Thursday, January 22, 2015
Popes, Planes, and Common Sense
I hesitate somewhat to join the excessive noise over Pope Francis's recent gab-fest on a plane because there is just so much noise about it. But sometimes a girl's just gotta blog.
I wish I could be surprised at people's reactions to the Pope's somewhat off-the-cuff comments. I wish less people were jumping to conclusions, overreacting without reading the proper translation, and taking things so personally. The translation is fairly clear and easy to read.
The Pope was going on a bit of a random tangent as he is prone to do while at cruising altitude, and brought up a women he knew who was having a lot a children via caesarean section contrary to medical advise. A few minutes later he refers to this woman when he is asked about family planning and poverty saying that it is not Catholic teaching for Catholics to act like rabbits. Which is true because we're human beings not animals who are slaves to their instincts. This is something the Church has never wavered on but has only become clearer and clearer about: people must use their sexuality in a way suitable to their nature, they cannot separate the reality of procreation from sexual activity nor are they meant to be procreating cogs in some kind of creation machine. Family planning must reflect the dignity of the human person. We are soul and body, capable of making intelligent decisions when we should further our families and at the same time are capable of restraint from engaging in sex. These concepts go hand in hand; if we're against contraception because it denies life, treats the human person below it's dignity, and lacks respect for our partner then we also should make the connection that we're rational beings who are responsible for our families, for bringing new life into the world, for the lives that we have already brought into the world, and for ourselves and our spouse.
The problem with this teaching as with almost every other Catholic teaching is the extremes. It is so hard to get the teaching of the Church regarding family planning right because orthodoxy (to paraphrase Chesterton) is a precariously thin line between extremes. The extreme of using contraception to "plan" a family is an easy extreme that gives us human beings complete control, or more factually the illusion of complete control, over fertility. While the opposite extreme comes into play when people treat family planning as something that doesn't require human decision and input. God's plan for sex and our fertility is for us to be co-creators with him, to choose to open our hearts and bodies to the possibility of life at each and every act of sex while at the same time using our reason and understanding about when it may or may not be appropriate to be engaging in the activity that may make a baby. This teaching is a two sided coin that helps us understand our roles as co-creators with God while being responsible parents.
But again, it is right in the middle of extremes where orthodoxy resides. The Church's teaching doesn't seek to dehumanize us as cogs in God's people making machine with no choice or use of reason when it comes to parenthood, having as many babies as often as possible. But it is equally dehumanizing to rely on artificial means to stop conception as if we had no control over our sexual instincts.
It's really a good dose of common sense that sees the extremes yet realizes that virtue is found in the mean. The important fabric of Catholic teaching regarding family size is no exception to common sense.
As Catholics we've got to employ a little more common sense to everything else. Like the internet, like the media, like presuming the Pope said something and immediately taking offence or being hurt or getting upset. Because just as it is common sense to know that the media today will give their front teeth to catch the Pope saying something shocking, there is also common sense in believing that the Pope is a wise man who knows his stuff. It's a large leap to think that the Pope would want to offend large families and sacrificial mothers after all the wonderful things he's said about large families. He clearly has a great deal of appreciation for large families and is working hard to make helping all families a priority for the Church as a global whole.
And while I know that Pope Francis is a talkative guy who likes to let it all hang out so-to-speak when talking to reporters in airplanes, I also am sure that he does not intends to change Church teaching on a plane ride. Sure, I think that this most recent plane ride offered a lot of low hanging fruit for a media intent on finding imaginary change on fundamental strongholds of Catholic dogma. I also think that the way the media's portrayal of these comments to our society that is largely completely ignorant to basic Catholic beliefs will probably lead to more misinformation and misbelief across the board. Maybe it'll open up more opportunities for us to more clearly explain the nuances and fine line of what real Catholic orthodoxy regarding family planning is really all about, or maybe it will lead to a lot more strangers in the grocery store making snap judgements about me and my close age range of a handful of kids as being "more Catholic than the Pope."
But what if we use common sense to think about these supposed "gaffes"? The Pope is saying nothing untrue, he is simply saying things in ways our spin-saturated Western ears cringe at. They amount to chances to evangelize at best and annoyances at worst. Annoyances that are very small things to suffer and offer up especially when we realize we don't face forced abortions in our country if we have more than one child, we don't sleep in fear that our whole village will be massacred by barbarians because we are Christian, but that we have been given many gifts including freedom and formed consciences in the gift of the Catholic faith and to live our those truths. The Pope's job isn't to make life as easy as possible for us staying true to the faith in the Western world, or any part of the world, the Pope's job is to lead us all to Christ; the Way, the Truth, and the Life -- and we all know that we reach the truth faster when we use common sense.
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