Yesterday our Parish Priest did something in the homily with which I strongly took exception. And the oddest thing was that I, in large part, agree with his point.
In the course of a homily that stretched wide and far our priest brought up two points that he thougth related. The first of these was clearly church doctrine. He said something to the effect that society takes an out-and-out sin, such as abortion and turns it into a right. Clearly he was articulating a truth of the faith.
But then he said something that, while not destroying the first statement, certainly cast some doubt upon it. He said, the Iraqi war was evil, unjust, and should be brought to an end.
Now, I have no problem with any priest expressing this opinion clearly as his opinion. Every person has a right to look upon these circumstances and decide for him- or her- self what a just war looks like. This priest decided that it did not look like Iraq.
Since I largely agree, you may find my demurral somewhat odd. But it has two prongs. The first of these is that while every individual is entitled to his or her private opinion, a priest, serving in the role of priest, breaking open the scripture and sharing with the congregation is required to make clear if he speaks his own opinion or church teaching. For the most part, the fewer opinions that issue from the pulpit, the better. And I say that not to try to clamp a gag on the clergy, but because their role is so sensitive, delicate, and crucial to the congregation, particular as they enact the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Word and Eucharist. They are the trustees of the bounty of Church teaching. Our Priests feed us. And if what they feed us is a plethora of opinions we will starve to death. No matter how much I might agree with any given stand, it should not be presented in the same breath as something that is unarguably church teaching (the evil of abortion). This is the first half of my objection.
The second half consisted of this--how would I feel sitting in that congregation if my son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, father, any member of my family were serving in Iraq? How would I like to be the mother who is trying to explain to her child how she must support her father overseas even though what he is doing is evil? I know the good priest did not intend these ramifications--but while it is right and proper to convict someone of guilt in a case when we are clearly talking Church teaching, it is wrong a terrible to wave that brand when the question is debatable. As a Pastor it is the Priests terrible and glorious responsibility to uphold Church teaching in its entirety and purity, and to support the members of the congregation in following that truth. What is left to prudential judgment should not become the black mark of sin because of the preaching of Father. It should not create the internal struggle and the terrible weight it will for all of those families already burdened by the absence of their loved ones.
I didn't speak to our priest afterwards, because his point was short, and I hope because of his long tenure at this church the congregation understood clearly what he did and did not mean to say. Nevertheless, I say it here because it confounded me yesterday and I have been brooding on it for a while, trying to figure out why, when I so clearly agreed with the sentiment, I found its utterance so thoroughly out of place.
I'm not trying to lecture, merely to offer a perspective from the pews. Something I'm sure too many priests hear way too much of. But I truly think it's very important to clearly distinguish fact from opinion in so controversial and debatable a matter--both to defend Church doctrne and to support those who are so valiantly giving their lives in service to their country. They were not asked what they thought of this conflict--they stand and serve. For this they deserve our respect, our gratitude, our loyalty, our prayers, and our help. As they stand and serve, we need not to sling barbs and arrows, but to help in substantive ways the families they have left behind.
I may not agree with the war, but I have no disagree with those who chose service to their country as their life's ambition, and who now do so at the behest of our government. So long as they conduct themselves according to the laws governing such conflict situations and the laws of God, they deserve everything we can offer them, because they are offering us everything. Everything. In their service, they serve each of us with all that they have and all that they are.