Teaching Life in Christ

man and woman

The last few months in the UK have led to numerous discussions – both challenging and fruitful – between Catholics and their family members, colleagues and friends. The Same Sex Couples Bill is in many ways a tragedy for Britain – revealing our collective lapse of memory concerning who the human person is and even the most basic notion of a natural law. Last Tuesday evening, many of us watched with sinking hearts a debate in which only a few voiced authentic reason. Hearing the emotional appeals of many others leads us to wonder whether, as a nation, we have forgotten how to “think”, how to do philosophy, how to use our minds to discern truth.

How do we speak about this issue with others? How, when we are enjoying a drink in the pub with a group of friends, and one person raises this subject, do we approach it?

This is exactly the question we addressed a couple of weeks ago in the parish in our parents’ programme. In the lead up to the evening, we put out an online survey asking parents ‘what are the challenging questions about the Faith that your children ask you?’ Of course, any question such as this is a hidden way of discovering the questions that the parents themselves are asking.

We have been blessed during this parents’ programme to have an average gathering of around 50-60 parents who, I am pleased to say, are not ‘usual suspects’, most of whom have not been to other adult formation in the parish. I was therefore really glad when someone on the night brought up the question of gay marriage, and how to discuss it with children, because 98% of children in our catechesis programmes (who are old enough to have heard about this debate) think that the Church is being ‘unfair’. All of them are from practising Catholic families, all of them go to good Catholic schools, all have weekly catechesis.

So, when our speaker came to offer an answer (and thanks be to God, it was none other than the can’t-help-but-always-agree-with-him apologist, Father Stephen Wang), it was like there was an enormous drumroll in the room and complete silence as we listened to his response.

Now, I am not going to do justice to it, because it was a really excellent response, and is summed up on Fr Stephen’s blog here. I have used this approach since when the topic has come up with cynical friends. It goes something like this:

Mostly, this question is broached as a question of fairness. If marriage is a ‘good thing’, which we are all agreeing it is, why shouldn’t gay couples have it open to them? The Church is discriminatory, unfair, cruel for not agreeing with this. However, the whole question needs to be turned around. The real question we should be asking is: what is marriage? At the heart of marriage has always been an understanding of sexual difference and complementarity. Saying that gay couples can get married is like saying a circle can be a square.

marriage

As I listened to the debate last week, it became strikingly clear that because we no longer accept a given reality in human nature, we can manipulate language to the reality we contrive.

All these arguments have been aired frequently and far more articulately than I have done here. My concern is catechesis: how do we teach people, and help them to accept, the reality of natural law, of human nature and dignity? In RCIA, we find that people often require a full 180 degree turn in their mindsets. They come from the mindset that demands, unreflectingly, fairness and equality at all costs. Gradually, with careful reasoning, clear teaching, and friendship, we need to help them to think more deeply. This is all part of the ‘third dimension’ of formation and the trickiest one, life in Christ. Life in Christ begins with a relationship with him, so unless that is there, we shouldn’t even begin on gay marriage. Don’t go there, whatever you do! I have seen this done in RCIA and it is not pretty. Only when someone falls in love with Him, will they have enough trust and enough grace (and hopefully sound reasoning too) to discern authentic truth in this area.

About transformedinchrist

I live in Southsea and work for the Diocese of Portsmouth. My first love is for catechesis and evangelisation: until January 2013, I worked for a busy, thriving parish in south London coordinating the catechesis - sacramental programmes and adult formation. In November 2013, I completed my MA in catechetics at Maryvale Institute, Birmingham. View all posts by transformedinchrist

2 responses to “Teaching Life in Christ

  • ajmacdonaldjr

    A question, or two, which you may or may not know the answer to, but should:

    What does Catholic moral theology say about unjust war? and do you support the unjust on-going US-Israeli-NATO wars? as most Catholics do?

    I ask this because virtually all US Catholics – and “bishops” – are straining at gnats (=gay marriage) while swallowing camels (=unjust wars).

    I suggest watching this video, in its entirety, and sharing it with the people you attend church with.

    VIDEO – Skull and Bones – The Catholic Connection (Anthony Hilder) http://youtu.be/Hh6xVz8uuo8

    I’m of the opinion virtually all US Catholics have been duped into supporting and following a political agenda as opposed to following Christ in this matter, who said: “Blessed are the peacemaker, for they shall be called the children of God.” ~ Matthew 5:9

  • Paul Rodden

    Oh! How this rings true!

    Below is a long post, but – not wanting to hijack the article – I’d really love to have the thoughts of any commenters who contribute to this blog as I think the article raises very important issues and I find dealing with them really difficult.

    One thing which struck me, reading Pope Benedict’s latest Moto Proprio, Fides Per Doctrinam, was its first sentence, ‘Faith needs to be strengthened through teaching , so that it can enlighten the minds and hearts of believers.’ (Emphasis in original) In other words, it’s assuming the existence of faith, and maybe we’ve merely been filling faithless heads for decades with intellectual content, but then wonder why it’s all gone pear-shaped?

    In ancient times, or possibly even up until the Enlightenment, most disagreement took ‘God’ (Allah, Yahweh, etc.) as read. As if ‘God’ was commanding something, but there was merely disagreement over what was being demanded and by which God. However, the Enlightenment radically altered this by ushering in ‘Atheism’, via Deism (a half-way house) and redefining the human person through Descartes. Maybe part of the reason he’s ‘the father of modern philosophy’ is because he put the self at the centre. God was no longer a necessary hypothesis, as Laplace famously stated, wasn’t far off after that.

    The intellectual problem I find in these ‘gay’ discussions is that the issue is assumed within the post-Enlightenment mindset of ‘tolerance’ and ‘equality’, etc.. To argue as a Catholic, philosophically, I would suggest one has to actually get them to accept a totally different set of philosophical principles to understand ‘where we’re coming from’ which are contrary to the Modernist mind. Yet this is the way of thinking about the world our kids learn in school. It’s the water they swim in, and so even though they might be well catechised, the way of thinking about that content is distorted by the mistaken premises of the education project, and culture’s way of viewing knowledge – truth and what constitutes reasoning – itself.. So, in essence, we seem to talk past each other.

    The Modernist mind ‘chokes’ on the primacy of Metaphysics (which is the bedrock of Catholic philosophy) like we might choke on a fish bone, because Epistemology, for the Modernist, is the bedrock.

    In the same way, it ‘chokes’ on Virtue or the notion of Commandments because they requires discipline and submission to a set of practices, where they want to be the progenitor of ethics, and so Utilitarianism is appealing to the supposedly ‘reasonable’ and ‘scientific’ mind. ‘Man is the measure of all things’ is their war-cry, and Metaphysics and Virtue necessarily undermine that hubris, which is as original as Adam’s (and Satan’s before him’s), ’Non serviam!’. But modern man – atheist or dissenter – will simply ridicule or baulk at that idea.

    However, the more personal problem I find in these discussions is that it is obvious any questioning isn’t part of a quest for truth, or even Socratic Irony, but what seems to be a rationalisation for the primacy of the self to be self-determining at all costs (‘Why should I allow that old white man in the Vatican and all those other men in dresses tell me what to do?’ [Read, ‘stop my fun’]).

    That is, the ‘arguments’ so often sound like attempts to actually close down debate, based on the views of ‘the majority’ (Utilitarianism). At other times, they sound primarily like reasons to justify radical freedom because, if I question one man’s peccadilloes, what’s to say my own precious peccadilloes and perversions won’t come under fire? ‘Live and let live…’, ‘One man’s meat…’, and all the other idioms which trip off the tongue.

    So, I think you are dead right about, ‘the ‘third dimension’ of formation’, being, ‘the trickiest one’, yet, in many cases, even at the Enquiry Stage, I’ve found questions in this category and from no other, and even in housegroups I lead with ‘practicing’ Catholics, always seem to devolve into discussions about sex or the oppression of ‘the Vatican’. Rarely do I get one about the wonders of the Eucharist, for example, but why ‘the man in the white dress’ has to mess with it and ‘take us back to the dark ages’. The conspiracy theorists seem to be as much inside.

    The difficulty to me is that it seems these people who are actually enquiring – rather than those are simply wanting to heckle or spoil for a fight – are victims of a mindset where, however hard we try to convey these issues gently from a Catholic perspective, still see them as ‘toxic’, and what’s needed to prevent this, it seems, is a complete change in worldview (metanoia?) – but that’s a huge philosophical task, and how do we go about it…?

    Thoughts/criticisms, etc., VERY welcome!

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