Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Of courts and cowardice

No sooner does the Extraordinary Synod on the Family open in Rome than in Washington, D.C. the United States Supreme Court, in determining which cases it will adjudicate next Spring, decided to let lower court rulings on so-called "same-sex marriage" stand, thus effectively agreeing that state constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman violate the equal protection clause of the fourth amendment of the U.S. constitution. As Rush sang in their song "Free Will"- "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." The lead-in of a post on The Economist's blog Democracy in America, ("Why did they take a pass?") hit the nail on the head: "NEVER has a US Supreme Court decision not to hear a case had such a quick and profound impact on the rights of so many Americans." I would certainly dissent from the use of the word "rights" in this context, but the high court's refusal certainly made "a quick and profound impact" on this country. It is also oddly incongruent to write about judicial fiat under the heading Democracy in America. A more appropriate heading would be Oligarchy in America. If there is any doubt now that our federal system retains any semblance of states rights, then the one making that assertion is simply out of touch with reality.

Inside the Supreme Court

The good news is that, try as you might, rulings, or non-rulings, cannot alter the fabric of reality. Of course, there can be no sour grapes. As many friends on either side of this divisive issue might tell me, "In the U.S. that's just the way the cookie crumbles." I have no choice but to agree, but not without noting there is nothing "just" about it, as well as pointing out that this non-ruling only demonstrates the dryness and staleness of the cookie.

This development only serves to highlight the importance of the deliberations and outcome of the 2014 and 2015 Synods. As Catholics we need to face the circumstances that are presented to us, fully embracing reality, not denying reality, or fleeing from it. In my view, the Church has a golden opportunity to clearly and unambiguously teach the truth about the human person, which is something the Western world is monumentally confused about presently, which confusion leads many people to live lives of hopeless desperation. Of course, the truth must be taught in love, which means to teach it clearly and unambiguously, even creatively, engaging with culture, with the understanding that without truth there can be no love.

Theologian Don Divo Barsotti made this observation about the post-conciliar writings of Swiss philosopher Romano Amerio as set forth in his great works Iota Unum and Stat Veritas (the latter of which has yet to be translated into English): "Amerio essentially says that the gravest evils present today in Western thought, including Catholic thought, are mainly due to a general mental disorder according to which 'caritas' is put before 'veritas', without considering that this disorder also overturns the proper conception that we should have of the Most Holy Trinity." Of course, living the truth in love was a leit motif of the papacy of Benedict XVI, who masterfully spoke to the challenges and provocations issued by Western culture.

Just last night I read a brilliant piece in First Things from back in January of this year: "Celibacy as Political Resistance: Explaining Johann Möhler’s political theology to subvert state domination." Towards the beginning his article, Kaplan makes a deeply insightful observation concerning the United States and the difficulties being American presents to Catholics:
Christians, however, have too often failed to recognize that we’re frequently swayed by the deep, romantic national identity that America fosters so well in its citizens. It and not the Church often sets the agenda. The calls for religious freedom very quickly focus on the rights of conscience, reinforcing an individualism that downplays the importance of the freedom of the Church to occupy public space on her own terms
Soon, how we live marriage, too, will become a way of resisting the state, especially as the pressure for the Church to "celebrate" same-sex marriages increases. Mark my words, such governmental pressure will increase and will eventually be brought to bear with the full coercive power of the state, as we have seen in the unjust outcomes of several legal cases brought against small business owners amply demonstrate. Also, prepare for the legalization of polygamy, despite whatever howling protests this might draw from those who support re-defining marriage to include unions between those of the same sex.

If how we dealt with the terribly unjust HHS mandate (a topic also taken up by Kaplan in his article), is anything to go by, we're in for trying times. In a recent column for his diocesan newspaper, "A tale of two churches," Francis Cardinal George also noted the fundamental dichotomy between the United States and the Catholic Church:
There was always a quasi-religious element in the public creed of the [United States of America]. It lived off the myth of human progress, which had little place for dependence on divine providence. It tended to exploit the religiosity of the ordinary people by using religious language to co-opt them into the purposes of the ruling class. Forms of anti-Catholicism were part of its social DNA. It had encouraged its citizens to think of themselves as the creators of world history and the managers of nature, so that no source of truth outside of themselves needed to be consulted to check their collective purposes and desires. But it had never explicitly taken upon itself the mantle of a religion and officially told its citizens what they must personally think or what “values” they must personalize in order to deserve to be part of the country. Until recent years.
St Peter's Basilica

At the end of his column Cardinal George also obliquely alludes to the fact that much of the Church may not be up to the challenges presented by the world: "Catholics do know, with the certainty of faith, that, when Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, the church, in some recognizable shape or form that is both Catholic and Apostolic, will be there to meet him." In my view, there is more than a slight possibility that the shape or form of the Catholic and Apostolic Church may well look more like that envisioned by Robert Hugh Benson in his novel Lord of the World than the shape and form she currently has.

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