Confronting Scandal from the Pulpit
This past weekend Brian and I taught the second class in our NFP course. Since the class is held on Sunday afternoon we had to go to an earlier Mass than our usual 10:30 time at our parish. Originally we had been planning on attending the 8:30 at our parish, but the two little guys soon made it clear that there was no way that was going to happen. So we found a 9:30 at a nearby parish where we are friends with the pastor.
Now this is your stereotypical suburbanite parish- from the 70s architecture to the unspoken dress code of North Face fleeces and jeans. Like I said, however we know the pastor and he is completely orthodox and we knew we would at least have a reverent Mass and homily that would be spiritually uplifting.
After the deacon finished proclaiming the Gospel, he did not sit down, instead he began to preach. This was unexpected, as we had never seen a deacon deliver the sermon before (which we later learned only happens about once a month).
At first, we thought the Deacon was giving a good homily in regards to the constancy of truth and absoluteness of God’s teaching and its root in love for us. His discussion of “the grey” and how it resides in us and not in God was good, however, then he began to discuss contraception and moral teachings of the Church, and what he said was wrong. Dead wrong.
What he said next basically was that it is fine for Catholics to use contraception as long as they have “struggled with the Church’s teaching and attempted to form their conscience, but still conscientiously object” and will “be silent about it”. Here he mentioned the recent polls of Catholics that have been reported so much lately and the only issue he had with the numbers was that those who were using contraception were only wrong in making that information public.
The irony of hearing this lies in the fact that we were coming to mass to prepare our hearts and our minds to go and teach the Church’s Truth about contraception, family planning, and the generosity of the Lord. It was heartbreaking to basically hear from the pulpit permission for couples to continue to use contraception. It is this type of message and preaching that continues to undermine our ability to reach couples and inform their consciences. And to compound matters, the Deacon did not attempt at all to clarify why the Church teaches against contraception, for in doing so, he may have been able to help form and guide those who were struggling in the pew. Rather, by leaving this out, he basically gave everyone the ability to continue to use contraception and disagree with the Church on other teachings with a clear conscience as long as they kept quiet about it.
I have never walked out of Mass before, but I was horrified and mad. The only thing that kept me in my seat was the fact that we had to go to this Mass in order to make it in time to set up for our class. It is because of incidents like these, that we find ourselves in the pickle that we do regarding the HHS mandate. Maybe it would be a little easier to make headway with those who don’t understand our objections if there wasn’t so much dissension being justified from the pulpits.
Although we were certain Fr. was just as shocked as we were by what was said, we knew we had to do something and felt that maybe God had led us to Mass there for a reason that morning. As soon as we arrived home, we composed an email to the pastor, explaining the reason we came to his parish that day and expressed our tremendous concern for his flock which had all been given a false teaching on contraception and conscience formation. We also implored him to remedy the scandal that had just occurred by clarifying to this deacon and the whole congregation the actual church teachings on these subjects.
I am happy to say that we received this response that evening:
“You are right in that I too was surprised at the sermon. I think the deacon must have been going on an erroneous notion of “dissent” that was popularized years ago. I will be clarifying things with him and with the parish. I also agree with you that now is not the time to be making things more grey, which is what the homily did. Thank you very much for the email, as it helps me to address the issue more forcefully.”
Knowing this holy priest, we have every confidence that he will indeed follow through with these intentions. Please pray for him as he faces this challenge as it is likely to cause quite a stir.
So as we begin Lent, we challenge all of you to find a way in your own parish or community to do your part to see that the Church’s teachings are being relayed faithfully and adequately. You never know the difference you could make.