I agree with a lot of what Paul Baumann says in his rebuke of Margaret Rankl for being too liberal (“From the Church to the Woods,” March 23, 2022). First and foremost is his challenge to her decision to leave behind a community of faith she liked and a pastor who preached fine homilies in favor of a walk in the woods. There is nothing wrong with communing with nature, but it misses the Catholic point that from the first moment of creation of humanity we are beings-in-relation. Hence, we encounter God as members of a community, not as individuals, disgruntled or otherwise. Catholics gain what spiritual strength they have from their local parish community much more than from the global Church. Even John Paul II thought that the hope of the Church lay in the best of U.S. Catholic parishes, though the International Commission on English in the Liturgy of some years ago threw out the tradition by returning to the Credo of “I believe,” abandoning the much more theologically solid “we.”
Baumann is also right that it is just too easy to dismiss difficult or sensitive and also probably conflicted issues because they do not fit some time-conditioned version of liberalism. There is something to be said for Johann Baptist Metz’s insistence that the genius of the Catholic view of things lies in its “productive non-contemporaneity.”
I am not so sure, however, that Baumann gets it right when he asks, “How is one to make sense of Catholicism’s traditional anthropology and sexual ethics if marriage, long solemnized as an act performed by ‘a man and a woman’ before God, is no longer defined by such God-given identities?” Phrasing his question this way might seem eminently sensible until we recognize that it is the wrong question. Let me rephrase it: “How is one to make sense of Catholicism’s traditional anthropology and sexual ethics if marriage, long solemnized as an act performed by ‘a man and a woman’ before God, is no longer defined by the biological distinctions found in the creation story of Genesis?”
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