Saturday, August 29, 2015

Lamenting: a Filial Appeal to His Holiness

510061 signatures and counting (including 'personalities' - including a Polish MP and the Auxiliar Bishop of Astana that you are helpfully reminded is in Kazakstan) have attached themselves to a petition to Pope Francis ahead of the synod on the family in October hoping for a word to dispel the faithful's confusion. http://www.filialappeal.org/

This confusion, about the status of the family, known usually as the 'traditional family unit', is under sustained attack (apparently since the 'so-called May 1968 Sorbonne revolution') by dark forces that have resulted in rising fears "from witnessing a decades-long sexual revolution promoted by an alliance of powerful organizations, political forces and the mass media that consistently work against the very existence of the family as the basic unit of society." (The lack of understanding of the variegated history of the 'family' here is familiar and depressing as is the unwillingness to name and give a face to your presumed enemies. A failed grade in basic ethics from both St Thomas Aquinas and Levinas).

These sinister folk, helpfully unnamed presumably to allow the petitioner to evoke their own pet enemy - Jewish newspaper proprietors perhaps or confused French intellectuals achieving by gender theory what they manifestly failed to do with petrol bombs and sit-ins - are set on establishing "a morality opposed to both Divine and natural law" that is "been gradually and systematically imposed on us so implacably as to make it possible, for example, to teach the abhorrent “gender theory” to young children in many countries."

This creeping confusion may be about to enter the Church:

"Your Holiness, in light of information published on the last Synod, we note with anguish that, for millions of faithful Catholics, the beacon seems to have dimmed in face of the onslaught of lifestyles spread by anti-Christian lobbies. In fact we see widespread confusion arising from the possibility that a breach has been opened within the Church that would accept adultery—by permitting divorced and then civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion—and would virtually accept even homosexual unions when such practices are categorically condemned as being contrary to Divine and natural law."

But a word from the Holy Father (though it is never specified what word or form of words) will dispel this confusion (like magic presumably) and children will be able to enter the light (freed from the wicked fairies brandishing their gender wands)!

They respectively remind the Pope that Jesus taught us very clearly that there should be coherence between life and truth and that the only way not to fall is by following His doctrines (quoting Matthew 7: 24-27 on the parable of the houses built upon rock and sand); and, close promising their prayers to the Holy Family (not exactly a traditional family unit) that the Pope may be enlightened. 

Now to concede a point - on divorce and remarriage. If you belong to a Church and are faithfully committed to it, you could imagine that it has the good sense to recognize that the truth in life is that marriages fail and that a humane and penitential process could allow for divorce and, likewise, for remarriage. This exists, imperfectly, but really, not in a bastion of post-1968 immorality, but in the Orthodox Church. You need concede nothing to the civil legislation of marriage and divorce and yet have a more loving and just regimen than you do presently. The 'legalistic' minds of the petitioners - that equate the current dilemmas of faithful Catholics, who have divorced and remarried in a civil context as 'adultery', does not give one much hope that this readily available option from a sister Church is likely to gain traction with them.  

However, it is not only the theological detail that most strikes one about this petition but its striking lack of historical consciousness (and the resulting lack of humility).

First and foremost is the irony of reversal - the Church was only too happy to impose its will when it had the institutional ability to do so and its darkness was not confined to teaching 'gender theory' in schools or proposing that free individuals make choices about their family arrangements (confused or otherwise). As Simone Weil noted, the Church will not recover (or discover) the true depth of its transformative possibilities until it repents of each and every moment it imagines (or imagined) that truth can be compelled. There should indeed be coherence, as the petition, reminds us between life and truth but that can only ever be a free act guided by conscience.

Second is the 'paranoia'. The Church now exists (as, in truth, it always has) in a pluralist society of competing value systems and ideas. Being opposed to (or disagreeing with) the Church's view on what constitutes human dignity and a flourishing society is not a 'sin' nor is it being 'anti-Christian' per se, nor specifically do the changes in morality (or societal arrangement) we have seen in the past decades emerge out of some grand conspiracy (of dark forces). Stuff happens, history is the flow of complex stuff happening and is usually experienced at the time as more or less confusing. By all means step into this confusion bearing clarity but do not imagine that you can simply impose clarity (a word or more from the Pope is not and never will be enough).

Third, and finally, petitioning (as an act of protest) is a valuable act but it is also a compromised one. As Alasdair MacIntyre, a convert to Catholicism, pointed out in 'After Virtue' - protest used to have a dual meaning as much as to bear witness to as to be against - you used to be able to protest the truth. It has been emptied of this meaning because we have lost a sense of human ends, an agreed journey point towards human flourishing, rooted in an accepted narrative of what it means to be human. The Church, at is best, is the carrier of a supremely beautiful narrative of humanity (that is, in practice, marred by many lapses both in thought and practice). At the heart of that narrative is the vulnerability to love, a love that embraces the stranger and the enemy. 

There is in this petition no indication of such a vulnerability, of stepping into a world without sides, but of being on 'a side', the 'winning' side (though presently afraid of 'losing') and it is fear, not love, that, sadly, hovers over the text.









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