Wednesday, February 22, 2012

To Wash or to Remain a Sign

A few years ago, I don't remember where, a big discussion broke out over the issue of whether to leave the ashes on your forehead or to wipe them off after Mass.

A few admitted to wiping the ashes off out of embarrassment of what co-workers or others might think or something, but most who advocated wiping them off pointed to that part of the Gospel, which happens to be part of the reading for Ash Wednesday 2012, where Jesus says,
"Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father . . .
"When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you." (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)
So, from this, it would seem that those who wash their faces before going out in public have the better of the argument.

But the other side argued that the ashes should remain because they were not merely a momentary symbol, but a liturgical action, and they further reasoned that it would be wrong to wipe the ashes off because, to the extent that people worried what the outside public might think, to remove the ashes was tantamount to denying Jesus, remembering what He said, "whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father." (Mt 10:33)

So who is right? Each position has its merits. But with respect to the first argument about doing good and praying secretly and going out in public with a clean face, in order to properly interpret that passage, it is important not to read it in isolation (as unfortunately we do as a reading at Mass).

One rule of scriptural interpretation is to read passages in context, in the context of the surrounding text and the Bible as a whole. Well, this particular passage is from Matthew chapter 6, and is part of the Sermon on the Mount. And just a few verses earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, in chapter 5, we hear Jesus say,
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father." (Mt. 5:14-15)
Thus, reading the above passage (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18) in context, since Jesus just finished telling us to let others see our good deeds, to set a good example to others, it would seem that the better interpretation of His words to not do certain things in public is that Jesus is talking about self-aggrandizement, of doing good not for the sake of doing good, but only so others will see you doing good so that they might think more highly of you, rather than thinking more highly of God.

So, if you are one of those prone to taking pride in your humility, saying "hey everyone, look at me, look how humble I am with these ashes, look at what a good Catholic I am," it would probably be best to either change that attitude quick, or go ahead and wash the ashes off, else they become a temptation to prideful sin.

But if you can remember the day, remember in all sincerity and humility that "you are dust and unto dust you shall return," then go ahead, leave the ashes on so as to be a witness of Jesus to the world. Let them see in you a reminder of Him. Not for your benefit, so that they will think better of you, but for their benefit and for the greater glory of God.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fatima and the Government's Contraception Mandate

Today, the Church celebrates the feast day of the humble shepherd children of Fatima, Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta. Given the various many attacks on the Church and the Catholic Faith by government, most recently the assault on religious liberty and conscience by the Obama Administration, we need to remember what Our Lady told us at Fatima -- although the faithful will suffer, and the Church will be persecuted, her Immaculate Heart will triumph.

The Mission of Fatima Continues

On October 13, 1917, a reported 70,000 people were present for the "Miracle of the Sun" outside the small town of Fatima, Portugal, where a radiant Lady in white had appeared to three humble shepherd children. The Lady had spoken of the war then raging in Europe (World War I) and had warned of an even greater war to follow (World War II), and she asked that people pray for the conversion of Russia to prevent its errors (e.g. Communism) from being spread throughout the world. A third "secret" involved the suffering and shooting of a "bishop in white," who has since been interpreted as being the pope.

The world wars are over, the Soviet Union is no more, and Eastern Europe is free. Pope John Paul II was in fact shot on May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first apparition, and he suffered greatly before his death. Now that so much of the prophetic message of Our Lady has come to fruition, does that mean that Fatima is now relegated to the past? Are those events and the message of Our Lady of Fatima now merely a historical curiosity? Or perhaps we ought to ask: What really is The Message of Fatima?
We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete. Here there takes on new life the plan of God which asks humanity from the beginning: "Where is your brother Abel . . . Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!" (Gen 4:9). Mankind has succeeded in unleashing a cycle of death and terror, but failed in bringing it to an end... In sacred Scripture we often find that God seeks righteous men and women in order to save the city of man and he does the same here, in Fatima, when Our Lady asks: "Do you want to offer yourselves to God, to endure all the sufferings which he will send you, in an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?" (Memoirs of Sister LĂșcia, I, 162).

At a time when the human family was ready to sacrifice all that was most sacred on the altar of the petty and selfish interests of nations, races, ideologies, groups and individuals, our Blessed Mother came from heaven, offering to implant in the hearts of all those who trust in her the Love of God burning in her own heart. At that time it was only to three children, yet the example of their lives spread and multiplied, especially as a result of the travels of the Pilgrim Virgin, in countless groups throughout the world dedicated to the cause of fraternal solidarity. May the seven years which separate us from the centenary of the apparitions hasten the fulfilment of the prophecy of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity.
--Pope Benedict XVI, Fatima, May 13, 2010

What is The Message of Fatima? What is the ultimate message given to us, the ultimate meaning?

There is great hardship and suffering in the world. Yet, we do not despair because Jesus came to save us from death and destruction. We have hope. Not the "hope" of wishes and grasping at straws, but of trustworthy confidence and assured expectation of salvation. (Spe Salvi) But Jesus asks for our help in the work of salvation, which comes through the Cross. We are called to, among other things, pray for others, make a gift of self in love to others, and to help Him carry the Cross, taking upon ourselves what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ and suffering with Him. (Col 1:24).

The ultimate message of Fatima is this: Humanity will necessarily suffer great hardship in this world, but God has not abandoned us. The Lady in white, clothed as with the sun, asks us to help her Son in the work of salvation, including prayer, penance, and redemptive suffering, not merely for ourselves, but for the salvation of others, for their conversion away from sin to embracing holiness. The faithful will suffer and even be hated and persecuted, but all this is beatitude (Mt. 5:3-10). In the end, notwithstanding all of the great evils that are thrust upon us, her Immaculate Heart will triumph.
The Heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The fiat of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Saviour into the world — because, thanks to her Yes, God could become man in our world and remains so for all time.

The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise. (Theological Commentary on Fatima, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith)
Evil will not have the last say, the good will prevail. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain." (Rev. 21:1-8)

Ultimately, The Message of Fatima is hope.


Here is a really interesting documentary from Italy on Fatima --


See also -
--Timeline of the Events of Fatima
--Theological Commentary on Fatima by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
--Church Teaching on Marian Apparitions and Other Private Revelations
--Beatification of Francisco and Jacinta and the Message of Fatima
--The Truth of Sin and Suffering, and Our Helping Jesus in the Work of Salvation
--Other Source Material on Fatima


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Contraception - A Violation of the Total Love in a Communion of Persons that is True Conjugal Love

The Truth of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae
by Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow, Poland
as published in L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
16 January 1969, page 6
A Testimony

It will seem strange that we begin our thoughts about the encyclical Humanae Vitae with quotations from the Autobiography of M. Gandhi. "In my opinion," wrote the great Indian,
"to maintain that the sexual act is a spontaneous action analogous to sleeping or eating, is crass ignorance. The existence of the world depends upon the act of multiplying—upon procreation, we say—and since the world is the dominion of God and a reflection of his power, the act of multiplying—of procreation, we say—must be subjected to the norm which aims at safeguarding (the development of life on earth). The man who is aware of all this, will aspire at all costs to dominate his senses and will furnish himself with the necessary knowledge to promote the physical and spiritual growth of his offspring. He will then pass on the fruits of this knowledge to posterity as well as using them for his own advantage."
In another passage from his autobiography, Gandhi says that twice in his life he was influenced by the propaganda for artificial means of contraception in conjugal life. However he arrived at the conviction that "one must act primarily through interior force, in the mastery of oneself, that is through self-control."

With regard to the encyclical Humanae Vitae, these passages from the Autobiography of Gandhi take on the significance of a special testimony. They make us recall the words of Saint Paul in the Epistle to the Romans, concerning the substance of the Law inscribed in the heart of man and demonstrated by the dictates of an upright conscience (Rom. 2, 15). Even in the times of Saint Paul, the voice of an upright conscience was a reproach for those who, even though "possessors of the Law", did not observe it.

Perhaps it is also good for us to have before our eyes the testimony of this non-Christian man. It is appropriate for us to be aware of "the substance of the Law" written in the heart of man and demonstrated by the conscience, in order to be able to penetrate the profound truth of the doctrine of the Church contained in Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae. For this reason, at the beginning of our thoughts, which aim at clarifying the ethical truth and the objective foundation of the teaching of Humanae Vitae, we have used such a testimony. The fact that this testimony historically precedes the encyclical by a few decades does not lesson its significance: in fact, the essence of the problem remains the same in both, and even the circumstances are quite similar.

The True Meaning Of Responsible Parenthood

In order to answer the questions presented at the beginning of the encyclical (H.v. 3), Paul VI analyzes the two great and fundamental "realities of married life", conjugal love and responsible parenthood (H.v. 7), in their mutual relationship. The analysis of responsible parenthood constitutes the principal theme of the encyclical since the questions posed at the beginning present this problem:
"Could it not be admitted, that is, that the intention of a less abundant but more rationalized fecundity might transform a materially sterilizing intervention into a licit and wise control of birth? Could it not be admitted, that is, that the finality of procreation pertains to the ensemble of conjugal life, rather than to its single acts? ... has not the moment come for him to entrust to his reason and his will, rather than to the biological rhythms of his organism, the task of regulating birth?" (H.v. 3).
To answer these questions the Pope does not resort to the traditional hierarchy of the purposes of marriage of which the first is procreation, but instead he analyzes the mutual relations between conjugal love and responsible parenthood. This is the same formulation of the problem as that contained in the pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes.

A correct and penetrating analysis of conjugal love presupposes an exact idea of marriage itself. Marriage is not "the product of unconscious natural forces" (H.v. 8), it is "the communion of beings" (H.v. 8) based on their reciprocal gift of self. And for this reason a correct judgment of responsible parenthood presupposes "an integral vision of man and of his vocation" (H.v. 7).

To acquire such a judgment, "the partial perspectives—whether of the biological, psychological, demographic or sociological orders" (H.v. 7) are not at all sufficient. None of these views can constitute a basis for an adequate and just answer to the questions posed above. Every answer that comes from a partial view can only be a partial one.

In order to find an adequate answer, it is necessary to have a correct vision of man as a being, since marriage establishes a communion of beings which is born and brought about through their mutual gift of self. Conjugal love is characterized by the elements which result from such a communion of beings and which correspond to the personal dignity of the man and the woman, of the husband and the wife. It is a matter of total love, or love which involves the whole man,: his sensitivity, his affectivity, and his spirituality, which must be both faithful and exclusive. This love "is not exhausted in the communion between husband and wife but it is destined to continue raising up new lives" (H.v. 9); it is therefore fruitful love.

This loving communion of a married couple, through which they constitute, according to the words of Genesis 2, 24, "a single body" is a kind of condition of fecundity, a condition of procreation. This communion being a particular type — since it is corporeal it is in the strict sense "sexual" — of the realization of the conjugal communion between beings, must be brought about at the level of the person and must befit his dignity. It is on this basis that one must form an exact judgment of responsible parenthood.

This judgment concerns, first of all, the essence of paternity — and under this aspect it is a positive judgment: "conjugal love requires in husband and wife an awareness of their mission of responsible parenthood . . . " (H.v. 10). The encyclical throughout its text formulates this judgment and proposes it as a basic answer to the questions posed above: conjugal love must be fruitful love, that is, "directed toward parenthood". Parenthood which comes from love between persons is "responsible parenthood". One could say that in the Encyclical Humanae vitae responsible parenthood becomes the proper name for human procreation.

This basically positive judgment of responsible parenthood, however, requires some further explanation. It is only through these further explanations that we can find a universal answer to the initial questions. Paul VI offers us these explanations. According to the encyclical, responsible parenthood means "both... the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, and... the decision... to avoid for the time being or for in indeterminate length of time, a new birth" (H.v. 10). If conjugal love is fruitful love, that is, open to parenthood, it is difficult to think that the meaning of responsible parenthood, deduced from its essential properties can be identified only with the limitation of birth. Thus responsible parenthood is realized both by those couples who, thanks to their generous and meditated decision, produce a large family, as well as by those couples who for "grave motives and with due respect for the moral law" (H.v. 10) decide to limit the number of their offspring.

According to the doctrine of the Church, responsible parenthood is not and cannot be only the effect of a certain "technique" of conjugal collaboration: in fact, it has primarily and "per se" an ethical value. A true and fundamental danger — to which the encyclical purports to be a providential remedy — consists in the temptation to consider this problem as being outside the sphere of ethics, to make an effort to divest man of the responsibility for his own actions which are so profoundly rooted in his entire personal structure. Responsible parenthood — writes the Pope — "means the necessary dominion which will and reason must exercise" over the tendencies of instinct and passion (H.v. 10). Thus this domination presupposes "the knowledge and respect of the biological processes" (H.v. 10) and this places these processes not only in their biological dynamism, but also in their personal integration, that is, at the level of the person, since "the human intellect discovers in the power of giving life biological laws which are part of the human person" (H.v. 10).

Love is the communion of persons. If parenthood and responsible parenthood correspond to this love, then the way of acting which leads to such parenthood cannot be morally indifferent. In fact, it decides whether the sexual activity of the communion of persons is or is not authentic love. "By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love..." (H.v. 12).

Man "cannot of his own initiative break the inseparable connection between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning" (H.v. 12). It is for this reason that the encyclical supports the previous position of the Magisterium and maintains the difference between the so-called natural regulation of birth which calls for periodical abstinence and contraception which uses artificial methods. We use the word "maintains" because "the two cases are completely different from each other" (H.v. 16). There is a great difference between them with regard to their ethical qualification.

The encyclical of Paul VI as a document of the supreme Magisterium of the Church presents the teaching of the human and Christian ethic in one of its key points. The truth of Humanae vitae is therefore primarily a normative truth. It reminds us of the principles of morality, which constitute the objective norm. This norm is even written in the human heart, as is demonstrated at least in the testimony of Gandhi which we quoted in the beginning of this article.

Nonetheless, this objective moral principle easily suffers from subjective deformations or common obscuring. On the other hand, many other moral principles such as those which were recalled in the encyclical Populorum Progressio have met a similar fate. In the encyclical Humanae vitae, the Holy Father expresses above all his full understanding of all these circumstances which seem to speak out against the principle of conjugal morality as taught by the Church. The Pope is also aware of the difficulties to which modern man is exposed, as well as the weaknesses to which he is subject. However, the path towards the solution of the problems must be through the truth of the Gospel: "To diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ constitutes in eminent form of charity for souls" (H.v. 29). The motive of charity towards souls and no other motive moves the Church which "does not cease... to proclaim with humble firmness the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical" (H.v. 18).

A Correct Hierarchy Of Values

The normative truth of Humanae vitae is strictly tied to those values which are expressed in the objective moral order according to their proper hierarchy. These are the authentic human values which, are connected with conjugal and family life. The Church considers herself the custodian and guarantor of these values as we read in the encyclical. In the face of any danger which threatens them the Church feels it her duty to defend them. The authentic human values constitute the basis and at the same time the motivation of the principles of conjugal morality mentioned in the encyclical. It is useful to emphasize them once again even though they have already been demonstrated in the preceding discussions, and the matter is quite clear, since the true meaning of responsible parenthood was already expressed in the encyclical in relation to conjugal love.

The value which is at the foundation of this demonstration is the value of human life, that is, of that life already conceived and blossoming in the living together of the married couple. The responsibility of parenthood, to which the entire encyclical is principally dedicated, itself speaks of this value.

The fact that this value of life already conceived or in its origin, is not examined in the encyclical within the framework of procreation as the purpose of marriage, but rather within the vision of the love and the responsibility of the partners, places the value of human life itself in a new light. Man and woman in their matrimonial life together which is a living together of persons, must create a new human person. The conceiving of a person by means of persons — this is the just measure of values which must be used here. This is, at the same time, the just measure of the responsibility which must guide human parenthood.

The encyclical recognizes this value. Even though the encyclical does not seem to speak of this value very much, nevertheless it indirectly emphasizes it even more when it places it firmly within the context of other values. These are the fundamental values for human life and, at the same time, the specific values for marriage and the family. They are specific because only marriage and the family — and no other human environment — constitute the specific field in which these values appear. They are the fertile soil in which they grow. One of these is the value of conjugal and family love, the other is the value of the person, or his dignity which is manifested in the closest and most intimate human contacts.

These two values permeate each other so completely that in a certain sense they constitute a single good. And this is the spiritual good of marriage, the greatest wealth of the new human generations:
"...husband and wife fully develop their personalities, being enriched with spiritual values. Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace... it favours attention for one's partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and deepens their sense of responsibility. By its means, parents acquire the capacity of having a deeper and more efficacious influence in the education of their offspring; little children and youths grow up with a just appraisal of human values, and in the serene and harmonious development of their spiritual and sensitive faculties" (H.v. 21).
This is the full context and at the same time the universal framework of the values upon which the doctrine of responsible parenthood is founded, the attitude of responsibility extends over the entire conjugal life and over the entire process of education. Only those who have reached the full maturity of their person through a complete education can succeed, in educating new human beings. Responsible parenthood and the chastity of the mutual relations between the married couple inherent in it are the verification of their spiritual maturity. Thus they project their light over the entire process of education which is carried out in the family.

The encyclical Humanae vitae contains not only clear and explicit norms for married life, conscious parenthood and a correct regulation of birth, but through these norms it indicates the values. It confirms their correct meaning and warns us against false meanings. It expresses a profound solicitude to safeguard man from the danger of altering the most fundamental values.

One of the most fundamental values is that of human love. Love has its source in God who "is Love." Paul VI places this revealed truth at the beginning of his penetrating analysis of conjugal love because it expresses the highest value which must be recognized in human love. Human love is rich in the experiences of which it consists, but its essential richness consists in being a communion of persons, that is of a man and a woman, in their mutual self-giving.

Conjugal love is enriched through the authentic giving of one person to another person. It is this mutual giving of self which must not be altered. If in marriage there is to be the realization of authentic love of persons through the giving of bodies, that is, through the "bodily union" of the man and the woman, then out of regard for the value of the love itself, this mutual gift of self cannot be altered in any aspect of the interpersonal conjugal act

Authentic Value of Human Love

The value itself of human love and its authenticity demand such a chastity of the marital act as is required by the Church and is repeated in the encyclical itself.

In various fields, man dominates nature and subordinates it to himself through the use of artificial means. The sum total of these means in a certain sense is equivalent to progress and civilization.

In this field, however, where love between one person and another is expressed through the marital act, and where the person must authentically give himself (and "give" also means "to receive" reciprocally) the use of artificial means is equivalent to an alteration of the act of love. The author of Humanae vitae is aware of the authentic value of human love which has God as its source, and which is confirmed by a correct conscience and a healthy "moral sense". It is precisely in the name of this value that the Pope teaches the principles of ethical responsibility. This is also the responsibility which safeguards the quality of human love in marriage. This love is also expressed in continence — even in periodic continence - since love is capable of giving up the marital act, but it cannot give up the authentic gift of the person. Renouncing the marital act can be in certain circumstances an authentic gift of self. Paul VI writes in this regard: "...this discipline which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value" (H.v. 21).

In expressing the thoughtful concern for the authentic value of human love, the encyclical Humanae vitae addresses man and calls upon his sense of dignity as a person. In fact, love, according to its authentic value, must be realized by man and woman in marriage. The capacity for such love and the capacity for the authentic giving of self demand from both partners the sense of personal dignity. The experience of sexual value must be permeated by a vivid awareness of the value of the person. This value, in fact, explains the necessity for the mastery of oneself which belongs to the person: in fact, the personality is expressed in self-control and self-domination. Without these man would not be capable of giving himself nor of receiving that gift according to the measure of the value which must characterize such an interchange. And therefore the moral doctrine proclaimed by the Church contributes
"to the establishment of a truly human civilization; she engages man not to abdicate from his own responsibility in order to rely on technical means; by that very fact she defends the dignity of man and wife" (H.v. 18).
The encyclical Humanae vitae formulates this hierarchy of values which proves to be essential and decisive for the entire problem of responsible parenthood. This hierarchy cannot be overturned and the correct order of values cannot be changed. We would risk such an inversion and changing of values if, in order to resolve the problem, we were to take partial aspects as our point of departure rather than starting from "the integral vision of man and his vocation".

Each of these partial aspects is very important in itself, and Paul VI does not diminish their importance in the least; whether it be the demographic-sociological aspect or the bio-psychological aspect. On the contrary, the Pontiff carefully considers them. He only wishes to prevent any of the partial aspects — no matter what their importance — from destroying the correct hierarchy of values and from divesting love of its true significance as the communion of persons and from divesting man himself of his true significance as a person capable of authentic self-giving, a self-giving in which man cannot be substituted by "technology."

In all this, however, the Pope does not overlook any one of the partial aspects of the problem; as a matter of fact he confronts them, establishing their fundamental content and declaring the correct hierarchy of values. And it is precisely along this path that there exists a possibility of birth control and therefore also the possibility of resolving the socio-demographical difficulties. And therefore Paul VI was able to write with all certainty that "...public authorities can and must contribute to the solution of the demographic problem" (H.v. 23). When it is a matter of the biological or even the psychological aspects — as the encyclical teaches us — the path towards the realization of the respective values passes through the heightening of the value of love itself and of the person. Here are the words of the eminent biologist, professor P. P. Grasset of the Academy of Sciences: "The encyclical is in agreement with biological data, it reminds doctors of their duties and points out to man the way by which his dignity - both physical and moral - will not suffer any offence" (Le Figaro, 8-10-1968).

One might say that the encyclical penetrates the nucleus of this universal problem which had engaged the Second Vatican Council. The problem of the development "of the world" both in its modern demands and in its more distant perspectives leads to a series of questions which man poses to himself. Some of these are expressed in the pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes. A correct answer to these questions is not possible if one does not realize the significance of those values which make man and his life truly human. In the encyclical Humanae vitae, Paul VI dedicates himself to the examination of these values in their central core.

Evangelic Profile

The examination of these values and through them the examination of the norm itself of responsible parenthood formulated in the encyclical Humanae vitae carry with them a particular stamp of the Gospel. It is important to point this out again at the conclusion of the present considerations, even though this very idea has been the connecting thread throughout. The questions which agitate modern man "required from the teaching authority of the Church a new and deeper reflection upon the principles of the moral teaching on marriage: a teaching founded on the natural law, illuminated and enriched by divine Revelation." Revelation as the expression of the eternal thought of God permits us, and at the same time commands us, to consider marriage as an institution for transmitting human life, in which the marriage partners are "the free and responsible collaborators of God the creator" (H.v. 1).

Christ Himself confirmed this perpetual dignity of married persons and He inserted the totality of married life into the work of the Redemption, and He included it in the sacramental order. By the sacrament of Marriage "husband and wife are strengthened and as it were consecrated for the faithful accomplishment of their proper duties, for the carrying out of their proper vocation even to perfection, and the Christian witness which is proper to them before the whole world" (H.v. 25). Since the doctrine of Christian morality was set forth in the encyclical, the doctrine of responsible parenthood, understood as the just expression of conjugal love and of the dignity of the human person, constitutes an important component of the Christian witness.

And it seems to us proper that for this witness, man must make a certain sacrifice for the sake of authentic values. The Gospel continually confirms the necessity of such a sacrifice, and it is confirmed by the work of Redemption which is expressed in its totality in the Easter Mystery. The cross of Christ has become the price of human redemption. Each man who walks along the path of true values must assume part of this cross as the price which he must pay in exchange for authentic values. This price consists in a particular effort: "The divine law, as the Pope writes, demands serious engagement and much effort", and he adds right after this that "...such efforts ennoble man and are beneficial to the human community" (H.v. 20).

The last part of the encyclical is in appeal for this serious engagement and these efforts which is addressed both to the human community, in order that it "create all atmosphere favourable to education in chastity" (H.v. 22), and to public authorities as well as men of science in order that they may succeed in "providing a sufficiently secure basis for a regulation of birth, founded on the observance of natural rhythms" of fertility (H.v. 24). The encyclical finally appeals to married persons themselves, to the apostolate of families for the family, to doctors, to priests and to bishops as pastors of souls.

For contemporary men who are restless and impatient and who are at the same time threatened in the sphere of their most fundamental values and principles, the Vicar of Christ recalls the laws which rule over this sphere. And since they lack patience and seek after simplifications and apparently easy solutions, he reminds them of the necessary price for true values and of how much patience and effort are necessary for the realization of these values.

It seems that throughout all the arguments and appeals of the encyclical which are full of dramatic tension, we can hear the words of the Master: "by your endurance you will gain your lives" (Luke 21, 19). For in the last analysis that is precisely the point.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pope Benedict and the Love and the Truth of Humanae Vitae

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
International Congress Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae

The Pontifical Lateran University
May 10, 2008

* * * In the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council was already addressing scientists, urging them to join forces to achieve unity in knowledge and a consolidated certainty on the conditions that can favour "the proper regulation of births" (n. 52). My Predecessor of venerable memory, the Servant of God Paul VI, published his Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae on 25 July 1968. The document very soon became a sign of contradiction.

Drafted to treat a difficult situation, it constitutes a significant show of courage in reasserting the continuity of the Church's doctrine and tradition. This text, all too often misunderstood and misinterpreted, also sparked much discussion because it was published at the beginning of profound contestations that marked the lives of entire generations.

Forty years after its publication this teaching not only expresses its unchanged truth but also reveals the farsightedness with which the problem is confronted. Indeed, it describes conjugal love within a global process that is not rested on a division between body and soul, nor rested only on sentiment that is often precarious and fleeting, but assumes the unity of spouses and their total sharing in a reciprocal acceptance of offering themselves to each other with the promise of faithful and exclusive love that is their own free choice.

How can such love remain closed to the gift of life? Life is always a precious gift; every time we witness its beginnings, we see the power of the creative action of God who trusts man and thus calls him to build the future with the strength of hope.

The Magisterium of the Church cannot be exonerated from reflecting in an ever new and deeper way on the fundamental principles that concern marriage and procreation. What was true yesterday is true also today.

The truth expressed in Humanae Vitae does not change; on the contrary, precisely in the light of the new scientific discoveries, its teaching becomes more timely and elicits reflection on the intrinsic value it possesses. The key word to enter coherently into its content remains "love". As I wrote in my first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est: "Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united.... Yet it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves" (n. 5). If this unity is removed, the value of the person is lost and there is a serious risk of considering the body a commodity that can be bought or sold (cf. ibid).

In a culture subjected to the prevalence of "having" over "being," human life risks losing its value. If the exercise of sexuality becomes a drug which would subject a partner to one's own desires and interests, without respecting the wishes and rhythms of the beloved person, then what needs to be defended is not only the true concept of love but, in the first place, human dignity itself. As believers, we could never let the domination of technology invalidate the quality of love and the sacredness of life.

It was not by chance that Jesus, in speaking of human love, alluded to what God created at the beginning of the Creation (cf. Mt 19: 4-6). His teaching refers to a free act with which the Creator not only meant to express the riches of his love which is open, giving itself to all, but he also wanted to impress upon it a paradigm in accordance with which humanity's action must be declined. In the fruitfulness of conjugal love, the man and the woman share in the Father's creative act and make it clear that at the origin of their spousal life they pronounce a genuine "yes" which is truly lived in reciprocity, remaining ever open to life.

This word of the Lord, with its profound truth, endures unchanged and cannot be abolished by the different theories that have succeeded one another in the course of the years, and at times even been contradictory. Natural law, which is at the root of the recognition of true equality between persons and peoples, deserves to be recognized as the source that inspires the relationship between the spouses in their responsibility for begetting new children. The transmission of life is inscribed in nature, and its laws stand as an unwritten norm to which all must refer. Any attempt to turn one's gaze away from this principle is in itself barren and does not produce a future.

It is urgent that we rediscover again an alliance which has always been fruitful when it is respected, and which has love and reason in the forefront.

An acute teacher like Willian St. Thierry could write words that we feel to be profoundly valid even for our time: "If reason instructs love, and love enlightens reason, if reason is converted to love, and love allows itself to be confined within the bounds of reason, then together they can result in something great." (De Natura et dignitate amoris (Nature and greatness of love), 21,8)

What is this "something great" that we may expect? It is the emergence of a responsibility for life which makes fruitful the gift of self that spouses make to each other. It is the fruit of a love that can think and choose in complete freedom, without letting itself be conditioned unduly by the possible sacrifice requested. From this comes the miracle of life that parents experience for themselves, something extraordinary that is fulfilled in them and through them. No mechanical technique can substitute the act of love that husband and wife exchange as the sign of a greater mystery which (as protagonists and sharers in creation) sees them playing the lead and sharing in creation.

Unfortunately, more and more often we see sorrowful events that involve adolescents, whose reactions show their incorrect knowledge of the mystery of life and of the risky implications of their actions. The urgent need for education to which I often refer, primarily concerns the theme of life.

I sincerely hope that young people in particular will be given very special attention so that they may learn the true meaning of love and prepare for it with an appropriate education in sexuality, without letting themselves be distracted by ephemeral messages that prevent them from reaching the essence of the truth at stake. To circulate false illusions about love or to deceive people concerning the genuine responsibilities that they are called to assume with the exercise of their own sexuality does not do honor to a society that claims to be based on the principles of freedom and democracy. Freedom should unite itself to truth, and responsibility to strength of dedication to the other to the point of sacrifice. Without these components, the community of men cannot grow, and the risk of enclosing oneself in a circle of asphyxiating selfishness is always lying in ambush.

The teaching expressed by the Encyclical Humanae Vitae is not easy. Yet it conforms with the fundamental structure through which life has always been transmitted since the world's creation, respecting nature and in conformity with its needs. Respect for human life and the safekeeping of human dignity require us to leave nothing undone so that everyone may participate in the genuine truth of responsible conjugal love, in full adherence to the laws written in the heart of every man.

With these sentiments, I impart the Apostolic Blessing on all of you.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI on the Church and Contraception

Salt of the Earth
Peter Seewald interviews Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

(Ignatius Press, 1997)
Your Eminence, many Christians do not understand the Church's position on contraception. Do you understand that they don't understand it?

Yes, I can understand that quite well; the question is really complicated. In today's troubled world, where the number of children cannot be very high given living conditions and so many other factors, it's very easy to understand. In this matter, we ought to look less at the casuistry of individual cases and more at the major objectives that the Church has in mind.

I think that it's a question of three major basic options. The first and most fundamental is to insist on the value of the child in society. In this area, in fact, there has been a remarkable change. Whereas in the simple societies of the past up to the nineteenth century, the blessing of children was regarded as the blessing, today children are conceived of almost as a threat. People think that they rob us of a place for the future, they threaten our own space, and so forth. In this matter a primary objective is to recover the original, true view that the child, the new human being, is a blessing. That by giving life we also receive it ourselves and that going out of ourselves and accepting the blessing of creation are good for man.

The second is that today we find ourselves before a separation of sexuality from procreation such as was not known earlier, and this makes it all the more necessary not to lose sight of the inner connection between the two. . . .

It really is true that increasingly we have the development of two completely separated realities. In Huxley's famous futuristic novel Brave New World, we see a vision of a coming world in which sexuality is something completely detached from procreation. He had good reason to expect this, and its human tragedy is fully explored. In this world, children are planned and produced in a laboratory in a regulated fashion. Now, that is clearly an intentional caricature, but, like all caricatures, it does bring something to the fore: that the child is going to be something that tends to be planned and made, that he lies completely under the control of reason, as it were. And that signals the self-destruction of man. Children become products in which we want to express ourselves; they are fully robbed in advance of their own life's projects. And sexuality once again becomes something replaceable. And, of course, in all this the relationship of man and woman is also lost. The developments are plain to see.

In the question of contraception, precisely such basic options are at stake. The Church wants to keep man human. For the third option in this context is that we cannot resolve great moral problems simply with techniques, with chemistry, but must solve them morally, with a life-style. It is, I think — independently now of contraception — one of our great perils that we want to master even the human condition with technology, that we have forgotten that there are primordial human problems that are not susceptible of technological solutions but that demand a certain life-style and certain life decisions. I would say that in the question of contraception we ought to look more at these basic options in which the Church is leading a struggle for man. The point of the Church's objections is to underscore this battle. The way these objections are formulated is perhaps not always completely felicitous, but what is at stake are such major cardinal points of human existence.
Later, as Pope, Benedict explained:
Christianity, Catholicism, is not a collection of prohibitions: it is a positive option. It is very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today. We have heard so much about what is not allowed that now it is time to say: we have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other, that the scale of sexuality, eros, agape, indicates the level of love and it is in this way that marriage develops, first of all as a joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then, the family, which guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet.

So, firstly, it is important to stress what we want. Secondly, we can also see why we do not want some things. I believe we need to see and reflect on the fact that it is not a Catholic invention that man and woman are made for each other so that humanity can go on living: all cultures know this. As far as abortion is concerned, it is part of the fifth, not the sixth, commandment: "You shall not kill!". We have to presume this is obvious and always stress that the human person begins in the mother's womb and remains a human person until his or her last breath. The human person must always be respected as a human person. But all this is clearer if you say it first in a positive way.
--Interview of the Holy Father in Preparation to his Apostolic Journey to Bavaria
August 5, 2006


Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Lie that is Contraception and the Truth of Authentic Feminism

(Continued from The Church's Positive Teachings on Human Sexuality, Contraception, and Life Issues)

Whenever you speak publicly about things like sex outside of marriage or contraception, you are likely to be addressing a lot of people who have done both of these things. So, it is not unusual that someone might respond defensively, accusing you of personally attacking them and pointing out that Jesus said not to judge others lest you be judged yourself. Now, without judging individual persons, per se, it is possible and proper and appropriate to judge in an objective way various actions, such as premarital sex and adultery and contraception and abortion, all of which tend toward treating the other as an object, not as a subject, as a means, not as an end in themselves, and yes, as a "thing," not as a person.

Most extreme in this, of course, is abortion, which literally involves throwing away another person as if he or she were garbage. But contraception and sex outside of marriage are not-too-distant cousins of abortion. They both involve, to some extent, a "using" of the other, a "taking" from them, rather than a pure and complete giving of self to that other. To be sure, there may be a great deal of love in such unions, extra-marital or contracepting in marriage. But it is not, and cannot be, a complete and total love. It always involves a withholding of self, if only just a little bit. It is a conditional love. It is a love that says "Yes, but only if you do such and such. Yes, but only this much."

It is not a perfect love, and it is a perfect love to which we are all called. All of us. And it cannot be pretended that extra-marital and/or contracepting couples is a perfect love.

It is also a true love to which we are all called. We are called to truth. And extra-marital sex and contraception and abortion are all contrary to the truth. Contraception, for example, is a lie against the truth and reality of our bodies. It is a lie against the procreative nature of the sexual organs that we use in sex, as well as the procreative genetic material involved. It is a lie against the intended union of man and woman into one.

Contraception is a corruption and distortion of human sexuality. Contraception, whether physical or mental, is a barrier between a man and woman, between husband and wife -- literally. Such a barrier obviously prevents a man and woman from becoming "one." Indeed, it prevents any real or authentic intimacy at all. Contraception presents both a physical wall -- of rubber, chemicals, or otherwise -- and an emotional and spiritual wall, a withholding of a part of yourself from the other.

Because of this barrier and this withholding of self, sex is no longer an act of unconditional mutual giving, that is, an act of love. Instead, it becomes an act of taking; an act of exploiting; an act of using the other as an object, as a sex toy. By this use of contraception, couples no longer see each other as a subject or even a person -- they see the other as object, a thing.

It is this objectification of the human person that is the real evil of contraception. It is the central evil because human beings are not things, they are not toys to be used and exploited by others and then tossed aside. Even if putatively "consensual," it is still by its very nature exploitive.

On the other hand, when a couple is married and non-contracepting, there is the possibility in sex of mutual giving of self -- total and complete giving of self, no matter what. It is a giving that is truly and completely intimate, open to the all natural possibilities that flow from sexuality. It holds nothing back, and it respects the other as a subject and as a person. And that leads to a greater and more authentic joy than can be imagined.

Now, against these positive teachings of the Catholic Church on human sexuality and contraception, on the truth of the human person, male and female, made to love and be loved in truth, we have the argument put forth by those who hold themselves out to be "feminists" and who insist that contraception and abortion are essential for women's rights and dignity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing.

Far from being pro-woman, this counterfeit feminism is essentially anti-woman. It despises the feminine, hates those attributes that are uniquely and exclusively woman, and advocates instead that women should become like the worst caricatures of men.

Most especially, the counterfeit feminism sees the female body, and thus the female person, as something to be destroyed. Obsessed with genitalia, they see the uterus and ovaries as little more than defective abnormalities to be suppressed, and they see the fruits thereof, i.e. the unborn child, as a diseased tumor to be cut out of the body. To the counterfeit feminism, the only real woman is the one who rejects and seeks to destroy these things which are exclusive to women.

To the counterfeit feminism, which lusts for power, the only good woman is the one who acts like those misogynist men who exploit and use women as objects, especially sexually.

Authentic feminism, on the other hand, recognizes and celebrates the intrinsic value and genius of woman, equal to man in dignity and complementary of him. Authentic feminism is not concerned with a power struggle, does not see man as an instrinsic oppressive patriarchy, but as an equal partner, both with different characteristics that are exclusive to that sex, but which complement each other. Authentic feminism recognizes and celebrates that women are women and men are men, both called, as part of their nature as human persons, to the giving of self, charity in truth.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Church's Positive Teachings on Human Sexuality, Contraception, and Life Issues

President Barack Obama and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, doing their best to imitate King Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, and their allies, as part of their campaign to grossly violate the religious liberties and freedom of conscience of Catholics, Catholic organizations, and other persons of good will, have repeatedly promoted the falsehood that to refuse to provide contraceptives to employees is an act against women.

Many of these same people, including not only various pro-abortion groups which have long seen the Catholic Church as the enemy, but others who have long exhibited antipathy toward the Church, including not a few people who are themselves Catholic, have also spread various mischaracterizations and distortions of the Church's teachings on human sexuality. Some of this is due to ignorance, some due to knowingly malicious intent. But their efforts over many decades have been effective so that most people do not know what the teachings of the Church are, or why they are what they are.

It is a common perception in the outside world that, when it comes to moral matters, the Catholic Church (and Christianity in general) is harsh, negative, and oppressive, obsessed with sin and controlling people’s lives, imposing its will, and maintaining its power with a bunch of irrational rules and prohibitions. But all of these things are totally false.

Catholic theology -- including moral theology of human sexuality and life issues -- is not a collection of mere policy preferences or opinions. It is not the fruit of a bunch of old men dictating on-high what they think is or ought to be. And it is not a set of arbitrary negative rules dictated or revealed to us by an arbitrary God. It is not a restriction on authentic freedom.

Moreover, many people seem to think that the Church reinvents the wheel with every new moral question, that with each moral situation, in this case, human sexuality, the Church applies a unique set of rules and principles. In fact, all of the Church's moral teachings on human conduct are the same. There is not one teaching for non-sexual mattters and a different teaching for sexual matters. And there is not a different teaching for contraception, a different teaching for abortion, a different teaching for extra-marital sex, a different teaching for homosexuality. No, there is only one teaching -- the teaching in each case is the same, and it is a positive teaching.

In addition to the above errors and misperceptions, many people think -- and tell others -- that the foundational teaching in Humanae Vitae is about contraception or that the Theology of the Body is all about sexuality. In neither case is that really so if one carefully reads the relevant documents. Rather, John Paul II merely applied Theology of the Body to the context of human sexuality. Similarly, Pope Paul VI merely applied the primary teaching of Humanae Vitae to human sexuality in general and contraception in particular.

So what is that one teaching for every moral question? What is the primary teaching of Humanae Vitae if not contraception? What is the primary teaching of the Theology of the Body if not human sexuality?

Love and Truth.

Love and Truth are the two pillars upon which the entirety of the faith can be understood. We are a faith that seeks understanding, both for ourselves and to better explain it to non-believers. It is crucial for understanding to see that Love and Truth really are the answer to every question. And it is not surprising that Love and Truth should be the answer to every question because God is Love and God is Truth. (CCC 214-221)

As such, notwithstanding the many “thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments, including “thou shalt not kill,” and the teachings of the Church against things like extra-marital sex, contraception, and abortion, we see that Catholic moral theology is positive, not negative, and it is indeed "good news," being grounded in Love and Truth and reason. And it is all of these things even if you never actually use the words "Christ" or "God" or "sin," such that it is applicable to believers and non-believers alike.

All of Catholic moral teaching, including the teachings on human sexuality, is reducible to the supremely positive commandments which were discussed between the Jesus and the Pharisee – “You shall love the Lord thy God will all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And, again, as Jesus said to the Apostles, "love one another. As I have loved you, so too should you love one another."

And who and what is God, that we should love Him? God being the "I am" and Logos, is reality itself, is reason itself - He is Truth itself. So to love God means, among other things, to love Truth.

Those are the teachings of Christ and His Church in a nutshell. This is our general vocation - to love God and one another in truth. Christ does not present us with a set of prohibitions and restrictions - He give us joyous Good News, He gives us truth and thereby sets us free.

All Catholic moral teaching is grounded in and must comply with these two pillars of Love and Truth. When Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae, or Pope John Paul II taught the Theology of the Body, they were not expressing their opinions or personal policy preferences, they were not engaged in a raw assertion of power. The popes and the Church are bound in their teachings by Love and Truth. And one purpose of such teachings is to assist us in the formation of our consciences, which involves an act of reason, not feeling. In so doing, Popes Paul and John Paul were not really teaching anything new, anything that was not previously revealed by God or is not already written as the natural law on our hearts and accessible by reason; rather, they were teaching love and truth, caritas et veritas.

Now, of course, God's love is the highest love, the most perfect love, and it is that kind of true love that we are called to practice. To love perfectly and truly, we must love as God loves. Such a love is more than an emotional feeling, more than an attraction or desire for personal happiness, much less a base desire for physical pleasure. Such true and total love is turned outward, not inward, it is a conscious act of the will to subordinate oneself and unconditionally and selflessly seek the good and welfare of the other, including the gift of self for the other’s benefit, whether that love is returned or not and whether or not the other “deserves” to be loved. Most importantly, such fullness of love is by its very nature unitive and dynamic, it brings forth new life, it is fruitful. It was by such fullness of love that the universe itself was created and that death was transformed into new life on the Cross.

Again, to love perfectly and truly, we must love as Christ loves us. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." Jesus presents us with His Body, which has been given up for us. Such a love as we are called to demonstrate is not concerned with pleasing oneself and seeking to solely benefit oneself, but is instead a gift of self, totally and completely.

In practical terms, to "love one another" means that we should affirm and respect the truth of the inherent dignity of every human person from the very beginning of their creation, from the instant of existence, as children of God made in His image, no matter how seemingly insignificant, undesirable, or useless. We should treat others as subjects, not objects; as ends in and of themselves, not as a means to be exploited by us; and as persons, not things to be used up and then tossed aside or thrown away as if they are trash. We all have intrinsic value, every one of us.

Far from thinking that sex is bad and dirty, the Church teaches that human sexuality is a moral good; indeed, it is very good, it is one of the highest goods. Being created by God, it is necessarily a great good. But sex, like any other activity, is a good only insofar as it is consistent with truth, in this case, the truth of the human person, which is that we are social beings made for relationship, to love and be loved in truth, as well as the truth of the act itself, which is that it explicitly involves the transmission of procreative genetic material, sex is by its very nature and design a potentially reproductive act.

With respect to the truth of the nature of the human person, as revealed by natural observation and as further explained in the opening chapters of Genesis, there is a spousal meaning revealed in the human body. "Man," made in the image of the Trinity, is male and female, specifically oriented toward a "spousal" relationship, that is, one that is so full and complete in love that it it is unitive and fruitful, a dynamic communion of persons become one, just as the Trinity is a loving communion of three persons in one divine being who is procreative.

To be consistent with the truth of the human person, which is that we are all made to love and be loved in that pure and complete fullness of love that is both unitive and procreative, sexual activity must be consistent with that complete gift of self. In other words, in the context of marriage and without any barriers between the man and woman, including the barrier of contraception (physical or chemical) or even a contraceptive mentality (mental, emotional, or spiritual). When it is less than consistent with Truth and Love, when there is a withholding of a portion of the self, such as one's fertility, or when it involves an anti-child attitude, a lack of love for any potential children, or when sex takes place in an inherently temporary relationship, outside the union of marriage, then it begins to be something less than good, even if the people involved subjectively believe and insist that they are acting out of love. And to be "less than good" is to be not-good, it is a lie against the truth of the human person, whether one is a believer or not, although if one is a believer, then he should understand such to be called a "sin."

As with all things, in the context of our sexuality, we must love as Christ loves. Now, in His love for us and for His Bride, the Church, Jesus gave us the totality of His Body. Jesus is also the Word, the Logos, which means not only Reason or Truth, but a creative power as well, because it is through Him, the Logos, that all things were made. That means that our union with another must be a true love that is free, total, spousal, faithful, and fruitful. Jesus also loves in a Trinity of relations, such that our sexual activity must similarly take place between a husband and wife, one flesh, in union with God if it is to be consistent with authentic love and the truth of who we are as human persons, male and female. We cannot simply put God in the closet or otherwise bar Him from the bedroom and still have our sexual relations be acts of love in truth.

Whether it is sex outside of marriage, contraception, abortion, embryonic/fetal experimentation, euthanasia, or suicide, all of these things are contrary to the Truth. If you eliminate truth, reason, and love from the equation, then all you are left with is a utilitarianism and existentialism that practically demands that one take "charge of the process" as if he were a god himself. It is the philosophy of utilitarianism, the idea that the morality of all things must be determined, not from objective truth (or Truth), but from their usefulness, with one's happiness or pleasure being the ultimate measure of usefulness -- to the extent of allowing, if not compelling, the use of human persons as means to an end, as disposable things -- it is this corrosive philosophy, together with the related idea of existentialism, that we must create our own meaning of existence, which has brought us to where we are today, in an exploitive, hyper-sexualized, materialistic and hedonistic society awash in the blood of millions slain by abortion, the sick and elderly at risk of being medically euthanized daily, and all too many individuals despairing of life and committing suicide. These are the true negatives, not the Church’s teachings of love and truth.

To use another person (or ourselves) as merely an object for our sexual pleasure, as if he or she were a toy, and/or to allow ourselves to be controlled by our passions, rather than we controlling them, is contrary to the truth that we are persons and subjects, not objects or things. To deny the humanity of the unborn child and kill him or her by abortion is contrary to the truth that the entity in the womb is a living human being. And to assert that one has the power or right to determine his or her own concept of right and wrong, his or her own morality, as if he or she were a god, and decree that the child in the womb is merely a thing that can be eliminated by abortion would likewise be contrary to the truth that we are not gods or equal to or greater than the one God, who is Love and Truth.

Rather, we should love and respect one another as subjects, not as objects or playthings to be exploited for our own pleasure and used up. Babies, be they born or unborn, are not things to be thrown away like garbage. And the old and sick and poor are not useless eaters, taking up needed resources, such that we can eliminate them by euthanasia. There is no such thing as life unworthy of life.

Understood in the proper context, the Church's teachings are not so much against this or that, as they are teachings for Love, a teaching for Truth. These teachings are not harsh prohibitions or restrictions on our freedoms, they are not a denial of “freedom of choice,” but instead are truths that lead us to authentic freedom. These truths are already written on our hearts, but because our ability to reason and discover these truths ourselves has been corrupted by sin and the temptations of the world, in order to help, the Holy Spirit guides the Church in teaching us and explaining these truths.

However, we should be clear in understanding that the teachings of the Church on matters of morality are not a bunch of harsh prohibitions, merely a list of don’t do this, and don’t do that, but are instead a positive exhortation to do this and do that – do love, do live in truth, do live in the light of love and truth in authentic freedom. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI explains it this way:
Christianity, Catholicism, is not a collection of prohibitions: it is a positive option. It is very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today. We have heard so much about what is not allowed that now it is time to say: we have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other, that the scale of sexuality, eros, agape, indicates the level of love and it is in this way that marriage develops, first of all as a joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then, the family, which guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet.

So, firstly, it is important to stress what we want. Secondly, we can also see why we do not want some things. I believe we need to see and reflect on the fact that it is not a Catholic invention that man and woman are made for each other so that humanity can go on living: all cultures know this. As far as abortion is concerned, it is part of the fifth, not the sixth, commandment: "You shall not kill!". We have to presume this is obvious and always stress that the human person begins in the mother's womb and remains a human person until his or her last breath. The human person must always be respected as a human person. But all this is clearer if you say it first in a positive way.
--Interview of the Holy Father in Preparation to his Apostolic Journey to Bavaria, August 5, 2006

(To be continued: The Lie that is Contraception and the Truth of Authentic Feminism)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Crisis

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER" and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God. . . .

There are cases which cannot be overdone by language, and this is one. There are persons, too, who see not the full extent of the evil which threatens them; they solace themselves with hopes that the enemy, if he succeed, will be merciful. It is the madness of folly, to expect mercy from those who have refused to do justice; and even mercy, where conquest is the object, is only a trick of war; the cunning of the fox is as murderous as the violence of the wolf, and we ought to guard equally against both.
T. Paine, The Crisis No. 1

Friday, February 03, 2012

On Being Blessed

Over at Cinema Catechism, we have started a new winter/spring series, with catechesis on the theme of The Beatitudes.

The word “Beatitudes,” is derived from “beati,” as used in the Latin Bible. This Latin word “beati” has been translated as “blessed,” but it also is sometimes translated as “happy.”

Hence, in the Beatitudes listed in Matthew 5:3-10, we read "Blessed are . . ." The Gospel according to Luke (6:20-26) lists certain Beatitudes as well, but it also includes various "woes," e.g. "who to you who are . . ."

Aside from the Beatitudes, in everyday usage, we might say that this person is blessed with this or because of that. And in recent days, we have heard prominent wealthy people suggest that, with respect to their wealth, they have been "blessed" to have so much, that their riches are a blessing. These prominent people have also gone on to suggest that because their wealth has been "given" to them, that because much has been given to them, much is demanded of them, such as paying more in taxes to the secular government. In this context of blessing and wealth having been "given" to them, the implication clearly is that it was given to them by God.

That is a rather curious theology for someone to say. (Even more curious since these very same people, while implying that wealth is a blessing that has been given to them by God, then go on to demonize the wealthy.) Indeed, this is quite the opposite of what the Lord Himself says. He does NOT say, "Blessed are the rich." To the contrary, He says, "Blessed are you who are poor" (Luke 6:20)("Blessed are the poor in spirit" in Mt. 5:3), and this is followed by the very explicit words, "woe to you who are rich" (Luke 6:24).

In other words, worldly riches are NOT a blessing or gift from God. In fact, being rich in material things often leads to one being "rich in spirit"; such worldly wealth puts one at risk, it creates the danger and temptation for the person to think that, since he has so much already, that he does not need God. To be placed in a position of believing that you do not need God is not a blessing. Rather, the truly blessed is the one who is "poor in spirit," who understands that he DOES need God, that he is dependent upon God, that only with God can he receive what is truly good.

God does ask quite a bit of those who are materially wealthy, but not because He's the one who gave them all their money and possessions. Rather, He asks this as a matter of love; He asks them, and all of us, to love one another -- to make the free and voluntary choice to make a gift of self to others. And He certainly does not demand that those individuals who are rich give over their money to an entity that is infinitely more wealthier than they are. Instead, Jesus says for the rich to give their wealth to people who are poorer (Mt. 19:21), to utilize their estates in such a fashion to help the poor themselves, rather than impersonally shifting the burden of helping the poor onto government.

One is not converted from a woeful rich by giving his money to Caesar, much less passively allowing his earnings to be withheld in taxes with no action on his part. It is only in such personal charity, from the Latin "caritas," it is only in such personal love and gift of self that one can be converted from a "woe" to a "blessed." Jesus did not say to the tax collector, "keep up the good work Matthew," but "follow me." (Mt. 9:9) It is only in the personal act of love that one can be poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure of heart, and a peacemaker.