Blog Template Theology of the Body: August 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

For Christ Alone: Thinking about Mary 101

Among others, August is her month, and this weekend is the Feast of her Assumption into Heaven by the grace of her Son.

As often happens, I have a lot of explaining to do around the time of the Feast of Mary's Assumption. And as always, simpler is better. Yes, she is our Queen Mother. She's the mother of the King. And yes, we believe that her Son once called her to be assumed through the clouds to be in His presence in Heaven. This is what He promised to do for all of us, as He did for Elijah and a few others of His Old Testament servants; and it just makes sense that our courteous Lord would have His mother go first, in the promised resurrection of the body which He alone can provide.

I am struck lately by how desperately the Church needs to cling to its Queen these days- not just in terms of gorgeous litanies and personal affection, but in terms of the doctrinal rigor that only she can afford. The heresy of our day is that the Incarnation of God that occured in her womb is negligible. Spiritually, liberalized Christianity has decided to die the easy death of those who follow an unembodied Christ ideal. Our atmosphere is rife with such lovely-sounding, air- headed proposals of uber groundless spiritualities. Politically, a national culture that once generally affirmed that the Body of Jesus saves us now has its future threatened by the irritated Islamic heresy that does not tolerate this truth, while from within, we kill our unborn babies and "euthenize" our infirm because we have forgotten that from the reality of the Incarnation, every human body intrinsically belongs to God. And all the while, the sacred warning of I John rings in the backgound like a distant memory... every spirit that denies that Christ is come in the flesh is the spirit of antichrist... who is the antichrist but he who denies that Christ is come in the flesh...any spirit that denies...

The Church has not forgotten that we are saved by knowledge of the Son, in the Biblical sense. The Church has not forgotten that we are not saved by a set of well-worded propositions about God, but by the visceral, physical reality of Jesus of Nazereth, who is God united to human flesh. The Church has thus not forgotten that Mary, above and beyond all the human creation, really knows the Son. He is her Son. She knew his stirrings in her own body before His birth. She recognized dominant DNA patterns from her parents and grandparents in His features. She knew Him when He was two. While He grew in wisdom and stature, she knew what He liked to eat and what He did not (look people, this is essential to what Christianity is- the firm conviction that God in Christ probably has favorite foods). It is she who knew that just as much as His human will grew in perfect conformity and union to His divinity, He had eyes of a certan color and pains of a certain sort, and she knew exactly what His excruciating bloody wounds looked like on the day He died for the great love of His life. And it is thus that it is Mary, the mother of our Lord, who can uniquely crush that elegant and sinister lie that God has not come in the flesh, that redeeming Truth is separate from a Person. Mary wiped His nose and rocked Him to sleep. She knows.

History has proven that it is the mother of God who protects the essential, precious truth of our salvation: the Word is made flesh and dwelt among us. Several essential aspects of the Church’s worship and confession were expressed around the 4th century in response to the proposals of detractors. The first, at the Council of Nicaea in 325, declared that Christ is fully God. At stake was an understanding of salvation: the Cross can save us only if the Crucified Redeemer is fully divine. Once the Church had expressed that the Son is also fully man at the Council of Constantinople in 381, the third statement, expressed shortly thereafter at the Council of Ephesus in 431, responded to the proposals of Nestorius.

Nestorius wanted above all things to evade the harsh implications of the Cross. In sum, Nestorius was convinced that a God who suffered in the flesh could not save us. Surely such a God would have ceased to be God. So, Nestorius invented the sad proposal that I have run into over and over again: Jesus of Nazareth is not fully God because in Him God is not fully united to man. Jesus is only a "temple" in which God dwells; the child born of Mary may be honored as the vessel in which God's power became manifest, but Jesus cannot be worshipped as God. In short, the Nestorian heresy contended then (as it contends now) that the Word has not been made flesh, that God has not united Himself to us.

As promised, the Holy Spirit led Christ's Church into all truth, and the conciliar clarification came through loud and clear in the orthodox doctrine that Catholic Christians confess today while we joyfully worship Jesus. Mary's testimony won the day: the Person conceived by the Holy Spirit in her virginal womb is Himself the unity of God and man. He has a rational soul and a human body born of His mother; everything that belongs to a real human is in the divine Christ. The subject of the whole human reality is the Logos, which He took on from the Virgin in mortal time. With respect to His essential humanity born of Mary, God was born, God suffered, God did everything that Jesus was doing… the one who was born of the Jewish girl is the same as the one who was begotten of the Father before all worlds. As Athanasius had put it, the whole Christian story must be the story of Jesus’ descent and ascent- of the Logos' descent into our flesh, and of the taking of our flesh into the very heart of God. The story of salvation is the story of the Logos, from the bosom of the Father, to the depths of our flesh, returning to the Father clothed forever in our flesh, fused with it. What Christ has not assumed of our nature and united to His godhead cannot be healed.

The conclusion centered on Mary. In the end, in summary of the Church's Christological confession, Mary was declared Theotokos, Mother of God- not mother of a fleshly "vessel," nor mother of an earthly "temple." Rather, she herself was known to be the Vessel and Temple in whom God Himself had dwelt. In sum, we are left today with the historic Fourth Anathema against Nestorius: if anyone distributes between two persons/subjects of Jesus Christ and attaches some to the man as separated from God, let him be anathema.

The lie that the second Person of the Trinity had not come in the flesh and been born of a woman was silenced. At the time, the Church celebrated with processions similar to those that Catholic churches will perform this Sunday. In defeat of the heresies, an image of the mother of God Incarnate is paraded through the towns of the fallen world in public proclamation that the hellish lies about her Son have to stop at her humble feet. The Church recalled prayers from the Fathers Eusebius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Origin, and Gregory of Nazianzan then, as we do now: sub tuum presidium, we fly to your patronage, oh holy mother of God. Do not reject our prayers in time of need... you who alone are pure, holy and blessed... if anyone does not believe in Mary as the Mother of God, he is severed from the godhead

(On this Feast of the Assumption, while I am in glad procession against deadly heresies, I will enjoy recalling the prayer of a more modern figure):

In this work whereby she was made the Mother of God, so many and such great good things were given her that no one can grasp them. ... Not only was Mary the mother of him who is born in Bethlehem, but of him who, before the world, was eternally born of the Father, from a Mother in time and at the same time man and God...She is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin- something exceedingly great. For God's grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil...The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart...It is the consolation and the superabundant goodness of God, that man is able to exult in such a treasure. Mary is his true Mother, Christ is his brother, God is his father...Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees . . . If he is ours, we ought to be in his situation; there where he is, we ought also to be and all that he has ought to be ours, and his mother is also our mother.

- Martin Luther, Little Prayer Book, 1522.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Cardinal Mahony on Homosexuality and Marriage


..."There is only one issue before each of us Californians: Is Marriage of Divine or of Human Origin?"

Friday, August 06, 2010

Bishop Jaime Soto's 2008 Address on Homosexuality and Marriage

September 29, 2008

"...The nature of love has been distorted. Many popular notions have deviated from its true destiny. Love for many has come to mean having sex. If you cannot have sex than you cannot love. This is the message. Even more destructive is the prevailing notion that sex is not an expression of love. Sex is love. This reductio ad absurdam deprives sexuality of its true meaning and robs the human person of the possibility of ever knowing real love.

Sexual intercourse is a beautiful expression of love, but this is so when intercourse is understood as a unique expression intended to share in the creative, faithful love of God. As the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, elaborated in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, “Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love” - between a man and woman - “becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love.” (DCE, n. 11) Sexual intercourse within the context of the marriage covenant becomes a beautiful icon - a sacrament - of God’s creative, unifying love. When sexual intercourse is taken out of this iconic, sacramental context of the complementary, procreative covenant between a man and a woman it becomes impoverished and it demeans the human person.

Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman in the covenant of Marriage is one expression of love to which the human person can aspire, but we are all called to love. It is part of our human nature to love. We all have a desire to love, but this love can deviate from its true calling when it exalts only in the pleasure of the body. Pope Benedict said in the same encyclical, “The contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure ‘sex,’ has become a commodity, a mere ‘thing’ to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great ‘yes’ to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will.” (DCE, n. 5) This is not our true calling. The human desire to love must lead us to the divine. Looking again to the Holy Father’s encyclical, he says, “True, eros - human desire - tends to rise ‘in ecstasy’ towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.” (DCE, n. 5)

This path is the path of chastity. This is very true in marriage. It is also true in all of human life because it is the nature of all authentic love. We are all called to love. We are all called to be loved. This can only happen when we choose to love in the manner that God has called us to live. Love leads us to ecstasy, not as a moment of intoxication but rather as a journey, “an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God: ‘Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it’ (Lk 17:33).” (DCE n. 6)

Sexuality, then, as part of our human nature only dignifies and liberates us when we begin to love in harmony with God’s love and God’s wisdom for us. Chastity as a virtue is the path that brings us to that harmony with God’s wisdom and love. Chastity moves us beyond one’s desire to what God wills for each one of us. Chastity is love’s journey on the path of “ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.” Chastity is the understanding that it is not all about me or about us. We act always under God’s gaze. Desire tempered and tested by “renunciation, purification, and healing” can lead us to God’s design.

This is true for all of us. It is also true for men and women who are homosexual. We are called to live and love in a manner that brings us into respectful, chaste relationships with one another and an intimate relationship with God. We should be an instrument of God’s love for one another. Let me be clear here. Sexual intercourse, outside of the marriage covenant between a man and a woman, can be alluring and intoxicating but it will not lead to that liberating journey of true self-discovery and an authentic discovery of God. For that reason, it is sinful. Sexual relations between people of the same sex can be alluring for homosexuals but it deviates from the true meaning of the act and distracts them from the true nature of love to which God has called us all. For this reason, it is sinful.

Married love is a beautiful, heroic expression of faithful, life-giving, life-creating love. It should not be accommodated and manipulated for those who would believe that they can and have a right to mimic its unique expression.

Marriage is also not the sole domain of love as some of the politics would seem to imply. Love is lived and celebrated in so many ways that can lead to a wholesome, earnest, and religious life: the deep and chaste love of committed friends, the untiring love of committed religious and clergy, the profound and charitable bonds among the members of a Christian community, enduring, forgiving, and supportive love among family members. Should we dismiss or demean the human and spiritual significance of these lives given in love?

This is a hard message today. It is the still the right message. It will unsettle and disturb many of our brothers and sisters, just as Peter was unsettled and put off by the stern rebuke of his master and good friend, the Lord Jesus. If the story of Peter’s relationship with Jesus had begun and ended there, it would have been a sad tale indeed, but that is not the whole story then nor is it the whole story now. Jesus met Simon Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He said with great love and fondness, “Come, follow me.” Peter would not only continue to follow the Lord Jesus to Jerusalem. Despite his many failings and foibles, he would eventually choose to love as Jesus loved him. He would die as martyr’s death in Rome, giving himself completely for the one who loved him so dearly.

The teaching of the Church regarding the sacred dignity of human sexuality is not a rebuke but an invitation to love as God loves us. The Church’s firm support of Proposition 8 is not a rebuke against homosexuals but a heartfelt affirmation of the nature of the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. We hope and pray that all people, including our brothers and sisters who are homosexuals, will see the reasonableness of our position and the sincerity of our love for them.

For that reason, we should let the words of St. Paul haunt us and unsettle us: “Do not conform yourself to this age.” In so many ways we can allow ourselves to be duped, fooled, by the fads and trends of this age. It is far better that we allow ourselves to be drawn into the ways and the manners of Jesus. The Lord Jesus challenges us as he challenged his friend, Simon Peter, to not conform to what is fashionable and convenient. He has so much more to offer us. Do not think as others do. Let us think as God does. He shows us the way, the truth, and the life."

More Here. And Here.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Proposition 8 and a Good America

Yesterday, California joined a handful of other states in overturning their ban on same-sex sexual relationships being legally identified as "marriages." Many commentors and I are sure that this means that this controversy will make its way to the Supreme Court.

In the interim, lobbyists and lawmakers will be scrambling to preserve the interests of their constituencies. What are these interests? The cool timbre of legal explanations will hold forth various arguments.

Proponents of same- sex "marriage" will argue against discrimination with regards to the natural rights of homosexual persons to free expression and association. They will claim the right to privacy, the fact that the choice of a marriage partner and the right to marry is a fundamental human right, and that the interests of adopted children who are involved in such relationships might benefit from the security of a "marital" home. In particular, they will argue the 1993 holding of Baehr v. Lewin, that homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection under the law. They will hold forth the 1999 conclusion of Baker v. VT, that the state cannot exclude same sex couples from the benefits and protections which its laws provide to heterosexual married couples, and that same sex couples are constitutionally entitled to all of the common benefits afforded to married couples. And they will challenge their opposition to prove a rational basis, given these facts, that can justify the exclusion of same sex couples from "marriage" on reasonable grounds.

On the other hand, those who fight for the traditional norm of heterosexual marriage will remind this nation that the legalization of same sex relationships as "marriages" will separate the properly intrinsic link between sexuality, marriage, and procreation. They will argue that such authorization creates an unhealthy environment for the children adopted into the same sex household, as well as for those children who are engineered for the same sex couple in the most cumbersome ways, while also contaminating the moral atmosphere for all young people. They will ask why our society should be forced to endorse that which the larger society holds to be immoral, in as much as the practical affirmation of marriage "costs" our society in terms of tax breaks and benefits; they will propose, in sum, that the United States courts cannot conclude that a right to same sex marriage is so rooted in the traditions or collective conscience of the people that failure to recognize it would violate the fundamental principles of liberty and justice. In other words, such a “right” to the legal recognition of same sex relationships is not so implicit in the concept of ordered liberty that it would become the case that neither liberty nor justice could succeed if that "right" were sacrificed. Declining to recognize gay relationships as "marriage" is not to authorize an unjust deprivation of proper entitlements, nor is a state's refusal to recognize such relationships sufficiently grievous, coercive, or intrusive to amount to the "deprivation" of a natural or legal right.

...And in response to the traditional arguments against the authorization of same sex relationships, proponents of homosexual "marriage" will reply that our arguments are "all about religion," and the intrinsic link which all religious traditions recognize between sexual intercourse, marriage, and children, and the concurrent recognition of the inherent disorder which distorts every homosexual sexual act. And they will be right.

This is the sort of juncture where we have to throw the towel in with regards to our highly sterilized and Gnostic presumption of a separation between Church and state, when no such stern dichotomy can actually exist between religious structures and a society of religious people. By definition, a religion is that which proposes a normative truth, ensconced in a normative system, applicable to all of life. The Catholic Church understands this; and while she gladly acknowledges a nation's claim to civil life, structures, and autonomy, she does not cease to propose the universal norms which she understands to be the truth about the world and about all people. One of these truths which the Church proposes is that not every "right" is to be exercised, if the goal is real freedom, strength, and civic excellence; accordingly, another such truth is that those who are empowered to make and interpret laws will only fulfill their responsibilities when they legislate broadly to affirm the deeper truths that enable and assist persons to be truly free. To authorize sexual license apart from real moral structures is to fail in this responsibility; that's why our laws prohibit statutory rape, incest, polygamy, prostitution.

(This is the case even though I have seen some fairly tight arguments to the contrary pop up in family law textbooks- a merely Constitutional case can be made for the legalization of incest, believe me- but here the inevitable question always arises as to what is truly good)

And yes, our objections to same sex "marriage" are all about religion. The Church interprets her Scriptures and her own history in such a way that enables her to speak to the current situation with stunning clarity. Writing in 1968, and without direct reference to the issue of homosexual relationships, Pope Paul VI warned in Humanae Vitae that our culture's gradual and contraceptive dissociation of the intrinsic link between sexuality, marriage, and procreation would lead to the isolation of each, the exploitation of each, and a disordered approach to each. The Pope held forth what the Church undertands to be the truth about marriage, about sexuality, and its fruits:

(We hold) the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act. The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called.

Against such a religious definition of the proper ordering of sex and marriage, homosexual partners demand the right to receive national and state benefits and authorization for their decision to have sex with each other, in a stable sort of way. Is this marriage and family, in the way the Church understands it? No. Is it plausible that a compelling Constitutional argument can be made for the rights of homosexual persons to receive legal benefits for their decision to have continuous and monogamous sex with each other? Yes. But in as much as the Church (and all other religious traditions) hold forth what may (to the secular audience) be the actual truth about persons, marriage, and family, then the exercise of a legal right to imitate marriage may lead to our demise as we attempt to enact a new sort of "marital" institution based on a delusion. When our nation ceases to order its life within reality, even in the purported name of justice, we will cease to be an instantiation of sound civic order among the nations of the world; we will become as fragile as another social construct. It's a risk. The world's religious traditions have millenia on our innovative little USA.

Alexis De Toqueville, one of our colonial statesmen, had this in mind when he remarked that America, and her constitution and legal structures, were great- technically- only because they were good- morally. And he continued that when America ceased to be "good," in the way that religious and moral traditions describe goodness, she would cease to be great. Yes friends, in that way, we are "all about religion."

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Anne Rice in a Weaker Vein

There has been a bit of hulabaloo recently about Anne Rice's decision to depart from the Catholic Church and all "organized religion" after her much-touted return to it in 2005; NPR characteristically aired an interview with her yesterday, in their amusing mode of offering only diametric counters to EWTN's "The Journey Home," on which I was a guest last fall (what would be fun is to hear a really good conversion story in Terry Gross' breathy voice).

We can leave aside for now the sterner internal interptation of her choice as a self-conscious act of apostasy and a sin against charity itself; what worries me is the intellectual credibility of this public decision. Anne Rice's list of negations and denials is boringly thin, aimed at a line of straw men who are less robust than her bloodless Undead. Where has the Catholic Church ever self-identified as "anti-feminist," "anti-gay," or "anti- science," as Rice puts it? Is this not the same Church which, in its authoritative statements, identifies itself in the image of a woman and enthusiastically lauds women's contributions to every sphere of life, defends the dignity and rights of homosexual persons, (Catechism 2358), and affirms the integral roles of faith and science? Anne Rice should know better; she referenced such good scholarship for her first faithful novel, Christ the Lord. Instead, she has chosen to affirm a mere negation, which, apart from being logically impossible, is intensely boring. She has become another postmodern cliche.'

On the other hand, I so well remember stopping by one of Anne Rice’s Manhattan book signings for Christ the Lord when the book first came out, in the wake of Rice’s public return to the faith. I remember a certain warm sense of real fellowship- a community of friends with a common cause. I remember how serene and whole and firmly resolved Rice seemed, how secure. I’d asked her to inscribe my book for a certain priest, and she held that book for an extra second, repeating the priest’s name almost tenderly. If that little sliver of time represents a small part of the graces at work in her return to the faith, she will be back. The chilly tone of her recent renunciations lacks the compelling tenor of real love and conviction altogether. She was not made to live a negation.

For those in the popular media who are applauding Rice's constrained and insipid choice as a sort of clarion call to Christian believers, please. She offers no radical new proposal; she suggests nothing new or positive in terms of constructive change for us awful Catholics and Christians who actually love our organized structures. She is not proposing a reform. She is re-hashing a tired, weary strain which does not do justice to her fairly good literary style. She can do nothing but make qualifications now. And that is just sad, on so many levels- with regard to her spirituality, and with regard to her brain.