Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The week has been full of Church news, centering on the publicity surrounding Cardinal McCarrick, whose fate should evoke sympathy, fill our hearts with pity and cause prayers for his soul’s good. Cardinal McCarrick is the most notorious. Nine Bishops have resigned, not when church authorities challenged their behavior but when civil authorities intervened. But I am not turned aside from writing about the Scriptures to record disappointment over McCarrick, but to look deeper. The history of the Church is full of collapsed clerics; they are all by nature sinners like the rest of us. The clergy, good and bad, deserve our persistent prayers; in a profound sense, they are us.
But the Cardinal represents something different and frightening. A noxious underground stream flowing through the foundation of the holy Church culminating in the present engineered pontifical confusion. Who can isolate its source? The serpent in the Garden? The French Revolution? Modernism as condemned by Pius X? Certainly, something very like modernism became endemic in the wake of the second Vatican Council. I say in the wake because it is not clear that the bishops wanted the results they achieved. The typical institution, say General Motors or perhaps CNN, should they suddenly lose half their customers would stop to re-evaluate. The episcopal body has felt it right to insist that the results of the council were positive and fruitful, ignoring the fact that when you change the language you subtly change the meaning. Of course, in a way the post-conciliar collapse was to be anticipated. It is not unusual that after a great council there is a kind of confusion as the decisions taken are established in the fabric of the Church. But what occurred was not the result of any conciliar decision but was a widespread blurring of the moral lines, conveyed through a thousand clues, that separated a life pleasing to God from one that encompasses a psychology of self-fulfillment. The charter of holiness as even righteous pagans knew is , ‘Deny yourself.’ The subtle post-Vatican II message was, “Fulfill yourself; God wants you to be happy.”
The crisis point was the publication and almost simultaneous practical repudiation of Humane Vitae, which hit the sixties in their weak spot, for it proposed, in deference to God’s good plan for man and nature, restraint, just at the point when the invention of the pill made restraint seem unnecessary. The Belgian bishops repudiated Humanae Vitae in solemn assembly, and now Belgium is a spiritual waste land. The Dutch assembled in solemn convocation to declare their freedom from it. Another waste land. Canada? And western civilization began the long march toward making sexual pleasure the sovereign right. If human sexual relations are just about pleasure, not about procreation to which sexual pleasure is providentially linked—God has a way of rewarding what he wants done― it will be found that humans, having set aside the sometimes-onerous relation between pleasure and child-bearing and rearing, historically have discovered, or rather fallen back into, numerous means to pleasure, some casually and extravagantly carnal, some solipsistic, some baroque, some bizarre, some cruel, all set violently against God’s design that, having made them male and female, they should multiply and replenish the earth. If pleasure is the justifying end, contraception is the means; if that fails, conception being an unwanted burden, abortion, the solemn act that establishes man’s ownership of himself, or, as the saying goes, that a woman’s body, including the child within, is her own property—a proposition specifically denied by St, Paul in Ephesians 5―is the solution. Nor is homosexuality unrelated, for once the justifying purpose of sexual relationships is pleasure, it will be found that weak humanity will find diverse ways to obtain pleasure.
In the wake of Paul VI’s defense of life there followed two great popes who understood that abortion and homosexuality represented the failure of the fulfillment of the human vocation. But now come those who believe not that these things are right, but that on a certain day they can be done. In the United States the point man for this new paradigm is the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, who goes about urging, in coded but sufficiently obvious language, benign acceptance of communion for the twice married, the possible goods of homosexuality. I, in my place, as a would-be-faithful Catholic, a sinner sometimes forgiven, have a message for the Cardinal. He has his constituency. They are there, some of the clergy, perhaps especially those victims of the seventies and eighties; they are there in the chanceries, that class of professional religious who push the buttons and turn the cranks of the bureaucracy and who by nature dislike the sharp lines that Catholic teaching draws and perhaps harbor as well as a distaste for the history of which they were not part; in the professional societies, whose members seem always prone to value their insights above the common teaching of the Church; and of course they are there among those who find justification for their sins in weak or ambiguous teaching.
My message for Cardinal Cupich is that he will fail; he will not be able to convince those priests who carry in their hearts the faith of the apostles, nor will he be able to convince the typical weekly-mass-going Catholic, that these things are good and right. What, on the other hand, he may be able to do is to convince some mass-goers that such behavior while not right is not wrong, which is different but no less debilitating. The cardinal vice of modernity is sentimentality, and that which we cannot condemn we somehow condone. Who after all would want to cause pain? And this brings me to the point of this week’s thoughts. The text for the second lesson was taken from Ephesians chapter 2. It expresses Paul’s anxiety about the relations between the Old Israel and the New, his teaching that Christ’s death has broken down the wall of separation, creating in Himself one new man in Christ, neither Jew nor Greek, in place of two. This is at least complicated; good luck to the homilist! It will surely cause no pain.
In choosing this text the lectionary passed over the preceding verses, which are not complicated:
And you he made alive, through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive through Christ (by grace you have been saved).
And one final request, your Eminence, do not accompany us, for the tendency of weak and fallen sheep is to head straight for the weeds. So instead of accompanying us, raise the standards of truth and holiness, which require faith and above all restraint; ‘Deny Yourself.’ It’s the human thing to do, and divine.