Discussions on the Internet tend to follow certain lines, and sometimes, even when that is not where they start, it is where they go. Thus, when, as she did recently, as I have done more recently, Jess or myself write about the importance of love and mercy, there is a tendency to meet it with something like the following formulation: ‘It is not mercy or love to tell a drunk that he is not a drunk.’ Now, since, re-read as I will what she has written and what I have written, I cannot find any suggestion we are saying any such thing, this response must come from some other area of debate. I suspect it comes from arguing with those who do seem to think that you don’t have to repent – though I have to confess I am not familiar with Christians who argue this position. At any rate, not being of that persuasion, and being as ready to resort to sharp words as the next sinner, I do confess I can react to my words being so characterised with some acerbity.
Now it may be that some pastors/priests are offering what my good friend Servus describes here:
the wellness of the patient is not treated with placebos and telling the patient that they can continue on as they are
Here again, I can only think that he must have come across priests and pastors who do this; not having done so myself in my much narrower world, I can only wonder at anyone who is a Christian minister of any sort who would say to the sinner ‘carry on that’s fine’. Again, I have no experience of such a thing. If it really does happen – that is if it is not a case of misreading or misunderstanding what a pastor says, then that is deplorable; but I should reread several times before I could be convinced that I was not misunderstanding what was being said. In my many years as a Christian, I have never come across this phenomenon.
On the subject of mercy, Servus has written eloquently that:
A priest should show mercy but like any medical doctor it would be malpractice to tell a diabetic that he can continue to drink a milk shake and eat a pizza anytime he has the uncontrollable urge to do so. The patient may think this an act of mercy but it is not
Again, if Catholic priests are doing this sort of thing, I’m sorry to hear it. If this is a reference, in part, to the heated issue in the RCC of divorced people receiving communion, then I can see it from more than one side. I can see that a man in the pew might be scandalised if a fellow catholic he knew to be divorced was receiving communion, especially if he read Paul’s warnings about receiving unworthily this way. But I can also see that the priest might know a thing or two which would not be common knowledge and might have come to the conclusion that it was a real act of mercy to allow communion. If the RCC does not allow such pastoral discretion, well, that’s a matter for it, but my point is that what the censorious fellow in the pews is not seeing or knowing may have a significant bearing on that person receiving communion; so perhaps the censorious fellow might bear that in mind. Moreover, is he is the right frame of mind to receive communion if he is sitting there seething about another fellow’s supposed sin? My point here is simple, sometimes we have imperfect knowledge and we should, perhaps be more willing to refrain from judging our peers and our pastors? No doubt, as one always can, one could find texts to justify our indignation. But I am unsure of the quality of ‘love’ which makes one censorious of others when one lacks full knowledge – not least when it presupposes the pastor is resiling from his duties.
I can see how a cursory reading of the recent document from the Pope could be read, theoretically, as offering the sort of ‘placebo’ of which Servus speaks. But I think that is at best a partial reading. What I see (and the old boy and I are about the same age) is a vastly experienced pastor, used to dealing with the mess that is many people’s lives, trying to pass on his experience, and trying to help his flock in their daily struggle to live a real Christian life. So, on that remarriage/divorce issue, he wrote: ‘most people in difficult or critical situations do not seek pastoral assistance since they do not find it sympathetic, realistic or concerned for individual cases’. No use responding that’s not your experience – unless you have the experience of a Bishop or a Pope. The experienced and merciful pastor is trying bring some of those people back by creating a frame of mind where they will not feel their church is like that with them – and doing so whilst, as he wrote: ‘declining to present a new set of general rules’. Is that not true mercy at work? As he puts it:
… it follows that “without detracting from the evangelical ideal, there is a need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively appear”, making room for “the Lord’s mercy, which spurs us on to do our best”. I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion.
But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street”
The voice of experience tempering the theorist – sounds like Christianity to me.