I am a Catholic

I am a Catholic.

As a Catholic in the 21st cen­tu­ry I feel an extra­or­di­nary pres­sure to have a well-defined iden­ti­ty, an iden­ti­ty that is easy to label so I can tell my fel­low Catholics exact­ly what sort of Catholic I am. I feel the bur­den of need­ing to know exact­ly where I stand on absolute­ly every issue before I go any­where near a debate.

I also feel the need to explain who I am, to chart my jour­ney to where I am today, and try to piece togeth­er why I am how I am. I feel the need to uncov­er my Catholic iden­ti­ty, to claim it as my unique per­son­al expe­ri­ence of Catholi­cism, to own it. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, this is the pur­pose of almost all the writ­ing I have done over the past decade.

On a bleak, blus­tery day in mid-Novem­ber, 1999, I sat in the rector’s office at Saint John Vian­ney Sem­i­nary and told him that I would not be return­ing for the final semes­ter of my senior year. It was a momen­tous deci­sion for me, and it end­ed one phase of my young life and sent me tum­bling into years of self-doubt and uncer­tain­ty; uncer­tain­ty not just about my voca­tion, but about every­thing I had thought was cer­tain in my life, from my rela­tion­ship with my fam­i­ly to my rela­tion­ship with God and the Church.

Three years lat­er, in the ear­ly months of our rela­tion­ship, my wife was fre­quent­ly frus­trat­ed by my unwill­ing­ness to talk about my sem­i­nary expe­ri­ence with peo­ple we would meet social­ly. She thought it was one of the most inter­est­ing things about me, and she want­ed every­one to see how inter­est­ing I was. I, how­ev­er, felt it like a painful wound that was not to be brought up in polite com­pa­ny. It was very dif­fi­cult for me to explain this to her, how­ev­er. How can I be simul­ta­ne­ous­ly ashamed, proud, wound­ed, and edi­fied by the same expe­ri­ence? This tan­gled con­tra­dic­tion was what I ran up against every time she tried to delve into it with me, how­ev­er, and I did not know how to explain it to her, since I was not yet sure how to explain it even to myself. On the out­side I was an enter­tain­ing and excit­ing indi­vid­ual full of amus­ing sto­ries, while inside I was secret­ly bro­ken — con­fused and shat­tered by the tem­pest of the past few years.

The jour­ney for­ward from that has been a long, yet I have not — could not — have walked it alone. I was remind­ed of this yet again yes­ter­day speak­ing with young man who is almost exact­ly the same place I was more than a decade ago: fresh “dis­cerned out” of sem­i­nary, unsure where in the world his God will lead him next. It was good for me to be able to assure him that yes, I felt lost and con­fused as well at that stage. I could tell him it had been a long process, was still a long process for me, but it was not with­out hope. I pray that he, and I, and the many “sem­i­nary refugees” all around us, will all find our way to hap­py, healthy ful­fill­ment in the Church we both love.

The God That Failed

Our God lies in the tomb this day. He has been cru­el­ly tor­tured and mur­dered. His fol­low­ers, those to whom he had revealed his glo­ry and pow­er through­out three long years full of won­ders and truth, have scat­tered and fled, hud­dled togeth­er in fear, all hope drained from them.

Yet as Chris­tians we believe, not that Christ’s defeat was short-lived, but that he was nev­er defeat­ed at all. The unspeak­able suf­fer­ings of the cru­ci­fix­ion were under­tak­en by Jesus, not inflict­ed upon him. He did not endure his tor­tures; he embraced them. His suf­fer­ing was excru­ci­at­ing, but it was suf­fered with unfath­omable love, the love he held — and holds — for each one of us. The cross was the vic­to­ry of Christ, not his defeat, his unan­swer­able rebuke of hatred and sin and death. “Nails were nev­er enough to hold the God-Man fas­tened to the Cross had love not held Him cap­tive first,” writes the late John Car­di­nal Wright in his mag­nif­i­cent lit­tle vol­ume of reflec­tions on the Sev­en Last Words (Words in Pain, p. 44).

Today, the cross is indeed still “a stum­bling block” and “fool­ish­ness” to the world. Even many Chris­tians find the image trou­bling, won­der­ing what sort of God could will such a thing to occur, how this hor­ri­ble death could have any place in our redemp­tion. I am no the­olo­gian, only a trou­bled believ­er on my jour­ney, but I hold fast to the hope that the Cru­ci­fied offers me. For me this is not some sote­ri­o­log­i­cal account­ing, a cos­mic tit for tat to off­set the offense of our myth­i­cal first par­ents. The Cross is God’s ulti­mate demon­stra­tion of how much love will do, even when giv­en no rea­son to do so.

God is love. The ques­tion that asser­tion rais­es in the con­text of the Cru­ci­fix­ion is not, I believe, “How could a lov­ing God wish such a death upon His Son?” but rather “How can we fail to respond to a love that would give so much?” The chal­lenge is not to the nature of God but to us: what are we going to make of our lives and our world to attempt to jus­ti­fy such an extrav­a­gant ges­ture on the part of the Son of God?

Who do the Irish think they are?

I can hard­ly express how very much old­er I am now than the twen­ty-one-year-old twit who con­coct­ed the fol­low­ing polemic. I can hard­ly believe myself the human­iz­ing effect this third decade has had upon me. So please, read the below with as much head-shak­ing as it deserves; I read it so myself. But I still find it enjoy­able as an his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment of who I was then, and what I made of that. So please, read on with as much judg­ment as you care to bestow on Bean­er, vin­tage 2000; but please remem­ber that he no longer works here! — The Edi­tor

I dis­like spe­cial treat­ment. Of course, I like it when I am the recip­i­ent of some sort of excep­tion­al cod­dling, but on prin­ci­ple I have to object to it. And I am sure that most of you read­ers will agree. Who hasn’t seen spoiled chil­dren in retail stores, scream­ing and throw­ing a fit until they get what­ev­er they want? It is awful. It shouldn’t hap­pen, and we all know why it does: the par­ents are fail­ing to be suf­fi­cient­ly firm with their chil­dren. I’m not going to launch into a dis­ser­ta­tion on how I think chil­dren should be raised—that’s a dif­fer­ent arti­cle, one I’ll write after I have some expe­ri­ence in that area. All I am try­ing to do here is estab­lish that it is despi­ca­ble when a child of any age whines until he gets his way (oh yes, and girls do this, too), and what is even more dis­turb­ing is the par­ents who allow and encour­age this sort of behav­iour.

If this behav­iour is unpleas­ant on the small scale of par­ents and chil­dren, then what are we to say when a vast pop­u­la­tion of adults is treat­ed with the same over-indul­gence by a par­ent-fig­ure who should know bet­ter? This, in essence, was my ini­tial reac­tion to the announce­ment by the Most Rev­erend Har­ry J. Fly­nn, Arch­bish­op of St. Paul and Min­neapo­lis, that Lent did not mat­ter this year. Yes, giv­en the unal­ter­able cat­a­stro­phe that in this Jubilee Year, St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Lenten Friday—a day where Catholics are required to abstain from all meat as an act of penance—the good arch­bish­op chose to waive this hor­ri­ble require­ment, lest it inter­fere with the neces­si­ty of a cer­tain eth­nic group to engage in car­niv­o­rous and drunk­en rev­el­ry.

Are the Irish all chil­dren, that they can­not be told “No”? Were they going to throw a col­lec­tive tantrum if they had to wait a day to gorge them­selves on corned beef? Pray, do not accuse me of demean­ing them; Arch­bish­op Fly­nn has already done that suf­fi­cient­ly, I think.

(The Float­ing Egg would not wish read­ers to think this piece is a sil­ly bit of reac­tionary jour­nal­ism. This is not about me not lik­ing the Irish. I have noth­ing against the Irish — aside from their appar­ent belief that they as a race are God’s gift to God. But this dis­pen­sa­tion seemed entire­ly unjus­ti­fi­able to me. So we did our home­work, and this is what we have to say. Pray, read on.)

The Fri­day absti­nence from meat is an ancient tra­di­tion in the Catholic Church. I will not attempt a his­to­ry of the prac­tice, but will only say that as a stan­dard act of pen­i­tence Fri­day absti­nence has been with us for a long time. I do not believe it is unrea­son­able to expect what is to me a pret­ty mild penance from every­one. If we are to heed the gospel, we should be doing far more than mere­ly pass­ing up meat once a week, but it is a good start.

And it is not unrea­son­able in its appli­ca­tion, either. Chil­dren are not expect­ed to abide by this, nor are the elder­ly. The law is bind­ing between the ages of 14 and 65. Of course, younger chil­dren should grow into the spir­it of penance, and the aged are not giv­en free license to rev­el. It is a spir­i­tu­al thing, and the law sim­ply serves as a guide for us.

In the new Code of Canon Law, pro­mul­gat­ed in 1983, this all seems pret­ty clear to me. Canon 1251 reads, “Absti­nence from eat­ing meat or anoth­er food accord­ing to the pre­scrip­tions of the con­fer­ence of bish­ops is to be observed on Fri­days through­out the year unless they are solem­ni­ties” (empha­sis mine). I shall explain solem­ni­ties in a moment. Now, the nation­al con­fer­ence of bish­ops is empow­ered by Canon 1253 to mod­i­fy this rule, and the bish­ops’ con­fer­ence of the Unit­ed States did so on 18 Novem­ber 1966. Their pas­toral state­ment from that date states that “Catholics in the Unit­ed States are oblig­ed to abstain from the eat­ing of meat on Ash Wednes­day and on all Fri­days dur­ing the sea­son of Lent.” The U.S. bish­ops go on to say that “Self-imposed obser­vance of fast­ing on all week­days of Lent is strong­ly rec­om­mend­ed. Absti­nence from flesh meat on all Fri­days of the year is espe­cial­ly rec­om­mend­ed to indi­vid­u­als and to the Catholic com­mu­ni­ty as a whole.” A much eas­i­er rule to fol­low, I think, with room left to do as much penance as you like. No one should find this bur­den­some, should they?

But this rule is not inescapable, either. There always seems to be a loop­hole; canon law is like an iron rod: if you heat it up enough, it will bend. The local bish­op has the option of dis­pens­ing with par­tic­u­lar laws in his dio­cese under spe­cial cir­cum­stances. Canon 87, §1: “As often as he judges that a dis­pen­sa­tion will con­tribute to the spir­i­tu­al good of the faith­ful, the dioce­san bish­op can dis­pense from both uni­ver­sal and par­tic­u­lar dis­ci­pli­nary laws estab­lished for his ter­ri­to­ry or for his sub­jects by the supreme author­i­ty of the Church” (empha­sis mine). Yet this is cur­tailed by Canon 90, §1: “A dis­pen­sa­tion from an eccle­si­as­ti­cal law may not be grant­ed with­out a just and rea­son­able cause and with­out tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the cir­cum­stances of the case and the grav­i­ty of the law from which the dis­pen­sa­tion is to be giv­en.”

The feast days of saints are very impor­tant in the church cal­en­dar. Yet not all saint’s days are cre­at­ed equal. There is a hier­ar­chy of impor­tance — litur­gi­cal­ly speak­ing — in their cel­e­bra­tion. The high­est lev­el is solem­ni­ty. Solem­ni­ties are the top-notch fes­tiv­i­ties in the litur­gi­cal year. These include feasts of Our Lord (e.g. Christ­mas, East­er, all Sun­days) and many Mar­i­an feasts (Immac­u­late Con­cep­tion, Annun­ci­a­tion, Mary Moth­er of God, Assump­tion, et cetera), as well as sev­er­al saints who are of great impor­tance (Joseph, John the Bap­tist, Peter and Paul). The sec­ond lev­el is that of feast, a cel­e­bra­tion not quite as cen­tral as a solem­ni­ty, yet still quite impor­tant in the Church. These are the days of many impor­tant saints, espe­cial­ly apos­tles. At the low­est lev­el are memo­ri­als, and these come in two brands: oblig­a­tory and option­al. Memo­ri­als are, as the name implies, a remem­brance of the saint in ques­tion, but with­out the high cel­e­bra­to­ry nature of a feast or solem­ni­ty. Oblig­a­tory memo­ri­als are fixed in the cal­en­dar and must be observed through­out the Church. Option­al memo­ri­als, on the oth­er hand, are cel­e­brat­ed at the dis­cre­tion of the presider, depend­ing on the par­tic­u­lar devo­tion of the com­mu­ni­ty.

Where does the Apos­tle of the Emer­ald Isle fit into this hier­ar­chy? Sure­ly a saint wor­thy of com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion must deserve a major cel­e­bra­tion in the Church? Alas, no. In the Unit­ed States, March 17 is an option­al memo­r­i­al, the low­est order of litur­gi­cal cel­e­bra­tion. It is entire­ly up to the indi­vid­ual priest whether or not to say the prayers prop­er to St. Patrick, or to just go with the cur­rent week­day. In short, as a church feast, St. Patrick’s Day hard­ly mer­its spe­cial priv­i­leges. It bare­ly mer­its notice at all.

In Ire­land, of course, the case is quite dif­fer­ent. March 17 is indeed a solem­ni­ty in the dio­ce­ses of the Emer­ald Isle, and right­ly so. In fact, it is a holy day of oblig­a­tion; all Irish Catholics must attend Mass on this feast of their great­est saint. I am told by a priest who is a native of Ire­land that the day is actu­al­ly kept as a reli­gious cel­e­bra­tion. Although this may sound far-fetched, he actu­al­ly claims that the pubs are closed! I find this dif­fi­cult to believe, but I shall take the good Father at his word.

This would be a notable dif­fer­ence from how the Irish saint is hon­oured in this coun­try. Here, there is noth­ing reli­gious about March 17, peri­od. How many Irish-Amer­i­cans do you know that went to Mass on St. Patrick’s Day? Not too many I bet. But who, Irish or not, didn’t hoist a pint or ten? This is a not a cel­e­bra­tion of the bring­ing of the Faith to a won­der­ful peo­ple; this is at best a cel­e­bra­tion of nation­al pride in a new land, and at worst is mere­ly a thin excuse to hold a city-wide orgy of drunk­en­ness with the appro­ba­tion of both church and state.

Is this the “just and rea­son­able cause” Canon 90 speaks of? Are Guin­ness® and corned beef essen­tial for “the spir­i­tu­al good of the faith­ful” in the Twin Cities? This is the mes­sage that Arch­bish­op Fly­nn, and seem­ing­ly every oth­er bish­op in this coun­try, have sent to the faith­ful, and I believe, in all due respect, that this mes­sage is an inap­pro­pri­ate one. The mes­sage is that, plain and sim­ple, that the Irish are the most spe­cial peo­ple there is.

I am some­what dis­turbed by this priv­i­leged place which the Irish are giv­en in the Catholic Church in this coun­try. True, there are a lot of them, and true, they played an impor­tant part in the shap­ing of Catholic Amer­i­ca. But does this real­ly mean that the rules no longer apply to them? I hard­ly think so! As an eth­nic group they have suf­fered grave injus­tices in this coun­try, in no small part due to their reli­gion, and they should cer­tain­ly have our respect for that. But that does not give them spe­cial priv­i­leges, nor does it give them the right to claim the Catholic Church in Amer­i­ca as their own spe­cial domain. The Irish are no bet­ter Catholics than any­body else, and I do not believe they should receive spe­cial treat­ment. St. Patrick’s Day is no longer about faith; it is about cel­e­brat­ing nation­al and eth­nic iden­ti­ty. Won­der­ful as far as that goes (although I have strong feel­ings about nation­al­ism, but we shall save that for anoth­er time), but they should not expect the Church to give them spe­cial priv­i­leges to do so, and Church lead­ers should not give them such prefer­ment.

Inter­est­ing­ly enough, when I spoke to the archbishop’s office, they assured me that this was not the case. I had a nice chat with Sis­ter Dom­in­ca Bren­nan, the Arch­dioce­san spokesper­son, and she explained that the dis­pen­sa­tion was not a spe­cial con­ces­sion to the Irish, but rather, since so many peo­ple cel­e­brate St. Patrick’s Day in this coun­try, it was a deci­sion affect­ing the whole com­mu­ni­ty. I then point­ed out to her that it was hard­ly cel­e­brat­ed as a reli­gious hol­i­day. She shrugged this off. There was nev­er any ref­er­ence to it being a reli­gious hol­i­day in the dis­pen­sa­tion; “Sim­ply the fact that it was cel­e­brat­ed [by a large num­ber of peo­ple] was seen as suf­fi­cient,” Sr. Bren­nan said. My pint, I mean point, exact­ly.

I would not be sur­prised if this dis­pen­sa­tion by Arch­bish­op Fly­nn was sim­ply a cop out to make accept­able what was going to hap­pen any­way. He didn’t real­ly believe that any Catholic — Irish or oth­er­wise — would obey the law of absti­nence on 17 March, and rather than let them all com­mit sins of dis­obe­di­ence, he gave them the okay. Dis­pen­sa­tion or not, the corned beef was going on the table that Fri­day, so why fight it? Why tell a child “No” when he already has his hand in the cook­ie jar?

It was weak­ness, yes, a lack of dis­ci­pline fur­ther encour­aged and jus­ti­fied by a biased Church hier­ar­chy, but was it real­ly so bad? Prob­a­bly not. After all, the Irish are the most spe­cial nation on Earth. So next time you are in line at the super­mar­ket and the child in front of you throws a tantrum over a can­dy bar, don’t get upset. Just smile, and think of the Irish. I know the anal­o­gy will amuse me for a long time to come.

Watching Doubt

One dan­ger of watch­ing a peri­od film set in a time, and deal­ing with a sub­ject mat­ter, with which I am intense­ly inter­est­ed (and more than mod­er­ate­ly famil­iar) is the extra vig­i­lance with which I scru­ti­nize the screen for the slight­est tech­ni­cal error or incon­sis­ten­cy. Such an obses­sive activ­i­ty can prove fatal­ly dis­tract­ing: only if the film itself is excep­tion­al­ly arrest­ing can it hope to car­ry me along while I scour the edges of the frame for any missed detail.

It was just over an hour into Doubt (2008) before I caught one. The movie is set in 1964, and the snip­pets of Mass seem care­ful­ly accu­rate, both in tone and in form. Peri­od dress, and espe­cial­ly cler­i­cal man­ners, are spot-on. Yet when Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man’s char­ac­ter opens his bre­viary in the gar­den, it is clear­ly the cur­rent edi­tion in Eng­lish, the same edi­tion I have sit­ting next to me, an edi­tion which was first print­ed in — wait for it — 1975. Ahh! Is it sad that notic­ing that makes me feel more alive than any­thing has in weeks?

That film­mak­ing home­work error notwith­stand­ing, Doubt is an impres­sive film. I have nev­er seen (or read) the play by John Patrick Shan­ley from which this movie grew, but the dia­logue through­out dis­plays its small-cast stage roots, though cer­tain­ly not in a bad way. It is a pow­er­ful sto­ry, brave­ly and ele­gant­ly grap­pling with the vast dark­ness of cler­i­cal sex abuse in the life of the Church in our day, a dark­ness we will not soon or eas­i­ly come out from under. And the sto­ry of this film is to my mind the most brave for how it does not make any hubris­tic attempt to resolve this cen­tral trau­ma, but mere­ly to treat it, and to treat it very care­ful­ly and well.

I don’t have it in me at the moment to delve into that mat­ter itself. But this film is a spec­tac­u­lar med­i­ta­tion on what the human expe­ri­ence would be in such a sit­u­a­tion. For those inter­est­ed in the his­to­ry of this scan­dal, par­tic­u­lar­ly in this era, I reit­er­ate my rec­om­men­da­tion of David France’s mon­u­men­tal book Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scan­dal (Broad­way Books, 2004). Not a pleas­ant read, but I think a bal­anced one; a hard-hit­ting nar­ra­tive of an unfin­ished tragedy that is still unfold­ing across the Catholic world. Like the still-dai­ly head­lines, France’s book and Shan­ley’s play and movie are not pred­i­cat­ed to help faith­ful, con­cerned Catholics sleep well at night. But, as Sis­ter Aloy­sius says at the end of this film, “Maybe we’re not sup­posed to sleep so well.”

An image made too real

Two young priests I was in sem­i­nary with — and the only iden­ti­cal twin priests I know — have been brave­ly blog­ging about their expe­ri­ence of min­is­te­r­i­al priest­hood since 2007. Frs. Joel and Ben­jamin Sem­ber, priests of the Dio­cese of Green Bay, share a joint blog where they post their week­ly hom­i­lies (they also have pod­casts) and write reflec­tive and often insight­ful occa­sion­al pieces. It is one of my favorite Catholic blogs.

In a recent series, post­ed between 25 Feb­ru­ary 2010 and 1 March 2010, Fr. Ben­jamin attempt­ed a com­pre­hen­sive and defin­i­tive cat­e­ch­esis in response to a ques­tion he had field­ed from a young mem­ber of his flock; a ques­tion regard­ing the Catholic Church’s con­tin­ued reser­va­tion of ordained priest­ly min­istry to men only. It is an inter­est­ing read, and he cer­tain­ly does­n’t hold back in his ambi­tious cov­er­age of all the tra­di­tion­al talk­ing points.

I am not set­ting myself here to refute Fr. Sem­ber’s entire tri­par­tite apolo­gia. Nor is it even my inten­tion to imply that I am tempt­ed to do so: the ques­tion of the ordi­na­tion of women in the Catholic Church is a com­plex and divi­sive one, and it is def­i­nite­ly not one I feel myself qual­i­fied to engage with cur­rent­ly. I will say that Fr. Ben­jamin does make some nice points through­out his pieces; he clear­ly paid atten­tion in class, and has in places done a fine job of pop­u­lar-lev­el syn­the­sis, even though the frame­work of his expla­na­tion is for the most part lit­tle more than a string of unques­tioned pre­crit­i­cal state­ments.

What I am going to do, how­ev­er, is to take grave issue with one par­tic­u­lar ele­ment he relies on in the sec­ond sec­tion of his argu­ment: the engen­der­ing, and thus the sex­u­al­iza­tion, of the Church itself. The Church has been referred as the Bride of Christ from the very first writ­ings of the Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty. Paul makes repeat­ed use of spousal imagery in this sense, notably in Eph­esians 5: 25–27: “Hus­bands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and hand­ed him­self over for her to sanc­ti­fy her … that he might present to him­self the church in splen­dor, with­out spot or wrin­kle or any such thing, that she might be holy and with­out blem­ish.” At verse 29 Paul adds: “For no one hates his own flesh but rather nour­ish­es and cher­ish­es it, even as Christ does the church.”

Now, I am no bib­li­cal exegete, so I am not going to make any author­i­ta­tive claims regard­ing this text here. But as a fair­ly-skilled read­er, when I read Eph­esians I see here much more a pre­scrip­tion for prop­er human mar­i­tal rela­tion­ships on an ana­logue with the spir­i­tu­al rela­tion­ship of Christ with the cor­po­rate Body of believ­ers, i.e. the Church, rather than the oth­er way around. I see Paul using the image of the sac­ri­fi­cial and self-oblat­ing love of Christ for his Church to teach his read­ers some­thing impor­tant about the true nature of human rela­tion­ships. It is an evoca­tive sym­bol­ic image, and the Apos­tle uses it to inspired ped­a­gog­i­cal-cat­e­chet­i­cal effect.

The image of the Church as the Bride of Christ has always been just that: an image, a poet­ic expres­sion, a way of think­ing about and con­cretiz­ing the idea of total devo­tion and sac­ri­fi­cial love that char­ac­ter­izes that real spir­i­tu­al rela­tion­ship between Christ and the liv­ing com­mu­ni­ty that lives and loves in him. It has nev­er, to my knowl­edge, been a lit­er­al ques­tion of what ori­fices the Church has, and what should or should not be insert­ed into them. Par­don me if this is too crude­ly put, but I am seri­ous­ly con­cerned that, when we take the images that were intend­ed to illus­trate the­o­log­i­cal truths and make those images into the the­o­log­i­cal truths them­selves, we are well on our way to a child­ish (not child-like; note the pejo­ra­tive) under­stand­ing of our faith. And child­ish under­stand­ings lead to imma­ture asser­tions.

I have encoun­tered this very same lit­er­al­ized imagery employed else­where as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the exclu­sion of men who may have homo­sex­u­al incli­na­tions from the pres­byter­ate. Again, in such state­ments the spir­i­tu­al real­i­ty of the Church itself is being pre­sent­ed lit­er­al­ly as a sex­u­al enti­ty. This line of argu­ment is beyond ridicu­lous; it is trag­ic.

Yes, the rôle of the min­is­te­r­i­al priest is one of rela­tion­ship to the Peo­ple of God. At its best, it is an incom­pa­ra­bly-com­mit­ted rela­tion­ship of self-giv­ing and life­long, sac­ri­fi­cial love. The pow­er­ful — and unique — spir­i­tu­al char­ac­ter of this rela­tion­ship requires some use of anal­o­gy with more famil­iar human rela­tion­ships to aid in our com­mon under­stand­ing of how such a life can be lived by flesh-and-blood humans. But to take those analo­gies and images lit­er­al­ly is not to grasp the deep­er mean­ing of the rela­tion­ship between Christ and the Church, or between the Church and the priests who devote their lives to liv­ing ser­vice. To take such images lit­er­al­ly is, instead, to miss the point. If pas­tors of souls desire to guide the faith­ful — and the world — to an under­stand­ing of the the Church’s “hard say­ings” they will need to do so in a man­ner that does not assume the even­tu­al agree­ment of all inter­locu­tors, but rather assumes their human dig­ni­ty and intel­li­gence, and address them accord­ing­ly.