Search This Blog

Monday, June 28, 2004

It's not all plaudits and roses.

Or, not everybody's going to like what you write.

My recent dissection of the sermon of Dominican Fr. Timothy O'Donnell was not well-received by Mark at Minute Particulars.

The initial, suppressed knee-jerk response was "You know, the blog title is Dyspeptic, not Harmonious Mutterings." I'm not exactly Gerard Serafin. Or Steven Riddle. Or Mary Herboth (she doesn't get enough credit, so make sure to visit her).

But that would be neither fair nor an appropriate response to a careful and decent writer like Mark. The heart of his critique is a fair one, and deserves more than a quip. Here's the heart of his objection:

Something seems amiss in Dale's treatment. What's the point of such derision? We're not talking about some neophyte preacher who mumbled some nonsense. This is a former Master of the Dominican Order, a careful and deep thinker, and a holy man. That, of course, doesn't mean his homilies can't be critiqued. Of course not. But criticism with such extreme condescension? Criticism with such a mocking tone? What's the point?

To start my response, I'm not getting into a chip toss about someone's holiness--I know next to nothing about Fr. Radcliffe, so I'll take your word on it. I have a second-hand recollection of him being involved in the rejection of Fr. Augustine DiNoia for a role in the Dominican Order in the U.S., but holiness and political infighting can go hand in hand, especially where the orders are concerned. He's a serious and holy man--OK. Good. We can certainly use more.

But, and more to the point, personal holiness is no proof against awful judgment. The purported homily of Fr. Radcliffe was, at a bare minimum, a spectacular example of awful judgment in action.

Why (and coming to the point)? Remember the context of the sermon. It centers on the communion debate building in the Church. That debate itself is based on several fundamental issues which are tearing at the social and religious fabric of the country and even the Church, involving core redefinitions of the family (marriage) and even humanity itself (abortion and embryonic stem cell research).

The problem? First: On every single issue, Catholics are vociferous, unrepentant and unyielding champions for the wrong side. Fr. Radcliffe's response? "That doesn't matter."

Oh, yes, I know--he has the obligatory disclaimer in favor of church teaching: "There is no question of the Church going back on its opposition to abortion." So what? The rest of the sermon effectively soft-pedals that into irrelevance. There are no consequences for trashing the teaching of the Church. Indeed, reading the homily, it's hard to see why anyone would kick up a fuss over such a trifle as abortion. What really counts is being welcoming. A few examples should suffice to show why I view it as a veritable stew of conscience-deadening:

* so called bad Catholics;

* I do not have to...establish that I am an upright friar with the correct views. I just belong;

* We each cherish some aspect of the gospel. But none of us has the right to claim that his or her memory is the only one and threaten people who cherish another. We need each other’s memories if we are to get a small glimpse of the whole truth;

* And, the money lines: So we should all feel at home in the Church, even though, like these apostles, we may not feel that we are ‘good Catholics’. We may have doubts and uncertainties; we may disagree with the Church on some issues; we may be angry with the Church about other things. We may be living in what are called ‘irregular situations’, although they are more and more regular. But Jesus still invites us to be at home here.

There's not even a peep of a challenge to the errant. Indeed, from the homily, there's not even an indication that it's possible to be in error. A fair reading of the sermon would indicate that even if one could be in the wrong on such things, it's not a big problem.

Hearing this, a John Kerry or Gavin Newsom wannabe can safely put it on autopilot--get the wafer on Sunday, return to sledgehammering Catholicism and the bedrock of human civilization on Monday. We wouldn't want them to feel uncherished or get the feeling that they might be gravely wrong or anything. It's just abortion. It's just the demolition of a millenia-old view of the family and its purpose. It's just the Mengelesque dismemberment of the most defenseless among us for spare parts. No big whoop.

In fairness to him, perhaps Fr. Radcliffe brought the brimstone to the next homily. But there's not a whiff of it here, where it matters. Which, given the subject and the stakes, qualifies as a truly grim error in judgment. And the retraction always gets less attention than the original article.

The second problem? We are losing on every front. Period. And a large part of the reason we are losing is because Catholics believe they can--indeed, must--jettison the inconvenient parts of their faith on the way out the Church door on Sunday.

Sadly, Fr. Radcliffe's sermon does a fine job of offering aid and comfort to that devastating worldview.

No comments:

Post a Comment