Friday, January 14, 2011

A Little Bit of Everything

This post, though largely just referencing a few other things I found today, touches a bit on many of my favorite themes: crazy repressed seminarians, good preaching, love of sinners, and emphasizing grace over guilt.

There is a good post over at Vox Nova addressing the accusation that the Church is "sex obsessed" (while admitting that many on the Right and Left are indeed). I occasionally get teased or have cyber eyebrows raised at me on some traddie boards for having "psychosexually integrated" be a defining feature of the ethos of this blog...but there is no denying that it is a huge unresolved issue in the collective psyche of Catholics (and the source of much insanity and spiritual sickness).

The Vox Nova post is worth a read in itself, as I agree with what it says, but it also led me to a very good article by Fr. Robert Barron of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. I actually am blessed to have him say Sunday Mass and preach at my parish very often, as he is truly one of the best speakers I've ever found among priests (because, let's face it, Catholic priests aren't usually very good preachers). I'm not sure how favorable he'd be to the idea of the traditional liturgy, but I encourage you (if you're not already familiar; he's on EWTN too) to check him out, if only for his able preaching style.

This particular article has what I think is a hilarious wry little anecdote at the beginning about an obviously messed-up seminarian, followed by a very good message about the true nature of Christian conversion afterward:
The biggest difficulty is the obsession with sexual issues which bedevils, not only the secular media, but too many within the church itself, both on the left and the right. About ten years ago, the New York Times Magazine ran a story on the new generation of seminarians. It demonstrated their vigor, their enthusiastic orthodoxy, and their eagerness to preach the Gospel. But when the reporter asked one young man, soon to be ordained to the priesthood, what topic he especially wanted to proclaim from the pulpit, he responded, “I want people to stop masturbating!” [ROFLMAO!!!!!!] Now say what you want about the morality of masturbation, I think that you’d be hard pressed to read the Gospel of Matthew or Paul to the Romans or the book of Revelation or the book of the prophet Isaiah and conclude that the central point is “don’t masturbate.”

Though you’d never guess it from most discussions in the media (or many in the church), the central point is grace and divine friendship. On the Biblical reading, the spiritual thing always begins with grace—the offer of the divine life—and grace leads to joyful transformation. It doesn’t commence with moralizing. In his opening speech in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Good News.” Notice that the kingdom—the inbreaking of God’s love—comes first and the call to moral conversion follows. In his encounter with the woman at the well, Jesus did not immediately call the woman to change her immoral ways; rather, he invited her into a relationship with him. Then, in the warmth and light provided by that friendship, she was ready to listen and to change. Joyfully, she set down her bucket (symbolic of her addictive patterns of life) and went into the town to proclaim the one “who told her everything she’d ever done.” When the spiritual project begins with moralizing, it ends in fruitless guilt and resentment. When it begins with grace, it ends in enthusiastic conversion.

The Pope understands this dynamic perfectly—which is precisely why the bulk of his interview is about God and God’s offer of love. What particularly vexes Benedict XVI is that many in the West have either denied or conveniently forgotten about God. And this has conduced, he sees, to deep alienation, isolation, and spiritual drift—even in the midst of much material wealth. When God is brought back to the center of our concern, when we enter into friendship with God, then spontaneously we want to change; we want to live lives of radical love. And this is where the moral teaching of the church—including and especially its sexual teaching—comes in. Everything that the church says about human sexuality is designed to conduct people along a path of ever greater self-gift—in response to the God who has given himself to them. But abstracted from grace, the sexual teaching of the church will seem to most, almost certainly, as fussy, puritanical moralizing.

1 comment:

Victory of Faith said...

Masturbation is a mortal sin, which kills the soul and damns anyone who commits it to Hell, just as surely as any other mortal sin does.

Preaching against it from the pulpit however is far more likely to encourage people to commit the sin rather than give it up.

It would be better for Catholic priests to preach the Faith, encourage virtue, and leave sins against the Sixth Commandment to children's parents and to the Confessional.