Page 2, 25th November 1955

25th November 1955
Page 2
Page 2, 25th November 1955 — Lessons of Experience

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Locations: Oxford


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Lessons of Experience

Sir, —With every respect due to the priestly office, I think someone, some time, must explain that there are some states of feeling and experience which are beyond their full grasp, simply because the functions that accompany those experiences are not functions pos sible to them. It is self-evident that lay people should he told, and of course accept, what marriage should not be: what is sin, etc., but as to what an ideal marriage actually is can only be experienced (probably by very few). What a good marriage is can he experienced by many; not forgetting it takes two to make a happy and good marriage. (But even one partner can make a marriage holy. we know.) But—and this is what lay people often complain of—the clergy sometimes seem to be unable to comprehend that some things must be experienced to be understood: they appear to think that looking up references in the Fathers is equivalent to experience. It is as if the director of a deep-sea diving establishment in his office, looking up charts of water-pressures should think he knew what it is to he under 50 fathoms of water examining a wreck. . . in fact, his experience is actually closer as at any rate he can put on a suit and " take the plunge." whereas our pastors and masters cannot!

There is an air of silent restraint on the faces of the laity who get so much admonition; they do not reply and their feelings are only expressed among themselves. One feeling is, when the clergy talk about marriage they always talk about sin in connection with it; it is as if the two Subjects were separably connected in their minds! The laity have heavy burdens laid on them by the Church and by the State; on a subject so personal and where they can claim knowledge and experience denied to a celibate clergy. I think they can be permitted to form their own opinions as to marriage (in matters where there is no sin involved. . . and am speaking of the cducated Catholic laity who take the main burden of moral and financial responsibility in this country).

V. M. Greene. Grove House.

lffley Turn. Oxford.

As unhappy misunderstandings would he .so easily possible in this delicate subject, we feel we should say that no Catholic would question the right of the Church to decide both the moral theology and the spiritual guidance in marriage. and that consequently if is the ditty of priests, both inside and outside the confessional, to instruct the faithful on the subject. The point, we think, that is bring made is that only the married can know the actual experience of marriage on all its levels, not least the actual spiritual experience which derives from the Sacrament of marriage which the non-married, however learned and holy. do not receive. If we may give an example, WC would say that among the non married, clerical and lay, the marriage act is often conceived of as a " pleasure." a "licit pleasure" —with overtones of self-indulgence. But we would suggest that in the good marriage the partners think of it overwhelmingly not as receiving pleasure. but as giving something above the pleasure level. It is a giving over. a dedication, It may even be a sacrifice, in the effecting of which the personal pleasure content can be almost overwhelmed and disregarded in the will to give and express love for the other. Experienced as such. the element of concupiscence can psychologically count for very little

indeed. Editor C.H.

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