Crossing the Chasm of Faith & Praxis
THE DO-NOTHING CHURCH IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR
Late one Friday afternoon in the spring of 2001, my fiancée and I sat on a backless couch in a priest’s dusty office in an angular church in Columbus, Ohio, undergoing premarital counseling. The priest, a monsignor nearing retirement, had always struck me as the embodiment of the best of Irish-American Catholicism. His impeccably orthodox homilies proudly proclaimed the ideals of the faith but were openly skeptical about our ability to live up to them. Try to shock him and you would just get a raised eyebrow, one more line on an incredibly furrowed forehead. It was impossible to imagine him raising his voice or running his Masses a minute over or under his standard time — he was Hilaire Belloc’s ideal priest.
Most of that afternoon’s counseling session went exactly as I expected it to. The monsignor delivered sage and world-weary advice about resolving conflicts and handling finances in his cynical mid-American wheeze. Then we came to what is for many the question. “Do you understand the Catholic Church’s position on birth control?” he asked.
“Yes, I…,” I replied, leaning forward. I was about to exposit my own ideas about human sexuality and set them before an older, wiser, and obviously more objective authority. I imagined I was about to learn something.
But the monsignor immediately cut me off. “You already gave me the answer I needed. Don’t tell me about it. I don’t want to know; conscience and all that. It’s just on the list of things I have to ask.”
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