Sunday, 27 September 2015

Love or approval?

A while ago now, I received a comment on the post The Family: what is the real question for the Synod that I have not yet published. In its most substantial part that comment read as follows:
On the question of how we treat people whose behaviour is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ may I refer to something said by one of the two Scottish midwives whose case went to the Supreme Court. She is totally opposed to abortion but she said that she does not let that influence her behaviour towards the women in her hospital who have abortions. (Or something like that.) That must be very difficult to do but how do we show disapproval of the behaviour whilst showing love towards the person? Today, the world insists that we cannot show love without approving of the behaviour.
I would respond by suggesting that there are two distinct "moments" that can be seen in the difficulty articulated in this comment. The first moment arises from the obligation to show disapproval of an immoral action of another person. I would recast that obligation as one, on our part, of not letting ourselves become party to the immoral action, and that primarily from the point of view of a form of implicit internal consent. We need at the most fundamental level to say an internal "no" to that action. This appears to me to be what is meant by a prompting of conscience. But conscience prompts us to make that internal "no" manifest in an external way - it prompts us to give witness or to give testimony to our internal "no". The point, though, is that there can be other ways of externally manifesting that internal "no" than doing it by an expression of disapproval of the action of an individual who we encounter.

The second "moment" arises from wishing to act in love towards a person without approving, or rather, without being perceived by others as approving, a behaviour that we believe to be morally wrong. Here, where the demand of charity comes to the fore, I think we have to have the courage to act in charity, with a full consciousness of our internal "no", even though that acting in charity may be misunderstood by others as approval. It does require a particular style of courage to do this, but I believe that we are called to that courage.

I suspect that many Catholics, pastors and lay faithful, have, in the past and do in our own times, lived this second moment as a matter or ordinary common sense - "it just wasn't the right time and place".

Perhaps we need to be reminded of, and strengthened in, the internal "no" that accompanies such an act of charity, to avoid the situation where the act of charity slips imperceptibly into an indifference towards a behaviour that we believe to be contrary to the moral good.

And at the same time, pastors and those Catholics in public view might speak about the fact that an act of charity in a particular situation is about bringing Christ's presence to that situation and not about indicating approval of a behaviour contrary to Christian teaching.

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