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Mr. Dilettante’s Neighborhood: Homilies and the Real World

It’s been an interesting week for the Catholic Church in re politics in the United States, so I was wondering if our priest would touch on the political developments in his homily today.

It’s been an interesting week for the Catholic Church in re politics in the United States, so I was wondering if our priest would touch on the political developments in his homily today.

Today was designated at World Marriage Day in the church. Writing for the local archdiocesan publication The Catholic Spirit, Archbishop Nienstedt laid out his agenda:

It would be my hope that all priests and deacons will use the Sunday liturgies of World Marriage Day to speak to their congregation about the natural and supernatural realities of marriage and encourage couples of all ages to remain open to the graces of this sacrament.

At the same time, I encourage clergy and laity alike to review the church’s teaching on marriage, which is set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, part two, article 7, paragraphs 1601 to 1666.

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The pastor at my parish was equal to the task, and then some. He spent a significant amount of time in his homily talking about Church teachings on the matter. We then prayed the prayer for marriage, and following Communion, a married couple who will be leading my parish’s efforts to pass the Marriage Amendment in Minnesota gave a short presentation on their plans.

What was interesting was to watch the reaction of at least one parishioner I know, who was seated in a pew not far from me. He is a prominent figure in our parish, a fellow who has given much of his time to the parish as a catechism teacher, an usher and as a communion minister. He is also one of the most hard-core Democratic Party supporters in the north metro and has shared a great deal of his time, talent and treasure to elect politicians who actively oppose Church teachings.

In the last cycle, this parishioner was a key supporter of Barb Goodwin, who is now our state senator and who has an interesting view concerning the value of life. I transcribed Goodwin’s appearance on a local show with the Atheists for Human Rights, in which Goodwin sneered at Catholic hospitals with the host of the show, Marie Castle:

Castle: We could go in for, uh Catholic hospitals too, where they deny uh, certain services to people because it has to conform to uh, Catholic doctrine, and that includes the end of life care, and uh, there’s a lot of that where they just think uh, they have this theological position where they just think that suffering is good for your soul. Well, if you don’t believe you’ve got a soul, or if you don’t believe it’s supposed to suffer, why should you suffer because of somebody else’s religious beliefs?

But they have this thing about, uh the meritorious nature of suffering, and that only God can decide when you’re going to die. And uh, well, then, medical care just keeps you alive – you shouldn’t have medical care? So uh, there’s all that and uh, it really conflicts with reality, that the reality is that people suffer and we have to stop people from suffering and that we have to relieve it and we don’t make it worse.

Goodwin: Right, exactly —

Castle: And they’re making it worse.

Goodwin: They’re making it worse.

I’ve made this point before, but it’s worth repeating. The thing that non-Catholics often don’t understand about the Church, and Catholicism generally, is that while there is a hierarchical structure, there’s a lot of autonomy at the local level. John Nienstedt, as the archbishop of this diocese, can call on the priests to speak about the intersection between faith and politics, but he really can’t compel it. As it happens, the pastor at our parish chose today to speak on the issue of marriage. I don’t know if they delivered the same message at St. Joan of Arc, but I rather doubt it.

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At the same time, the pastor well knows that this parishioner supports politicians like Barb Goodwin, who sneer at Catholic values. As a pastor, he cannot compel the parishioner to comport his behavior to Church teachings. And as a pastor who must rely on parishioners who are willing to help the parish, he needs the help of the parishioner. This is the dance that Catholics often undertake, at both the clerical and lay level.

Every time I see this parishioner campaigning for someone like Barb Goodwin, I cringe, because he has to know there’s a disconnect between what his faith teaches and what he supports. But I do not know the condition of the parishioner’s soul, nor do I know what sorts of discussions he has had with our pastor about his political activities, either in the rectory or in the confessional booth. Presumably his conscience is his guide.