28Nov Thinking for Ourselves

Sometimes we deem it necessary to keep the truth from others. As with young children whose father may be in hospital: ‘Daddy is in great form and will be home soon’. It helps that children are easily convinced and reassured.

It’s not as simple with teenagers. They pick up vibes that young children don’t get. And once they feel that the truth is being modified for their consumption they get distracted, annoyed and resentful. It’s called growing up.

With adults distraction, annoyance and resentment are not the half of it when they feel that someone somewhere has decided that they don’t need to know (or aren’t able for) what some authority decides is (or is not) ‘good’ for them. Because once they find they have been deceived their allegiance is compromised. It’s what adults do.

Which is why openness, transparency and respect are prerequisites for sustaining loyalty. That’s the price now paid for sustaining personal allegiance in families and institutions. Adults will only give their loyalty if they are respected as adults.

Which is why infantilism – treating adults as children – no longer works in the modern world. And which is why the Catholic Church, in a more open and questioning society, is struggling so hard to maintain the loyalty of its members.

Once the clerical authority – pope, bishop or priest – spoke and Catholics listened, heard and obeyed.

But now adult people question. Again it’s what adults do and, as we know, the change in attitude to the Church and its teaching has gone through a revolution in Ireland in recent years.

Catholics no longer automatically accept direction based on the word of church authority. What pope or bishop or priest says is no longer regarded as authoritative. It has to pass through the sieve of reason and experience. It has to make sense.

The theologian, Gabriel Daly, in his remarkable book, The Church Always in Need of Reform, writes that in his education in Rome he was taught all the answers but when he studied in Oxford he was taught to ask the questions.

Thinking for ourselves is what adults do; automatically accepting what authority says is behaving like an infant. And the difficult truth for the Catholic Church is that in a very short time-frame Irish Catholics have advanced from infantile to adult thinking.

Infantilism creates dependency, unhealthy respect and a bubble that can’t survive in the modern world. For example, a justification for confining leadership in the Church to the ordained is by creating a certain aura around priests and bishops that leads us to believe that the oil of ordination gives us greater insight and a greater authority. It doesn’t.

Popes, bishops and priests are as susceptible as anyone to making a bags of something and only the overly pious or the deluded would deny that self-evident truth. St Teresa of Avila used to say that if she had a choice in a spiritual director between an intelligent or pious individual she would opt every time for the former. Fr Paddy Corish, who lectured for years in Maynooth, often worried out loud about the intellectual ability of seminarians. Ordaining a pious fool, he often half-jokingly remarked, was not a good policy because what were you left with when a pious fool lost his piety?

Infantilism in the Catholic Church has left a sad legacy. Among religious Sisters I’m told that it had a particularly debilitating effect, rendering individuals incapable of personal choice, and incapable of personal decision-making as they had been groomed always to ask for permission and direction from a ‘superior’.

The same may be true of the clergy. At present there’s a fantasy among some priests that some way or other nothing has really changed and that in a decade or two we’ll be back to the way we were – full churches, plenty of vocations, etc. That fantasy is indulged by some bishops who insist on dismissing any robust analysis of the present situation as ‘negative’ and ‘discouraging’.

An example of such denial was the recent establishment of a ‘vocations office’ in Maynooth, which at least one bishop had the sense to dismiss as little more than co-ordinating what was already happening (or not happening) on the vocations front. In other words moving the deck-chairs again.

Responding to the present crisis in the Catholic Church demands an acceptance of reality, an acknowledgement of the limitations of church authority as perceived in the past, a robust respect for the experience of adult Catholics, an acceptance of diversity and a naming of uncomfortable truths.

As Gabriel Daly points out, perhaps the worst effect of enforced conformity is that it weakens conscience. Accordingly, it diminishes an individual’s capacity for personal conviction and moral growth. In simple terms, if we insist in treating people like children, how can we expect them to respond as adults?

When Archbishop John Charles McQuaid returned from the Second Vatican Council he was quick to reassure Irish Catholics that nothing that happened in Rome would disturb the tranquillity of their Christian lives. He was, of course, exactly wrong. And he would dedicate the rest of his life to attempting to dictate the minutiae of people’s moral and other lives, continuing in a tradition of the medieval mind-set that he imagined would serve that Church into the future.

The terrible tragedy is that the fantasy continues, as the recent ‘directives’ on cremation amply demonstrate. Infantilism is alive and well. To repeat myself, adults will only give their loyalty if they are respected as adults.

Brendan Hoban

 

‘A Touch of the Heart’, a book I wrote in memory of my mother after her death in 1999 has been reprinted in paperback and is available widely @ €8.95.

  

 

 

9 Responses

  1. Seoirse

    Well said Brendan; in the past Irish people, myself included, were fed a diet of Catholic Church rules without any/much appreciation for the Reason behind the rules; we were a church focussed on Faith alone. It was a lot simpler and practical for the Church to bark out rules from a pre-ordained script than to imbibe the fundamental teachings and love of Jesus in each individual person. It’s only when Faith and Reason are imbibed, on an individual basis, hand-in-hand (metaphorically) that we can ever expect love of God to bear true fruit in each person.

    However, thesedays I’d be worried that we are lacking both Faith AND Reason from priests in Ireland. In the parishes that I attend I never hear Church rules being barked-out from the pulpit. At the same time I rarely hear the fundamental reasoning and explanation for Church dogmas. I do hear lots of ‘nice’ personal interpretations of bible; interpretations which don’t really challenge my own fallen ways and interpretations which wouldn’t encourage me to dig further and fully inform my conscience in the ways of Faith and Reason.

    To close; there actually is an argument that Ireland has truly become a nation of child-adults now. We’re more questioning, for sure, but we also expect to get our own way now, all/most of the time. God on my terms, not his terms. This IS ‘Catholic’ Ireland, in 2016.

  2. Paddy Ferry

    Another excellent piece, Brendan. You express so clearly which many of us instinctively believe. Thank you.

  3. W O'Brien

    As a priest friend has said, “They dress us like women, treat us like children and expect that we should act like men.”
    Much of what the church teaches can be found by reason, but only if the first premise is accepted. For example contraception is seen as destroying a life because life begins at conception. This may be taken on faith, but where is the scientific study to prove that the fertilized egg is truly a human? It is a philosophical statement, but not grounded in fact. What then makes a human being? Or what makes a being human? Until the question is resolved the church will err on the side of caution. If we try to identify what makes a being human, we can err quite easily and say that certain characteristics make a being human or make a human being. If we say that lacking some or any characteristic prevents a being from being human. If we reduce it to simply a specific combination of genes then we could identify any such combination as a human being. If we say that it is the replication and /or division capacity, then are cancer cells human or human beings?
    It is often the initial premise that is lacking in our teaching and which helps to make sense of greater questions. And the premise is always based in faith. Ultimately it seems that the Church and its leaders fail to go back to examine the original premises of the teaching. Are we afraid to face the issues, or are we unwilling to do the work that is necessary?

  4. Diarmaid

    To echo Seoirse’s comments @1, I think most priests and bishops of today treat us ‘lay people’ as children unable to cope with or face the full Faith and Morals of the Church. Any priest who takes the chance and tries to address this by preaching on such things will likely find zero support from his bishop. Superficial preaching and it’s hope of not ‘offending’ is an insult to the intellect and faith of Catholics.

  5. Andrew

    @Brendan
    Was it really necessary, in omni caritate, to equate piety with foolishness?
    Also, why juxtapose piety and intelligence?
    Can the qualities of piety and intelligence co-exist in persons?

  6. sara

    Infused contemplation (mystical prayer) is a gift of God. It is like the ability to sing in tune. It can be given to anyone who prepares themselves, regardless of intellect. According to St Teresa “It is one thing to have the gift. Another to know you have it and another to be able to put it into words” The world is full of masked contemplatives who have never heard the term. In the saints they have the gift of prayer and the high intellect to analyse the gift. Even St Thomas Aquinas’s great intellect stumbled when he tried to analyse what he gained in prayer.

  7. Kevin Walters

    W O’Brien @ 3
    “It is often the initial premise that is lacking in our teaching and which helps to make sense of greater questions. And the premise is always based in faith. Ultimately it seems that the Church and its leaders fail to go back to examine the original premises of the teaching. Are we afraid to face the issues, or are we unwilling to do the work that is necessary?”——————————-
    The Church’s teachings on contraception are as true and infallible today as they have historically been.
    The beauty of parenthood (Marriage) and its unifying bound the creation of a new life.
    . “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh”. The TRUTH of this statement can be seen in any offspring they may be blest with and this statement is truly life-giving.
    The greatest gift we have received is the gift of life, given by God through the action of our parents, refusing to fully partake in His creation by deliberately denying another the opportunity of life, is sinful and this sin is known innately by all of mankind.
    How can the Church restore the full value of her teachings which have been rejected by so many over the last five decades through human weakness? Without driving out more of those baptized Christians who have not fully committed to Jesus Christ and who are still in need of nurturing (as the vast majority of us are) in order to lead them into the full realization of the faith. For some confession is an option before taking communion but often it is not practical to do so, for many it would be downright dishonest, without the true intention to change or openly acknowledge their need of Gods Mercy it would only compound their sin in taking the Bread of Life, acting out an external gesture of religiosity in conveying an image of worldly respectability.
    The Church cannot sanction sin but in can sanction mercy.
    Please consider reading my post in relation Divine Mercy & Humanae Vitae
    in the link below. Posted 30th June 2015 at 4:21 pm
    http://www.acireland.ie/aci-discusses-marriage-and-the-family-with-archbishop-diarmuid-martin/#comment-738
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  8. Wobrien

    Kevvin 7

    I think you may have misunderstood my meaning. I was not attacking the teaching itself, but merely trying to say that the teaching is based on a premise of faith which is not clearly stated in the teaching, i.e. that life begins at conception. There is no way at the present time to prove or disprove that premise, unless science can do that in the future. If it can can be disproven then we have erred on the side of goodness, if it can be proven then we have been right all along This is not unlike the controversy of the earth or the sun as the center of the universe. Science eventually disproved the basic premise.

    If we are to ask people to believe our teaching, we must clarify that it is based on either faith or science. Without scientific facts we must start with our faith and then reason from that. To fail to explain the starting point is to have the church seem like the monolithic structure that it was in the past with no possible disagreement.

    One question that needs to be answered is “were there times in the past when the church considered the beginning of life to be at quickening rather than at conception? How much of our theology is based on the idea that seminal fluid contains a complete human bing, given the fact that genetics is a very recent field.
    My concern is not suggest that our teaching is in some way wrong, but rather to say that it is incomplete and that if we are to ask that people believe us then we have to give our starting point and explain how were choose that point.

  9. Kevin Walters

    W O’Brian @8
    Thank you for your comment

    I realized that you were not directly attacking the teaching itself but stating that the teaching is based on a premise of faith “Life begins at conception”

    I tried to answer your statement in a way that is not based on faith alone but also on fact
    For example you say “contraception is seen as destroying a life because life begins at conception”
    ” I said, by refusing to fully partake in His creation in deliberately denying another the opportunity of life, is sinful and this sin is known innately by all of mankind this my initial premise is a fact it is not based on faith alone. It goes without saying to impede the natural development of the embryo/ foetus in any way would also be (More) sinful
    This statement was also based upon a truth, the consummation of a marriage, and does not have to be taken on faith alone
    The beauty of parenthood (Marriage) and its unifying bound the creation of a new life.
    . “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh”. The TRUTH of this statement can be seen in any offspring they may be blest with and this statement is truly life-giving.

    You say “My concern is not to suggest that our teaching is in some way wrong, but rather to say that it is incomplete and that if we are to ask that people believe us then we have to give our starting point”
    I believe that the two statements I have made are starting points as they are based on truths within the heart of mankind;
    You say “One question that needs to be answered is “were there times in the past when the church considered the beginning of life to be at quickening rather than at conception? How much of our theology is based on the idea that seminal fluid contains a complete human bing, given the fact that genetics is a very recent field”
    I had never heard of the expression at quickening, so taken from the internet
    In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a woman convicted of a capital crime could claim a delay in her execution if she were pregnant; a woman who did so was said to “plead the belly”. In Ireland on 16 March 1831 Baron Pennefather in Limerick stated that pregnancy was not alone sufficient for a delay but there had to be quickening. (To be able to feel the movement of the foetus)
    The plea (Pleading the belly) was available at least as early as 1387 and was eventually rendered obsolete by the Sentence of Death (Expectant Mothers) Act 1931, which stated that an expecting mother would automatically have her death sentence commuted to life imprisonment with hard labour.
    A comment by The Catholic Church points us to ultrasound and to the irrelevance of quickening nowadays
    Many of us will have seen the fertilization of the female egg by sperm on TV and subsequently the cells dividing at a quickening pace to form the basis of a new life (conception) It seems in bygone times at quickening was confirmed by the midwifes been able to feel movement in the womb we can now actually see a quickening (Movement) taking place at conception
    From my perspective there is no need to take this any further our catechism teaches the beginning of life as hominization (ensoulment) upon conception.

    Of course we know the majority (It is said 80%) want to justify contraception and do so, this has undermined the authority of Church and continues to do so, as it the Church has colluded with them by turning a blind eye to the problem this stints growth within the flock as it does not allow the power of baptism to grow within the heart, been in denial of the teaching Humanae Vitae their hearts are stifled. Self-justification often blinds us to the truth better to walk in humility and dwell in Gods Divine Mercy
    This gift of love (Divine Mercy) can only be accepted in Trust and humility (St. Bernard- Humility a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself.) This includes acceptance of our own human frailty and sinfulness. I know a lot about this as my own sin and human weakness is always before me now at this present time more so than ever, for many years I have campaigned for the Church to accept the true Divine Mercy Image an image of mankind’s brokenness while at the same time I know within my own heart that this image is an image of myself as I look out from this image I see the bright lamp of Truth/Love Jesus Christ beckoning to follow His transforming path, I reflect on the dirtiness of my heart before Him its intricate self-serving deceits my hardness of heart recently my stumbling faith I cannot justify myself before Him but I still I have great hope I know that I am not the man I was thirty five years ago my heart has not been stifled it cries out for God’s Divine Mercy I feel a quickening within my heart the race is not over.
    I believe that my beliefs and thoughts are in line with the Word of God within the gospels and my actions should be in line with them also but they are not, I am a very badly flawed human being but in my brokenness I can still delight in the way of the lord because one day, God willing I will be beautiful as all those who walk in humility before Him will be also
    There are many compelling worldly augments to justify contraception from dire poverty to a partner suffering from aids ill health, mental health etc. others less so, such as social standing etc.
    Our leaders (Shepherds) are locked into teaching the Law which is black and white
    The Church cannot sanction sin but in can sanction mercy.
    To any one reading this please consider reading my post in relation Divine Mercy & Humanae Vitae
    See link in my Post above number@7
    kevin your brother
    In Christ.


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