A considerable part of education is merely restating the obvious. No one would answer the question, “Is the Church a hotel?” in the affirmative when the question is stated this bluntly. Nonetheless, the heresy of identifying her with a hotel sneaks in through the back door. In this way, what should be obvious is obscured and what is mistaken is affirmed.
Essential to any hotel worthy of the name is hospitality. Guests are welcomed and treated as royalty. The hospitality may not be sincere, but that does not matter as long as the hotel staff accommodates the guest’s every wish. The guest’s comfort becomes the standard which the hotel tries its best to accommodate. A good hotel can be an escape from the rigors of reality. We are not guests in the world. Rather, we are pilgrims who must deal with endless trials and tribulations.
Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, once stated that “the greatest danger facing the Church in our country today is that of an excessive and indiscreet accommodation” (“Catholicism and American Culture: The Uneasy Dialogue,” America, January 27, 1990). The distinguished theologian’s comment is probably truer today than when he wrote these words slightly more than two decades ago. The dialogue that Vatican II encouraged turned out to be more a monologue in which the secular world influenced the Church while the Church made accommodations to the world. The Cardinal’s words also apply to decades past.
Archbishop Joseph Rummel served the New Orleans diocese from 1935 until his death in 1964. He was a strong opponent of segregation and worked hard to integrate the races in his Catholic schools. In 1953, the year before the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools, Rummel issued a strong pastoral letter: Blessed Are the Peacemakers. His denunciation of segregation stirred up a storm. Most parish school boards voted against desegregation. The archbishop was not the kind of man who would make accommodations to the status quo. He closed one parish when its parishioners objected to their newly assigned black priest.
In 1962, despite organized public protests, letter-writing campaigns, and the threat of a boycott of Catholic schools, Rummel held his ground. In fact, he did more than that. He excommunicated three prominent Catholics: a judge, a political writer, and a community organizer when they publicly defied Church teaching. Paradoxically, his refusal to make accommodations won him plaudits from the secular world. In a New York Times piece entitled “Courage in the Church,” (April 19, 1962), he was praised for his “unwavering courage” since he has “set an example founded on religious principle and is responsive to the social conscience of our time.”
How strikingly Archbishop Rummel’s actions contrast with those of today’s bishops who continue to offer Communion to prominent political figures who are committed to promoting abortion. G.K. Chesterton makes a comment in his insightful and even prophetic book What’s Wrong with the World that would have very much pleased the good bishop of New Orleans: “Christ knew that it would be a more stunning thunderbolt to fulfill the law than to destroy it” (Ignatius Press, p. 40). A Catholic has the potential to hurl thunderbolts. The hotel Catholic is afraid of lightning. Today’s bishops could draw inspiration from the courage and faithfulness of Archbishop Joseph Rummel.
Accommodation continues to stifle Catholic action in the current world. The hotel Catholic wants not only to affirm everyone but to affirm their actions however their actions clash with Catholic teaching. In Toronto, members of the Catholic school board have approved celebrating the LGBTQ ideology and displaying the rainbow flag while venting hostility to their fellow board members for being staunch Catholics. Several board members who refuse to make accommodations to the world have resigned rather than promote an ideology which conflicts with authentic Catholic teaching. There are no Archbishop Rummels on the scene, however, to chastise the heretics and reinstate the faithful.
The supporters of LGBTQ may think they are being progressive, on the cutting edge of a brave new world. The plain fact of the matter is that the acceptance and promotion of sexual promiscuity, which includes sodomy, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and a high potential for personal tragedies, is inconsistent not only with Catholic teaching but with what we know about fundamental health norms. It is one thing to affirm every human being as a person made in the image of God, but it is quite another to affirm a lifestyle that is injurious to both self and society. Why not fly the flag of the Ku Klux Klan? Its members are also oppressed human beings who are in need of love and affirmation.
Christ came into the world to save us from our wretchedness. It is precisely that wretchedness, the child of Original Sin, which must be acknowledged and purged. Being nice to everyone is not enough. In fact, it can be harmful when it avoids the more important ministry of love. C.S. Lewis understood something about the limitations of niceness. In his novel That Hideous Strength, he employs N.I.C.E. as an acronym for the not-so-nice National Institute for Coordinated Experiments.
“The world is too much with us,” as the poet William Wordsworth has remarked. A Catholic, of course, is “in” the world but not “of” the world. The hotel Catholic is a travesty. Even the best of hotels is merely a momentary fantasy, a brief respite from a world of hardships. Our mission in life is to love one another, not to be accommodating. We are wise to heed the words of St. Thomas Aquinas: “The greatest kindness one can render to any man consists in leading him to truth.” Accommodation leads to nowhere.
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