instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Submitted for whose approval?

A common criticism of Catholics is that we don't know the Bible. This isn't entirely fair. It's true that, as a class, we aren't big on quoting chapter and verse, but then (as I like to point out) Catholics have been quoting the Bible since before it had verses, which can't be said of the confessions of a lot of our critics.

Admittedly, the Catholic habit of quoting Scripture without realizing we're quoting it can introduce some slight errors. A lot of irritated comments made by American Catholics today can be explained by the hypothesis that the commenters have in mind a slight misreading of Romans 7:19:
For the good which I will, they do not; but the evil which I will not, that they do.
God would seem to be profligate these days in distributing the charism of knowing how other people should live their lives.

I have in mind in particular the large number of secular layfolk prepared to instruct any number of religious sisters that they ought to wear habits. They have plenty of other instructions for them -- when to pray, how long to pray, where to live, with whom to live -- but wearing habits seems to always be one of the major ones. I think that's because all the instructions boil down, more or less, to "Live the traditional Rule of your congregation in such a way that I can tell you are," and wearing habits is the most visible sign of traditional Rules.

I am sympathetic to the impulse behind the unsolicited instruction. Much that is post hoc and regrettable about the break with tradition religious congregations made after Vatican II can't be ruled out as entirely non propter hoc. There's a sense that, if the congregations that can't seem to attract vocations would simply return to their roots, they could soon be flourishing again. There might even be a sense of betrayal, that those who inherited a great heritage have squandered it, at a cost to the whole Church.

And yet, what does the instruction amount to in the end but an insistence that people who are not me live a lifestyle they themselves do not choose to live? A congregation's rule must be approved by Rome, not by me.

For that matter, traditionalist-minded people don't need my approval to attend only Latin Masses and charismatics don't need my approval to hug each other during prayer meetings.

Yes, I know there are argument for a correlation between choices strictly unobjectionable in themselves and imprudent or simply wrong actions. But unless the unobjectionable choices cause imprudence or error, making different choices won't do much to correct what is wrong, and I think effort would be better spent resisting the wrongs themselves rather than whatever red flags might accompany them.