Feelings and Pastoral Ministry

R. Reno has some very helpful reflections over at First Things blog about the recent "relatio" from the Vatican about the church's pastoral responsibilities to individuals wrestling with sexual sin and its results.

The media is going crazy about it. Reno doesn't believe it's nearly as big a deal as CNN would tell you, but he is concerned for the Catholic Church.

An excerpt:

The second thing to say is that the discussion seems to want something impossible: ideals without judgments, goals without rules, principles without “discrimination.” This reflects the incoherence of modern liberal culture, which is also finding its way into the Synod. 

Paragraph 46 exemplifies. The topic is the one that generated the most controversy before the Synod: the status of divorced and remarried Catholics. We read that their situation requires “careful discernment”—certainly true. But the document continues by insisting that pastoral respect for them as children of God (my language) should “avoid any language or behavior that might make them feel discriminated against.” 

How is this possible? Wouldn’t the mere recitation of Mark 10:11 make a divorced and remarried person feel discriminated against? (That verse quotes Jesus: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”) 

The misstep here is very, very significant. Paragraph 46 makes ourfeelings the criterion of the Church’s pastoral ministry. This is the express route to the dictatorship of relativism. Feelings are feelings, and nobody can question, refute, or debate them. If we make feelings the criterion, then the truth about discrimination (and much more) is subjective.

This is very important for Christians in the West to understand and articulate. Modern liberal culture, in wanting to impose change on the church, often does so through a moral judo, using Christian virtues of grace, patience, humility and hope against her. "Aren't Christians supposed to be kind and forgiving?"

Certainly, pastoral care requires each of these virtues and more. But love teaches us that, apart from truth and holiness, these virtues wither and die. Jesus came with both grace and truth. 

Read the rest here.