Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Current reading

I hate to do this, but I have to warn the potential reader about My Life with the Saints by Fr James Martin, SJ. While there is no doubt that Fr Martin is an intelligent, accessible, engaging, self-deprecating, humorous, and utterly readable writer, there is at least one passage in his book that deviates from Catholic orthodoxy.

During his chapter on St Ignatius of Loyola, Fr Martin speaks of experiences that draw a soul closer to God. He mentions that a beautiful sunset can cause our minds to turn to the Author of creation, and we concur. He goes on to say that "an intimate encounter with a spouse or partner" can bring us to a greater awareness of the Source of all Love (p. 89, emphasis mine).

Or partner. We really do get enough of this stuff from other places, from the Henri Nouwen of Sabbatical Journey (an otherwise magnetizing book), from "progressive" Episcopalians, and from Andrew Sullivan.

I am assuming that "an intimate encounter" means sexual congress, or some other less explicit erotic experience. And I am further assuming that "partner" does not mean "business partner," but rather "companion of the same sex."

To the orthodox Christian, specifically, to the Catholic, "intimate encounters" with "partners" must be eschewed. Loving God entails keeping the commandments. The full implications of the commandments are admirably exposited in the recently promulgated Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Again, one hesitates to sound like Pat Buchanan or the Marquess of Queensberry, condemning sins to which we are not tempted ourselves. But one does expect orthodoxy from a Catholic priest. Are we being foolishly optimistic?

A further caveat: One of the "saints" in Fr Martin's communion is Thomas Merton, and while we have profited from Merton's books in the past, and often return to them in the present, we begin to think that his beleaguered abbot is a much more fitting candidate for sainthood!

(I did read many of the customer reviews for My Life with the Saints on amazon.com : a saddening uniformity of five-star reviews accompanied by the most elate encomiastic exclamations. And no reviewer seems to have noticed the phrasing on page 89.)

Fr Martin is a first-rate writer, and I was enjoying his book quite a bit -- until the obtrusion of his tenth-rate moral theology. A shame.