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Raised-Catholics know what's what, what's not.

Baptism leaves an indelible ark on the soul, and being raised Catholic must leave an indelible mark on the brain.

We meet people who, in the course of conversation, tell us they are Catholic or - depressingly often, as Fr. Robert Drinan has also noticed - were "raised Catholic." The latter phrase usually signals at best a loose connection with the church as an institution. And we think, "Why am I not surprised?"

The tip-off is the assumption, usually unstated but obvious,that there is something more important than the vitally important things about which they have been talking. It's n assumption that there is a truth beyond law, science or poetry and that the absolute truth is that any of our human routes to truth only catches part of it.

There are people who believe that anything that's legal is ethical and anything that's ethical is, or ought to be, a law. Raised-Catholics know better. Their ethics requires of them things the law does not require and even things the law forbids. Their ethics are grounded in that feel for the absolute truth beyond law and ethics, even if they can't express it as a system and don't try to, even when their personal conclusions clash at points with what the church always taught them.

They can also hold two contradictory positions at once without getting hysterical about it. A banker, for example, holds that it is best to give to the needy without stinting. Obviously, he can't run a bank on that principle. He believes in sound banking. And in giving without stinting. He may think about reconciling the irreconcilable and rationalize a harmonization. But he knows he's rationalizing.

After all, the church begins by believing Lewis Carroll's six impossible things before breakfast, beginning with true God and true man. There is One who reconciles all contradictions and, as humans who can see only dimly, we discern only bits and pieces of what is reconciled in God.

We don't have to know, to be a Catholic, that opposites unite in the absolute, but we almost can't be raised Catholic without feeling it in our bones. Certainly we have, with Graham Greene, a sense of sin. Considering the human race, not having it would be senseless. But more distinctively Catholic, I think, is that constant sense - especially at our most engaged moments - that the angels are having a hearty laugh over our solemn floundering.

The stronger that sense is, the easier it is to avoid loosening the connection to the church.

We are taught, for example, that the faithful have a "right to receive in abundance from their sacred pastors the spiritual goods of the church, especially the assistance of the word of God and the sacraments" (Lumen Gentium, 36). The plain words suggest that if people can't get the sacraments, their rights are denied. From which it would logically follow that if the sacred pastors could get the Eucharist to the abandoned faithful by ordaining women, married men or rhesus monkeys and failed to do so, they would be false shepherds.

That is a very Anglo-Saxon view of words, of course. In the universal church, we know there is a more Latin view that statements of rights and duties refer more to ideals than to concrete results. There is, in practice, a hierarchy of rights. The right to the Eucharist does not exist on the same high plane as a cardinal's right to wear a red beanie.

You have to be raised Catholic to live comfortably with contradictions like that, but even many cradle Catholics don't live comfortably with them. Those who have loosened their ties confess to being embarrassed by such contradictions or simply not wanting to have to deal with them. They are trying to live as morally as they can in an immoral word, to take the world's immoralities seriously and try to change them and seriously reflect on their ethical role.

I wonder if it isn't an error to ask them to deal with the overriding importance of Jesus' selection of men to be his apostles without explaining why the Jewishness of the apostles s not equally serious. In this century's central immorality, Jewishness, not sex, was the crucial determinant of who went to the ovens.

That's not just a debating point raised by enemies of the pope. It's a snare to any of the faithful trying to live out their role in the world in loyalty to the church, their mother, but frankly too busy to do the Vatican's thinking for it.

During the pontificate of Paul VI, a Catholic friend said, "I don't understand the pope at all. But then, he's old enough to be my father, and I don't understand my father, either."

The pope is my age now. If he doesn't want to ordain women, fine. If he wants me to buy his reasons, his explanation has to meet the most obvious questions, like gender vs. ethnicity. In civil society, we don't send out salesmen with no product to sell. I don't know, maybe it works differently in ecclesial society.

I have enough problems with Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, the Florida Legislature and a national ideology of consumerism. The pope is supposed to help us deal with our problems in a Christian fashion, not give us new ones we can't do anything about anyway.

Those raised-Catholics whose Catholicsm comes out in their conversation and not in their appearance at church have opted out of dealing with ecclesial logic. For them it is only a source of passing amusement if the Vatican finds the symbolism of witness in the genital area and writes the feminine gender out of the economy of salvation.

But they are Catholic in soul and brain. They will remain Catholic, within or without the church. The squandering of their talents should be on somebody's conscience.
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Title Annotation:papal authority
Author:Blackburn, Thomas E.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Aug 26, 1994
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