The Road Less Traveled

In light of my forthcoming academic ventures (and the title of this blog), I thought this bit of news was appropriate...

Quite noticeably present among the up-and-coming scholars of the Catholic world—my peers and I in particular—looms the ever dangerous tendency of finger-pointing. Often we are not allowed to forget it, as it quite regularly comes to the fore as a major criticism from older generations of scholars: "...this conservative movement amongst the young people in the Church... grumble, grumble." Certainly these conservative and, as I would prefer to consider them, more orthodox trends in thought are not equal to finger-pointing. But, nevertheless, the former does quite often seem to give way to the latter. Indeed, both sides of the "conservative/liberal" debate can be duly charged and found guilty of such offenses.

But when I read this story I was encouraged. Finally, an exemplary case of what should and can happen when it comes to dissidence and orthodoxy. Moreover, it is a vital example of the early Church's model of public penitence and reparation, illustrating its life-giving effects.

As the story goes, a former Catholic priest who had signed a document protesting the publication of Humanae Vitae in 1968 recently wrote to Human Life International, asking forgiveness for his dissident actions. The man—a practicing Catholic who raised his family in the Church after being laicized by Pope Paul VI—expressed in his letter that by openly assenting to Catholic doctrine, he hoped to experience "a peace of mind and heart that [he had] not experienced since 1968." By publicly denouncing his former dissidence, the man rejoiced that his "repudiation of the Protest is now known and accepted in a kind of semi-official sort of way by an 'authority' in the Church." "Thank you for reading this," he concluded his letter, "thereby humoring an old man, who despite everything else knows that he is a 'priest forever, according to the Order of Melchizedek.'"

The beauty of such humility overwhelmed Fr. Thomas Euteneuer, the president of Human Life International; so much so that he "shed tears of gratitude" upon reading it. Indeed, the beauty of the apology and assent to an orthodox position should cause all of us to experience some of this same gratitude. After all, isn't this precisely what the Church hopes for when She chastises or silences a theologian? If reconciliation were not the aim, then we would not be Christians. But, as the early Fathers affirm time and again in their apologies to the Roman authorities, it is the deep and abiding goal of all Christians to see the conversion of hearts to the Truth of the faith. Such laudable courage, when demonstrated authentically, has even produced some of the finest theologians the Church has ever known. A twentieth-century example might be the eminent American thinker, Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. [right, with Pope Benedict XVI], or the French cardinal, Henri DeLubac; both of whom, after a period of censure, proved to be invaluable figures for modern theological progress.

I think we can learn a lot from this most unpopular but truly humble avenue of reconciliation with the Church and her teachings. Finger-waving cannot be our goal as Catholics, no matter the issue of concern. Perhaps if we prayed for the conversion of dissident thinkers and stopped deriding them with coarse ridicule, we would actually promote an attitude of more genuine dialogue, and prepare the ground for true conversion of heart. Truly praying and honestly discussing, however, is a thing much easier said than done.

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    # by Anonymous - August 30, 2008 at 10:48 PM

    I hope that you illustrious academics of tomorrow take a brief moment - perhaps in conjunction with one of your "forthcoming academic ventures" - and learn some English grammar before you go embarassing yourselves and our Church more than your suffocating arrogance already has: "Quite noticeably present among the up-and-coming scholars of the Catholic world—my peers and I in particular—"

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    # by Andrew Haines - August 31, 2008 at 12:41 AM

    I'm sorry my comment came off as arrogant. Truly. To me, it seems more factual than opinionated. The rest of the article should demonstrate that point, since I recognize myself, to some degree, as sometimes falling into the trap of 'finger-pointing,' and displaying poor judgment.

    The peers I speak of and I are young students and aspire to learn and teach the faith and its principles. We are 'up-and-coming,' and scholars in the most literal sense of the word. We study. We are not divinely inspired nor do we attest to be, but desire to understand what the Church seeks to teach us. We ask questions, dig into theological debates and questions of philosophy, and enjoy the beauty of the Catholic Church.

    If the prospect of enthusiastic (and sometimes noticeably so) young students irritates you, then I encourage you to provide some edifying recommendations on how we might further develop as scholars and Catholics—presumably based on your own experience. If not, then please don't berate me anonymously. It's more embarrassing for the Church that an alleged voice of propriety remains faceless than it is for a blogger to come across as proud.

    My email is andrew.m.haines@gmail.com. I'd love to hear from you.