Great debate between Ross Douthat and Fr. James Martin, SJ at America Magazine

This is a great read, and if there is more of this kind of respectful, civil dialog as a result of what Pope Francis is doing, then this is a good sign of synodal journeying together.

Ross Douthat:

But as someone who came of age long, long after the battles of Vatican II, I simply don’t recognize the Catholic culture that many liberal Catholics seem to believe they’re warring against or seeking to undo or overthrow. The “traditionalist” church, the church of lace and legalisms if you will, that the current pontiff is particularly quick to critique, is simply not part of most American Catholics’ everyday experience. It may exist in some parishes and precincts, or among certain bishops or cardinals. But the dominant experience of Catholic life, Catholic liturgy, Catholic preaching, has nothing in common with the stereotype of a Pharisee lecturing people about their (mostly sexual) sins.

What it has more in common with, and I speak from experience, is certain forms of Mainline Protestantism and megachurch evangelicalism: Notwithstanding what still emanates from the Vatican, we’ve become a church of long communion and short confession lines (and you’re more likely to find me in the first than the second), of Jesus-affirms-you sermons and songs, of marriage preparation retreats (like mine) where most of the couples are cohabitating and nobody particularly cares, and of widespread popular attitudes toward the divine and toward church teaching that mostly resemble H. Richard Niebuhr’s vision of a God without wrath, men without sin, and a Kingdom without judgment.

And that kind of church can be as false to the Jesus of the New Testament as a proud and pharisaical church, because even as Jesus was condemning dead ritualism, he was intensifying many of the law’s explicitly moral demands—both on issues related to money and greed, where (as I said above) I think progressive Catholics sometimes have something to teach their more conservative brethren, and on precisely the issues of sex and marriage and family that we’ve been arguing about lo these forty years. The strengthening coexists with forgiveness, absolute forgiveness…but whether it’s the woman taken in adultery, the much-married Samaritan woman, or the prodigal who has spent his inheritance on prostitutes, that forgiveness always coexists with the admonition go and sin and no more.

When that admonition is no longer given, when not only individual pastors but the church itself promises absolution irrespective of amendment, I’m not sure the word “mercy” quite fits what’s happening. As I’vewritten elsewhere, if pharisaism and elder brotherism are always a temptation for dogmatists, then the temptation for progressives comes wrapped in Cardinal Kasper’s remark that certain forms of moral heroism are “not for the average Christian.” In that attitude, it seems to me, there’s a kind of Grand Inquisitorial paternalism at work—at attitude that would try to slip as many “ordinary” Christians into heaven by protecting them as much as possible from Jesus’s most rigorous demands. And theological issues aside, such paternalism comes with its own cost in this world, because cheap grace often isn’t really grace at all, and where one set of hard obligations gets lightened a different set of miseries often gets imposed.

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2 Responses to Great debate between Ross Douthat and Fr. James Martin, SJ at America Magazine

  1. EPMS says:

    I agree that this adds a lot to my appreciation of the discussion, mostly by broadening it. Iteration of Catholic teaching on marriage is always edifying; they just don’t seem to be talkimg about the marriage of anyone I know, or have known, with some possible rare exception that seemed pretty rare to everyone, Christian or otherwise.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      EPMS,

      You wrote: I agree that this adds a lot to my appreciation of the discussion, mostly by broadening it. Iteration of Catholic teaching on marriage is always edifying; they just don’t seem to be talkimg about the marriage of anyone I know, or have known, with some possible rare exception that seemed pretty rare to everyone, Christian or otherwise.

      If they are explaining Christina marriage correctly but “don’t seem to be talking about the marriage of anyone that [you] know, or have known,” that fact points to gross deficiencies in (1) the spiritual foundation of those who enter into Christian marriage and (2) the church’s discernment of the preparation of couples who request the sacrament of marriage.

      The solution to this problem is complex. First, we need to raise the bar on catechesis and on celebration of the sacraments generally.

      >> We should stop the practice of routinely baptizing infants born to people who are not active parishioners. Such children typically become baptized unbelievers because the parents’ contrary witness undermines spiritual formation even if the parents enroll the children in the parish’s program of religious instruction or in a Catholic school that provides it. Baptism of infants is appropriate only when there’s a “well-found hope” that the children will be raised in the faith based upon the fact their parents are living it.

      >> In our formation programs, we should stress submission of one’s life to Christ, completely and without reservation, as evangelical Christians do. It’s folly to presume this based merely on the fact that somebody is baptized, or even confirmed. Sacramental preparation programs, especially for confirmation and for marriage, should also confirm this, and should require that participants be living the faith.

      >> Marriage preparation programs need to be considerably more in depth, ensuring that prospective spouses have a solid foundation in Christian faith that includes a sound understanding of the sacrament of marriage and the responsibility of spouses. In addition, marriage preparation programs must ensure that Catholic parents are prepared to instill Christian faith in their children by teaching them essential doctrine and by the living witness of their lives.

      >> We also should stress a lifetime of ongoing formation (study of the faith) as an essential element of living our faith. This means that every parish should provide opportunities for continuing formation of adults.

      >> Finally, it is especially critical for parishes and dioceses to develop “young adult” programming that would fill the gap between confirmation and marriage. This programming should have a solid spiritual component of study, prayer, etc., and a social component of fellowship that facilitates development bonds within the community of faith. Where it is implemented well, this type of programming typically fosters (1) a significant increase in vocations to the diocesan priesthood and to religious life and (2) a cadre of adults equipped for lay ministry in the parish, who subsequently serve as readers, alter servers, and ministers of communion at mass, bring communion to the sick, teach the faith in the parish’s Christian formation program, and contribute effectively to evangelical outreach.

      At the heart of all this is a disastrous mindset that holds lay people only to the “lowest common denominator” of knowledge of the faith on the mistaken presumption that the preponderance of laity are not capable of more. The result is laity with doctorates in various fields who have about a third grade knowledge of Christian faith. Clearly the laity are capable of more.

      Norm.

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