November 09, 2012
Withering on the vine…
As the dust settles from Tuesday’s election, various pundits are seeking the ambo to proclaim that the results are consistent with Catholic teaching or not. One illustration of this is from a faculty member at the Jesuit theologate and school of theology at Berkeley, CA [HERE]. She begins her dotCommonweal contribution by proclaiming that Tuesday’s results in four states were historic for advancing the cause of same-sex marriage.
The professor/author argues that the increasing support for same-sex marriage is a “generational issue,” and by this I think she means that, with the passage of time, more and more Americans will agree that opposition to same-sex marriage, for whatever reason, puts one “on the wrong side of history” as she quotes a member of a California-based organization which favors the recognition of same-sex marriage.
The professor/author appears to be in favor of the changes reflecting this “generational issue” and does not want to be “on the wrong side of history” when she asserts that some Catholics “are hanging on to the good news of Catholic Social Teaching, at least as they see it” by claiming that Catholics for “pro-gay marriage” justify their position on “centuries of Catholic social teaching” which is based on “Christ’s primary message… of love.”
The professor/author is critical of Magisterial teaching to the contrary which she considers limited and faulty. She concludes that Tuesday’s approvals of same-sex marriage in various legal redefinitions of marriage demonstrate that “Catholics voting for marriage equality are showing that they have indeed learned the lessons of Catholic teaching, both the social teaching of the equal dignity of all people and our own rich heritage on marriage.”
I am not sure where she gets her support to substantiate these conclusions, and her views necessitate a response on several fronts.
I can see how she contends that increasing Catholic support is becoming a “generational issue” because more and more young people are being subjected to teachings which use the moniker “Catholic” but, in fact, are not. As the “More than a Monologue” initiative partly sponsored by Fordham and Fairfield Universities illustrated and which I have previously discussed on these pages, nominally Catholic institutions of higher education, which have an extraordinary influence on the young, are not teaching what the Church teachers; moreover, these institutions are not exploring why the Church teaches what she teaches in spite of assertions to the contrary. For the most part at many institutions that claim the moniker “Catholic”, students are being exposed to a shadow magisterium which is a corruption of rather than intellectual fidelity to Church teachings on the neuralgic issues of the day including marriage. While these young may be receiving a great deal of education, they are not receiving the wisdom of the Church; hence, their knowledge of what the Church teaches and why she teaches what she does is being eviscerated. In addition, both catechesis and evangelization are suffering rather than prospering as a result of false doctrine being disseminated by a growing number of teachers who are employed at the once-traditional but now-nominally Catholic institutions.
But more needs to be said about the professor/author’s dotCommonweal posting. My next point concerns her contentions about centuries of Catholic social teaching supporting the generational shift that erroneously believes that Catholic social doctrine is in favor of same-sex marriage. A brief excursion through applicable papal encyclicals, dicastery documents, Conciliar documents, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church will rectify her contentions about advocacy for same-sex marriage and the positions of those she favorably quotes in this regard which she believes accurately reflect “the equal dignity of all people” as advanced by Catholic social thought.
This brings me to her understanding of the meaning of equality. John Courtney Murray was on to something when he explained that norm making consistent with the natural moral law process that undergirds our federal republic is founded on objective human intelligence comprehending objective reality. I have, both here and elsewhere, delved into the equality argument for same-sex marriage. But in brief, let me demonstrate why her equality argument falters by illustrating with one argument the truth that same-sex marriage is not equal to opposite-sex marriage: let us consider that two planets similar to earth, alpha and beta, are being colonized by humans. Opposite-sex couples are sent to alpha; same-sex couples are sent to beta. Neither planet will have the capacity to rely on technology-assisted reproduction. In one hundred years, more earthlings go to planets alpha and beta. What will they find? They will find that alpha is still populated with humans but beta will not be. Her equality argument fails because the claims upon which it is based are false.
Another point requiring some attention here is the professor/author’s claim that “Christ’s primary message is one of love.” Is it really? There is no question that our Lord taught and lived love, but I submit that his primary message was about salvation when he exhorted us to avoid sin and its near occasion. Moreover, the Lord came to remind us that we have free will that ought to be exercised in the direction of virtue and away from vice and sin. As he told the woman who sinned: go and sin no more. And, when one turns from sin toward seeking forgiveness, redemption is at hand as the prodigal son discovered. Regrettably, the professor/author’s misunderstanding of Christ’s “primary message” can be used to lead people away from salvation and into sin and the loss of salvation. Should a professor of moral theology really be exhorting such a thing?
This brings me to my final point for today, a point that I have previously made here at the Mirror of Justice and elsewhere but a point requiring repetition once again. This point is founded on another of Christ’s teachings: he is the vine, and we are the branches. Our Lord reminded us that we, as vines, can prosper and bear fruit if we remain faithful to him. But, if we so choose, we can sever our relation with him and with what God asks of us; when we do, we shall wither. When the latter occurs, we can be bound up and consigned to a status in which we are permanently removed from him and what God promises. In the context of Catholic higher education, we might recall Archbishop Michael Miller’s reliance on this very theme from Saint John’s Gospel (the vine and the branches) when he developed the notion of evangelical pruning of educational institutions which claim to be Catholic but, in fact, are not. If I may borrow from a tack taken by the professor/author, might this be a moment when Catholics need to understand what Catholic social teaching really is and, if necessary, relearn it in order to avoid withering on the vine of Christ?
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