Monday, 2 December 2013

Slovak bishops celebrate Opposite Day

Ryanoppositeday 15

1The most plausible explanation that I can think of for the letter that the bishops of Slovakia have addressed to their flock yesterday is that they must think of the last nine months - since the election of Pope Francis - as one, long Opposite Day. In fact, they must be under the impression that it has been Opposite Day for much longer than that, since their message just reads like the polar opposite of where the Church has been heading at the very least since Vatican II.

Be that as it may, let me set out how the Slovak bishops’ letter points away from both Pope Francis’ words and deeds:
  1. There is not a single use of the words “Jesus” or “Christ” in the entire document. The closest, and single reference to Him is their saying that Advent “reminds us of the arrival of God’s Son on Earth.” And that’s Jesus taken care of. In contrast, “Jesus” is the single most frequently used word in Pope Francis’ morning sermons and at the very top of the frequency tables in all his other speeches and writings. For Pope Francis, Jesus is the be all and end all of his mission - the Slovak bishops don’t even mention him by name.
  2. There is a single reference to Scripture in the Slovak bishops’ letter - a “cf. John 10:10” in reference to the “Son of God’s” coming being for the sake of our lives’ fullness. Pope Francis - and all of his predecessors and their collaborators - instead takes ample advantage of maintaining a close link to Scripture, which he therefore also copiously refers to. And, please, don’t take these first two points as being about form - they are deeply about substance. A close adherence and frequent reference to Jesus and his words are an integral part of what it means to be His followers and their absence then leads to failures like the letter under scrutiny here.
  3. How about the poor and marginalized? The divorced and remarried, single mothers, the sick, those who suffer from discrimination? How do they, who are so central to Pope Francis’ message, fare in the letter? Not very well, actually ... There is no mention whatsoever of the poor, in a letter about the season during which we remember Jesus’ coming into the world under circumstances of clear poverty. And how about the divorced or those who suffer from the breakdown of the family? Do they get a look in? Yes, but not in the way you’d expect: “God wants for every person to come into the world in loving, well-ordered family communities. If that is not the case, it is either a misfortune or human failure.” Let’s see what Pope Francis has to say instead:
    “Think about a single mother who goes to church, in the parish and to the secretary she says: ‘I want my child baptized’. And then this Christian, this Christian says: ‘No, you cannot because you’re not married!’. But look, this girl who had the courage to carry her pregnancy and not to return her son to the sender, what is it? A closed door! This is not zeal! It is far from the Lord! It does not open doors! [...] Jesus is indignant when he sees these things because those who suffer are his faithful people, the people that he loves so much.”
    I know whose side I am on! And I don’t mean to deny any of the beauty and value of the family - the same family that the Slovak bishops, presumably, have in mind. What I do distance myself from is the tone and content of their letter where all who are not in “well-ordered,” “responsible” families are opponents of God’s laws and the order of the universe.
  4. And what about homosexuals? They are branded as being proponents of a “culture of death” and enactors of a “sodomite caricature that is opposed to God’s will and awaits God’s punishment.” How well is this aligned with Pope Francis’ words? Judge for yourself:
    “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”
    Hm ... not quite on the same page ... Mercy and accompanying instead of caricature and punishment. Hey, that sounds familiar - how about: “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Jesus, in Matthew 9:13).
  5. Finally, just to round out the entertainment value of this post, the letter also contains an interesting set of nouns with regard to men: “man, husband, father, knight, gentleman” (did anyone say “museum-piece Christians” - actually, yes, it was Pope Francis again ...) and women: “woman, wife, mother” (did anyone say “Bazinga!”?). No comment.
There’d be plenty more to say, but I believe the above gives a sense of how categorically misaligned the Slovak bishops’ Advent pastoral letter is with Pope Francis. There is no sense of joy, mercy, love or a care for the poor or those at the peripheries, who are Pope Francis’ central concern and who, unsurprisingly, were Jesus’ own preferred company.

Just so that I don’t leave a sense of complete disagreement and pure criticism in the air, let me say though that I share the Slovak bishops’ concerns with regard to “gender theory.” Instead of reproducing their own words, let me make recourse to Pope Benedict XVI’s, who can put the central problem far more lucidly and rationally than I or the Slovak bishops could:
“[T]he very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. [...] Simone de Beauvoir [saying] “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient) [lays] the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. [...] Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be.”
There are certainly contentious and very serious issues on the table, but they need to be considered in an atmosphere of respect, dialogue and mercy and in a way that shows their balance against other issues, such as poverty, injustice, oppression, exploitation and violence.

1 Many thanks to my überbestie PM, whose reactions to the letter are incorporated here too.