Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Friday, June 04, 2004

Addicted to mediocrity 

Sorry I've been scarce all morning. I'll get to some interesting current events later on in the day, but first I've got to get this off my chest. I should have known better than to read Commonweal, but I did and the damage is done.

In particular I'm looking at an article 'Denying Communion to Politicians' by Frans Jozef van Beeck, who teaches at Loyola in Chicago (June 4, not yet available on the internet).

Like all theological articles in liberal Catholic journals, van Beeck traces everything back to 1968:

"Ever since Humanae vitae . . . the Catholic bishops of the United States have suffered a critical loss of pastoral and magisterial authority . . . on matters pertaining to marriage and sexuality."

Careful, now. Loss of credibility I could see, although this loss would be unjustified; but how does supporting a controversial papal encyclical in any way reduce a bishop's 'pastoral and magisterial authority'? Doesn't the latter come directly from Christ, through the charism of apostolic succession? To suggest that it is in any way lessened by pastoral failings (or perceived pastoral failings) is nothing less than Donatist.

But here is my main point. Let me quote two passages further down in the article:

"Humanae vitae taught that contraception is an intrinsically immoral act; hence it cannot be commended as 'a positively good and human thing to do.' Importantly, though, the encyclical stopped short of teaching that every act of marital intimacy blemished by contraception is mortally sinful. Several bishops' conferences saw this almost immediately, and welcoming the teaching of Humanae vitae, they referred the married to their consciences -- a common Catholic way of suggesting that there is room for venial sin in the practice of sexual intimacy in marriage."

"The answer, deeply frustrating at the time, was Humanae vitae, which called contraception immoral. Unfortunately, what fell between the cracks was the question: How immoral? As I have indicated, Humanae vitae implied, without saying so directly, that contraception was not necessarily mortally sinful."

This section made me bristle. With regard to the Christian moral life, have we become so gravely depraved that we are now asking, with regard to an act which has been authoritatively declared to be intrinsically immoral -- "Well, okay, so it's immoral - but how immoral is it?"

We often hear quoted the passage from Lumen Gentium, from the Second Vatican Council, speaking of the 'Pilgrim Church':

"While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled knew nothing of sin, but came to expiate only the sins of the people, the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal" (LG 8).

This is often invoked as overturning, or at least mitigating, the centuries-old doctrine of the Church's intrinsic holiness, as if that teaching ever implied that the members of the Church were impeccable. The same document laid forth a bombshell teaching on the universal call to holiness (though this, too, was hardly novel), giving the lie to any previous intimation that the laity were called to a lower standard of holiness than the hierarchy. LG, again, does not pull any punches:

"Therefore all in the Church, whether they belong to the hierarchy or are cared for by it, are called to holiness . . . The Lord Jesus, divine teacher and model of all perfection, preached holiness of life (of which he is the author and maker) to each and every one of his disciples without distinction: 'You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect' (Mt. 5:48) . . . . The followers of Christ, called by God not in virtue of their works but by his design and grace, and justified in the Lord Jesus, have been made sons of God in the baptism of faith and partakers of the divine nature, and so are truly sanctified. They must therefore hold on to and perfect in their lives that sanctification which they have received from God . . . It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society" (LG 39-40).

The call to holiness, perfection, sanctity of life is the crown of the baptismal priesthood, the vocation of all the faithful who are anointed into Christ's threefold office of Priest, Prophet, and King. This is the radiance of the saints, the lifeblood of Mother Church, the beating heart of the whole world. It is the call to holiness that makes us agents of change in the world, of 'joy and hope' in the modern age. If there is one trumpet blast which blares from the Second Vatican Council, it is this, that faithful are called to share in the holiness of the Triune God through the mediation of Christ, and thenceforth to invite the world to share in this same holiness.

And yet, van Beeck and his kind, like Esau, are eager to trade this birthright for a mess of pottage. They complain again and again whenever the teaching authority of the Church calls out of the pigsty of sin, to share in the glory of Christ by being transformed by His divine law. They cry that Mother Church is not sympathetic enough with their sinful condition, is asking for too much holiness, more than their meager, emaciated wills can bear. Where is that hunger for holiness, that eager embrace of sanctity, which shone forth from so many of the martyrs, confessors, and saints? When did any of these, when confronted with the demands of the Law of God, pause to ask -- 'Well, if I were to break this one, would that be mortal or venial?' 'Is that sixth one really mandatory, or is that just sort of an ideal?' I mean, that we should be perfect, 'as our Heavenly Father is perfect' -- is that really realistic, Jesus?

The pastor who presided over my marriage, when I asked him in a counseling session, whether or not he normally discusses the evil of contraception with engaged couples (he certainly didn't with us), answered thus: 'Well, I used to, but now, I'm starting to realize . . . I agree with the Church's teaching on that . . . but I just don't think that everyone is called to that.' The glorious inheritance of Vatican II has come to this.

# posted by Jamie : 7:38 AM


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Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

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