|Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone|
Cordileone translates as "heart of
a lion." Lions have been known
to eat sheep.
I had the opportunity not too long ago to visit friends who have recently moved to Dallas Texas and bought a lovely home in a rather posh suburb. Not that the house was overdone, but it was a bit like staying with J.R. and Sue Ellen Ewing. While the cook prepared dinner, we settled into Andy’s “Den”—a book lined room with Persian rugs, walnut paneling, and a brass chandelier that looked like it had been stolen from Hampton Court. Andy pressed a button and the bookshelves slid back to reveal a fully-stocked wet bar. “It’s called a ‘Baptist Bar’,” Andy told me, “because when the Pastor or one of the church deacons would come to dinner, it would be hidden by the ‘books.’ They aren’t real books, you see” he said pointing at the shelves,” just blocks of wood pointed to look like old books. What would a Southern Baptist do with books anyway? Down here, books are for burning.”
A ‘Baptist Bar;’ I loved it. I was relating this story at lunch when one of my colleagues—a priest—mentioned that he had once done a wedding between one of his then parishioners, a Catholic, and the daughter of a Mormon Bishop. “The Catholic family had to pay for the band and for the booze,” Father said. “But the groom’s father—an immigrant from Italy—said that he couldn’t invite his friends and relatives to a ‘wedding’ where there was no dancing and nothing (alcoholic) to drink. In the end, the Mormons were out there on the dance floor having a great time.” But did they drink, I asked. “Well, let me tell you,” Father responded. “I got to be friends with the bride’s uncle and his wife and they were knocking back gins and tonic all evening. They said that gins and tonic are the Mormon beverage of choice because you can always claim that you are drinking club soda, and who’s to know.”
This led another colleague of mine to tell of his experience at Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian College in the Chicago suburbs that has some very strict policies set forth in its ‘Community Covenant’ to which all students, members of the faculty, and employees must conform. These policies are not unreasonable for a Christian institution and they limit the use of alcohol both on and off campus and proscribe use of illicit substances, non-marital sex (gay or straight), pornography, withcraft, plagiarism, obscene or vulgar language, as well as more difficult things to pin down such as pride or jealousy. In 2004 Wheaton terminated the teaching position of Joshua Hochschild when Hochschild, a professor of Medieval Philosophy, converted to Roman Catholicism. Wheaton President at the time, A. Dwayne Litfin, said that Roman Catholicism was incompatible with Wheaton’s dedication to Evangelical Principles on the sovereignty of Scriptural Revelation. (Hochschild disagreed but moved on to teach at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg Maryland—a Catholic equivalent of Wheaton’s sectarian fortress. By the way, while both Wheaton and Mount Saint Mary’s are somewhat closed-circuit institutions, unlike some other “bubble schools” they have respectable academic reputations and should not be short-sold on that account.) Four years after Hochshild moved on, tenured professor Kent Gramm left Wheaton for Gettysburg College rather than disclose the reasons for his divorce to school officials. All this is to demonstrate the strict standards that Wheaton sets for the members of its academic community. But the reality of where people are at and what they do under the dark of night, according my colleague, is quite different. To find out more, I called a friend of mine with whom I used to teach and who is a Wheaton alumnus, whose elder son also graduated from Wheaton and whose younger boy is currently a student there. “I think there is less promiscuity on the campus there than there is at most schools, but it’s no “virgin territory.” Whether you are gay or straight, there is plenty of opportunity to make connections. As for the alcohol, I think it is well hidden, but as much, if not more, than at a place like Princeton. Drugs—I don’t know. From what I hear there are some—there are always some—but it is pretty much in the shadows and not talked about much.”
At the end of the day, it is all about the mystery of sin and grace. Where there is sin—and there will always be sin—there will also be grace and in ever greater measures. We don’t sin so that grace will be prevail, but despite our moral principles, the reality of life is that there are—at the end of the day—no blacks and no whites. As attributed to Cardinal Newman: “none of us are as good as we should be or as bad as we could be.”
I am not writing about Baptists or Mormons or Wheaton College—or even Cardinal Newman—but about Archbishop Cordileone and his insistence that all faculty and staff at the four High Schools run by the Archdiocese of San Francisco both agree and, in their personal lives, conform to a policy statement that declares same-sex marriage, sex outside of (heterosexual) marriage, masturbation, pornography, artificial insemination, and other forms of “artificial reproductive technology” are “gravely evil.” We need standards to be set. I don’t have a problem with that. It is up to the Church to set the standards for its members—and for those engaged in its mission even if they are not members. I have no problem with that. These are Catholic teachings and I have no problem with that.
What I do have a problem with is when we expect people to live up to the standards. Some of us will, some of the time. All of us will, at one time or another, fall short of the standards. That is the sin part of the equation. But this isn’t Wheaton College; this is the Church of Jesus Christ. When a person falls short of the standards, we accept the grace to get back up—and that can only be done with the help of a loving community—and brush ourselves off, and get back on track until we fall again. That’s the grace part of the equation. So when an Archbishop teaches the Church entrusted to his care: this is right, this is wrong, that is his job. (He may, of course, get it wrong and that is another problem, but it is his job to teach the truth as he understands the truth.) But it is not his job to arm himself with a club to beat down the sinner who stumbles and falls. The policy statement set forth by Archbishop Cordileone is precisely that. It gives him the grounds to fire anyone who fails to live up to, in his personal life, the ideals set forth by the Catholic Church, when a Bishop’s mandate is for the Shepherd to bring the sinner safely home. But what about the person who falls over and over and over again? The person who just doesn’t get it. The person who just keeps sinning? “And how often must I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Seven times?” I think we all remember the answer to that question.
A priest I know, a man of good heart but a congenital idiot when it comes to theology, gave a sermon some years ago about “The Good Shepherd.” “A Shepherd,” he told his flock, “when confronted with a lamb that will not heed his directions, must sometimes break the leg of the lamb. He then carries the lamb on his shoulder until the leg heals and this creates a bond of dependency that ties the sheep to its shepherd. There are times,” this worthy priest said to his parishioners, “that I will have to break your leg to teach you to follow me as I lead you home to safe pastures.” Whooo boy, where do we even start? I don’t recall Jesus using that particular example in his teaching about Good Shepherds. We don’t need Shepherds—mitered or otherwise—who go around breaking the legs of their sheep: even if for good purpose. If only we could make people be good!!! But we have the more difficult task of calling one another to the change of heart without breaking a leg or firing the lost sheep.