At church last Sunday, the priest was talking about gratitude. This isn’t the priest who normally speaks at my Latin mass, the one who talks about philosophy and Latin and Aquinas and the church fathers. This one likes to talk about politics (e.g., Freedom of Choice Act).
The priest convicted me when he told of the many young people who have confessed to him that they didn’t show their parents the gratitude that they deserved. But the priest then went on to apply the issue of gratitude to other areas.
He said that Pope Benedict was being magnanimous when he accepted the Holocaust-denying bishop back into the Catholic fold, but people are ungrateful to him for that. I can understand this priest’s perspective, since I doubt that Benedict was meaning to endorse Holocaust denial in his action. He was just trying to be nice. But what’s this have to do with gratitude? The one who should be grateful to Benedict is the Holocaust-denying bishop, since he’s the one who received the favor. Why should those who didn’t receive the favor be grateful?
The priest then talked about a Connecticut bill that would place control of the Catholic church in state hands. He mentioned that those who are sponsoring it are Catholic politicians. Here these people are, educated in Catholic schools and reared in the church, and they go out and try to put control of the church in the hand of outsiders. For the priest, this exemplifies ingratitude!
Again, I agree with the priest’s political stance here. However one defines separation of church and state, many agree that the concept should protect the church from the state. But, as I listened to the sermon, I realized that there had to be another side to this issue, since my religious background includes a church (the Worldwide Church of God) that misused people’s money, which prompted the state of California to intervene. (60 Minutes did a special on this in 1979! See Stanley Rader with Mike Wallace). I doubt that the supporters of this Connecticut bill want the state to intervene for no reason at all. And, sure enough, I found that they support state intervention because they believe the church has mishandled funds and cases of sexual abuse by the clergy.
The priest then brought up stem-cell research, noting that the most prominent supporters of this practice are Catholic politicians: Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi. Where is their gratitude?, he wondered. Look, I’m not too crazy about stem-cell research. I don’t think we need to destroy embryos these days for research to advance, since we’ve found ways to circumvent that. But how are Biden and Pelosi being ungrateful to the church? They probably believe that embryonic stem cells are more flexible than other ones, and that actually using the embryos to cure diseases is better than throwing them in the garbage. Does gratitude have to mean “My church, right and wrong”?
According to many reports, the Bush Administration was all about loyalty. I agree that there were ex-insiders who tried to make a name for themselves by trashing the Administration. But is disagreement with Bush an act of disloyalty? Can one be loyal to the President without saying, “My President, right and wrong”?
The same goes with families. I think of the scene in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, in which Sidney Poitier’s dad told his son not to marry his white fiancee because “I brought you up and supported you.” For Sidney’s dad (on the movie), gratitude meant doing what the dad said. And, indeed, we should be grateful. But we’re individuals, and we’re not always going to see eye-to-eye with another person. Does gratitude to one’s family mean “My family, right and wrong?”
Overall, I think that the answer to this whole dilemma is love: a concern for the well-being of other people. (So I guess this is my two-cents for that post on As Bereans Did, Love: Emotion? Or Not? ~from a contributing writer). Are liberal Catholics trying to undermine the church when they disagree with it? Were dissenters within the Bush Administration primarily seeking to make a name for themselves when they publicly disagreed with the President? Do sons and daughters express their disagreements in an unkind manner, seeking to hurt their loved ones and make them feel bad? The same question can apply to friendships as well.
I was just thinking about these issues this week. I’m not saying that they directly apply to me, since my parents haven’t equated gratitude with absolute obedience to them. But the issue does pop up in television, books, etc.