Sometimes I have a really good conversation and it sets my brain on fire. As I’ve gotten a bit older, I’ve drifted apart, moved away, and found myself drawn to a level of authenticity that isn’t readily encountered. The conversations are not as frequent, but I had one the other day. Over the course of discussion, I stuck my head out of the ecclesiological ideology closet and let my colors fly.
“I’m kind of progressive… like way more progressive than you,” I said.
I was conversing with one who self-identified as conservative. The friendly conservative continued to explain that being conservative was actually about being faithful. The friendly conservative was right. An American who espouses authentic politically conservative beliefs is a person who believes that our government should remain faithful to the freedom outlined by the United States Constitution. The Constitution does not declare that healthcare is a right, hence, an American conservative would not be in favor of the exchanges. This does not, however preclude a political conservative from being ideologically progressive.
Allow me to preface my remarks with my grandmother’s judgement that it is impolite to talk about religion and politics. Considering that my blog is mostly about Catholic spirituality, I’ve already placed one elbow on the metaphorical dinner table. Why not plant my ecclesial politics elbow firmly on the place mat as well?
As far as Catholic teaching goes, I’m conservative too. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, there is always a way to say “yes.” It might require extra effort, but the documents which govern church processes allow for an exception to almost every rule. The last Canon states “the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes.” I’d prefer to be a bit more flexible with minutiae if a more rigid interpretation of a particular reg might otherwise repel a parishioner who was seeking sacraments or other pastoral care.
My fidelity to the highest law – the salvation of souls- makes it possible for me to look at the church, look at possibilities and say “why not?” I am committed to remain faithful to what is effective now, but curious about the possibilities. Fidelity is safe. There is no risk of excommunication involved. My fidelity does not preclude me from observing the issues which limit our ability to evangelize, nor does my fidelity preclude me from thinking about ways the Church could grow.
One of my new favorite intellectuals, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (15 February 1927 – 31 August 2012) says this:
The word of God is simple, and it seeks a heart that listens. Neither the clergy nor church law can replace man’s internal judgment (l’interiorita` dell’ uomo). All the external rules, laws and dogmas are given to us to clarify our internal voice and our discernment of the spirit.”
Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with rules which are imposed for a clear and just purpose. I have no problem when, after discussion and discernment, rules dispensed. Balanced adherence promotes a wonderful sense of order and freedom. But what happens when the balance is disrupted? What happens when the rules are put at a higher priority than the relationship of humanity with God? What happens when we have more devotion to the rules than to the One the rules help us to serve?
As I have mentioned in a previous post, I have some opinions about the canons which govern ordination. We’ve placed more value in these proscriptions than the health of the church. In some cases, we’ve made pariahs of people in the name of keeping safe the “rules.” We’ve put our pride before our love of God. We’ve lost our fidelity to the last canon.
As a conservative, I can see the benefits of imposed celibacy. I can see how active ministry might be particularly difficult for a woman who was also trying to raise a family. (I joke that if I were married and I tried to continue at my job, you’d see my husband in a campaign for Operation RiceBowl. I couldn’t manage in my ancillary role with the distraction of another dependent, much less children.) I can understand why canonical proscriptions are slow to change. For centuries, they’ve made sense, but as humanity evolves, our social constructs might be too narrow for the broadening of our consciousness. Yet I stay faithful. There have been times when I’ve thought about leaving the Church and going to a tradition where I could be ordained, but it wouldn’t be the same. After all, I too am a conservative. I trust the wisdom of the now.
I also pray. I pray that one day the church will consider the ordination of women. I pray that the priests I know who have left active ministry to marry might be welcomed to return to ministry one day. I pray that bouts of loneliness and spiritual tension which tear at the core of some may no longer forecast a heart-wrenching choice between the joy of ministry and the joy of companionship. I pray that church leaders might be open to reform, to change to progress. For this is the true meaning of a progressive conservative: one who faithfully trusts in the God who answers all our needs.