The blind eye

Hypocrisy, as we all know, is the homage vice pays to virtue. I dislike it very much, especially when I find it in myself, and realize that it will have to be confessed. It is bad, bad, bad. But there are worse things than hypocrisy, sometimes, and I’m inclined to wink at a little hypocrisy when the alternative is some ghastly catastrophe from which, it might seem, no one will recover. But then I find that the winks may also need confession.

A certain Miss Fleming, who was Principal in some (deliciously) backward school I once attended — faced with a proposal to break a Rule, to prevent something terrible from happening — replied in this way: “We never break the Rules! We only bend them.” She further explained that having bent them, we then bend them back the way they were before.

But this is not the preferred method. It leaves your ruler all dimpled and irregular, no matter how you try to hammer it flat. (I imagine a metal ruler for this analogy. A wooden ruler would require steaming; a plastic one would almost certainly crack.)

Should it come to that, my preferred method is rather that of Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, which is to say, turn a blind eye. For among humankind, there are circumstances in which the spirit of the law is in conflict with the dead letter, and action cannot be delayed. Prudence might, conceivably, recommend this course: to tolerate, as it were, the lesser evil. But Prudence, the ranking Cardinal Virtue, would then feel badly about what she had recommended, and work at finding a path that requires no sin at all; and might therefore be acceptable to all three of the higher, Theological Virtues.

I am thinking of Rome, once again, for some reason. For two generations, or has it been eighty, clever people have been suggesting that we bend the rules, or even change them, to eliminate this or that inconvenience. At the Family Synod, recently, we had some ripe examples.

Given the fact, the plain fact, that a very high proportion of Catholics are not only breaking the rules on the sanctity of marriage — starting with the little matter of contraception, then going the rest of the way — shouldn’t the Church (“just slightly”) adjust the rules to make them — you know, more “realistic.” I mean like, yeah, “nobody” is following them, why don’t we move the line in the sand back a yard or three? And hey, look around. The people who are breaking the rules are getting away with it anyway, haven’t you noticed? … (“Hypocrisy, hypocrisy!”)

Now, fact-check, plenty of people I know personally are doing their level best to follow the rules, often to the point of personal sacrifice, and public embarrassment; and often, too, they are treated like neanderthal body odour by their “progressive” priests. (Anecdotes will not be supplied; there’d be no end once I got started.) And these faithful are the very people who are undermined, who are filled with desolation, who are even in some cases broken, every time some clever clergy suggest bending the rules to accommodate the legion who have nothing but contempt for the rules, anyway.

Beloved Cardinal Burke — so brilliant as well as stalwart in defending the Canon Law, yet recently removed from the Signatura — has repeatedly explained, in words not hard to understand, for anyone who happens to be listening — that Church teaching and practice are married. It would be monstrous if the Church taught one thing, and practised another. Verily, it would be hypocritical. And as the teaching itself does not come from any Pope or Council or Synod, but from Christ, it cannot be amended. It can only be more, or less, understood. To propose little adjustments in “pastoral practice,” to keep up with the times, is not helpful. It is instead unambiguously Evil.

The Church, from her beginning, has been at war with “the times.” She has, as I think those acquainted with Church History will affirm, never been at peace with them.

Now, fact-check, those who attend Mass may indeed notice that, every Sunday, the great majority of pew-sitters — almost all — go up for Communion. (This was not the case fifty years ago.) They may also observe that they are seldom, if ever, warned of the consequences — to them — of approaching the altar in a state of mortal sin. In other words, one is witnessing the terrible disorder in which we find, at present, our poor Church.

First, one goes to these little booths, to confess one’s sins. Which isn’t a simple matter of fessing up, if one is living in a state of mortal sin, and has every intention of continuing to do so. For then the sin cannot be absolved, and any absolution one may have obtained by lying, will be the opposite of valid. One will have to fix the mess one has made, before proceeding to the rail. (If the devils have not removed the rail and kneelers.) Unless: one wishes to call attention to oneself, by humbly approaching said altar for the pastoral blessing, as a divine “get well” encouragement. For that would require guts, moxie, pluck, daring, cojones, gallantry, fortitude, Courage.

For contrition invariably requires Courage (another of those Cardinal Virtues). Every decent priest in those booths knows this; the heart of every one goes out to help an honest sinner — who has slipped, fallen, on the demonic ice (adapt for latitude), … and must now get up. For that is exactly what Christ did, and Christ would do. He was a gentleman like that.

One’s obligation, as a Catholic, to attend the Mass on days of obligation, does not cease because one is not in a state of grace. But not being in that state, one compounds one’s sin — and very seriously compounds it — by taking Communion. And that is simply how things are, and have been for the last twenty centuries, and will be for however many more.

There are priests, alas — there are innumerable priests — who, in the current sorry state of the Church, will turn a blind eye. The worst of them will try to justify this, by claiming that they are being “merciful,” when what they are showing is the opposite of mercy. For they are helping people to compound their sins — they are doing their bit to ice the slide to Hell for these people. That is not merciful. That is flat-out Evil.

So what is the Church to do about this? The answer suggests itself: uphold the rules, with constantly improving rigour and vigour. Do everything in her power to make the people understand them. And live with the consequences, whatever they may be.

That is what Our Lord did, for our example: what He had to do. And then He accepted the consequences. That is the meaning of the Crucifix one may find still hanging, here and there — “the kind with the little man on it,” as some shop clerk once put it with unwitting genius, in a Catholic supplies store.

It is that very example that has through the centuries, paradoxically enough, attracted millions upon millions to conversion, even while scaring the cowardly away. For our Lord does not turn a blind eye. His “pastoral policy” is to make the blind see.