08 October 2014

Is a proposal for nicer language in keeping with the example of Jesus?

The big news from the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is a proposal to propose the faith and to admonish sinners with a nicer vocabulary. During a press briefing yesterday afternoon, Father Thomas Rosica, of Salt and Light, said, via Crux,
bishops questioned the usefulness of phrases such as “living in sin,” referring to cohabiting couples; “intrinsically disordered,” referring to gays and lesbians; and a “contraceptive mindset,” referring to couples who use artificial birth control that the Church bans.
“Telling the people that are in these situations that they’re sinners won’t bring them any closer to the Church,” Rosica said, referring to talks given by bishops during the synod’s morning proceedings Tuesday.
Still, while changes in how the Church talks about sensitive family issues appear to be up for debate, altering doctrine remains off the table.
I know that many people within and without the Church think this is a marvelous idea and that by doing so people will flood into the Church, but I'm not so certain because this does not seem to follow the example of Our Lord.

Jesus was far from the model of what today is often called "tolerance"; in a previous post, I explored the (in)tolerance of Jesus, who called people "hypocrites," and declared "woe to you," and spoke of this "perverse and faithless generation," and called people "white-washed tombs" and a "brood of vipers." None of this is language that, by our estimation today, will "bring them any closer to the Church," and yet Jesus used such language anyway. Was this language any less offensive two thousand years ago? Of course not. Was it any less true two thousand years ago? Of course not.

Whenever we proclaim the Gospel and call sinners to repentance (of which we are all in need), we must look to the model of Our Lord himself, not the fluffy standards of our own time. We have to remember, as I wrote several months ago, that
Jesus condemned sinful actions, but not sinners themselves.  He warned them sternly about the coming judgment, of the separation of the sheep from the goats, about eternal life and eternal death.  He called sinners to repentance - and still calls sinners to repentance - so that they might share in his life, but if sinners do not repent they will not share in his life.

When he comes in his glory, "who will endure the day of his coming?  And who can stand when he appears" (Malachi 3:2)? These words of Sacred Scripture will be proclaimed to us this Sunday.  It is "the LORD of hosts" who comes, "the fall and rise of many in Israel;" will he find us worthy of his presence (Malachi 3:1; Luke 2:34)?

We cannot forget that Jesus said quite clearly, "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34).  These are not the words of a tolerant man, as the world understands tolerance.  Jesus tolerates sinners, but he does not tolerate sin.  We must ask ourselves: "Is this a man to whom I will entrust myself completely?"
This is the question we should be asking people living in contradiction to the demands of the Gospel, not, "Does our language offend or upset you?" When Jesus offended the people and they began to leave him, he did not change his language but asked them pointedly, "Does this shock you" (John 6:61)? His words did shock the people and they abandoned him. What is more, he let them leave and did not make his language less shocking, upsetting, or offensive. Indeed, he went so far as to the ask the Apostles, "Do you also want to leave" (John 6:67)?

Not only does the call for a "nicer" language not follow the example of Jesus, but it doesn't follow the example of Pope Francis, either. Remember Pope Francis' Little Book of Insults? From the first day of his Pontificate, Pope Francis has employed a great variety of creative name-calling that many have found offensive and upsetting, yet he continues to use such language.

Let's be honest: If a person is living in sin, a change of language is not very likely to convince him to stop living in sin. When lapsed or fallen away Catholics were asked what the Church can do to draw them back to the practice and living of the Catholic faith, they did not say we need to proclaim the truth of the Gospel with nicer words, but that we need to change what the Church teaches and believes to be more in keeping with "modern times."

Jesus was frank and direct with people and at the same time he was loving, merciful, and compassionate; they are not mutually exclusive. The Church needs to follow the example of her Divine Founder.

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