A war on modernity for eternity?

Opinion: Columns

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Steven Gevinson

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The many recent columns and letters about Catholics and their rules reminded me of the time in about 1971 that I hitched a ride on the Massachusetts turnpike with a Catholic priest. I was shaggy, Jewish, footloose, curious, full of wild oats, and on my way to visit my free-thinking Catholic girlfriend at her college.

He was friendly, collared, and indulgent of my questions, which included, "Why in the world does the Church have a celibacy rule for priests?" To me it was the craziest rule that any human institution had ever invented, especially given the "be fruitful and multiply" idea I had learned as a boy, and especially since I thought we were living in enlightened times. I also knew that other Christian denominations did not subject their clergy to such self-denial, albeit restricting the act to wedlock.

His explanation probably went in one ear and out the other, as I'm still puzzled by the celibacy rule, but I do remember his confirmation that indeed there is nothing in the bible that requires it. I asked him why, then, in the 1970s, so many centuries after the Dark Ages, the Church didn't change it. He explained that American Catholics probably would not have a problem with that modification, but that Catholics in other, less modern places, such as Latin America, would not tolerate the change and would lose faith in the Church. If they lost faith in the Church, they might lose faith in God.

Although political, patronizing, dubious, and something of a dodge, the reasoning did not deter my celibate companion from accepting it, living with it, and striving to do good in the world. For me at about 20, the candid word of the priest was an eye-opener, a revelation: So that's how it works.

Now about 40 years later, in the midst of the most retrograde national political conversation I can remember in my country, I have another question: Will the Catholic Church, which has certainly contributed significantly to the backward thinking that animates much of today's political fervor, ever become a modern institution, or will it continue to wage war on modernity for eternity?

Steven Gevinson is a non-Catholic resident of Oak Park and a citizen of the United States.

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Reader Comments

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MyChildrenDad  

Posted: March 28th, 2012 4:59 PM

Sounds like I am being told: Love It or Leave It, which is exactly what I have done. I love God, but hate religion, and blind devotion. I dont need to be told what my rights are. And as for political statements, what is the Church doing in announcing which politicians it would refuse communion to? I think Jesus would weep over the Pope's Prada loafers, custom fragrance, and coverup of child rapists. Do you? Or do you think he'd be OK with that behavior?

Defender of the Faith from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2012 4:25 PM

@Joseph: Well said! @MyChildrenDad: As OPRFDad noted, you ARE welcome to do that....as was done before you in the Protestant Reformation. The risk of course is that so many "new churches" are based on that same human arrogance (see Crystal Cathedral and the Schulers, PTL and Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker, Joel Osteen, etc.) All human institutions are just that...human. But if you prefer a modernist flavor, more power to you, brother! Just don't think that human failings will somehow disappear

Joseph A. Wemhoff  

Posted: March 28th, 2012 4:11 PM

Perhaps G.K. Chesterson said it best: in his book Orthodoxy: "I would rather be a servant of Tradition than a slave of slave of fashion.". Modernism is not a new idea, but an old , bad idea recycled.

OPRFDad  

Posted: March 28th, 2012 2:35 PM

You are welcome to do that. This is a free country. In fact, consdier something like Episcopalianism - they might better satisfy your need to make a political statement with your faith.

MyChildrenDad  

Posted: March 28th, 2012 2:33 PM

The animosity towards the Church is deserved. I believe arrogance, rather than humbleness is what pervades the hierarchy of the Church. Don't blame the people who point out the 'human-ness' of the Church. The humans' actions were so vile and despicable that they overshadow the message. Maybe this is why we need to 'kill the messenger' and start a new Church based on the teachings of humbleness, personal responsibility, and I don't know, maybe equality among genders?

Defender of the Faith from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2012 12:52 PM

What is "modernity"? It's an abstract, ever-changing idea. It's a trend or a fad. Frankly, in today's ever-changing world or situational ethics and morals, I like the fact that there's a true compass like the Catholic Church that provides guidance. I may not always follow it, I may not always WANT to follow it, but it is specific, consistent, and time-tested. It doesn't change just because it's convenient or popular. It's a foundation that is still badly needed in the world today.

OPRFDad  

Posted: March 28th, 2012 12:12 PM

Human organizations make mistakes, and the Catholic Church is no exception. You may not agree with the Church, but the teachings very much stand for personal responsibility. There is a lot of animosity toward the Church, and religion in general. However, in the zest to reject the church as human organization, people also reject the message - which is unfortunate, and ultimately corrosive to society.

MyChildrenDad  

Posted: March 28th, 2012 11:29 AM

Humbleness? Then why did the Pope commission his own cologne? OPRFDad, if what people say is true, you must be smoking the OPRFWeed!

MyChildrenDad  

Posted: March 28th, 2012 11:27 AM

The Catholic Church stands for personal responsibility? I guess Bernard Law, et.al. aren't members of the Catholic Church.

OPRFDad  

Posted: March 28th, 2012 10:04 AM

Let's see who's standing in 200 years, the U.S. or the Catholic church. The church has lasted far longer than many governments and social trends and fads. The truth is, the things the church represents - personal responsibility, family, humbleness - stand the test of time and they are the bedrock of vibrant and growing societies. Our society, with its me first abandonment of personal responsibility, is in decay. 30 years from now, Americans will rediscover the church, if America still exists.

Constitutionalist  

Posted: March 28th, 2012 9:44 AM

Doesn't the Constitution protect one's freedom of religion. Is it "backwards thinking" to want to preserve that right from the government's increasing encroachment upon it? The Government is not supposed to adopt a religion, but it is also not supposed to prevent Americans from freely practicing their own religion in the private OR public sphere. What is truly backwards is how excited Americans seem to be about relinquishing their Constitutional rights.

Common Sense  

Posted: March 28th, 2012 9:40 AM

The Church teaches that sex is reserved for marriage. So, if a priest cannot marry, it follows that he cannot have sex. Not that difficult to understand. Why the limitation on marriage? Think along the lines of "a man cannot serve two masters." A priest serves people. If he is truly dedicated to that, how could he be equally dedicated to serving his wife/children? He is, human, after all, and there are only so many hours in a day. If marriage was easy, 50% wouldn't end in divorce.

Fact Check from OP  

Posted: March 28th, 2012 9:36 AM

The Catholic church has married priests, although they seem to be limited to the Byzantine rite.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 27th, 2012 11:46 PM

Will it continue to wage war on modernity for eternity? Sadly, and as a Catholic, I can only answer YES. I am now old enough to know that I will never know why.

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