Catholic Church: eating w/sinners & tax collectors – the difficult way of mercy, part 1 of 3


-by Jan Van Hemessen

In the rapping lyrics of will.i.am, “Where is the LOVE (more than just a word), y’all?” As a fellow sinner & tax collector, I just wonder if fifty years, or thereabouts, of enduring worse sinners and tax collectors is a limit? I feel like the words to the country song, I need to go find a “better class of losers”? Some with more love would be nice; which, and I am not alone, hardly, I have only occasionally seen in fifty-one years. Inspiring, though only occasionally. Sure they’re hippies, but I’ll trade. Is being Catholic itself a penance? Surely, St Therese of Lisieux would say “YES!” Very likely, it is also highly redemptive and sanctifying to remain Catholic, in an extreme way. Suffering is redemptive in Catholic theology, even, almost certainly when, inflicted by stupid Galatians, especially. I wonder. I’m sure; out loud.


-by Dr. Randall B. Smith, is a Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston where he holds the Scanlan Foundation Endowed Chair in Theology. His book “Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide” was published in late October 2016 by Emmaus Academic. Born and raised near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Dr. Randall Smith also lived in Philadelphia and Chicago before attending college in Mount Vernon, Iowa, graduating with a BA in Chemistry from Cornell College. During his time at Cornell, he converted to Catholicism, and after college, went off to study his new-found Catholic faith. He subsequently earned a Master’s degree in theology from the University of Dallas and then completed a Master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Notre Dame.

“…Christ sat down to eat with tax collectors and other sinners as a way of opening up a conversation with them. It didn’t always work: some repented and reformed; others hardened their hearts. But He went out into the world to call sinners back. And we killed Him for it.

What would happen if a pastor’s first words to a transgender person were: “The Catholic Church demands you stop this foolishness, get yourself to a surgeon, have him change you back, and start acting like a real man”? I can tell you what would have happened if the first words I heard from a Catholic priest had been: “You know, if you keep going on the way you are, you’re going to hell.” He would have been right, but I wouldn’t have gone back to the Catholic Church.

Priests who start out with the bad news rather than the Good News usually aren’t going to see that person again. Embracing the faith will often require us to make some serious changes, perhaps even to make what we may see as real sacrifices. Who among us isn’t in need of real change and reformation? The question a pastor must ask is how he can get the person in front of him up to that point where he or she is willing to entertain the possibility of change.

So what are we to say to the transgendered? How about those with same-sex sexual attractions? What state must they have attained, what actions should we insist they undertake, to show they are worthy of (a) entering the Church, (b) participating in the life of the Church, or (c) partaking in any of the sacraments (including confession)? Must those with “gender dysphoria” agree to psychological treatment before coming to confession so they can promise honestly that they will be able to make good efforts not to cross-dress anymore? The Catholic Church has never demanded this. How about those with same-sex sexual attractions? How much chastity must they be able to document before entering the confessional or receive anointing of the sick?

Question: Were you with me on the apostolic letter condemning “transgenderism” right up until the point where I started talking about reaching out in mercy? At that point did you start drawing back and asking yourself: “What’s going on here? He was lying when he said he was opposed to transgenderism. The moral condemnation I understand; this squishy ‘reaching out in mercy’ stuff is what has gotten us into trouble.” Has it? Or has the problem been that we’ve allowed ourselves to become a Church with only two gears: moral condemnation and moral approbation?

Is there some third way, we might wonder, between hosting drag parties and “coming out” events on Catholic college campuses and simply turning away cross-dressers and transgender persons from the church door? Is it possible to invite transgender persons into the activities of the Church without necessarily making them Eucharistic ministers day one? If we take seriously the demands of the Gospel to be Christ for others, there simply has to be.”

Love, really,
Matthew

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