This post may be qualified as venting, because I do need to get these off my chest. While I am a very opinionated person 😀 I don’t believe in confronting people who don’t know me well enough to know that I’m speaking from my heart. What makes this difficult is that I’ve been seeing so many statements lately that just make me go, “Huh?” and I have to respond in SOME way, even if only to record for my kids to find later, or for those wandering readers that may happen to stumble here and just might find something that would help them. If I left these comments on a combox somewhere people are sure to pounce on them right away and I really don’t have the time or inclination to defend my views.
Statement #1: “I am a practicing Catholic but I’ve long ignored Catholic teaching about contraception, and my (married) life has been so much happier since.”
“Practicing” and “ignoring” in the same sentence don’t make sense. Practicing means you know what the Church teaches, you believe the teachings, and you follow them. “Ignoring” can mean several things:
- You might know what the Church teaches but you’re purposefully choosing to neither believe nor follow.
- You don’t know what the Church teaches and you’re not taking the time to find out
- You don’t want to really understand what the Church teaches because you don’t want to accept the Church’s authority over you or any of the life decisions you make, you don’t want to be told you’re wrong, and you don’t want to be told that you have to change.
Whatever “ignoring” means for you, I think we need to agree that “ignoring” and “practicing” just don’t go together. When you say that, it confuses people about the Church, and it confuses people about you. You’re confused enough, so please don’t burden others with your confusion as well.
Also, “happy” doesn’t mean “right”. I’m sure there are criminals around the world that are perfectly happy about the crimes they’ve committed. (Maybe they won’t be happy down the road, but there are sure to be some who don’t have that remorse thing down yet.) There are many things that make us happy. There are many things that make us right. Not all things that make us happy make us right. And not all things that are right make us happy, at least maybe not in the short term. There are long term rewards, however, for doing what’s right. If you’re not into the long-term thing however, you know, that delayed gratification thing — this may be a hard concept for you to accept.
And one more concept that may be foreign to you: there are those of us who DO follow Church teaching about contraception, that are actually HAPPY. Again, just because something may make YOU happy, doesn’t mean it will make EVERYONE happy.
Statement #2: “The Church should trust people to just use and follow their conscience.” (as regards contraception)
I think it’s correct to assume that our consciences are all formed differently. That is, something that may bother my conscience may not bother yours; the opposite is true also. This is why we have Church teaching, and this is why serious Catholics try to follow them. If all we relied on were our own consciences, how do we determine whether your conscience is right and mine is wrong, or vice versa? Ideally, we Catholics would have well-formed consciences by the time we are adults and have to make difficult decisions like who to vote for, or whether we should wash the dishes before hubby gets home or not. Sometimes it doesn’t work that way — maybe we were taught wrong. Maybe we were taught right but we weren’t listening. (Funny but yeah, old habits die hard.) The sad part is that a well-formed conscience doesn’t grow overnight, so when we get to adulthood and realize we’re being wishy-washy, we can’t just flip a switch.
At some point in our lives, it becomes the conscience-owner’s responsibility to continue to inform that conscience, hopefully by putting forth some effort into understanding exactly why the Church teaches what She teaches. There are those of us who can follow Church teaching quite well without asking questions. Blessed are they. There are those of us who need to work on our understanding before we can proceed to application. But just because one attended Catholic school doesn’t make one’s conscience “well-formed”. Ask me how I know; I spent 12 years there and I’m still working on developing mine. That’s why we have converts, reverts, and all kinds of people in between: all of us are on different stages in the journey.
But if Church teaching were to become dependent on OUR consciences, as opposed to what She has always known and taught, how many Catechisms do you think we would have today? And which one would we pick to understand and follow? Hey, we can follow or not follow Church teaching all we want, but don’t you think it’s foolish and ridiculous to expect the Church to FOLLOW US? That’s rather like putting the caboose before the engine.
In a way, I agree with what you’re saying. The Church SHOULD trust us to use our consciences. And actually, She does! Last I checked, there aren’t priests or nuns holding a gun to our heads at the voting booth or even at the sink where my dirty dishes are. I think the real question here though is, “SHOULD we — COULD we — trust our own consciences?” Now that’s the tough one.
Statement #3: “The Pope is an old celibate guy — how can we possibly take his advice on marriage, contraception and abortion? He has no idea what he’s talking about!”
Let’s see, the Pope was born in 1927, a year before my father was born. That would make him 81 years old. Just looking at possibilities here, could he maybe have met and talked to one couple, maybe ten couples, a hundred couples, AT LEAST, before he became Pope? I’m half his age but I can tell you I’ve met at least fifty married couples in my lifetime. Goodness, I’ve got 9 married couples just on my mom’s side of the family — and that’s not even counting their kids, my cousins, who are also married now! That’s not counting my own parents! I can tell you that having met and talked to all these couples through the years, I’ve formed some opinions on what works in a marriage and what doesn’t. My hubby has had a totally different kind of experience growing up, with less married people in the family, etc. But between the two of us we’ve seen enough to have a good idea of what a “happy marriage” looks like. We also have a good idea of what an “unhappy marriage” looks like. I don’t need to tell you we shoot for the former everyday — it does take hard work and conscious effort. But I didn’t need to get married to know what I wanted in a good marriage. I saw good and bad examples everywhere. If I hadn’t gotten married, I would still be seeing examples of both everyday. My job (before I got married and had kids) did not include counseling couples, married or engaged or in trouble. But that didn’t stop my married friends at the time from coming to me sometimes to vent and ask for advice. You think maybe I’ve formed some insights on what goes right and what goes wrong in a marriage based on the stuff they tell me?
Popes and bishops and priests may be celibate, but they are certainly NOT innocent or ignorant of any of these things. They have had PLENTY, I’d be willing to say, MORE THAN ENOUGH experience dealing with all kinds of people from all walks of life, to form some very good opinions about human sexuality and marriage and all that comes with that. Not to mention the Church’s common sense teachings from the very beginning — our priests and bishops and Popes have seen these teachings applied, ignored, discussed and dissected, etc., etc. Just because they’ve chosen the celibate life doesn’t mean they have no understanding of human sexuality. In reality, and you may be surprised — they had to have a thorough understanding of it. It’s quite ridiculous to assume that these men have come to the decision to embrace celibacy lightly. They’re also getting a huge reward for this sacrifice, that most if not all of them believe it’s more than worth it, or that it’s not even really a sacrifice the way WE often think of “sacrifice”. But since we’re looking at this from the outside, I won’t presume to discuss how that all works. If you’re curious enough you might want to invite your parish priest to dinner sometime and see what he has to say about it.