Thursday, March 4, 2010

Jesus Said Both

It began at Notre Dame. The Observer refused to publish an article by law professor, Dr. Charles Rice. He has written a regular column for the student paper entitled, "Right or Wrong" since 1992. The piece not run addressed the recent protests of University anti-discrimination policy because it did not include sexual orientation as one of the groups granted protection. Dr. Rice laid out the reasons why a Catholic university could not engage in such behavior, as it would be recognizing formally through policy, sinful behavior as a legitimate lifestyle choice. (His article is linked in the title).

He quoted cannon law in making the distinction that the inclination to homosexual activity was not in and of it self, a sin, but the actionable behavior was. Dr. Rice further reminded the ostensibly Catholic readership that only in a sacramental union could sex find its proper moral context and thus bring the individuals in question closer to God. This is not popular or political opinion, it is Catholic teaching. The law professor put forth the radical notion that a university that professes to be Catholic should and in this case does practice its Catholicism in all of its actions and policies.

The Observer editor pretended it was about column space; a fact disputed by the Dr. by citing his prior 17 year history of articles that indicated this one was much shorter. I suspect in this scenario, the editor is young and fears the consequences of publically witnessing such an unpopular view; or that the editor is young and disagrees with the Church. In either case, publically shaming the paper and the editor by bringing down the righteous wrath of the blogosphere probably won’t persuade him to consider the Church’s position more favorably. Winning the case might still lose the jury and we want to make a compelling argument to all who would hear it.

Looking at the article itself, I felt frustrated; the public pressure on Notre Dame to change its policies is not small and many who still love the University and what she is supposed to stand for worry that political correctness and public mood will sway those who draft policy to do the publically safe and easy thing. Those who hold the Church and her teachings dear knew the essence of the Canon law before it was cited by Rice. Those who think the Church is wrong and should change will not find the citing of the law a compelling argument against their position. Right now, to move hearts, to get people to listen, we need poetry. Citing Canon law might move a heart set against it but it is not the most effective weapon in this fight. How would we win those who felt it was right to censure Dr. Rice because they thought his thinking backwards, wrong and indicative of a prurient obsession with sex and homophobia?

The Pharisees could cite law, but Jesus taught the essence of the law using parables. Jesus told stories to move the hearts of those uncertain, strengthen the resolve of those who silently agreed but were fearful, and reprove those who willfully ignored or denied the essence of truth that gave birth to the many laws. He did not stone the adulterer, he did not condemn her, but he did say, "Go and sin no more." and that still matters as much as the "Judge not" part. Jesus said both. But I could see, everyone thinks the other side is the Pharasiee citing the law and holding the rocks; those citing Canon law and those citing the recent decisions in various states to have same sex marriages were both citing authorities to prove their case. 

These days, it's possible to envision a different story unfolding.

A group of outraged citizens indignant at a proselytizer for living a counter-cultural lifestyle and even publically proclaiming it to be true, declare him to be a homophobe promoting hate speech. They seize the offensive person who says such outlandish and outrageous things and bring him to the magistrate for judgment.

The trial is more of a formality really, as the various accusers who can prove the man said what he said and wrote what he wrote are already excoriating the defendant via twitters and blogs all over the internet. They'll expose his family to shame as a warning to others who engage in such behavior or believe such things and these viral scarlet letters will never be expunged. Society needs protection from people like him, and public virtual shredding seems as good a way as any to ensure justice is done as determined by the individual angry hearts in question. They will be satisfied.

A group of equally irritated righteous citizens lambast a University for failing to censure its students.  Their frustrations at seeing an instution they love perpetually stumble and seem lost in popular culture allows them to feel fully vindicated in seeing this senario as proof that the school has lost it's way and failed to hold true to the Church's teachings.   They cease donating, they call for resignations.  They prepare to encourage others via the internet. 

"Let Him who believes in God, not throw stones." is the verdict and all the bloggers hit send.

What is this about?

Let us consider why Catholicism holds that a man with a man and a woman with a woman and a man with a woman sans the sacrament are not equal to a sacramental union.

Catholicism can’t say all relationships are equal just because it is politically correct to do so. Catholicism is at its core about relationship, about Communion, about the Eucharist. We do not say it is only a symbol because the Eucharist is Christ present. We do not allow others to partake because they do not acknowledge this relationship or understand it to be authentic and true. They do not hold this great mystery to be real. Catholicism claims to be Truth, Universal Truth. Within that Truth is mercy, forgiveness, compassion, wisdom, and peace; and all of these are found through fidelity of the heart as rendered through service, obedience and love. We cannot say it is just bread or a symbol to make it more appealing or compelling or inclusive; the fact that it is not just bread or a symbol is WHY the Eucharist is compelling.

Just so, a Catholic University cannot morally shrug its shoulders and pretend that a non sacramental union regardless of orientation is the same as one consecrated just because popular sentiment would be appeased. A lay person is not the same as a priest; a single woman is not the same as a nun. A chaste relationship is not the same as an unchaste one. Simply put, Catholicism does not acknowledge truth as a relative concept, as being simply in the eye of the beholder. It does not accept the lie that all sexual behavior between consenting adults is equal and that God doesn’t care about such trivial animal matters amongst private individuals because God cares about every private individual and all of their relationships, thoughts, dreams and actions.

Catholicism holds to the radical notion that God cares about each of our souls individually, that each of us is the 100th sheep lost that needs to be found; that each of us is called to be in Communion with Christ. So we can't say we will support a sin with our policies, deliberately sanctioning a value we know places a soul at risk.  This is why this little matter between a professor and an editor is not so little; because the discussion needs to be had and right now, the atmosphere is so thick with the possibility of outrage, righteous and otherwise, that nothing can be heard and no hearts can be moved. We need to understand, but it is hard to bear the truth in our broken state; it is too hard even knowing our God is all loving. The landscape of the moral argument right now is not well known to the vast majority of Catholics and most of us are untrained for engaging in this discussion.

We will need Notre Dame to not simply hold to its values, but to be Catholic in all things, luminous and true, forgiving and instructive so that the Church body as a whole can have the Why's of the Canon law, rather than simply the Canon law itself. We need the "Allness" of the Eucharist to be revealed in this discussion, even though to some, it is obvious.  And we will all need to remember that each of us, is that 100th sheep, that adulterer caught by others in the act of sin, and the accuser poised with the stone; that we are everyone in every parable but the Good Shepherd, the Father of the Prodigal son, the owner of the vineyard who pays everyone with more generosity than they merit; those people in the story are God revealed in his love for us, and those people are who we are called to be. 

So in response to the controversy, perhaps the best we can do is to say "Neither do I condemn you." and  "Go and sin no more."  Bread and divinity, the Eucharist response is both.

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