Saturday, October 31, 2015

My priors and biases

To continue my extended throat clearing, I'll share what my general impressions are of some of the principles currently engaged in the conflict.
  • I am a big admirer of Pope Francis. I think his modeling of simplicity and humility has been very helpful, and an example the Church needs right now. It's part of the reason I took my daughters across the country on a pilgrimage to be part of his visit.

    Besides that, I believe that he is the leader that the Holy Spirit has chosen for the Church at this time, and my role as a lay person, is to follow him, unless he is leading me into sin.

    And the same was true for his predecessors.
  • I am a huge fan of Ross Douthat. In most respects, he provides a model for making the case for positions that the public doesn't want to hear.

    I am happier when he is providing thoughtful analysis of cultural trends than handicapping political horse races, but I understand what brings the eyeballs.
  • I have mixed feelings about Father James Martin. On the one hand, he does seem to be bringing an intelligent group of people (back?) into the Church, and has an obvious excitement about his faith.

    On the other hand, he occasionally leaves the impression that he is a liberal first and Catholic second.

    A particular disappointment to me was his response to the news that the Holy Father met with Kim Davis. It amounted to, in essence, that the pope meets with lots of people, he could have been tricked by some nasty conservatives, and it probably doesn't mean anything.

    It's true that the meeting likely did not mean that Pope Francis was familiar with or endorsed the entirety of Davis's legal battle.

    But I think Fr. Martin missed an opportunity to remind his readers that this is an affirmation of Ms. Davis's humanity. That she may not deserve to prevail in her legal challenges, but she remains a human person who also is not deserving of the demonization she had been subject to.

    I've also found his frequent use of the word "hate" in describing those who disagree with him to be less than helpful.
  • I am a great admirer of Bishop Robert Barron, and think he is providing an excellent model for what catechesis, evangelization, and engagement with a hostile culture can look like for us going forward.
  • I certainly have my disagreements with Damon Linker.  But I do find him to be someone who makes a great effort to consistently apply his principles, even if they might be ones I disagree with.

Where I'm coming from...

I halve some thoughts on the Douthat vs. the Academics brouhaha that is currently brewing, but since my recent blogging has been rather sparse, I should probably establish some of my current personal context first.

I'll start with what weighs on my heart personally.

As I've mentioned before, I serve as a catechist for our parish's Confirmation program. To me, the person I will describe represents, to borrow a term from baseball analysis the highest "leverage" people from my perspective.  This is based on a composite, rather than any particular individual.

She's the mother of one of my students. She "was raised Catholic" as people are fond of saying now, but has recently been a "Christmas and Easter" Catholic, if that. She may be divorced from my student's father, and may or may not be remarried. She has friends and family members who are actively anti-Catholic, maybe a gay relative who fells unwelcome in the Church, who would seriously challenge her if she increased her involvement with the Church. She or someone she know has been on the wrong end of some pastoral decision, maybe even one that was perfectly justified, but the hurt remains. Maybe her childhood parish closed, or some aspect of her wedding she wanted was overruled. Over time, it just became easier to leave the Church behind.

But, as her son approaches the age for Confirmation, something in her wants this for him. Maybe it's pressure from her parents, who have kept the faith. Maybe she has some positive memories from her time in the Church, and wants her son the experience them as well.

Whatever her reason, she finds herself at the threshold of our church.

And what will she find there? Is it something to which she will want to return, and be part of her children's lives.

Now, I'm not saying that we should or that I do water down the Church's teachings so that she'll keep coming back. Nor is this the only perspective from which we should consider pastoral decisions. The older son may not have behaved admirably, but his pain is also real, and also needs to be addressed.

But my suspicion is that this woman is showing up at the doors of many of our parishes, and this is a critical time for her and her children's souls, and we need to seriously consider how both our behavior and our pastoral decisions might impact the direction she moves in.

In my judgment, prominent Catholic commentators announcing that they prefer a "civil war" to accepting their admittance to communion is not helpful.

That doesn't mean it's wrong, but that's my initial reaction.

More to come...

Monday, October 26, 2015

Experience and Empathy

A recent study finds that those who have been through a difficult experience are actually less empathetic toward those going through similar experiences than those who have not.

The main reason they cite is that once someone has overcome a problem, they underestimate how difficult it was.

Anecdotally, with my experience as the parent of a child with a chronic (currently) fatal disease, I have to say there is some truth to that.  My eyes roll at the day-to-day complaints about parenthood that fill my Facebook theme.  I find myself sarcastically replying, "And what fatal disease does your child have? How long is she expected to live? How much time did you spend doing therapy to keep your child alive today?"

This is compounded by my preferred personal style being to "make it look easy."  I try to in general not show the hard work this is, forego special treatment as much as possible, and, with the exception of fund raising events and acute events like hospitalizations, try to present myself and our family as not all that different.

But we are.

Intellectually, I know that we have adjusted to the reality of cystic fibrosis, which does make dealing with it part of our routine, and that all of us can seem to be maxed out in dealing with the problems we're presented with. And that many parents have even more to deal with.

Still, when I've walked Meagan through her hour-long routine, hoped that the next drug she gets prescribed is one that we can afford and is not terribly difficult, and seen reports of other CF patients struggling or dying, it can be hard to muster much sympathy for the parents of the toddler who was fidgety on the flight to Disney World.

Yes, this is my problem. I'm hoping that by naming it, I can get better.

Dealing with struggles doesn't necessarily make us better people; it's up to us to make it work.