Sunday, May 21, 2017

But One Example of a Negligent Teacher- When and How Should We Speak Up to Error?

Many today in the Church are concerned about how the laity, and even the clergy, have suffered in recent years due to a lack of proper formation and good catechesis. Recent popes have called for a renewed vigor in catechesis; Pope St. John Paul II even wrote an entire encyclical on the matter, Catechesi tradendae. In it, he said:
“To begin with, it is clear that the Church has always looked on catechesis as a sacred duty and an inalienable right…from the theological point of view every baptized person, precisely by reason of being baptized, has the right to receive from the Church instruction and education enabling him or her to on a truly Christian life…” (CT 14).
Unfortunately, many of those who have been in this position to teach have been, at times, derelict, in their duties. One such example that comes up time and time again is found in the person of Fr. James Martin, S.J. Despite his appointment as a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications recently, Fr. Martin has caused controversy by his words on more than one occasion in the last few years. But just as much as his words have caused confusion among the faithful, it can be argued that his silence and lack of speaking up as a pastor and teacher have led to even more confusion among the Catholic faithful. Just earlier this month, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, Archbishop of Durban in South Africa, said on his Twitter account what many faithful Catholics have been thinking for years: "If we follow [the] teaching of Jesus & his Apostles James Martin's utterances will be shown up for what they are - heterodox!"

In a recent video in which he responded to several other criticisms he has received on Twitter, hFr. Martin mentioned how he doesn't feel the need to respond to people that disagree with him, or ones that call him out on errors he has made, because their arguments are supposedly "baseless". In the same way you wouldn't dignify a man who said you are a wife beater a response, Fr. Martin feels he doesn't need to answer the accusations of those that criticize him. Sure, some of them are baseless assertions, like the ones that are uncharitable.

But there are many people who have asked, in a charitable way, whether or not certain aspects of Church teaching are true. And Fr. Martin has sidestepped those questions at nearly every turn, always toeing the line between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, without ever going too far over into heterodoxy... but keeping a toe or two there, nonetheless. With his new book on the horizon, this is a good time to cite but one example in which it would be prudent to make a note of Fr. Martin's deafening silence. Indeed, as St. John Paul said, all Christians have the right to receive instruction on how to lead a true Christian life. Is remaining silent in the face of a teachable moment really living up to the example St. John Paul gives us?
In a post on Fr. Martin's social media account, linking to an excerpt from his new book, a reader who identified as "not straight" asked this question: "Father, are you in agreement that homosexual persons should embrace chastity?"

The poster was denounced by several people, some among them saying:

"Will you feel better if he says yes? Why? Are you living a chaste life?"

"None of our business what they do. Doesn't matter to you. ...'MIND YOUR OWN AFFAIRS' 1 Thessalonians 4:10-11" *

" I don't remember Jesus's teachings all being about people's sex lives... Pull your head out of the old testament and other people's bedrooms and start following the real teachings of Christ to take care of others."

These comments speak for themselves, among others I won't even bother posting here since they are all in the same vein of being dismissive. For instance, how exactly do we "take care of others"? But the one quote by a poster that made me extremely sad is below, and what made me sadder still is the fact that in an excellent moment to teach, Fr. Martin was all but silent. His response will be below this woman's quote:
Woman: " Stright (sic) people have zero right to demand that we gay people 'embrace chastity'. Such a demand is silly. Sex & sexuality are gifts from God. God created gay people and our sexuality. To expect that we never share our livies (sic) in loving relationships as God created us to deny our humanity, is to deny that we are made in the image of God & is to do attmpt (sic) to do violence to our humanity." 
OP: "[Miss], I'm not straight, see above." 
Fr. Martin: "Two post limit."
Sadly, this woman is very confused on Church teaching and believes that since God created "gay people", this means that He wants such people to act on those inclinations that lead to sexual activity outside of Holy Matrimony. Following this logic, that's like saying that since God creates pedophiles, to expect that said pedophiles "never share their lives in loving relationships as God created [them,] is to deny [their] humanity". But in a culture that no longer deems homosexual activity as deviant behavior, the comparison will be lost.

Note here, that I am not comparing those with same-sex attraction to those with pedophiliac tendencies; I am comparing two behaviors with one another, and calling both behaviors deviant. Not the persons; nor am I equating homosexual activity with the sexual abuse of a minor. I am not attempting to be uncharitable, but am attempting to state facts; facts that are no longer seen as such by many in Western civilization today. Today, "sex" is equated with anything resulting in, or leading up to, an orgasm. When this woman comments that sex is a "gift from God", she misunderstands the terminology she is using. Sex is good, but not all sexual activity. Sex, here, refers to sexual intercourse, which can only be achieved between a male and a female. So sex (that is, sexual intercourse) is holy, but only in the context of marriage; therefore, sexual activity between two people that are incapable of contracting and consummating marriage are not acting in a holy fashion, nor are they engaging in a gift from God. Indeed all people, straight or not, are called to embrace chastity... even in marriage every now and then! Which leads me to my criticism of Fr. Martin in this particular moment.
Man of Sorrows with a Chalice- Hendrick Goltius

This is not an isolated incident by any means for Fr. Martin, but I present this one example to show others how his dismissive attitude is confusing at best, and detrimental to the spiritual health of souls at worst. Fr. Martin clearly saw the post made by the woman before commenting, as it was posted several minutes before his own reply. Instead of correcting the woman, in his role as pastor of souls, he decided to enforce on the OP his "two post limit" that he has on his social media pages. Not only does this kill all charitable debate, but it dismisses opinions by not allowing for them to be fleshed out in the course of conversation. I can understand why it's been implemented: because he cannot monitor the vast amount of comments made on his page. But if he has the time to incessantly post these warnings, then why not take the time to fraternally correct his spiritual child? If, as St. John Paul says, "catechesis [is] a sacred duty", then, as a priest, why not give this woman "instruction and education enabling her to [live] a truly Christian life"?

I firmly believe it's a downright shame that Fr. Martin allows comments such as those posted by this woman to go unchecked, as it brings so much confusion to the faithful. As one poster said later in this very same thread, "Father why are you doing this? Why are you silencing those who question you and why don't you answer us with the truth? You are actually upsetting some of us by making us question the churches (sic) teaching. What are we to believe?"

Another poster made a very salient observation after Fr. Martin's only comment in the thread:
" Father, you as a priest have an obligation to preach, teach, and defend the Catholic faith. You cannot possibly read these comments and NOT come to the conclusion that very many of these people (those who are getting the most likes from people who presumably follow you) have a weak grasp of the moral and doctrinal teaching of the Church, and why the Church teaches what it does. Please, I lovingly beg you, do your job and speak up for the truth (cf. Bishop Robert Barron)."
As the thread continued, with more accusations that people "stay out of the bedrooms" of others, another priest made a comment. I do think this priest was trying to be a peacemaker to the opposing viewpoints on the thread, and I commend him for that, but I do disagree with the substance of what he said (and also wish he would've charitably, fraternally corrected our sister in Christ), and I will explain why I disagree after quoting him:
If I am reading the article properly, I think the response to the original question about “homosexual persons embracing chastity” is that we should not target a particular group as a group that especially needs to embrace a particular way of life, which is the practice that is alienating so many of our LGBT friends. If the first response is “you need to embrace chastity”, then you treat the person as a thing that needs to be fixed or a problem to be solved, instead of as a child of God to be loved. 
If the first thing we said to an obese person is, “You really have to lose weight,” we’re not going to get very far. (Although there are some who hurtfully say that right away!) Let’s get to know them as a person, appreciate who they are and what gifts they have, invite them into relationship and let God take care of how they need to change their lives for whatever better is there for them. Somewhat same pastoral principles apply for LGBT. Some big differences of course, but it’s really hard to find an exact parallel.
So he's right on in saying we don't need to target a group to especially embrace a particular virtue. All Christians need to embrace chastity equally; we all need to listen to that command of Christ: "to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect". He's also right on in saying that to tell an obese person that they "really have to lose weight", during our greeting in our first encounter together is ridiculous and uncharitable. But here's the thing: discussion on an Internet chat room, forum, message board, etc. is not the same as discussing these issues in real life with a person. The flows of conversation in each setting go about in entirely different manners!
Christ Among the Doctors- José de Avelar Rebelo

For instance, if I saw a morbidly obese person, I would exchange pleasantries, then get to know that person, and appreciate their God-given gifts. I wouldn't even bring up the subject of their morbid obesity unless they broached the subject themselves. Maybe if they kept indulging in high calorie foods over the course of several hours, bordering on gluttony, I might say something about their choices in food consumption. But if I was on an Internet forum, and the subject of tackling morbid obesity came up on a page that glorified overeating, then I would certainly speak up and talk about this very specific area in the life of a morbidly obese person.

Likewise, no one, and I do mean no one (including myself) would walk up to a person who they know to be gay, but do not know personally, and say "Hey Brad, nice to meet ya! I hear you're living with your boyfriend. You really need to embrace chastity and convert to Christ!" No one does that! I know several people with same-sex attraction, and never has the topic of their homosexuality ever come up in our conversations. They are people that I have gotten to know, and I would never be so rude as to bring up the question of their intimate lives as long as they are not making a public show of it. These are the same rules I follow for any couple who is sexually active, straight nor not, married or not. The situation has never called for bringing the subject up, and it would be boorish and imprudent to bring it up. But if a conversation went down the path of praising state sanctioned marriage between two people of the same sex, and I was pressured to also affirm how great the redefinition of marriage is purported to be, I would speak up and say I disagree. If I'm pressed on why I don't believe redefining marriage is a societal good, I will explain why, and possibly ask my same-sex attracted interlocutor, if he is Catholic, why he does not embrace the teachings of the Church which state that all those who are not united in marriage are to remain chaste.

This is very different from what happens on Internet message boards and social media pages. The "original question" this priest speaks of ("are you in agreement that homosexual persons should embrace chastity?") is a valid question, and it was extremely pertinent to the excerpt posted from Fr. Martin's book. Conversations on the Internet don't follow the same rules as conversations in the real world. All should be polite and cordial, but a subject can be broached at any moment as the people involved are not on intimate terms as any two people on the street are when they start talking to each other. Specific points can be made and addressed. This can't always happen unless the conversation is steered that way in the real world. In the digital world, in which several threads can be made from one social media post, a myriad of avenues can be explored on a single topic, and all be self contained at the same time. This is why the person who posed the original question was totally within his rights to ask such a question, and for Fr. Martin to deny him an answer shows that he may be indifferent to the entire subject. It is also reprehensible that in the course of this digital conversation, Fr. Martin did not fraternally correct anyone on their incorrect formulations of Christian doctrine, and it is equally reprehensible that he has allowed confusion to foment on his own page. With him being such a public figure, one would think he would make it perfectly clear what the Church teaches and what our Lord expects of the faithful instead of letting ambiguity win the day. I do believe he is a sincere man, but I fear that he may be embracing a false mercy. To paraphrase another priest, the commands and teaching found in the Scriptures are composed of sweet things like cake and bitter things like green beans. Everyone wants the cake, but many pass on the green beans.

Unfortunately, it's also apparent that many on Fr. Martin's page, as seen in their comments about people minding their own business, don't seem to comprehend why fraternal correction is important. It's as if they have forgotten (or perhaps never learned due to poor catechesis, as mentioned at the beginning of my post) what makes up the Spiritual Works of Mercy to be practiced by every Catholic Christian (in the proper setting, of course). In his Sermon 82, St. Augustine reminds us that, "You do worse by keeping silent than he does by sinning." But at the same time, we have to speak up in a friendly way. St. Ambrose reminds us of this in his De officiis ministrorum III: "If you discover some defect in a friend, correct him privately (...) For corrections do more good and are more profitable than friendship that keeps silent. If the friend is offended, correct him just the same, firmly and without fear, even though the correction tastes bitter to him. It is written in the Book of Proverbs that wounds from a true friend are preferable to kisses from flatterers (cf. Proverbs 27:6)." More on this topic can be found HERE.
Saint Ambrose- Michael Pacher

But let's not forget the plain words of Scripture as well. St. James tell us this:
My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (Jas. 5:19-20).
And in the Book of Ezekiel:
Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. (Ez. 3:17)
And finally, from St. Paul:
"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any sin, you who are spiritual should recall him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:1).
These are wise words from great saints, but of course, we need balance. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, "Now fraternal correction is directed to a brother's amendment: so that it is a matter of precept, in so far as it is necessary for that end, but not so as we have to correct our erring brother at all places and times." There's a time and a place for everything. We have to judge the situation accordingly. One's response to a certain topic might be different if one is in a room with 10 people as opposed to talking about that same topic on a public Facebook page which is accessed by more than half a million people. If we truly do care for the souls of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will attempt to remove all ambiguity from our interactions with them, and proclaim the truth in charity, when appropriate. The latter situation in the example above seems most appropriate for such an attempt.

In this particular episode with Fr. Martin, several people needed to be reminded by their pastor that sin is very much everybody's business. Not to use as a weapon in which we throw stones, but in a biblical sense. St. Paul puts it most succinctly:
...God has so adjusted the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 
This is the nature of the Body of Christ. It's crystal clear, and in other areas of Scripture, too. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also reminds us of this fact, in very blunt terms: "In this solidarity with all men, living or dead, which is founded on the communion of saints, the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all. Every sin harms this communion (CCC 953)."

So people who miss the point ask why others are "so hung up" on what people do in their bedrooms. No one is "hung up" on anything. We have to stop treating sin as if it is a private action. It's very clear from Scripture and from the CCC that it most certainly is not! If it becomes apparent that someone in the Body of Christ is sinning, it's a cause for concern because sin causes a person to suffer, and we suffer together. If sexual activity outside of the Sacrament of Marriage is a sin, as the Church has always taught, and we know that every sin harms the Body of Christ, then it follows that we should help our brothers and sister to find a way out of their sin and into the loving embrace of our Lord through the Sacraments and a call to conversion. This is the reality of things, and should cause us to reflect more on our own shortcomings so that we also don't harm the communion with our own sins. This proves that remaining silent is no longer an option.

*  Obviously, St. Paul isn't telling anyone to "mind their own business" in 1 Thes. 4:11. This person has twisted Scripture to make the isolated quote sound different from it's intended meaning. As we see in footnote "d" in the RSV:CE translation of the Bible, "The Thessalonians thought that the second Coming of Christ was at hand and tended to neglect their daily duties. He corrects this misconception." This poster totally took what St. Paul said out of context. St. Paul is clear, in many places, that we are to exhort our brothers and sister to live a healthy life united with Christ; we are not to remain silent and "mind our own business".

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