From this morning’s first reading:
“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.”
Today begins the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, the official beginning of what promises to be a two year campaign to destroy what little of the Catholic Church has managed to survive thus far the dark and terrible springtime of Vatican II. Nothing that lay Catholics can do will influence the outcome of this process, even if that outcome hasn’t been rigged from the beginning (and the quite striking omissions in Instrumentum Laboris do nothing to allay my worries on this). Nevertheless, I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling a strange urgency to say something. I keep thinking that years from now I’m going to look back on this time, and that it will be some comfort to know that when the Gospel was under assault from the hierarchy itself, I didn’t fail to…I’m not sure what exactly. So I’ll do what I always do: remind people of the stakes.
The Kasperites themselves will tell you that they only want to change pastoral practice, not doctrine, but Kasper himself can’t maintain this facade for the length of a single interview. In the same interviews where he disavows any intention of changing doctrine, he calls it “offensive” to equate remarriage with adultery (i.e. he rebukes Jesus Christ Himself), denies that all sexual acts in such adulterous relationships are sinful, and affirms that sodomitical unions have “their own value“. In other words, he’s playing the standard liberal game of coupling an attack on Christian morality with a protestation of neutrality (in Kasper’s case, a “pastoral” sphere living in complete separation from dogma) intended only to exempt oneself from a duty to prove one’s counter-morality.
Protestants might wonder if perhaps a loosening of Catholic doctrine on marriage would only bring the Church into line with their own position, which allows divorce and remarriage in certain circumstances. To imagine this would be a great mistake. The Protestant exceptions to marital indissolubility represent a good-faith interpretation of Scripture (although one that I reject). Kasperism negates the very idea of objective truth in religion. According to the Kasperites, the teachings of the Church–doctrine, natural law, sacred scripture–belong to an abstract realm of “ideas”, distinct from which is another independent realm of individual subjective experience, which Pope Francis bluntly calls “reality“. “Reality” has its own integrity which “ideas” must bend to accommodate. A person who has objectively promised before God lifelong fidelity to one person may, on the “phenomenological” level, feel that this marriage is “dead” and that a new liaison is more meaningful and not at all sinful. Now, most of us would say that such a person needs to confront these feelings with the reality of his or her vows, but the Kasperite heretics have redefined “reality” to refer to feelings. It is instead the objective moral law which they say must defer to reality. Kasperism is thus more akin to the modernist heresy than to Protestantism. The modernists reinterpreted statements about God to be statements about man’s religious experience, and the Kasperites take this immanentist turn to an even further and more degrading extreme, reducing religion to a system of wish fulfillment, of the expression and manipulation of feelings. It is the ultimate heresy.
Kasper says that this debate is on a level lower than doctrine, the level of pastoral policy. In fact, it is on a level higher than doctrine, the level of deciding what type of “language game” doctrine is presumed to be. To be blunt, is religion supposed to be serious? Do we really mean what we say in the creed or the sacraments? Or is it all just play-acting? The stakes here are very high, especially for the laity. Marriage is our sacrament, and the fact that we really have irrevocably committed ourselves in this sacrament–that we have done so in the face of the possibility of real sacrifices–gives no small part of the sense of meaning, of place and purpose, we have of our lives. We certainly should object to its vandalism by the hierarchy, even apart from their debasement of the even holier sacrament of the Eucharist. I find it offensive rather than encouraging that the Pope would put no better than even money on my children being legitimate.
Here, by the way, is a taste of reality as I see it, courtesy of Blaise Pascal:
Imagine a number of men in chains, all under sentence of death, some of whom are each day butchered in the sight of the others; those remaining see their own condition in that of their fellows, and looking at each other with grief and despair await their turn. This is an image of the human condition.
There’s the simplest proof that my phenomenal bubble is not “reality”–someday I will be a rotting corpse. And in this knowledge of my mortality is my liberation. If I had an eternity of earthly life, these calls to be “reasonable” and tailor my religion to avoid suffering and loneliness might be irresistible. But because I am a prisoner waiting to be butchered, they are exposed as foolishness. I am driven out of myself, to recognize in God and His Law the true and enduring reality. To a man under sentence of death, it matters more that one’s life mean something–that it have significance in the objective reality that outlives him, not just that it “feel meaningful”–than that the remaining time be maximally pleasant. It is eminently rational to stand on principles, to live one’s few days as a man rather than an animal locked in its own immanence. In the very fact of my life’s finitude is an opportunity, that of giving it a unitary meaning. And here God blesses us with His sacraments, lending us the power and authority of His own voice with which to declare and bind ourselves.
To the Kasperites, on the other hand (as I reconstruct their implicit teaching),
For better or for worse” means the possibility of having to accept great suffering and loneliness, the very things that vow was supposed to prevent. What shall we do? Is not the play-acting of children healthy, perhaps even necessary? And yet, when the rules of a game or a dare lead to actual danger, is that not the time to remember that the game is in fact a game, and that they would be better off playing a different one? Again, what shall we do? Shall we devise new marriage vows with explicit exception clauses, new rules that keep things from ever getting really out of hand? Heavens no! This would defeat the point of the game, which must be played as if it were serious to have its effect. The point of marriage is to feel that you are indissolubly bound to another person, that she/he is totally yours, and you are totally hers/his, even though it’s not true. People in love always promise “forever”; it would be as cruel to keep them from promising this as it would be to actually hold them to it.
No, the game must continue to be played, because outside of it is darkness and despair. We must play with fire. But it must be play. What is needed is a class of discreet and wise “grown-ups” to keep things from getting out of hand. The point of marriage is the comfort of personal companionship. The point of the Eucharist is the comfort of community affirmation. We must see to it that these sacraments are really offering these things to everyone. And yet, for them to work, they must maintain the illusion of transcendent purpose and absolute validity. We must affirm the rules, and we must break them.