Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Answers and Courage

Over at Whispers in Loggia Rocco highlights the winner of the Notre Dame Laetare medal. It is a nun from his native Philadelphia named Sr Mary Scullion. The quote he selected as his title was “Our faith does not give us answers; it gives us courage.” That struck me as very sad. More than sad. Almost evil. This sister is highly respected for her service to the poor. That is awesome. That service gives her a platform. Speaking at Notre Dame's commencement is just one such opportunity she has to be heard. But why use that platform to declare your faith to be bankrupt of truth? That it is useful for motivation but not so much for knowing anything? Does she believe that? Not really. She talks about the dignity of the human person about being drawn toward mercy, compassion, and justice. I don't think she wonders if those things are really true. Not the way she lives her life around them. But she has bought into the idea that rejecting dogma is a virtue. Unfortunately places like Notre Dame embrace that school of thought as well.

The trouble is that motivation by itself is useless. The Muslims who drove planes into the World Trade Center were motivated. Their problem was not that they lacked courage but that they lacked answers. They had dogma but they had wrong dogma. People will look for truth. If the church refuses to give it to them they will find it somewhere else. Secular people don't refuse to give answers. Evangelicals don't have a problem being sure of themselves. The Catholic church claims the authority to be able to define dogma that secularists and evangelicals deny. Yet it is often the Catholics who get all timid and start saying things like their faith does not provide any answers. Why is that?

Pope Benedict once said there was a danger in serving the poor. When Jesus becomes an instrument for serving the poor He becomes less than God. That Jesus is no longer the goal but social justice is the goal. What he said is that when that happens you not only lose Jesus but you fail at true social justice as well. Practically speaking it means that Catholics working with the poor want to avoid the church's sexual morality. They don't want to talk about abortion or homosexual acts as things that are evil. Just accept people and show them mercy and compassion. To a point that is true. Our first line should not be one of moral judgement. But if we truly love people then we should find occasion to teach them the whole truth. Even if, at least initially, they are not going to look good in the light of that truth. Still telling them that this is what God is calling them to and having faith that He will give them the grace to live it just as He gives you the grace to live it.

When we water down the gospel to make it easier for others to live it we are putting them lower than ourselves. We can embrace the fullness of the Catholic faith but the people we minister to can't. We need to edit it for them. Or do we edit it for ourselves? It is always the counter-cultural pieces of the faith that we want to leave out. Is it really impossible for the poor to live them? Or is it because we fear of losing respect in the secular world? At the end of the day answers and courage are not opposites. It takes real courage to give real answers.

If you look at Bl. Teresa of Calcutta you see something different. She never made disagreements over doctrine a problem in her serving the poor. Still she never allowed anyone to be confused about what she believed. She lectured secular elites on the immorality of abortion and contraception. She would see an address like the Notre Dame speech as a great opportunity to make that point.Always mindful of where her audience is at but always wanting to not leave them there but to bring them closer to sainthood. For her the poor were a powerful way to get closer to Jesus but Jesus remained the goal. Not just for her but for everyone. You can't get there by running away from truth.

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