Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ironing out the pronouns

Over the Thanksgiving break, I saw the following story (Hat tip: The Deacon's Bench):

METHUEN - Until this week, Mary Jo Coady had never given her iron a second thought. Then she saw a likeness of Jesus staring back from its not-quite stainless steel bottom.

Startled, Coady called in her daughters, both of them college students, and they saw what she saw. Then she took a picture and posted it on her private Facebook page, giving friends and relatives the same test. Everyone saw Jesus, she said.

“So I said, ‘OK, I’m not crazy,’ ’’ recalled Coady, a 44-year-old who works as a secretary in a medical office. After a challenging couple of years in which she let her Catholic faith wane, Coady found that the image had given her a spiritual boost. So she chose to share it with some others. [...]

Coady’s pastor at St. Lucy, the Rev. Thomas E. Keyes, has not viewed the iron. He said he considers the power of such images to be personal, residing in individual inference and belief.

“I think it’s how we interpret things. It’s more of a personal thing. God works in his or her own way,’’ said Keyes, who believes that God or saints might choose to appear “in person, as opposed to on a toaster, or a cinnamon roll or a Frito, or whatever. But then, God does what it wants.’’ A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston did not comment yesterday. (Emphasis added--E.M.)

Now, as far as the lady thinking she sees Jesus' image on her iron--well, we've all taken spiritual comfort from some sort of coincidence or other, and I don't see much harm in such things. But as far as the Rev. Thomas E. Keyes using "his or her" and then "it" to refer to Almighty God--here we have a story much more interesting than the result of using an iron on the "wool" setting to iron polyester, or whatever the case might have been.

I am, of course, aware that God is pure spirit, which makes discussions of divine gender seem highly abstract to some. But God chose to reveal Himself to sinful humanity as Father, first of all; then the Second Person of the Trinity became Man, literally; and then (and I hope Irenaeus or another scripture scholar will correct me if I misunderstand this) St. John has Our Lord refer to the Holy Spirit as "He" as well.

And the Church has stuck to the use of these pronouns--so it's a little jarring to hear a priest jettison them in conversation with the Boston Globe.

I emailed someone at the Boston Archdiocesan offices to ask whether this sort of thing was common there, and whether they thought it was acceptable. I got a nice reply thanking me for my concern and informing me the matter was being looked into, which is rather heartening to hear; I have to confess, to my sorrow, that I wasn't expecting such a prompt and courteous response, having dealt with chancery offices before.

And I certainly don't mean the Rev. Keyes any harm; it's just that if I said of the Rev. Keyes that the Rev. Keyes does what it wants, I think the Rev. Keyes would justifiably feel that I had insulted him--and one doesn't wish one's brothers in Christ to inadvertently insult God Himself, does one?

In all seriousness, I think the scourge of so-called "inclusive language" has already done too much damage in the Church. Scripture passages which were once beautifully poetic are now marred by a secular concern for "equal time," hymns which rhymed and had lovely rhythms are now dull and clunky, unfamiliar and downright silly, and even some old and well-loved prayers have been mangled by the need to rush in "heeorshee" "hizorherz" and similar odd-sounding constructions.

As bad as those things have been, they pale in comparison to a spirituality in which the principles of inclusive language have precedent over God's decision to reveal Himself as, well, He. Such an impulse, however well-intentioned it might be, is always going to be subject to the spirit of the age, which is one spirit that should keep its maw and claws far away from the Church.


Anonymous said...

from Scotch Meg:

Boston (I live here) is a mix. In the very same town -- Methuen -- another pastor is a young and faithful priest who has added an Extraordinary Rite Mass to his Sundays twice a month, hates modern church music, and preaches the Gospel, Tradition, and the teachings of the Church. I know him because he was a parochial vicar at my parish for five years. We were blessed to have him! I couldn't begin to tell you the proportion of the likes of Fr. Keyes to the peers of this good priest -- but I can tell you that the seminary is sound now and the young men coming from it are amazing.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the inclusive pronouns is the fact that, although God is a spirit, neither male nor female, WE ARE and it has to do with the way we relate to HIM and denies the fact that is the way HE chose to be revealed.

Dr. Bill said...

I am in the Deacon formation program in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Recently an instructor referred to the Holy Spirit as "He or She". I am in the process of asking if this is becoming accepted usage in Philadelphia; I doubt it.