An Avila in Irving: A lay response to crises in the Church

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On Dec. 18, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith published “Fiducia Supplicans,” a declaration “On the pastoral meaning of blessings,” including the blessings of persons in same-sex relationships. A flurry of headlines and social media posts rejoiced, lamented and questioned the supposed fact that Pope Francis had finally allowed same-sex marriage.

Of course, it didn’t take too much digging to realize that the Holy Father continues to affirm the immutability of the Church’s moral teaching, just as he always has. Rooted in God’s eternal love for each unrepeatable soul, Church dogma is unchanging and unchangeable, regardless of how desperately society wants the Church to conform to the world.

But the formal nature of “Fiducia Supplicans” warrants more attention than an airplane interview, and is even more befuddling. The document repeatedly affirms that “the Church does not have the power to impart blessings on unions of persons of the same sex.” But it also writes that in blessing two individuals in a same-sex relationship, the blessing asks that “all that is true, good and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships be enriched, healed and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

How can one bless a relationship, which the document insinuates, without blessing the union? How can the Holy Spirit dwell in an act of sin? Even if this was not the Vatican’s intention, “Fiducia Supplicans” retains ambiguity and contradictory phrases which have already led to scandal and confusion both within and without the Church.

What is a Catholic to do in response to a myriad of grim headlines about the Church, including heterodox responses to “Fiducia Supplicans?” What is our response to the continual sexual abuse crisis, to the dismissal of the importance of the monastic life, to dangerously inadequate catechesis?

First, we need to acknowledge that Truth will always be misunderstood. No matter how many times we beg people to see that the Church does not hate those with same-sex attraction, some will always perceive her as a bigot. No matter how many crisis pregnancy centers work around the clock to care for mothers and babies, some will always insist that the pro-life movement oppresses women.

We must joyfully accept Christ’s words in John 15: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first… Because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.” It is because the Church loves so deeply that she refuses to con- done the sin that devastates both the individual person and collective society. Neither the laity nor the clergy need to be afraid of resisting cultural norms when proclaiming the Gospel.

Therefore, our response to the deep brokenness in the world and in the Church should not primarily be a new PR strategy or an increased engagement with anti-Catholic voices. Although these efforts are important, Christ reminds us in Luke 10:41 that despite our “worry about many things, there is need of only one thing:” to sit at Jesus’ feet with docility and love.

The Church does not need another committee or evangelization technique. She needs contemplative souls. She needs her children to be utterly captivated by the beauty of the Gospel and to live a life that flows out of Christ’s side, truly present in the tabernacle.

Although she was an academic genius, Edith Stein did not convert to Catholicism because of a brilliant philosophical treatise. The Catholics around her prompted her conversion through their peace, their hope in the face of death and their stops to visit with Jesus, their friend in the Blessed Sacrament.

Stein’s conversion culminated upon reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, a woman who was profoundly aware of the Church’s brokenness and lack of trust in the Holy Spirit among her members. Teresa knew that the greatest response to the world’s hunger was to plunge into the unfathomable depths of the Lord’s love and to win the battle for souls through deep friendship with Jesus Christ.

Through Teresa’s witness, Stein received the grace to enter the Catholic Church. She joined Teresa of Avila on the battlefield for souls, becoming St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and giving her life for her faith and her Jewish people in Auschwitz.

Just before his election as pope, Joseph Ratzinger looked at the brokenness of the modern world and proclaimed, “We need men like Benedict of Norcia.” So too, we need men and women like these two Teresas, who remind us that no matter how important intellectual discourse and public outreach are, prayerful moments shrouded in silence and simplicity are the moments that save the world.

These mysterious moments do not take place only within a monastery. Rather, even Irving can become a new Avila. Indeed, it must.

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