Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Who Would Want To Live In a Ghetto?

I originally wrote a version of this post for the Pilgrim Center of Hope.

Alley. Jacek Yerka (2004)
As the media assistant for the Pilgrim Center of Hope I do a number of things, including screening telephone calls for our weekly show Catholicism Live!. (That means if you called and weren’t given time to talk about your question or comment, you can blame me. Please send all hate mail to
Last week, we had a show about porn. Not my favorite talk show topic, but my job was thankfully behind the scenes for this one. Though if I were the interviewer I'd say, "Other people's sex is boring. Porn is stupid. Let's talk about real intimacy, and why it's funny."
The promo for this episode got thirteen shares on Facebook. Thirteen! But you know who didn’t share the promo?
The one lady who called in.
I know this because I talked with her for a few minutes, and she vented her spleen about just how terrible it was that we were talking about porn.
Couldn’t we talk about something else?, she wanted to know.
There’s so much beauty in the faith and rich history of the Church, it would be better to tell others about those things, she asserted.
Do we really think someone who views pornography would listen anyway?, she asked.
 What if a child was listening and, you know, getting ideas!
It was clear from the conversation that she just thought the subject was disgusting and didn’t want to be made uncomfortable. Never mind mercy, forget hope – she just didn’t want to deal with the ‘ew’ factor.
Well, let me tell you: all sin is ugly. All sin. There will always be particular kinds of sins which bother us more than others, for good reasons. There is wisdom in being disturbed. But sheesh, lady. 
There was one other comment she made that was particularly curious: she complained that the program had replaced the EWTN one on the Crusades. That, she asserted, is the kind of thing people should be learning about. We need to be able to defend our faith, after all, and misinformation about the Crusades is always being used against the Church. In other words, Why worry about sinners who are already lost? We need to defend ourselves!
No, people. This is exactly the wrong attitude, and its ironic to worry about being misunderstood while advocating ignorance toward others. I’m reminded of this episode as I read some of the feedback on the bishops’ recent document, Relatio post disceptationem, the result of a week of discussion at the ongoing Synod on the Family in Rome.
Much ink has been spilt over the emphasis on what’s called the “law of gradualness” – a long established, common sense rule of pastoral theology which encourages spiritual advisors to keep in mind that people grow gradually rather than all at once.
The bishops have voiced a desire to ponder whether the Church has failed to create a welcoming atmosphere for people in “irregular unions” (homosexuals, divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, cohabitating couples). They would like to consider how keeping the “law of gradualness” in mind could allow Church leaders to seek out, walk beside, and offer love to people even when they are not living in full communion with the Church.
Here is one beautiful section of the document:
23. Imitating Jesus’ merciful gaze, the Church must accompany her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love, with attention and care, restoring trust and hope to them like the light of a beacon in a port, or a torch carried among the people to light the way for those who are lost or find themselves in the midst of the storm.
25. …The Church has to carry this out with the tenderness of a mother and the clarity of a teacher (cf. Eph 4,15), in fidelity to the merciful kenosi of Christ. The truth is incarnated in human fragility not to condemn it, but to cure it.
Many Catholics in the public sphere have praised this tonal shift from the bishops. While there are challenges and open questions to be carefully contemplated (as always), it clearly addresses issues with due consideration that have needed this kind of attention for a long time.
Refreshment at the city’s fountain of Taorimina. Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1846)
But not all are happy with the document. Some Catholics are downright panicky. Consider these comments gleaned from Facebook:
“The truth is that if it’s approval people want, there are many other better places to find it. The Church’s role should simply be to proclaim the truth. Those who have ears will hear and God will build His Church.”
“Having just attended a retreat on the family, and restoring family life, I got a very clear perspective on the family, and how broken the family is in our society, and how fundamental the family is to our society. This synod, if it persists in the homosexual context, will completely break what the family is.”
“Jesus called a spade a spade way more than anybody else in the Bible. The results of the questionnaire sent out last year should have the Fathers of the Church scared for their eternal lives having allowed so many people to not only fall into but also to embrace grave sin. Their response: to focus on the positive aspects of the sinful choices Catholics have embraced.”
Do you see the same defensive irony in these comments as the lady who called into last week’s show? On the one hand, the Kingdom of God deserves to flourish, to have its truth understood and its rich splendor enjoyed. On the other hand, the Kingdom of God is a ghetto, so if the doors were opened, the roof would likely come tumbling down.
One of these views is correct, and here’s a hint: Who would want to live in a ghetto? Besides Leticia Adams.
Rainbow, New York City. John French Sloan (1912)