The Parish as the Center of Reason

What! Is the wrong title attached to this column? How could reason possibly be connected with paying dues and getting the kids baptized? The answer is that, when used properly our reason helps us grasp reality. Reality is the key to authentic human life. Yet paradoxically our age is probably the one least interested in reality.

I recently mentioned to someone how great Pope Francis is. The other person agreed, but complained that Francis had still not ordained women, even though women were the first witnesses to the Resurrection. I replied that witnessing the Resurrection was not the basis of the priesthood in the Catholic Church. The person’s answer was “[Expletive deleted.]”

Putting aside the subtle response, this encounter displays a modern problem to which the Church should respond as she has to other gaps in cultures over the centuries. In America, this would require a near miracle, because numerous other gaps have been ignored as well. So why start now?

The gap lies in how people commonly use reason. Questions such as the ordination of men always involve a certain number of factors. Getting the number right takes real education. In The Closing of the American Mind, a book that should have caused the immediate reorganization of the entire American Church, Allan Bloom explained that in the past: “In the United States, practically speaking, the Bible was the only common culture, one that united simple and sophisticated. . .as the very model for a vision of the whole.”

Grasping the whole in a situation is the sign of a developed human being. But Bloom was speaking in the past tense. He knew his observation no longer applied.

Digging deeper: The whole involves features that fit together to make the whole that only then indicates the truth. This is where “catholic” comes from. Yet we are surrounded by partial thinking, the leaving out of crucial bits of information and the crucial connections among them.

Take some religious questions: contraception makes sense if we leave out the meaning of the human sexual act; abortion makes sense if we leave out the killing of a human being; divorce makes sense if we leave out the meaning of spiritual union between a man and a woman.

And the ordination of women makes sense if we leave out actual history. Scriptural accounts (history) and the tradition (history) of the Church point to Christ choosing twelve men and conferring his power on them – a side issue for the moment.

         Prof. Allan Bloom

The incomplete vision of the whole then touted as complete and, hence, true means reason never gets to grasp the real whole. The same problem comes up in other fields: long-life light bulbs are great – if you forget that they use mercury vapor; socialist governments offer great social benefits (the classic socialist governments of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany should be a warning), if you overlook the mandatory “groupthink” and heavy authoritarianism.

Waxing nostalgic, Bloom says: “It was the home – and the houses of worship related to it – where religion lived.” Here is where the global vision of life comes in, if you believe that the scriptures are the Word of God. Consequently: “The holy days and the common language and the set of references that permeated most households constituted a large part of the family bond and gave it a substantial content. . . .Attending church or synagogue, praying at the table, were a way of life, inseparable from the moral education that was supposed to be the family’s special responsibility in this democracy.”

Notice how he outlines the bond between the family and the religious center, two realities that have become more and more separated and unable to support each other America, and not least in the Catholic Church.

Theoretically, for Catholics, the whole comprises the Church and the family where the Church is the Spouse of Christ and the husband and wife learn to live out that spousal relationship by participating in the life of the parish. Otherwise, as we now usually find: “the dreariness of the family’s spiritual landscape passes belief.”(Bloom)

He continues: The modern family “has nothing to give their children in the way of a vision of the world, of high models of action or profound sense of connection with others. . . .Its base is mere reproduction but its purpose is the formation of civilized human beings.” Here we have the whole presented differently, in a way that clearly includes the notion of purpose.

The vision of the whole is not found anywhere else except in a Catholic parish, if the parish is restructured to be a place to share the Catholic vision of life and its major component, the Catholic family. It is in the parish that people are going to see good reasoning (Church teaching superbly illustrates the use of reason) and discover the spiritual whole and the meaning of life.

People could learn there how reason aids us in this salvific enterprise and especially how it opens itself to God Himself, to take in his Divine Word.

This is what parishes are really for, not just paying dues and getting the kids baptized.