One of the difficulties I have most often with the Catholic Church and with the people in it is not a lack of intellect, but a focus so intense on the intellect that one would think that people are mere disembodied intellects wandering about without either sense or emotions. This comes up most often in the question of response to certain church teachings. I was reading a really fascinating book by John Allen, and he happened to mention Sister Joan Chittister--a person for whom I cannot summon up a lot of sympathy or empathy in many ways. However, the attitude I hear most Catholics take with regard to her central issue is not one of compassion for the hurt and sense of disenfranchisement it entails, but rather a "It's the law, get over it."
I'll be first in the line to enthusiastically trumpet that I believe it to be an infallible teaching of the Church that women cannot be ordained. I'll also be among the first to admit that I'm not certain I follow the reasoning entirely. My reasoning is drawn from Camille Paglia, of all places. Her observation that the female "cultus" is nearly always "transgressive" is argument enough for me. In facing the eternal, I don't particularly need transgression. However, that said, what does one do about Sr. Joan and thousands or hundred of thousands of women who feel this sense of disenfranchisement and a sense of being second class citizens?
"Get over it" is insufficient. Put the shoe on the other foot and walk in it for a while. How do we feel as Catholics when a group of nine men and women over whose election and office we have had no real say determines that key elements of the moral system we uphold and declare to the world have no validity? What recourse have we? What rights have we? Why are our voices not heard? This is only vaguely analogical, but if you think about how you feel when yet another ruling from the council of Death is passed down, you'll get a sense of how some women might feel at the fact that a council of people over whom they have no control and through whom they no sexual representation determine that the door is closed to them. Kind of like when some of us were kids and we had a clubhouse door with "No Girls Allowed" emblazoned on it. (As an aside, how refreshing it would be to see more of that among the young persons of our present age, rather than the present plague.)
"Get over it, your feelings don't matter only what is right matters," may be true, but it is not inclined to helping the human and humane person get over it. It is this fundamental insensitivity to a major part of human life that I find problematic. "Tenderness leads to the gas chamber" (a misquotation, by the way) is the mantra of the intellectual set. So, by all means, let us avoid tenderness or pastoral concern or care for those who have been wounded and hurt by Church teachings or Church practice. Actually, I know of no one anywhere in the Church who would support the statement made in the previous sentence. So obviously, tenderness and concern are important to us, why then is the thrust of many Catholics so violently apologetical as to dismiss this aspect of our lives?
Well, for one thing, we aren't all psychologists and analysts with days to sit around and listen to our brothers and sisters explain their difficulties with the faith. And of course there's the pastor and various church committees to listen to the problems of others.
These are mere excuses. We don't listen because we are in the "triumphant" class and more often than not the reality is we don't care how other people feel about it. The truth is, after all, the truth.
Time and time again I have been wounded and I have seen others wounded by the cavalier imposition of one person's "truth" in a way that neglects the emotional needs of another. "You're childless, oh well, too bad, that's just the way it is. Learn to deal with it because the Church (quite rightly) prohibits doing much of anything about it." "Come to our 'family day,' but if you don't have children you'll be made to feel like some sort of freakish outcast as we arrange all of our activities around those who do have them and there will be nothing for those not blessed with children--because, after all, God has singled you out anyway." "Oh, you have same sex attraction, well that's gravely disordered and you'll just have to put a lid on it anyway 'cause the church teaches that that is evil." And so forth. Not everyone is nearly so callous, but there is enough of it that if I were asked the great fault of the Catholic Church I would respond not that it has no head, but that it has no heart. Obviously, that is a vast overstatement, because it does. It has in fact many hearts, starting with the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus and extending to every Catholic who reaches out to feed the poor and comfort the afflicted. No, the real injury comes from the sheer thoughtlessness of the everyday and the devaluation of the life of emotion that is implicit in most apologetics, if not in the teaching itself.
The emotional life of the person must be addressed even as the truth is taught. It is insufficient to say, "You can't practice birth control and if the next baby means you will die, oh well, then you'll just have to live sexless lives from now on. The great saints did it." (Something actually said to a twenty-two year old married friend of mine.)
I'm tired of hearing that if you feel it, it must perforce be wrong. I'm tired of seeing people cast to the side in the name of truth. I'm tired of the dichotomy that says that reason is always to be trusted and emotions are to be repressed, suppressed and otherwise disfigured in its service. I'm also tired of hearing of the exaltation of reason. Right reason is a gift from God, but it is fabulously rare in the normal conduct of life. For some reason we're able to think quite clearly in the abstract, but I rarely see those who think these great thoughts put them into practice.
In short, I guess what I'd like to see from the Church is something akin to compassion. The Catholic Church in Florida is losing members right and left to various evangelical Churches. There are a great many reasons for this, but one of the primary reasons I hear is the friendliness and the welcome and the warmth of the Evangelical Churches. It's really funny seeing some of my evangelical Hispanic friends telling me about the wonders of the evangelical church right before they kiss their rosaries and join in the prayer circle.
If the Catholic Church continues to be the Church of cold reason it will continue to lose its members to Churches with doctrine less accurate, but with the ability to integrate the emotional life of the person into the fabric of faith. For the most part the Catholic Church fails spectacularly at this, noting mostly that to be a faithful Catholic you must suppress whatever you may feel. Right doctrine does not necessitate incapacitating the individual, and unless and until Catholics come to terms with that, the Church will continue to lose members throughout the world as Catholicism becomes a joyless but eminently reasonable way to believe. You may mock the megachurches, perhaps even rightfully so, but we could learn from their sense of hospitality, warmth, and true interpersonal consideration.
I guess my final statement here is to remember that the Church is the mystical body of Christ made up of the people in it with Christ as the head. When we're waging our war of reason against error, it is wise to consider the source of the error and address not only the facts of the matter, but the person with whom we are engaging in discussion. Compassion for the plexus of emotions that underlies much incorrect thought will not only help eradicate the error, but it will also help support the person in a way that will allow continuity in faith without bitterness. There will not be the sense of "this is a pill I must swallow," but "this is a liberating truth I can embrace." Above all else, take it upon yourself to be the smile and the handshake or hug of Jesus Himself. Have the heart of Jesus for all--and that means when the young man discovers he cannot sell all and follow Jesus, you don't follow him around with a harangue about how it is the just, right, and reasonable thing to do. Humans will not do the just, right, and reasonable thing in an unsupportive emotional vacuum.