Friday, 25 July 2014

Love is Kind

I must preface this by saying this is most probably not a good analogy, but I hope I get my point across anyway.


If I were to die in the next few months, my friend Calvinist Cath would not come to my funeral Mass. Maybe she would take the train north to Haymarket Station, walk to the church and stand outside the door. For some reason, in the image I have in my mind, it is pouring rain. I hope Mr Cath is there, too. So a big old black umbrella for Mr and Mrs Cath, patiently standing outside the door in the pouring rain. Bless them. Out comes my coffin--sniff, sniff--and off we all go to Portobello Cemetery when I am laid down for my very long nap in the kind Scottish earth and everyone else, including the Caths, chucks some dirt in and zips off for a cup of tea gin and tonic and sandwiches.

Nothing would make Mr and Mrs Cath come into the church while Mass was going on because as yet--(I have to put in the as yet, dear Cath, to be consistently Catholic)--Cath has not been convinced the Mass is not a wicked blasphemy.

Now I love the Mass. I am extremely unhappy if, when travelling or when ill, I cannot get to one. And going to the Extraordinary Form has made me fonder than I was of the Ordinary Form, believe it or not. If it is consistent with Cath's conscience, I hope she has a look at an EF over youtube. But I guess she'd have to steel herself against the visual representations of Christ, for her ecclesial community thinks they are idolatrous. Naturally, I don't.

Off I toddle to Mass every Sunday, with an ex-Protestant, mind you, taking the bus, which means I am complicit in someone else's Sunday labour, which Cath doesn't like either. In fact, I guess I do a lot of stuff she doesn't like, and incidentally she condemns Christmas once a year and had some sharp remarks to make about Pope Benedict's visit, which I think was the one time we came close to quarreling.

And I think she is fantastic. I love her to death. She reminds me of my grandmother stubbornly not setting foot in church, not even for any of our baptisms, but otherwise not saying anything about it at all. Cath belongs, and my grandmother belonged, to a Scottish faith tradition that absolutely despised Catholicism and, in an institutional/cultural way, made the lives of the Scottish Catholic minority difficult up until about 1980. But I don't really care about all that (and to be honest it is now much more difficult to be a Free Presbyterian than a Catholic in urban Scotland). I'm much more worried about the situation of Catholics in Iraq and Egypt, let me tell you. I get that the Free Presbyterians have serious doctrinal issues with Catholics, and I get that they have a tradition of automatic anti-Catholic rhetoric ("the Errors of Rome"), and I do not think they should have to go to Catholic Masses for any reason whatsoever, including their own children's weddings or their friends' funerals. Standing outside the door is respect enough. In fact, I know a wonderful Catholic man who stood outside the door during his daughter's wedding in a Protestant church.

Love is kind. Love does not demand that absolutely everyone else should be forced to bend the knee to one's own loves. Love does not throw a tantrum or engage in mockery because someone has a serious reservation. Love covers up the erotic photography when the priest, the granny, the virgin or the child comes to visit. Love is patient. Love does not boast, which is why there will never ever be a male-female "kiss in" to protest laws and regulations demanding that Christians bow the knee to homosexuality.

At my Canadian theology school I discussed the tension between "being inclusive" and "being faithful." At my American theology school, being faithful was chucked out the window the day a certain professor asked my PhD seminar how we could convince the Archbishop of Boston to disobey Rome and bless the adoption of Catholic children by two men or two women living together in an arrangement they called "being a couple", not that he put it in that clunky way. As far as I recall, I think that was the very worst piece of spiritual arm-twisting I ever saw in my short career at BC, and I am ashamed to say that although there were priests and nuns in the room the only person who spoke up against his attitude was me. (That said, we were all in a terribly vulnerable position. NB to all grad students in Catholic theology programs in the USA: keep your mouth shut, trust no-one, do your work, get the degree, get out.)

Being faithful can be HARD, especially when people tell you that by being faithful you are a mean cruel uncaring bigot. And, indeed, when being faithful comes into conflict with being friendly, many of us search our consciences for how we can be inclusive without being unfaithful. We are friendly to people of other religions, including the Religion of Pride, and we see them first of all as human beings, not as cartoons, even if they sometimes present themselves as cartoons, as adherents to the Religion of Pride, by which I do not mean all people with SSA, sometimes do. However, there are some things we cannot do and some things we cannot agree with or tolerate or participate in without being unfaithful. For example, I do not think a faithful Catholic can participate in a public parade involving nudity or lascivious dancing, which means no faithful Catholic, be definition, can participate in the Pride festival.

And I am writing all this today because I am shocked, as many Canadian Catholics are shocked, by the 180 of an influential Catholic journalist on the subject of inclusiveness and fidelity and his vilification of those who disagree with him. As yet it is a mystery as to what exactly he has changed his mind about; it looks more like an unthinking "change of teams" which I would not have believed possible of such an erudite man. It seems that now he is no longer going to say nasty things about people who identify with their SSA (and if that was his habit, it was indeed wrong) but about Catholics--even Catholic friends--who object to homosexual acts. In the journalist's view gays do not often engage in one rather definitive homosexual act, which I think will come as a great surprise to condom manufacturers, and that Catholics are real sickos if we mention it.

To go back to my analogy--and now you can see how flawed it is--it is not loving to vilify people for following their consciences. Indeed, it is loving to love people for following their consciences, even if we think their conscience is to misinformed, when it is quite clear that those consciences are guided by REASON and SCRIPTURE, not by the passions and sensual delights. If I snuff it, and Cath hangs outside the church door, it's because she's faithful to her conscience, and that's great. (And for the record, I don't think it's super-wonderful-aren't-we-great that there was no Catholic objection to me sitting in her wedding service. I would have happily stood outside the door so as to her in her wedding finery because...yeah... bride...dress...) We can love Mass without getting mad that others think its an abomination. We don't need to shout "Bigot! Bigot!" (In fact, this would be extremely wicked.) And why? Because it isn't, and we know it.

Meanwhile, I would be so upset if anyone I knew took part in a Pride Parade, because I really do feel that they are against human dignity. (And incidentally, do see Hilary White's excellent column about the difficulties of getting out of a free love lifestyle.) As I wrote in the Catholic Register, love has never been illegal; interior disposition (e.g. racial hate) has only lately become under legal review. Blessed John Henry Newman deeply loved his best friend Father Ambrose St. John, and insisted on being buried beside him. But Blessed John Henry Newman would never have sinned against Father St. John's dignity or purity, whatever the provocation, not only because he loved him, but because he loved Christ and His Church. Deep male and deep female friendships are one thing--a very good and great thing--perhaps even a rare thing!--but sexual acts and redefining marriage and parenthood and legally bludgeoning those who disagree something else entirely.

Anyway, back to the tension between fidelity and inclusivity, and my funeral. I suppose Mr and Mrs Cath might feel awkward standing out there in the rain. Their feet are likely to get wet, and they don't pray for the dead anyway, so keeping their minds occupied may be a struggle, and people might shoot them weird looks, and some older, crankier Catholics might loudly sniff on their way in, and for all they know (God forbid) Catholics by definition don't go to heaven, so (God forbid) I am soul toast. But I can tell you one thing--my loved ones would love them for being there, in accordance with their consciences, and identify with them risking looking "judgemental" and foolish and old-fashioned in their desire to put God first.

Update: I realize that this is a Canadian, indeed a Toronto, Church squabble, but I thought I would just say that one of the facets of the scandal to which I allude is that it is still unclear as to what exactly the Catholic journalist is apologizing for. He has written at least two bestselling apologetic works, so his writing "I was wrong" and that his views "are evolving", has shocked and saddened many Catholics who looked up to him as a talented, courageous apologist well respected (and well read) outside the Catholic ghetto. So what happens when your apologist apologizes for....what? His apologetics? Explaining what "disordered" means? Unfortunately, he has indeed written that he won't use the word "disordered" anymore, which seems to me a linguistic capitulation to people who don't understand the word or don't want to.

"Disordered" has never meant "freakish"; my overuse of the internet is very likely disordered. Eating chocolate cake until you throw up is disordered; drinking until you pass out is disordered. And really this fight is not about people who define themselves by their SSA at all: it is the journalist vs fellow Catholics over what a Catholic can say about sin and creation and still be considered (A) a Catholic apologist or (B) a decent, loving human being.

And now I'm going to bed, so the combox moderation is going on.


Catherine said...

This post has come at a most timely point. My cousin (baptized Catholic, but not raised as anything) is getting married next year to another baptized Catholic - at a catering hall. These are the only cousins we actually speak to and it's incredibly hard to explain to anyone these days why we aren't able to attend the wedding. It doesn't help that so many priests give very wishy-washy answers to the tune of "Well, you don't want to hurt their feelings" and "You can go without really supporting their choice to get married outside of the Church."

Then again, no one ever said that being a faithful Catholic would be easy.

Seraphic said...

If your conscience is up to sending a present, send a present! "Dearest Cousin, I know we disagree on religion, but I hope you will accept this gift as a token of my great affection for you. Love, Catherine"

rmvb said...

I have been away from reading this wonderful blog for months now, and of course the day I return the topic is exactly what I needed to hear this morning!
My husband's brother is getting married this next month (yes, he was Catholic, and now is not because his lover is an atheist. Very sad. In a brewery. Sadness:()His soon to be bride is very aggressively atheist, and my husband and I are very passionate Catholics. And I am very sensitive, especially like things to unwarranted confrontation from my sister in law in law, which came last night as a comment on my ignorance since I support and use NFP via Facebook. I'm having trouble not getting angry and am wondering how to learn to be steady and not as torn-to-pieces by being judged by someone who barely says two words to anyone at family parties except to argue and criticize. Any advice on that - on how to learn to not be so personally hurt? I'm really a peaceable person, except when my heart is breaking over these issues.....

MaryJane said...

rmvb, that sounds like a very difficult situation. Someone once told me that whenever people are angry, there's hurt underneath it: I find that helpful to remember when dealing with people who are being nasty. If you can detach from taking what she says personally (even if she does direct it at you) and realize that you are probably just the "symbol" of all the things she is hurt about, maybe it will help you pray for her. It's like the child who is having a tantrum and screams "I hate you!" - totally inappropriate, but often the best thing is to ignore it and deal with it at another time when they are slightly more rational. If you take it personally, it's all downhill. (Easier said than done, of course!) Maybe have a go-to prayer every time she ticks you off - say it 3 times or whatever to regain your peace before responding. I think the more you can detach emotionally, the better, though, remembering that it's not really about you anyway. It's about her, and all her hurt/anger/other emotion.

(Incidentally, Facebook seems like the ideal medium for this kind of trouble - I've heard so many stories of one comment that sparked a huge fight, etc. If it gets worse, maybe just change your fb settings so she can't see/ comment / whatever?)

Modesty said...

@rmvb: Facebook and other internet modes of contact tend to be a bit more harsh and can be more upsetting than if said in person. I understand that feeling very often.

I recently had a friend struggle with pretty much the very same problem with a sister-in-law being very hostile towards her support of NFP and calling her ignorant.

It hurts and it's a hurt that lingers. I personally have a facebook setting that groups my friends. Some groups are not allowed to see anything, some are allowed to see but not post and others get free rein.

Then find support (like you are now). Sometimes there are folks that just live to ruffle feathers.

sorry for anonymity said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seraphic said...

No anonymous posts on this one. All the people I have linked to habitually put our names on the line over this issue.

Seraphic said...

Oh dear. I am so sorry to hear about the sister-in-law. Maybe she feels threatened being around Catholics and habitually feels like the "minority" person you're all going to attack. If all she ever hears is that Catholics are mean, judgmental people and if she herself is on birth control and is worried you're all going to "judge" her for it, and if she is rather immature, then I can see why she is like that--although there certainly is no excuse.

There are two comforts I can think of: first, if your brother-in-law gets no permission to have his wedding, then he is not sacramentally married to his wife. Two Protestants=sacramentally married, One Catholic - permission + Protestant=not sacramentally married. Which means if it all goes belly up and he longs for a Nice Catholic Girl, he'll be able to marry one, if he finds her.

Second, if she loves him, she'll settle down eventually and start behaving better towards his family.

Meanwhile, I highly recommend that you do not discuss the most personal aspects of your life, like NFP, in public where unsympathetic people can see them.

Seraphic said...

*That said, I admire Anonymous's loyalty to her mother.

Leah said...

But mvb said that her brother-in-law is marrying an atheist? Can you be sacramentally married to someone who is not Christian at all, anyway?

I'm honestly curious about this because someone in my family is married to a non-Christian (who was never baptized at any point), and I thought it was odd that the priest who advised the Catholic in this case just said that the non-Christian had to sign an agreement to raise the children Catholic, etc. They were married civilly, and this seems to be enough as far as the priest was concerned. I thought this was very odd until someone else told me that Catholics can't be sacramentally married to non-baptized people. They can only receive a dispensation to be civilly married. (And it does seem to line up with what I learned from the Baltimore Catechism. :) )

Nzie said...

Thanks for this post. Wise words. It's hard, you know, because we love people with whom we have profound disagreements. To have to refuse to go to someone's wedding... it's not an easy choice. I am also grateful I don't and am not likely to have spare room to house any couples -- it's easier to punt explaining why you won't put unmarried people in the same room.

On the other hand, I wonder how to articulate a principle of us objecting to offensive behavior; I know a lot of people involved in protests against the H@rvard s@tanic ritual, for example. A lot of the atheist movement revolves around saying we Christians don't tolerate other beliefs. To some extent that's true, particularly in areas without a lot of denominational variation, and I do think some of the culture warriors really expect preference, not fairness. I was however outspoken on the incident in Cambridge because I don't think anyone should take the most sacred of one group and mock and blaspheme it - nor should a private school provide facilities for it - and that's good reason to object.

To rmvb - that's tough. I know some very aggressive atheists.. If they spoke constantly like they post on Facebook constantly, I don't know if it could have survived - as it is, it's a lot of forbearance on my part, and I'm not going to be related to them. I'm guessing your husband has already told his brother she's very confrontational? Because that'd be the best option I can think of.

Seraphic said...

Yep. Never baptised=not sacramentally married. Baptised atheist + Christian=sacramentally married unless the Christian is a Catholic who didn't bother to get permission.

Leah said...

Okay, interesting! So if a non-baptized + Catholic couple were to get civilly divorced, the Catholic party could get remarried in the Church without an annulment?

Seraphic said...

There would still be some kind of paperwork. I know of a Protestant married to an ex-Jehovah's Witness who wanted to marry a Catholic, and the ex-J.W. was interviewed by a very uncomfortable priest-professor (why him, we never understood) just to ascertain that she was never a baptized Christian. (She became one after her divorce.) And apparently the procedure was short and simple after that.

But as for a Catholic who married a non-Christian, it may be complicated by the fact that he/she got Church permission (if he/she did)--I'm not a canonist, so I really don't know. I do know a Catholic who married a divorced lady without Church permission (and with an angry letter from his priest) and later sought a decree or declaration or whatever it was after his divorce so he could join a Catholic chivalric order. Apparently it was different from an annulment as an annulment usually is, but you'd have to ask a canonist.

Isn't Catholic marriage law fun? Let me tell you, it's not when it's about YOU.

Everyone please try not to marry until you are a mature person and not to marry anyone but a mature person who is crazy about you and whom you are crazy about and with whom you share core values other than football. Then stick with this person through thick and thin even though he snores and life sometimes feels flat and handsome bachelors say flirty things and take their shirts off at the beach. That reminds me of something that happened today; I'll have to tell you tomorrow because zzzzz.

Tiny Therese said...

In regards to a Catholic marrying someone who isn't baptized, yes, it would not be a sacramental marriage. So long as requirements are met, the marriage would still be a valid one.

A dispensation would need to be granted from the bishop and it would have to be agreed upon to raise the children Catholic. The wedding would not be mass, but a Liturgy of the Word service in a Catholic church.

A civil cermony, as in a wedding before a justice of the peace would not be a valid marriage.

Leah said...

Thanks for the link, Tiny Therese!

And that's very true, Seraphic. It is interesting, but I can imagine it wouldn't be at all for someone in the middle of dealing with it. :( Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!!

Julia said...

Okay. I'm confused. Tiny Therese, can a marriage be both valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church and unsacramental at the same time? My parents' marriage is what you describe - my mother was unbaptised when she married my Catholic father (ahe was baptised when I was two and already baptised myself). They got married at our city's Catholic Cathedral with the permsission of the Bishop and all the necessary stuff. So their marriage is valid...but not sacramental? What's the difference between a marriage being valid and being sacramental? Like, could my parents be granted an annulment saince (I assume) their union is not sacramental?

Leah said...

Thanks so for the link, Tiny Therese. Interesting!

And yes, that's very true, Seraphic! It's fascinating when it's not about you.

Anna B said...

Julia, now that your mother is baptised, your parents' marriage is sacramental. Until she was baptised it was indeed valid but not sacramental. There's an article clarifying the issue at

Julia said...

Thanks for the link, Anna B. I really wish that instead of carrying on about flowers-Jesus-loves-you-just-be-a-nice-person, Catholic schools would teach something about Canon law. Too bad the RE teachers are woefully ill-equipped to do that.