March may be a bit far off still, but the St. Patrick’s Day brawl has come early. No one seems happy about the recent decision to permit an Out@NBCUniversal group to participate in the parade. If you’re a gay activist, it’s not enough. If you’re still a bit perplexed at men marrying men, you may feel a little bit as if surrender just happened. So some wonder if this decision indicates a change to come in the Church.
For the sake of clarity: While St. Patrick is the patron saint of the archdiocese of New York, and Catholics have always been a big part of the parade, the parade is not run by the Church. And while the NBC group’s position on the same-sex lifestyle does seem clear from its name — and contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church — it’s somewhat consistent with the parade’s history to let the group march, because it is not so much an advocacy or political group as a civic group, for fellowship.
And while we’re months away from the parade, and most commentary at the moment is still angry, this could be an opportunity, as Cardinal Timothy Dolan has put it, for some “unity,” for a celebration of common human dignity. And as St. Patrick himself is best known for his teaching about the Trinity (for which teaching about the divine trio the shamrock came in handy), it also could be a bit of an invitation to see that a place like St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York exists for a strengthening of a Christian’s truest identity, loved and loving others in Christ.
“We believe that love is our mission, and that this mission is the only way we can be fully alive and be who we were created to be,” says the new official book published by Our Sunday Visitor in preparation for Pope Francis’s expected visit to the U.S. next fall. “We believe that this love should be taught, shared, and communicated in and through the family, the domestic church.”
Men and women and family and love and freedom. These are all things that need some reintroducing. Is there meaning and purpose in our very bodies, which also have a great deal to do with our souls and our happiness? Pope Francis talks so often about mercy because we are not slaves to our desires, our past decisions, our regrets, and our pain.
The “love is our mission” stuff might sound pretty basic, but it is exactly that kind of foundational renewal — and the need to work out what that looks like in people’s lives today — that is the reason why a conference on the family is being held in Rome a few weeks from now, with another one in Philadelphia next year. It’s about the practical and the pastoral — accessible manifestations of self-sacrificial love in all walks of life, with all kinds of experiences that need to be better known. People hear teaching and wonder, “How does this apply to my life? Why should I choose it?” Those who provide answers by way of their lives are an under-the-radar ongoing counterrevolution.
Among those who do that are apostolates such as Courage, a Catholic group that serves and supports men and women with same-sex attraction who choose to live chastely — and joyfully, but by no means in a Pollyannaish or all-problems-solved way. Courage has made a documentary, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, which is available online at everlastinghills.org. It is a bit of a lighthouse in a sea of all sorts of distractions, not always involving parades, but often involving politics. The distractions I’m talking about are ones that tend to feed an unnecessary and even tyrannical intolerance, mostly born of misunderstanding and miscommunication.
“Look at the face of the other. . . . Discover that he has a soul, a history, and a life, that he is a person, and that God loves this person,” the film begins. It’s a quote, as it happens, from Pope Benedict.
In explaining his decision to be grand marshal of the parade even with the “Out” group taking part, Cardinal Dolan said, “People with same-sex attraction are God’s children, deserving dignity and respect, never to be treated with discrimination or injustice.” This is in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It has been said by the pope emeritus, Benedict. It has been said again and again, but it sometimes takes a disarming phrase or a striking visual for it to be heard.
Probably the best known contemporary exemplar of successfully living faith, hope, and love was Mother Teresa. “Her love was concrete and enterprising,” John Paul II said about her shortly after her death. The Missionaries of Charity she founded serve the “poorest of the poor,” reaching out to the most forgotten and even feared. Her love, John Paul said, “spurred her to go where few had the courage to go, wherever poverty was so great as to be frightening.” People were “fascinated by her,” he continued, and explained that this was because “she incarnated that love which Jesus indicated as the distinctive mark of his disciples.” As in, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Whether over green beer or after Mass, nothing about Church teaching is going to resonate if the love Mother Teresa was so good at is missing: the overwhelming presence of lived witness to self-sacrificial love.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online, and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.