North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

Truth, Beauty and Doubt

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Failure, Forgiveness and Vocation

Frances Poretto at Eternity Road pulls a nice quote from George Weigel’s book, The Truth Of Catholicism. The quote concerns Catholic teaching on Marital Vocations (that’s sex and marriage for the rest of you):

Catholic teaching on issues of sexual morality is incomprehensible outside the Church’s conviction that there is a vocation to sexual love that must be understood like any other Christian vocation: as a means of living the Law of the Gift, the call to self-giving inscribed in the human heart. The vocation to sexual love is one of the ways in which Christians become the kind of people who can live with God forever. When we locate sexual ethics within the broader horizon of a genuinely humanistic ethics, an ethics of beatitude, the first moral question shifts from “What am I forbidden to do?” to “How do I live a life of sexual love that conforms to my dignity as a human person?”

It turns out that Poretto, whose blog I’ve enjoyed for a while now, is a Catholic, and he’s wondering how he can know if this difficult teaching is true. He acknowledges it’s logic and beauty, but seems to finds doubt gnawing at him: Is this really Biblical? He writes:

This passage, which does accurately reflect Catholic doctrine on sexual conduct, is filled with much beauty and grace — but to what extent are its dicta mandated by normative statements from Christ? To what extent is it a compendium of recommendations and idealistic would-that-it-were-always-sos?

I’ll give my thoughts on the matter in a moment, but first I want to note that Poretto’s admission of Catholicism is another peculiar notch in my reading experience. It really does seem that all of the writers and bloggers that I really enjoy, the ones who really get it, are Catholic or formerly Catholic, or at least sound Catholic. Examples include a lot of the staff at The National Review, and John Ray (a former Catholic) at Dissecting Leftism. I don’t know if Bill Vallicella (The Maverick Philosopher) is Catholic, but it would not surprise me if he was. Johnny Dee is not a Catholic but has told me he’s been mistaken for one in the past. Speaking of Bill and Johnny, the two of them are discussing the Trinity (!) at the moment. (Humble mind that I am, I simply nod at the conventional teaching that the Trinity is simply a mystery to be pondered. Sometimes when you squeeze something too tightly, it breaks.)

My Catholic author streak continues into my bookshelf, with J.R.R.T. at the top of the list, and Chesterton and the almost Catholic C.S. Lewis right behind him. This pattern of really enjoying an author and then finding he’s Catholic was one of many reasons for finally getting around to exploring the institution myself. The other major draw was getting married and thinking hard about what that meant. The other type of writer I really seem to get is someone coming from a conservative Jewish background – someone like David Frum or David Horowitz.

Getting back to the subject of Catholic teaching on marriage and love, I think that the answer to Poretto’s question is found in his description – the teaching is beautiful and the logic impeccable. There is nothing in it to contradict the Bible. I find the Church’s claim that it is putting flesh on the bones of what it has been given does not ring hollow. In fact, the teaching is so contrary to what most men would think and design, that it is astonishing for such an unexpected description of human relations to be so compelling.

I think that the human doubts about it- and I recognize how widespread they are, and must admit I feel them too – arise from the fact that the teaching is hard. We fail, and the temptation is always there to say, “I didn’t fail, this is impossible.” Successfully meeting it, however, is not the point. Success is no more the measure of this teaching that any other. The point is to recognize it for what it is, and to continually attempt to absorb and assimilate it.

When I find the temptation to rationalize failure in in my mind I always think of Mel Gibson’s Passion, when Christ is in the Garden of Gethseme and he is told by God about the trial of crucifixion that is now upon him. Christ is afraid, but resigned to do it. I suspect he knows how necessary it is, but even so the temptation to flee must have been huge. And there in the Garden, whispering in his ear, is Satan saying, “You cannot do this. No one can do this. It is too much for anyone to bear.” I think that voice trying to rationalize my lingering doubt, and deny my failures, is the same. And then I remember that my failures will be forgiven. The one thing that I cannot allow myself to do, is deny that I have failed and need forgiveness. Only then will I be unforgiven, because I will have cut myself off from the source of forgiveness.

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Written by Curt

January 2, 2005 at 9:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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