The Uncomfortable Hemisphere of Theology

The Uncomfortable Hemisphere of Theology

Every age has a blind spot, and Pope Francis is moving us towards that uncomfortable spot.

We have gotten very skilled at defining normal with theology.  We can explain how things should be and how things will be in Heaven.  Unfortunately, we have gotten pitifully bad at proclaiming the good news when things are abnormal and off track.  Our theology can morally diagnose the problem, but it does not do a good job of explaining transformative hope when people are stuck in a broken situation.

For example, theology has helped us to understand ideal family life.  A family should have two loving parents and healthy children.  This family should live in a healthy community with good laws, a nice parish, justice, decent education, good work, and sound liturgy.   With this knowledge, we should order things towards this ideal.

Here is the rub: the ideal isn’t the good news.  There are people who come to Christ after marrying for the third time.  There are children trying to live their faith with abusive parents.  There are people suffering from temptations they didn’t choose or can’t shake, and these temptations keep them from attaining the normal.  Almost all of these people live with communities, governments, and parishes that are pretty far from the normal ideal too.  Christ died for people in these confused situations!  Catholicism needs to serve these people too.  We can’t let our theology harden our hearts with “shoulds” and ideals.  Our theology needs to help us be saved within our abnormal situation, and it should hels give Christian joy and hope to others in their abnormal situations.

There needs to be more emphasis on applied theology.  In one way of thinking, we have emphasized “moral theology” and we have phased out “spiritual theology.”  We don’t just need a spiritual theology for saints.  We need spiritual theology for sinners.  For example, we have theologically figured out that birth control is bad, but we don’t have much application for this teaching.  We can say don’t use birth control, but we don’t know how to make that truth help very many people in society.  When Pope Benedict said that the homosexual prostitute in Africa with HIV might use contraception as a movement towards the good, heads spin with such a confusing applied concept.  

Pope Francis has been bring us into this new way of thinking by emphasizing the hierarchy of truths.  It is more important to know that the Church is for the poor and emphasizes forgiveness than to know the teaching on contraception.  Many intellectually engaged Catholics are confounded by this.  Will Pope Francis be misinterpreted by the media?  But the media has made it clear that the Pope is for mercy and the poor (the most fundamental truths in the hierarchy).

Learning the logic behind the hierarchy of truths is the tip of the iceberg.  It may be the way for theology to start really serving the good news.