, where her often-deployed husband was posted, to go to Flagstaff, Arizona 400 miles away.  This was so she could be in a "thriving community" rather than be sad on post.  That I'm aware, this isn't such a highly unusual decision nor is it a particularly bad one. What struck me as weird was not the decision itself, but what this young wife and mother understood a family to be.

Kama talks about her family as if they're a casual affiliation of two adult people with separate lives running on different tracks. These two people are entitled to be happy, to "feel right."  These two adults happen to have a daughter who is also entitled to be happy.  Curiously, the daughter's path to happiness sounds an awful lot like her mother's path to happiness, despite what must be a significant age difference.   Kama fancies herself quite the post-modern, liberated and empowered woman, very wrapped up in her own feminine fulfillment.  She says:

I was teaching my daughter that no matter what her partner does in life, she can support him (or her) while also making her own goals, her own career, her own life a true priority. She will never be too old, too settled, too domestic to start over if what she's doing doesn't feel right. She was learning to define her own life, and realizing her mom isn't obligated to stay in a community of women whose only thing in common is the fact that their husbands were all gone at the same time.

Arturo and Hermelinda, our Brazilian Catholic couple testifying about marriage at the Synod on the Family, have been married for 41 years.  I hope Ben and Kama last even half that long, but I doubt it. Kama seems a bit too happy that Ben is sitting alone on his half of the matching furniture watching "bad DVDs" while she's doing what feels right. According to Kama, Ben knows this is all okay because he's a man.  Really. Hopefully, as a man, Ben will wake up soon enough to discover his unique role as provider, protector and male in the marriage.

I console myself with the possibility that Kama and Ben are not real people, that their tale is just a made-for-internet story.  But even if Kama and Ben aren't real, there are so many other married couples just like them who are: single women who labor under the illusion that they can raise a child alone, that their children don't need fathers; young couples who first have a baby, then move in together and then, maybe, marry "later;"  men whose manly roles in the family have been denigrated and shredded to the point of unrecognizable;  already-married couples whose commitment flags when they decide they're no longer "happy;" and those who view marriage not as mutual fulfillment with sacrifices but as individual fulfillment that's fun and easy.   Kama and Ben are, lamentably, poster children for the current state of marriage and the family.  They depict only too well what one of the Synod's cardinals has called the "momentary cult of well-being."  ( read  here and here).

I have to admire the likes of Arturo and Hermelinda as they and other couples testify at the Synod and articulate to the bishops and other assembled some of the specific ways in which Church teaching might help the laity to understand and talk to others about the truth of marriage and family so we might work to correct some of the distortions the culture imposes upon us.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How to Be A Nice Catholic When It Comes To Homosexuality

The Church's on-going Synod on the Family had a recent testimony about including homosexual couples in (Catholic) family celebrations.  The testimony was given by a husband and wife pair, the Pirolas, who offered up the view that friends of theirs were doing a noble thing by welcoming their (the friends')  homosexual son and his partner to the family Christmas celebration.  In the Pirolas' words,  “What a model of evangelization for parishes as they respond to similar situations in their neighbourhood! It is a practical example of what the Instrumentum laboris [essentially the working papers] says concerning the Church’s teaching role and its main mission to let the world know of God’s love.”

In other words, say the Pirolas, take the love that God has for each of us with all our various flaws and mirror that love to others who, just like us,  have their own flaws. We'll be living our faith and evangelizing to the world!  The gay son and his partner won't be offended!  Everyone can have Christmas together without a showdown!

Besides their rather bold assertion concerning the "main mission" of the Church, the Pirolas have also unwittingly, or conveniently, homogenized the matter of God's love to solve the thorny problem of how the Catholic faithful should engage with matters of homosexuality. Their comment suggests that God's love is a simple matter, easy to understand, easy to communicate to others and easy to attain. The presumption in the Pirolas testimony is that God loves us no matter what --yes--but that he doesn't really expect us to conform to his ways.  Not exactly. For starters, one might recall that when Christ defended the adulterous woman against her detractors, he did also tell her to go and sin no more.  The Ten Commandments come to mind as well.

In rebuttal to the Pirolas sanguine conclusion about their friends' behavior,  Voice of the Family  (VOF) countered: “It is because we desire the eternal happiness of those we love that we need to support them to overcome temptation and to live chastely. This path is not easy, but nor is any cross that is the way of true mercy, love and new life.”  Voice of the Family mentions the damage done to all members of a family including young children when actions "normalise the disorder of homosexuality."

Voice of the Family rightly points out that the son's homosexual actions are a wrong according to the Church, a wrong in need of correction if a depth of love and caring are to be shown for the son.  VOF is right to note that there are those in a Catholic family who will see the acceptance of a homosexual partner at a family event as approval of that partnership and, by extension, see homosexual behavior as compatible with Church teaching, which it isn't.

I had hoped that one of the outcomes of the Synod would be guidance from our bishops and priests as to how faithful Catholics might engage the modern, secular culture on the matter of homosexuality. More specifically, I had hoped that the bishops would begin to fashion a way that the Catholic laity might deal honestly and openly with the matter of homosexuality in the family.  Like abortion, co-habitation, pre-marital sex and divorce, homosexuality is an issue in many families, Catholics no exception.

Though they set the stage nicely for laying out the dilemma of witnessing to Church teaching on homosexuality, neither the Pirolas or VOF provide much of an answer. The Pirolas demonstrate a healthy longing to spread Christian love, but they seem woefully unconcerned about simultaneously spreading a fractured if not false picture of the Church's teaching on homosexuality. In their zeal to spread the love, they have also fudged over the matter of witnessing to the truth. We are enjoined (in Matthew 18:12-17) to correct error as part of the loving care shown to others so that not even "one of these little ones should perish."

On the other hand, VOF telling the culture about the "disorders" of homosexuality will not only fall on deaf ears, it will fall on hostile, combative ears.  The very intent and focus of the activist homosexual community is to gain society's emotional and legal stamp-of-approval for homosexuality as a normal  and very "ordered" sexual behavior.  While VOF may understandably talk to fellow Catholics about the disorder of homosexuality, it will only sound like the punitive, authoritarian Church wanting to bring down fire and brimstone on evil homosexuals if  we talk to the secular culture in those terms.

How then to be loving and truthful, to point out error without arrogance. If, when discussing homosexuality,  the Church has as its primary focus to not offend the gay person in the family, to not offend the  secular culture and its mainstream media mouthpieces, then the Pirolas and the rest of us---I think of our own Cardinal Dolan here--might don our rose-colored glasses, host homosexual partners for Christmas, march in all manner of parades and even publicly yuk it up with the President of the United States whose aggressive policies threaten the religious freedom of Catholics.

If, however, the point is to get at the truth of human sexuality, including the purpose of being created male and female, while still able to engage the modern culture, we as Catholics will have to use a bit more ingenuity than even VOF who, though they speak the truth of the matter, speak it in language foreign to the secular culture we're trying to reach.