Monday, June 05, 2006

"You say it best when you say nothing at all."

(Apologies to the late Keith Whitley, who wrote the song that inspired this post.)

It's amazing how you can speak right to my heart
Without saying a word, you can light up the dark
Try as I may I could never explain
What I hear when you don't say a thing

Recently the Pope has been visiting Poland. I admit I haven't given it much attention. But a recent address got mine.

It seems the Holy Father has been calling for charitable dialogue among Christians of varying confessions.
He said he had made "restoration of full unity among Christians" a priority of his pontificate, and has said he would support ecumenical aspirations "steeped in prayer, mutual forgiveness and holiness of life."

Benedict, noted, however, that Christian churches would become "more credible before the world" if they met "contemporary charitable challenges" together, and promoted marriage and family life across denominational boundaries.

"In today's world, in which international and inter-cultural relations are multiplying, it happens increasingly often that young people from different traditions, religions or Christian denominations decide to start a family," Benedict XVI told the meeting.

Now this has caused a bit of a stir in some circles, just as it did when the late John Paul II made gestures of ecumenism to Anglican and Orthodox leaders, to name two. Depending on how you spin it, such sentiments can appear to be a short walk to the idea that all religions are the same, just different ways to the Truth.

Therein is where we find, what the Bard referred to as "the rub."

Traditionally, marriage between Catholics and non-Catholics is not encouraged, and with good reason. Marriage is hard enough when a man and a woman agree on matters of Faith, let alone all that other stuff that gets in the way (including how to raise the kiddies). The former 1917 Code of Canon Law took a very hard line: "Everywhere and with the greatest strictness the Church forbids marriages between baptized persons, one of whom is a Catholic and the other a member of a schismatical or heretical sect; and if there is, added to this, the danger of the falling away of the Catholic party and the perversion of the children, such a marriage is forbidden also by the divine law." (1060)

Now, the caveat for invalidity is carefully worded, and leaves open the possibility that a non-Catholic might be converted, or that the union would occur with the proper dispensations. In fact, many pious Catholics led virtuous lives while married to non-Catholics, even unbelievers. One thinks of St Monica, the mother of St Augustine, who married a pagan. Then there was Elizabeth Leseur, who married an athiest, one who upon her death, eventually became converted and was ordained to the priesthood.

All day long I can hear people talking out loud
But when you hold me near, you drown out the crowd
Old Mr Webster could never define
What's being said between your heart and mine

One could almost justify these public statements, if they were the only way to keep people of varying creeds from killing one another. People have been known to do that for religion, you know? But with the capacity to blow the world up several times over, it might seem to be a good time to consider a different approach. Mutual cooperation for humanitarian causes, for example, can create bridges of understanding that can keep whole populations away from each others' throats.

What's more, you don't see leaders of other faiths going out of their way to sugar-coat their convictions to appease Rome. The Pope dropped one of his traditional titles recently, in a gesture of good will to the Orthodox. What was the response? Some of their prelates were wishing he had dropped a few others along with the one.

But the biggest problem, I think, is when a spiritual leader is compelled to utter something publicly ad nauseum. I think the Pope should keep a few flash cards with him at all times, with the big bullet points on the really important stuff that you don't want to nuance into oblivion. Just say it the same way over and over again, and people will get the idea that you meant what you said the first time, know what I mean? Otherwise there is a risk here, I think, that once you make a five-minute statement a certain way, you spend the next five weeks trying to explain what you really meant. In Dominus Iesus, Pope Benedict made it clear enough that salvation only comes through the Catholic faith. You can pretty much leave it at that. Would that others looking for a daily sound bite would do the same.

Benedict has made the unity of Christians, particularly the Orthodox, a priority of his pontificate. That's all well and good, but I hope whoever does the pre-game advance work for him makes it clear enough to everybody else invited to the table, that there's pretty much only one way we expect this to end. In the meantime, I don't assume a pope goes out of his way to speak error in matters of faith and morals, unless it's too obvious to ignore. But it's not, and it can't be. To be a Catholic, is to believe that the Holy Spirit protects him from speaking error in just such matters.

Unfortunately, the charism that protects his mouth doesn't extend to our ears, let alone the spin doctors in the mainstream media.

The smile on your face let's me know that you need me
There's a truth in your eyes saying you'll never leave me
A touch of your hand says you'll catch me if ever I fall
Yeah, you say it best...

But hey, that's just me.

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