Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Hard Thing about Thinking

Some points that came up in a recent correspondence (I am the writer):

  • You want some straight answers and unambiguous teaching from the bishops, you say. I want the same thing. Straight and unambiguous, however, does not necessarily mean simple and penetrable to the uninstructed. Most of the practical aspects, and a good deal (the best part) of the theoretical/speculative aspects of the sacred sciences grew out of the act and process of thinking about real-life controversies. In this day and age, awareness of the practical usefulness of the sacred sciences is virtually non-existent among the laity; among the bishops, even among those who are aware of the practical usefulness of the sacred sciences, there is little knowledge of how to use the principles of moral inquiry informed by faith to gain an understanding of a given situation that would allow the bishop to make a straight, unambiguous statement regarding it.

  • Per (1), bishops have to be careful they do not get it wrong, because this is worse than not saying anything at all - it erodes their credibility in general and makes them look foolish in the eyes of the faithful. Suppose Bp. ______ in the present case decides to excommunicate Sen. ______, and suppose Sen. ______ does not deserve excommunication - maybe he hasn't even done anything wrong. In that case, you will agree that justice were not served (unless you are also going to say that meting out undeserved punishments is something a bishop ought to do).

  • Legislators (and public persons generally) have an extremely complex job to do, and very often, they are faced with impossible situations. I think of St. Thomas More, who, when confronted with his son-in-law's judgment, "It [the letter to Rome asking for a decree of nullity] has been done badly," responded, "Have you not considered that what has been done badly might have been done worse if it had been done by others?" Lawmakers, especially, have to walk a thin and often barely visible line between preserving their effectiveness - basically their ability to work with other lawmakers, their duties to their constituents, and the dictates of their conscience. It is a terribly risky business to go judging a lawmaker's progress along that line without being able to see the line - and you can only see the line from up close. From afar, what looks like a flailing misstep might have been the only move that would keep the jumper on the line.

Now, reader, please pause a moment and pray for your bishop and your elected representatives.

A Sunday filled with blessings for all.

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