Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Truth, Justice and the Christian Way

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 41

After being in prison for twenty-two days they were called to hear their sentence. No error was found either in their life or in their teaching, and so they were allowed to continue as they had been doing, teaching catechism and speaking of the things of God, provided that they never defined what was mortal and what was venial sin, until they had studied four years longer. When the sentence was read, the judges gave signs of great affection, as though they wished to see it accepted. The pilgrim said that he would do all that the sentence required of him, but that he would not accept it, because without condemning him on any point, they closed his mouth to prevent his helping his neighbor in what he could. No matter how much the Doctor Frias, who showed great friendliness, urged the matter, the pilgrim said that as long as he was in the jurisdiction of Salamanca he would do as the sentence bade him.

They were at once released from custody. But after commending the matter to God, he began to think of what his course would be. He found great difficulty in remaining in Salamanca, because this prohibition against defining mortal and venial sin seemed to close the door to his helping souls. And so he made up his mind to go to Paris to study.

When the pilgrim was debating in Barcelona as to whether he should study and how far, his whole object was whether after he had studied he should enter religion, or whether he should go on as he had been going through the world. When thoughts of entering religion came to him, the desire also came of entering an Order that had become relaxed and was in need of reform. He thought that he would thus have more to suffer, and at the same time God would perhaps come to their help, and give him likewise a deep confidence which would enable him to bear patiently the contumely and the insults that would be heaped upon him.

Well, all through the time of his incarceration at Salamanca, he was never without the same desire of helping souls, and to study to this end and to gather together a few that felt as he did and hold those he had gathered. Once he had made up his mind to go to Paris, he agreed with them that they should wait for him where they were, while he would go and see whether there was some way in which they could all carry on their studies.

Many important persons did what they could to keep him from going, but they could get nowhere with him. Before they were fifteen or twenty days out of prison, he left by himself, taking a few books along on a donkey. When he arrived at Barcelona, all who knew him tried to dissuade him from passing over to France because of hostilities. They recounted many instances of atrocities, even going so far as to say that the French roasted Spaniards on spits. But he saw no reason for being afraid.

Among the many things I like about Saint Ignatius is his sense of integrity, and his passion. Out of his sense of obedience, he agrees to abide by the decision of the Friars, but he cannot do so quietly, not without letting them know that he doesn’t accept it. Why? Because for apparently no defensible reason—as they find no fault with him—they have gotten in the way of his primary objective, helping souls. It is this same sense of integrity and passion for helping souls that I have found is meant to characterize those who choose to live the Jesuit life. Like Ignatius, we are bound to be obedient to our superiors, but not without representing our passions, our desires, the fruit of our discernment. Indeed, a Jesuit has an obligation to let his superior know if he thinks what he’s asking is the wrong decision. And he has a responsibility to let him know all the reasons why, just as Ignatius agreed to answer all the questions put to him by the Friars. But also like Ignatius, he must obey if the superior insists despite his objections (unless he is being asked to do something sinful). Still, this is not a perfect system, and superiors even as they stand, as we believe, in the place of Christ, still make mistakes. But our hope and our prayer through all of this is that we not lose sight of what is most important (which, I believe, is what Ignatius thought the Friars had lost sight of)—the service of God and the help of souls.

There is also a matter of justice here. Some people seem to tire, I think, about all the emphasis we Jesuits place on justice; but I think we can see the root of it here. As we are meant to be truthful with our superiors, we are also meant—and I think Ignatius models this for us here—to speak truth to power, especially when that power is being abused. Since the friars have found nothing wrong in what Ignatius and his companions have been teaching, might their only motivation be to assert their power?

These aren’t lessons just for Jesuits. I think as a Church and as a society as a whole we could all benefit more from greater honesty and transparency. We have reached a moment in which a lot of good people are afraid to speak truth to power, at a time when power is being wielded irresponsibly. Whether it is our government’s complicity in the torture of prisoners or our bishop’s complicity in the abuse of children, the truth must and should be allowed to be spoken without fear of repercussion. Among the saddest things that I heard in the summerof 2004, from a number of people, was that all the hubbub about denying communion to people was the Bishops’ way of getting back at the laity for criticizing their leadership with regard to the sexual abuse scandal. I don’t believe that is true, but I could see how people might see it that way in light of all that’s happened in recent years.

I am also troubled by the fact that no one in authority seems willing to challenge the hateful and uncharitable things being said by many in the church about homosexual persons these days. If you read many Catholic blogs, you know what I’m talking about. I struggle with the Church’s teaching on this matter. I’m not sure what it means to say that a human being is “objectively disordered,” when he or she is no different from me except that he or she has “same-sex attraction.” And I can’t say that I see anything Christ-like in the ways that many have tried to make homosexual persons and/or priests the scapegoats for the sexual abuse crisis (though it does draw attention away from the failures in authority). There are failures, I know, on both sides of the issue. Gay activists aren’t always so charitable toward we Christians either, but it seems to me that we are called to the moral high ground. Instead of responding in kind we should respond in charity, doing our best to be true to the entirety of Church teaching even while perhaps, as I do, we struggle with parts of it. And we should, in the spirit of Ignatius, be able to be honest about that struggle without fear that should we speak it, those in authority are going to come down on us.

If we have our sights passionately set on “the help of souls,” we should be able, like Ignatius, to hear warnings that we might be roasted on a spit, and see no reason for being afraid.


Blogger angelmeg said...

Being sanctimonius never helps anyone. At least I have never fount it to help. It only helps to be willing to love the person, no matter who they are.

God loves us without condition. Why do we put conditions on the love we offer, I wonder?


2:52 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

I don't read many Catholic blogs, so I'm not familiar with the homosexual bashing you refer to there. But I have read the Catechism (which I think you are quoting) and it doesn't refer to any human beings as objectively disordered. It refers to homosexual acts as objectively disordered. I realize that this language can seem harsher to some than the Catechism's treatment of other forms of sexual sin. I think the reason for this is that many modern homosexuals wear their sexuality like a badge.

What does it mean to say "I am a homosexual?" Does it mean "I suffer from same sex attraction?" Or does it mean "I engage in homosexual acts?" I think many Christians in our culture take it to mean the latter (and this may explain their great aversion to homosexuals.) But, either way, it is disordered to even say it proudly. A man's sexuality is a part of him, but not his whole identity. This is true for everyone, homosexual or not. Fulton Sheen said that to claim your sexuality as your identity is like saying a man's speech can be understood by looking at the larynx, giving no consideration to word usage, tone, volume, pitch, or what he is saying.

I think the Catechism addresses this through the harsh language used to describe homosexual acts. Perhaps an argument can be made that different language should be used to avoid a misinterpretation of what it says, but it is not wrong to say that "homosexual acts are objectively disordered." I believe that any acts against the sanctity of marriage are disordered in some form or fashion, and many of them are enumerated in the Catechism, not just homosexual acts.

8:21 PM  
Anonymous Omis said...

Paul - Regardless of the what the catechism says, many parishes and dioceses have actively driven people who identify as "homosexuals," whatever that my mean to them. You needn't read blogs to know that, it comes up occassionally in the newspapers.

Mark - this is a question that I have often struggled with. It's helpful to know that there are other Catholics who share that struggle.

9:47 PM  
Blogger Susan Rose, CSJP said...

Many of us struggle with it.

Thanks for the honest post Mark which shows it's not so simple as some would have us think.

Jesus had a habit of hanging out with the marginalized in his day. When I look at our church today, that makes me think he'd probably be sharing meals with our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Inviting them in, not shunning them. But then, that's just a hunch.

12:32 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Omis - Thanks for your thoughts. I must say that I really have never had any experience with people being driven off from a Catholic church because they were homosexual; and yet there were some in my home parish growing up.

I have struggled with this in the past, also, and I have friends who are homosexual. I don't treat them any differently than any other friends and they wouldn't want me to.

11:24 AM  
Anonymous Jenn said...

Paul, on certain Catholic blogs it often seems like the only acceptable method of dealing with homosexuality is to shun homosexuals and any and all mentions of them anywhere at anytime in any sort of positive light. Any ministry to homosexuals is automatically suspected of encouraging sin instead of simply welcoming the sinner back to Church, etc.

It also seems like saying anything nice about someone who identifies as a homosexual is tantamount to heresy in some people's eyes because apparently, even though many of them keep claiming that we are all more than our sexuality, they can never quite see beyond the sexuality of people with same-sex attraction.

12:18 AM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...


Just to let you know, that since these are "reruns," Paul may be long gone.

But thanks for your comments!

1:11 AM  

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