The news media is going crazy. This week, for the first time, a Vatican Synod was trending on twitter with #Synod14. Yet, unfortunately, many of the people talking about it, don’t really understand the issues. We need to arm ourselves to explain what’s really going on and how is effects Catholicism. Teens are especially difficult, as they’re learning these aspects of Catholicism for the first time now.
There are two radical versions, both which miss the mark. One is the secular press version, with articles in places like AP and the Huffington Post, which states that this Synod will approve the Church granting divorces and homosexual marriages. The other is more subtle but still dangerous: it’s the hard-core Catholics who think that all that needs to be done is repeat what was already stated in the Baltimore Catechism and reaffirm the dogmas of the Church. The first is wrong on dogma; the second is wrong on pastoral practice.
So, the question that those us who do youth ministry or teach catechism are asking is how do we explain this to teenagers? Others will ask: how to I explain it to this or that group? I think that there are several important points to explain: the reason behind dogma, charity, and pastoral approaches. I think these principles apply for explaining it to any group save people already extremely versed in Theology.
Most people have probably heard the rules of Catholic morality. If we just affirm dogma alone, we fail! Why? Because on its own, it’s an abstract law – not strong enough to be a core belief. You need to know 2 things first: what’s right, and why. Protestant theology often boils down simply to “don’t,” but an important aspect of Catholic theology is that morality is not based on what’s wrong but on what’s right. All are called to live the virtue of chastity – that doesn’t mean all are called live celibacy. Homosexual relationships and sex outside of marriage are wrong because they go against chastity. Chastity is the virtue to rightly order our sexual appetites: that means it orders our sexual appetites towards our legitimate spouse, or towards the passionate love for God in celibacy. Chastity is not suppression but expansion of our heart to the fullness of love. Homosexual relations fold our heart in upon itself, rather than opening it to the fullness of love in marriage or celibacy. Premarital relations are not wrong simply because there’s a commandment “thou shall not commit adultery”; they are wrong because they go to against the full’s of love we are called to. Today, many know the don’ts of the Church’s moral teaching but they don’t understand why.
Charity is the core of our Christian faith. In the first letter of St. John we read those marvelous words: “God is love.” When we are dealing with someone who has objective and externally manifested sin, we need to love the sinner with all our heart, even while we hate the sin. Jesus tells us how happy he is over the one sinner who repents rather than over the 99 who have no need of repentance. It’s naturally more difficult to love certain types of people, so we need to make an action effort to do so. We love God as much as we love the person we love least. Hence, before we talk about dogma, we have to show people Christ love. Christian charity is more important than a perfect moral life.
Finally, we have to explain why the Cardinals that are debating so much: this is where pastoral approaches come in. The question is: “How do you love someone who is a homosexual partner, or who’s divorced and remarried?” This is the light we can help people read all the discussion of the Synod through. We know that dogma won’t change: the Church has no more power to make homosexual sexual activity morally good then she has power to make a square circle. However, based on the needs today, the pastoral approaches can be radically different. The pastoral approaches of Trent and a Vatican II are very distinct. With this lens, you can present several articles and explain what they mean given the discussion. Here’s to example articles on the same topic you can use: the Huffington Post positively reported on how a couple from Australia said the Church should be more welcoming of homosexuals; while LifeSiteNews interviewed Cardinal Raymond Burke who gave a strong response to this couple (I picked this as both stories were very popular and from radically different perspectives – here’s something even more radical: Human Rights Campaign [gay activist group] tries to read in changes of dogma which could never happen.). Neither the Australian couple nor the Cardinal believe that homosexual activity isn’t sinful, nor does either believe that we shouldn’t act in charity. The difference comes in and how we apply that based on concrete circumstances – this is a prudential judgment that Catholics can have disagreement on – the couple emphasizes charity towards the homosexuals while the Cardinal emphasizes the importance of teaching children the faith properly and negative long-term consequences. I think the goal would be to have a way to achieve both; but I’m a realist, and know this often is not it possible.
With the synod going on and all the news media talking about it, I think it’s hard to ignore it when we’re teaching teenagers about the faith. We should take advantage of this opportunity to teach them both Catholic doctrine and how to practice charity. The Synod is not an obstacle to catechesis, but an opportunity.