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Wondering, Heresy and Learning from One Another


James Good-CC

Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble - published on 10/29/15

Conversation and dialogue should be a normal part of discernment.

People responded in many different ways to the earthquake that rocked the Catholic world after Vatican II.

Some Catholics went into hiding, creating small catacombs of like-minded people, faithful to the Magisterium. I am an ’80s kid raised in a family that went the catacomb route for the first part of my childhood. I did not experience the uncertainty of the Church during the ’80s because I was sheltered from it.

I did not benefit from being sheltered.

I am highly suspicious of Catholic “utopias” that seek to separate themselves from their imperfect, heretical brethren. In my experience this mind-set of insularity breeds contempt for others and encourages unhealthy rebellion, because healthy upheaval, or normal questioning and wondering, is not allowed.

I read Elizabeth Scalia’s latest “wondering” piece on reception of Communion with this in mind. The piece scandalized many because it was interpreted to be thinly veiled advocacy of allowing anyone, even those in a state of serious sin, to receive the Eucharist.

It was not.

But Elizabeth’s piece did not scandalize me, just as the Synod on the Family has not scandalized me. I believe many of the faithful Catholics who bring up the idea of Communion for the divorced and remarried are actually just wondering, looking for solutions, and not necessarily the ones we most fear.

And in a Church where conversation and dialogue should be a normal part of discernment, the process of thinking and communication, this does not concern me.

However, for the generations before me that did not grow up during the post-Vatican II crisis but rather parented or lived through it as adults, the reaction to a person’s “wondering” can be anger at what they see as indirect opposition to the Church’s teaching. They may think, as Thomas McDonald does, that this subject should be a closed case. And the reopening of it is like the reopening of a wound.

I understood this dynamic better when I spoke to another sister in my convent who also read Elizabeth Scalia’s article. She read it in much the same way that some of the offended commenters did—with alarm—and the assumption that Elizabeth was espousing thinly veiled heresy.

I told the sister my point of view on the subject, which is, very simply put, that I do not want the rules to change, but I do feel there needs to be more pastoral responses to people in delicate situations.

(I know alarm bells just went off in some people’s heads when I said the word “pastoral,” but I refer to something like Dr. Gregory Popcak’s reasonable suggestion to allow bishops to grant permission to couples to be admitted to communion even before the annulment process is complete if certain criteria apply.)

After I spoke with my sister, we took a walk later in the day and she told me she had been thinking. She realized that she had responded to Elizabeth’s article in much the same way she had in her religion class in the ’60s and had felt her faith being attacked. She told me she was surprised to find these things still bubbling up in her after all that time.

We agreed it was interesting to see how differently we both responded to the same article.

Clearly, one way is not better than the other. We come from different experiences of Church.

But we can learn from one another when we approach each other with more openness and the willingness to hear a person out before shutting him or her down.

Perhaps in some cases, people need to view Church affairs with a healthier dose of suspicion and caution to avoid naïveté—that is how quite a few people responded to my piece in the National Catholic Register, and perhaps in some sense they were right.

But perhaps others need to relax a little and not always read encouragement to trust in the Spirit as loosey-goosey liberalism. Sitting back, refusing to worry and putting our trust in God (as Jesus tells us to do) is not the same as putting one’s head in the sand.

Sure, the Church is going through a hard time. When has it not been hard?

But I rarely meet young, faithful Catholics, especially religious sisters or priests, including myself, who are not rabidly in love with the Magisterium.

We are the future of the Church.

We are in the Church because we choose to be here. We love her because we love Christ. And we trust her because we trust Christ.

We can learn from one another.

Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, is the author of The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church. She recently pronounced her first vows with the Daughters of Saint Paul. She blogs at Pursued by Truth.

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