Thursday, December 20, 2012

Docility? Really?

Then there are the paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) that bring me up short. Paragraphs like #97.

97. Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles, “He who hears you hears me,” the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.

That word docility. I have to be docile? It sounds passive, namby-pamby, pussillanimous.

It’s a word to offend skeptics, who think the Church is a remote bureaucracy, an obsolete patriarchy, and anyone following it docilely must be brain-dead.

Let’s face it, it‘s not a word that characterizes the great mass of Catholic “faithful” either. Like what percentage are docile about contraception?

What would it mean for me to be docile before the teachings of the Church? I carried this question with me through my day yesterday, and these were some of my observations—

6:15 am: I decided not go to 7 am Mass because I was serving at a special Mass at 11 am. I had a cold (still do) and instead of fighting it, I decided to be docile. I got back to bed and worked through the Catechism and other morning readings with the help of my iPad.

7:45 am: The CCC is cross-referenced like nobody’s business. Each paragraph refers you to others. Paragraph #97 sends me to #2037, where the term docility gets a boost. Here the phrase describing the faithful’s response to Church teaching is “docility in charity.” Well, yes, charity. I think I understand that . . .

7:55 am: The on-line dictionary helps. The root of docile is the Latin verb docere, to teach. No one knows Latin like those tough old bishops who wrote the Catechism, headed by one super-tough yet kindly old Bavarian named Ratzinger. When they wrote docility, what they meant was teachability, probably.

8:15 am: At 7:15, Katie said she was making fruit salad for breakfast, but now I don’t see any fruit salad. I’m hungry. I do not take this situation docilely. I pour a bowl of cereal and slice a banana. We’re out of milk?! I am far from docile.

8:30 am: Yesterday an Evangelical friend sympathetic to Catholicism gave me a book out of the blue: The Return of the Prodigal Son (TRiPS) by Henri Nouwen. I have three other books unfinished on my Goodreads “currently reading” list, but after my dry cereal and banana, I decide to accept my friend’s gift with docility. I climb back into bed and begin reading.

9:45 am: Written not long before Nouwen’s death from a heart attack in 1996, TRiPS is a 140-page meditation on one of Rembrandt’s last paintings, before which the author-priest sat meditating for four hours at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. He understands that he himself is the prodigal son, and the father who welcomes him, and the elder brother who resents him, too. This is beautiful. I am the elder of two brothers but was myself a prodigal for many years. Now, I am both a prodigal welcomed home by the Christian God and the father of two children. Maybe sometimes a prodigal father too. I sit before Nouwen’s book in awe as he sat before Rembrandt. 

10:45 am: I drag a razor across my face and meet Father Chateau at the church. We gather the needed things for Mass at the nursing home across the street, scheduled for 11. When we enter the common room, instead of the ten elders usually assembled for weekly rosary, there are more than thirty people here for Mass. They wait docilely. The upturned faces are awesome to see as Father homilizes about the gift of Christmas. Averaging 85 or 90 years old, these men and women are still open, receptive, teachable.

3:03 pm: I have made precious little progress on TRiPS, between naps and sneezing and eating hot soup and writing this post and . . . I need to be more docile. 

11:55 pm: It’s been a long hard day of cold care, not to mention distracting blogging while I have the free hours. I have little more to say about docility, even in connection with TRiPS, which I am loving. I guess if you were looking for enlightenment on the docile question, this post is something of a dead end, unless you were able to pick up a bit or two along the trail.  

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