Archive for the ‘New York Times’ Tag

Asking too much

I have been deeply saddened by the way the Catholic Church has been represented by the media in the past few weeks.  In yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, there was yet another article negatively depicting the Catholic Church. Each time I read one of these articles, I am disheartened by both the tone and the lack of knowledge of the true teachings of the Church that these articles seem to display.

In his latest column, Frank Bruni confronts the issue of celibacy in the priesthood. To be sure, there are intelligent and valid arguments for allowing priests to marry.  To clarify, priestly celibacy—that is, not allowing priests to marry—is a church discipline, which means that a future Pope, if inspired to do so, can change this teaching. Priest were allowed to marry in the early Church.  Peter, the first Pope of the Catholic Church, was married (see Matthew 8:14, in which Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law.)

Rather than focus on the genuine reasons for allowing priests to marry, Bruni cheapens the vow of celibacy.  He writes, “…let’s give a moment’s thought to loneliness. And longing. And this: the pledge of celibacy that the church requires of its servants is an often cruel and corrosive thing. It runs counter to human nature. It asks too much.”

What Bruni seems to be missing is that Catholicism, and Christianity more broadly, is based on the idea of “asking too much.”  We are about sacrifice. One needs to look no further than the cross to explain what sacrifice means to the Catholic Church. Sacrifice is everything. One could argue, “God asked too much of Christ when God asked His son to be tortured, to die on a cross.” Indeed, Christ paid the ultimate sacrifice for us. So isn’t it fitting that the men who are chosen to be representations of Christ on earth, in persona Christi, sacrifice something seemingly unthinkable in our hyper-sexualized culture?

If the Church someday changes its teachings on allowing priests to marry, I trust that it is what God wants for God’s Church.  But New York Times Opinion page—show a range of opinions.  Please. This reader is tired of the same negative portrayal of a sacred institution.

Called to obedience

Last week, when news of the Pope’s resignation broke, I rearranged the day’s lesson so my classes were able to devote an entire period to discussion. We talked about the Pope’s reasons for resigning, how we felt about the Pope’s legacy, and discussed the play-by-play of what would happen in the next few weeks leading up to conclave.  As the bell rang, I asked the students to pay extra-close attention to the news, radio, and newspapers over the next few weeks. “See if you can find any relevant articles to bring to class for discussion,” I suggested.

Well, I found an article of my own to bring in! Frank Bruni’s article in the New York Times on Monday, “The Pope’s Muffled Voice,” was exactly the kind of article that I was hoping to find.  I teach Catholic Morality, and I am constantly looking for displays of moral/amoral/immoral thinking in today’s world.  Topics such as the HHS mandate, abortion, physician assisted suicide are frequent topics of discussion, but I am always on the lookout for more nuanced issues.  And I stumbled upon a jackpot with this article.  You can read the full text of the article here, but I’d like to focus on the final paragraph of the article:

“Does the pope fully appreciate this drift? Every Sunday, he looks from his window onto St. Peter’s Square and sees adoring, rapt masses…But here in America, the Catholics watching closely are fewer and fewer. They’re Christian. They’re caring. They’re moral. But they have minds and wills of their own, and no conclave will change that.”

I cannot wait to see what my students have to say about this quote. You see, the very first chapter of our morality book addresses subjective and objective truth. Subjective truth is, of course, “subject” to each individual.  Objective truth is exactly that—objective. How I feel about an objective truth does not change matters at all. As Catholics, we believe that Catholic morality and Catholic teaching are revealed, not man-made, and these revelations are objective truths. God himself determines what is good or evil—not me.  This is not a popular idea.  The phrase “cafeteria Catholic” describes this phenomenon—one who picks and chooses which pieces of Church teaching one will obey.  Well, as I wrote in a previous article, a Catholic is a Catholic is a Catholic.  We are called to obedience, we are called to foster understanding, we are called to be Church.

There are times when I find it really difficult to agree with the Church’s teachings. But I am humble enough to admit that I am not the moral authority of the universe.  God, through the Holy Spirit, inspires the Divine Revelation and Tradition on which Church teaching is based, and God identifies objective truth. Not me. Yes, I have a mind and a will of my own, but I try each day to conform my will to God’s.  It is difficult. I often fail. Obedience is difficult and involves humility, a virtue that is seemingly on the decline in our postmodern world.  Our problems with obedience—as individuals, as a Church—change nothing about what is objectively good.  We are still called to obey Church teaching.  In the words of Jimmy Duggan (Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own), “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”

Bob Rice

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