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Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The Morning After

It happens every time you open a bottle of cough syrup – a very long piece of paper folded dozens of times and covered with very small words flutters to the ground. It lists all the dosages, side effects, contraindications, and problems associated with the drug you are about to consume. Have you ever wondered how that little piece of paper came to be there?

Dozens of years ago, back in 1960, a radical feminist, a supporter of legal abortion and a woman’s right to control her own body, was given a new medication as she lay in the hospital following the birth of her first child. The medication was Enovid, and it was the first oral contraceptive on the US market.

This feminist, Barbara Seaman, discovered that the contraceptive her obstetrician was trying to shovel into her posed a major health threat. Within a year, the pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle, the manufacturer of the drug, had in its secret files 132 reports of thrombosis and embolism and eleven reported deaths. How many women were injured and killed without ever being reported in the medical system is, to this day, not known.

Though the medical literature had scattered reports of the problem, nobody wanted to talk about it. The Nobel Laureate Frederick Robbins told the American Association of Medical Colleges “the dangers of overpopulation are so great that we may have to use certain techniques of conception control that may entail considerable risk to the individual woman.”

The FDA acknowledged that the drug was hazardous, but refused to pull it from the shelves, and eventually pulled even the acknowledgement of its hazards. The women using it didn’t realize that the manufacturer had watched women die during the drug trials, or that they knew it caused deaths after its release.

It took nearly a decade for Seaman to gather sufficient evidence about the side effects of the birth control pill to write one of the most famous books in the history of contraception, “The Doctors’ Case Against the Pill”. The books used medical reports to document the enormous health hazards posed by the contraceptive pill. Both the drug companies and Planned Parenthood tried to stop its publication. As a direct result of this book, a Congressional committee convened to investigate. The committee ordered drug companies to include warning information with oral contraceptives, and all other drugs they produced. That’s why we get those little pieces of paper in our cough syrup boxes – because oral contraceptives have a history of killing women.

The drugs turned out to be so hazardous that all high-dose birth control pills were eventually pulled from the market to avoid the lawsuits. Even the second and third generation low dose contraceptive pills remain hazardous. The FDA itself admits women on estrogen and progestin are at increased risk for “getting blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, breast cancer, and gall bladder disease. For a woman with a uterus, estrogen increases her chance of getting endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterine lining).” The FDA also admits that these hormones increase the risk of dementia.

The first oral contraceptive were tested in the 1950’s on Puerto Rican women who were too poor and uneducated to afford lawyers. Several died during the tests. But Puerto Ricans eventually got more educated, so the drug companies moved their field tests.

The British Broadcasting Commission released a documentary in 1995 demonstrating that Norplant trials had likewise maimed and killed hundreds of women in Bangladesh and Haiti, the poorest countries in the world. Haiti alone is so unstable that it had 14 coups d'├ętat and 8 changes of government in the ten years leading up the BBC report. Through USAID, our government helped the drug companies fund the studies that blinded, crippled and killed hundreds of poor black women.

The US manufacturer of Norplant became the subject of a class-action suit in 1994. The suit asserts significant health risks, menstrual irregularities and other side effects occur in women who use the Norplant contraceptive system, including prolonged or extended bleeding, spotting, amenorrhea, irregular cycles, frequent cycles and anti-cycles. Other side effects can include headaches, nervousness, nausea, dizziness, enlargement of the ovaries or fallopian tubes, dermatitis, acne, change in appetite, blood vessel abnormalities, weight gain, hirsutism or alopecia and skin discoloration. These disruptions can last for months or years.

Well, it’s the morning after in America. Now Preven B is the hot new contraceptive. It is argued that Preven B will reduce the number of abortions. No one has bothered to mention that countries like England, where the equivalent of Preven B has been available as an over-the-counter drug for two years, has exactly the same abortion rate it has always had.

Instead, we discover the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, one of the same groups who tried to shovel Enovid into Barbara Seaman back in 1960, supports over-the-counter sales of the high-dose birth control pill, Preven B. Now, Preven B has a higher drug dosage than the original birth control pill, the one which brought Congressional scrutiny and was pulled from the market because it killed too many women. And in a few weeks, any woman in the country will probably be able to self-medicate with it as often as she wants.

But we shouldn’t be concerned. After all, the experts recommending this work with the drug companies and the government. They’re here to help. Remember, ladies, what the gentleman did to you the night before bears no resemblance to what the drug companies will do to you the morning after.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Like father, Like Son

We often call St. Joseph a stepfather to Jesus, but that isn’t entirely true. While he was a stepfather in biology, he was a true father to Jesus in every other way. Now, when we think about that for a moment, it seems rather odd. After all, if we open the Catechism of the Catholic Church up at article #2221 and start reading through the duties of parents, we immediately run into this, “The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. ‘The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.’”

Now, it’s easy to see how other step-parents can be true parents in every way but biology. As long as the parent is deeply involved in the moral education and spiritual formation of their adopted children, they are living the “fecundity of conjugal love”. That is, they are true parents. Every Christian parent understands what the CCC describes here: parenthood isn’t just about procreation. It’s about raising the child that has been conceived.

After all, we aren’t animals. Human beings don’t reproduce. We procreate. There’s an enormous difference between the two. Procreation means we take part in God’s divine act of creation, we participate in it as co-workers. We can do this because we are persons, called to image the Three Divine Persons.

Our ability to participate in the creation of persons is the highest form of creation, because it most closely images what happens within the Godhead. The Son and the Spirit are not created, but Son is begotten of the Father, and Spirit is breathed forth by the Father and the Son. That is, these two Persons of the Trinity find their origin in the Father. In a somewhat similar way, every human person finds his source and origin in his parents. Every created person is immortal, that is, while a created person has a beginning, he will have no end, he will exist beyond time itself. Procreation is participation in this eternally significant event.

But animals are not persons like men or angels or the Trinity, they are not in the image and likeness of God. They do not participate in the generation of persons. They do not procreate, they only reproduce.

Persons need to know about God so they can live out the communion with the divine Persons that they are called to. Angels are created with all the necessary knowledge already infused. Human beings are created without the necessary knowledge – we have to learn about God and be taught about God, we have to grow and mature, as a vine grows towards the sun. Thus, procreation creates a responsibility that simple reproduction does not.

A rabbit need not teach its young anything about God, for none of its young have an immortal soul as human beings do. They do not have an intellect or a will as persons do. But every human person has a soul, that is, every human person has a human intellect and a human will. That intellect and will need to grow and mature. The intellect must be fed with knowledge of God, so the will can choose Him. Thus, the act of procreation is an act that creates responsibility. By the fact that I have assisted in the creation of an immortal person, someone who is called by the Trinitarian Persons to live in intimate communion with Himself, I must teach that new immortal person about God, so that he knows Who he is made for, Who he is made to commune with. This is critical, because it is in this divine communion that the new, immortal person is given super-abundant life.

So, the fecundity of conjugal love, the life-giving capability of conjugal love, is not limited to biology, it necessarily has to include the spiritual as well. This is why Thomas Aquinas says parents are priests of the domestic Church, the family. A priest gives spiritual life through administering the sacraments, but a parent gives both biological life (through procreation) and spiritual life. Parents are the first heralds of the Gospel, and they are called to initiate their children into the mysteries of faith (CCC #2225).

This is why it seems odd to call Joseph a true parent. After all, Jesus is God. He possesses the divine intellect and the divine will. For all eternity before He wrapped Mary’s ovum around Himself and fertilized it, He knew He was God. As His Body grew from one cell to two cells to three cells to four, then eight, then sixteen, moving slowly down Mary’s fallopian tube, He knew He was God. As His embryonic body implanted in the lining of her womb, He knew He was God. During His birth, His life as a suckling babe through His entry into manhood, He always knew He was God. How could He not? He possessed the divine intellect.
So exactly what could Joseph teach God about Himself?

Keep in mind that Jesus not only took on a human body, He took on a complete human nature. That means He also took on a human soul: a human intellect and a human will. Now, Jesus is not, nor was He ever, a human person. Remember, we are persons because we are called into communion with God. He was already in communion with God before He entered Mary’s womb – He is the Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father. Thus, He was already a much more perfect Person than any human person could ever be, His communion with the Father is more perfect than any human person’s can be. So, although He possessed a human soul - human intellect and a human will - He is not a human person, He is always one of the Three Divine Persons. In Jesus’ Divine Person, two natures are united: the divine nature and human nature. That means Jesus possesses the one divine intellect and one divine will. It means He also possesses a human intellect and a human will. He has two intellects and two wills.

The divine intellect and divine will cannot be taught because there is nothing to teach Him. The divine intellect is the source of all knowledge, the divine will chose to bring all creation into existence. But, for human intellect and human will, it is a different story. Jesus’ human intellect needed to grow and develop. His human will needed to strengthen and mature. The capacities which are latent in every human being, and He was a human being, needed to come to their full power.

Now, God didn’t need Joseph in order to accomplish this growth and maturation. He could have done it completely on His own. But He humbled Himself, taking the form of a slave. So, in His divine humility, He permitted Joseph to do the work any parent would do in developing His human intellect. He permitted Joseph to help Him strengthen and mature His human will. This does not mean Jesus ever disobeyed His parents. Rather, in the very act of obeying every command Joseph or Mary gave Him, God’s human intellect and human will were trained.

Scriptures say that Christ learned obedience through suffering (Heb 5:8). Have you ever known how to do a thing, but held your tongue while your boss struggled to figure it out? Then you have a taste of what childhood was like for Jesus. He accepted this state of affairs joyfully. That is humility.

As a side note, we all need to keep this in mind when our priests and/or bishops do something impossibly silly. Humility is still a chief virtue. Now, there’s a fine line between commendable patience and damnable sloth when it comes to the spiritual works of mercy, especially works like admonishing the sinner, instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful and bearing wrongs patiently. Good Catholics may well disagree on exactly where that line lies in various situations. But, we should always seek to make sure we are on the right side of the line.

So, what did Joseph teach his Son? He taught Him the Scriptures. He taught Him how to live as an orthodox Jew. He taught Him how to love God and love His neighbor. Indeed, it is perfectly reasonable to believe that many of Jesus’ habits of speech or habits of life found their origin in Joseph’s speech and life, for it would be an unusual son who did not imitate his father in at least some way. We know Jesus does only what He sees His Father in heaven do, but it is certainly a pious thought to believe He endowed Joseph with many of the qualities He wanted to live, so that anyone who looked upon Him could say, “But is this not the carpenter’s son?” Indeed, the Church’s tradition concerning Joseph seems to verify that Jesus lived Joseph’s example to a superlative degree. Is St. Joseph not “the Terror of Demons”, “Protector of the Universal Church” and “Patron of a Good Death?” Jesus is all of these things, but even better. Like father, like Son. Gentlemen, perhaps we should take note.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Hi, Mom!

Catholics have it great. We get to celebrate New Year twice: once on the first Sunday of Advent, and again on January 1, the feast of Mary, Mother of God. That title, Mother of God, has long been a point of contention for people. As far back as the 300’s, some Christians have argued that Mary couldn’t be the Mother of God. After all, Mary is just a human being. God existed before she did. She didn’t create Him. So how could she possibly be His mother?

It’s a darned good question. It requires some careful thought about the Incarnation to see how it is true. In the Christmas column, we saw that Jesus unites the one divine nature and human nature in His own Person. In order to understand the Incarnation, we have to know what a person is and what a nature is.

A person is that which possesses an intellect and a will. Together, the human intellect and the human will make up the human soul. So what are these two aspects of the soul? The intellect is that which knows, the will is that which chooses. The will is sometimes called the “appetite” or “hunger” of the intellect, because it chooses based on what the intellect finds to be good. How these two operate is rather important, for the things the intellect knows and the will chooses form the basis for relationships.

Read the next sentence very carefully. Persons are defined by their relations. This is critical. We may know God is all-powerful and all-knowing, but nothing in those attributes tells us that He is three Persons. We only discover the Divine Persons by discovering the relations within the Godhead. God the Father eternally begets God the Son, God the Son is eternally begotten by God the Father. God the Father and God the Son together breathe forth God the Holy Spirit. These relationships, the begetting, the breathing forth, these are the only things that distinguish the Three Persons of the Trinity. If we didn’t know these relationships existed, we wouldn’t know Trinity exists. Only relationships distinguish persons.

We are made in God’s image and likeness. If relationship is that critical to the Persons of the Godhead, it is going to be important to us created human persons. This is part of the answer to the question posed by the title “Mary, Mother of God”. But we need more.

We know about person now, but what about nature? What is that? Nature is the range of options available to an entity. Rabbits have a rabbit nature. They can hop, but they don’t have the ability to fly. Birds have a bird nature. They can hop and they can fly. Rocks have a rock nature. They don’t hop or fly. Not all things with natures are persons. Birds, rocks, rabbits – they have natures, but none of these are persons. There are only three kinds of persons: the uncreated persons of the Godhead, and the created persons, human and angelic.

Now, we are persons precisely because God calls us into relationship with Himself. We are persons because we are called into relationship with the three Divine Persons. That is, my mother and father did not give me my personhood, God did. My mother and father gave me my body, but God created my soul, He infused me with an intellect and a will, with a soul capable of direct communion with Himself. So, when any of us look at our mothers and try to discern exactly what makes her a mother, we can see that she gave me her ovum, and she gave me her womb to grow in. That’s it, and it is quite enough. She gave me my body, God provided me my personhood because God immediately created and infused my human soul. Even though my mother neither created my personhood nor gave me my personhood, God enabled her to conceive a person and give birth to a person.

Mary did exactly this for Jesus. According to Genesis 3:15, Mary gave “her seed” to God, she gave her ovum. She gave God her womb to grow in. God provided the Personhood. Instead of creating a human person, He actually gave His own Divine Person. Mary conceived a Person in her womb and gave birth to a Person. Both for our mothers and for His own mother, God provided the person. The major difference between her maternity and the maternity of any other woman lies only in this: Mary conceived a Person who existed before she did. She gave birth to a Person who existed before she did. The rest of the mothers who have ever lived conceived persons that God created fresh and new on the spot. But both Mary and our mothers gave exactly the same thing to the persons God helped both of them conceive and birth: each gave her own ovum and each gave her own womb. That’s motherhood. That’s why Mary is Mother of God. She did as much as any mother ever has. God did the rest, as He always does.

But let’s go further. Mary’s motherhood resonates even more deeply when we know something about both the inner life of the Trinity and the Theology of the Body. The Trinity has a quality that few people talk about: the interpenetration of Persons. The Interpenetration of Divine Persons is simply this: no matter which Person of the Trinity you may contemplate, the other two Persons of the Trinity are wholly contained within Him. This is a very important aspect of the inner life of the Trinity, for it is in Mary’s pregnancy that we first get a concrete example of a divine Person completely contained within another person. Mary is the first to live out the inner life of the Trinity in her own body. The Interpenetration of Persons she lived is something we are all called to live out, right here, right now.

Have you ever seen the medieval and Renaissance paintings of the Annunciation? The angel Gabriel is depicted in various ways, as is Mary, but one thing is constant. Nearly every rendition of the scene shows Mary reading the Scriptures as Gabriel approaches. Catechesis in Our Times, article #27, explains why: “…catechesis must be impregnated and penetrated by the thought, the spirit and the outlook of the Bible and the Gospels through assiduous contact with the texts themselves…” Look at the verbs the Holy Father chose: “impregnated… penetrated.” The Scriptures impregnate us, they penetrate us. Earlier generations knew what we have forgotten. We must be penetrated by, impregnated with the Word if we are to successfully pass on the Faith.

Why? Because “the Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord…” The 21st article of Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution on divine revelation makes the connection clear. The Word of Scripture and the Word of God are intimately linked. Mary had the grace to understand the centrality of Scripture to human life. She was impregnated, penetrated by the Word long before the angel Gabriel appeared. The angel drew together the strands of prophecy she had been studying and made a breath-taking connection: all the prophecies of Scripture could be fulfilled right here, right now. She had only to love God with her whole being. She had only to love Him as He desires each of us to love Him.

She whispered, “Yes.”

In that moment, God leapt across the chasm separating us from Himself, He leapt into her womb and gave her the first and most powerful experience of Eucharist that anyone would ever have. The continuous, physical presence of “God with us” began here: “God with her.”

Christ commanded us in John 6: we are to gnaw on His flesh if we want eternal life. When we receive Him in Eucharist, He empowers us with the grace to be like Him. He gives us the power, the ability to change, to transform ourselves into an imago Dei, an image of God.

But note very carefully: if we want to be an imago Dei, we can do so only by first being an imago Marie. The very act of worthily receiving Christ into my body makes me an image of Mary. In Eucharist, the flesh of the Bridegroom penetrates me, impregnates me with eternal life. It is only by becoming like the pregnant and most Blessed Virgin that God enables me to become like Christ. By receiving Christ into myself, I begin to live out the Interpenetration of Persons which is the inner life of the Trinity. I begin to live heaven on earth. And all of this happens because God empowers me, through the Eucharist, to image Mary, Mother of God.

On the first day of the year, on the Feast of Mary, Mother of God, the Church grants the opportunity for a plenary indulgence to anyone who participates in devout public recitation of the hymn Veni, Creator (Come, Creator Spirit). We are very much encouraged to spend this day contemplating the new creation Christ makes of us through His Mother, on this, the first day of the secular year. Receive Christ in the Eucharist, make yourself like unto Mary, then pray the Veni, Creator in her honor. You will have started the New Year well.

A Tropical Christmas Season

We spent last week contemplating the celibacy of Mary and Joseph. Now we can spend it contemplating the relationship between celibacy and Eucharistic adoration.

“It is not good that man should be alone,” says Genesis 2:18. How many times have you heard someone quote that verse as the beginning of their attack on a priest’s vow of celibacy? They are right to quote this verse, because it lies at the center of the vow. As we saw last week, marriage is meant to be a divine training ground for life in heaven. Clearly, this training is necessary, since every person who has ever lived was created into a set of family relations: everyone has a mother and a father, parents and grandparents, although they may never have met. Most have brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, or nieces and nephews. No matter what your state in life as an adult, no matter what your knowledge of these things, these family relationships are there, making you what you are, either by their presence or their partial absence.

The existence of family is, therefore, as common as our experience of eating and breathing. Just as some of us have difficulty with the last two, some of us have difficulty with the first, but the relationship is there. And remember, relationship is key.

We can look at any aspect of God: His power, His omniscience, whatever it might be, but none of these things allow us to perceive the Trinity. Rather, the only thing that makes the Trinity of Persons clear is the relations within the Godhead. If the Father were not eternally begetting the Son, if the Son were not eternally begotten of the Father, if the Father and the Son did not eternally breathe forth the Spirit, there would be no Trinity. These three relations are what distinguish the Three Persons. If relationship is the defining characteristic of the Persons of God Himself, then we can safely assume that relationship is going to be of at least some importance to our own personhood.

In fact, our relations with God, with the angels, with man, these will be the only things that distinguish us as persons as well. As we saw from the Christmas meditation, these relationships depend not just on our soul, but on our flesh.

“Man is a person in the unity of his body and his spirit. The body can never be reduced to mere matter. It is a spiritualized body, just as man’s spirit is so closely united to the body that he can be described as an embodied spirit”. These words of John Paul II, in his Letter to Families, paragraph #19, tell us just how critically important the flesh is to us. God intended us to have relations with other persons not just as an intellectual exercise, but in the movement and press and sweat of our very flesh. This is why the Incarnation is so important to us, this is why “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist…” (1 John 4:2-3). The anti-Christ is described as the one who denies that God came in the flesh. The flesh is the key to discerning who belongs to God and who does not.

So, family is the divine training ground through which every living person must pass, and marriage is the divine training ground which the vast majority of people need in order to be prepared to enter heaven and participate in the life of the First Family, but what of celibacy? Celibacy only works when it is built on a relationship in the flesh, a relationship with a person. It is not good for man to be alone. That is why God gave us Himself in the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the only thing that permits a celibate to be a celibate. Christ, substantially present in the Eucharist, is the Divine Person of the Son of God in the Flesh. He is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Every baptized person, whether male or female, is made a Bride of Christ by baptism. Why a bride? Because God is always the first principle, He is always the actor. Unless He penetrates us with grace, unless He sends us what we need, we cannot respond. He acts, we react, He moves, we respond. He is Bridegroom, we are Bride.

In the Mass, that is, in the Nuptial Feast, the Flesh of the Bridegroom enters the flesh of the Bride, and we are given life. We have, in that sacramental reception, one-flesh union. We live out the life of Trinity on a small scale, for the Son of God dwells within me, I am totally interpenetrated by Him.

Not everyone is given the grace to fully appreciate what this means. But, as Jesus said, some are given this grace (Matt 19:12). The men and women who choose celibacy because they recognize and want to constantly live the gift of heaven Christ gives us in the Eucharist have clearly chosen the highest possible way. Through their prayer life before the sacrament and in the reception of the sacrament, they live the ecstasy of heaven: they have a personal relationship with a divine Person in the flesh. We who are married need sex to help us understand Eucharist – celibates understand it directly.

But, for those who are unmarried and do not know or do not understand Eucharist, or who actively reject Eucharist, they fall under the sorrow implied in Genesis. It is not good for man to be alone. We are meant to be joined in marriage to another person: either we join ourselves to Christ through our union with an image of Christ, that is, a human spouse, or we join ourselves to Christ directly through a life of celibacy and Eucharistic adoration/reception. We can do both. We cannot refuse both.

Hell is being cut off from the communion of persons, being cut off from the Godhead. Just as Eucharist is a foretaste of heaven, so living the life of an unmarried person without knowledge of Eucharist is a foretaste of hell, for it is a life cut off from the in-the-flesh communion of persons.

If anyone wonders why fornication is so popular today, it is precisely because knowledge of Eucharist is so weak. We each know, instinctively, that we are to be in one-flesh communion with the divine Persons. But if we do not know the divine Persons, then we must settle for what we do know: human persons. If we cannot attain the sacrament of marriage, then we pretend to mimic it, because we know we are made for it, and we cannot live without it. If we cannot attain the ecstasy of heaven, then we settle for the pale sign of that ecstasy given here on earth in sexual communion. And, after having made so many concessions and after having cut so many corners, we remain unhappy and do not know why. We live the life of a walking corpse, with our hearts cut out of us, and wonder at how cold we have become.

Our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). We often remark on the fact that God was born in a stable. We rarely remark on the fact that He was born at the coldest time of the year. To One who is Love, the fire of our love must be cold indeed. It was cold on the Cross, but it was cold in the stable as well. "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” said the Christ (Luke 12:49). He walked among us, He and His mother the only living beings amongst a sea of walking dead and said, “Everyone must be salted with fire!” (Mark 9:49). He left the warmth of His mother’s womb for the cold welcome of the world. Now, He asks us to accept His warmth and find a place by the fire. Stay before the tabernacle today, and bask in the heat of the Son.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

What Heaven is Like

Merry Christmas! May God bless your day with a deep love for your family starting today, for the Church intends us to begin an extended meditation on the family today. From now until the Sunday following Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Family, we are given a marvelous mystery to contemplate. God refused to take on our flesh without also taking on all the family relationships that our flesh implies.

Sadly, these very feasts, the feasts of Christmas and the Holy Family, divide Catholics not only from pagans, but also from most other Christians. As soon as anyone, Catholic or not, begins meditating on the conception and birth of Christ or on the Holy Family, we encounter the Catholic doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity, of Mary and Joseph’s married celibacy. This is not easy to understand. But if we spend time thinking about it, we will be richly rewarded. Let’s spend ten minutes together thinking about it.

The answer to the apparent problem lies in an understanding of who God is and how we reflect Him. In other words, the answer can really only be understood through the Theology of the Body. John Paul II began teaching the Theology of the Body even before he was consecrated Pope. He spent a large proportion of Wednesday audiences in his first five years explaining it. Since then, nearly every theological teaching he has brought forward has in some way expanded our understanding of it. So, what is the Theology of the Body?

Well, it is nothing new. The Church has taught this since the beginning. It resonates throughout Scripture, rings through the works of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, echoes in the mystical visions of the greatest saints. John Paul II merely synthesizes it, summarizes it, organizes it. The Theology of the Body is based on the idea that man and woman together are meant to live out God’s life in our own bodies, at the very root of our being.

It is built on essentially three concepts. God is a communion of persons, a family whose life is love (Eph 3:19). Man and woman are meant to live together in such a way that we live out the inner life of God in our own body (Gen 1:27-28). Christ is the Bridegroom (John 3:29) who marries together the divine nature and human nature in His own Divine Person.

We could summarize those three statements another way. God is the First Family, our families image His, and Christ marries us into His family. That’s it. That’s all there is to the Theology of the Body. Everything else one may say about the it is just a logical extension of these three ideas.

As you can see from the repetition of the marriage/family concept, the Theology of the Body is going to be rather important to understanding the infancy of God and the Feast of the Holy Family. Now, a lot can be said about this understanding - the Pope spent five years’ worth of Wednesday audiences explaining it. The vast majority of the encyclicals and apostolic letters from his incredibly long and productive reign extend the explanation. But to understand the Holy Family we need only to understand two key things.

First, God made a marriage between our body and soul, a marriage that is not meant to be dissolved, a marriage that is necessary for our happiness. Death is the separation of body and soul. It wasn’t part of the original plan. That’s why we get our bodies back on the day of Last Judgement. We need our bodies to be completely happy in heaven. Our bodies are part of who we are, they are necessary for us to image God. The people who are in heaven now are not as happy as they will be when they get their bodies back on the Last Day.

Second, God is the First Family of Persons, and we are made to participate in His Divine Family life, we are meant to share in the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). Now, since we need our bodies to be happy, we need our bodies in order to fully participate in His Divine Family life. Jesus Christ, who joins the divine and the human together in His Person, makes this participation possible.

We could sum these two points up as well: we are meant to be in an intimate family relationship, in our flesh, with God, with the Three Persons of the Trinity.

Wow. That’s no small thing. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that most of us are not ready for this. God knows we are not. That’s why He gives us families to live in here on earth. Our family on earth is meant to give each of us an opportunity to train, to prepare to live out a family relationship with God in the flesh. That is why family is so important. Paul said, “I bow my knee before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.” (Eph 3:19). Every family is a family only insofar as it looks like God. Insofar as it does not look like God, it is not a family, it is just a bunch of people living at the same address. Every family is a training ground in which we are to learn how to live in heaven. Because of sin, every family is also a pre-eminent place for us to learn about our Cross and to learn how to carry it.

In fact, marriage consecrates husband and wife for this task: the task of imaging heaven. The husband is consecrated by marriage to become his wife’s servant, and to do everything necessary to help her get to heaven. Similarly, the wife is consecrated by marriage to become the husband’s servant, and to do everything necessary to help him get to heaven. Together, through their conjugal relations, they beget children, whom they are consecrated to serve together: they do everything necessary to help their children get into heaven. The fecundity of conjugal relations is meant to be an echo of the fecundity of God. God intends the pleasure between man and wife, the pleasure of the marriage bed, of the raising of children, of the joy of earthly family life, to be a pale imitation of the joy we will have in participating in the life of the Divine Family of Persons. All of these earthly joys imitate and point to our greatest joy: the joy of sharing in the Divine Family life of God in our own flesh.

Now we can see why Mary and Joseph were celibate. Mary and Joseph had Jesus as their child. They lived, in their own flesh, family life with God in the flesh. They had the most intimate union with God one can know, the intimacy of parent with child, of father and mother with little one. What man looks for water when he has the finest wine? Why would Mary or Joseph partake of a pale imitation of joy when they had the fullest joy possible, the very divine joy God intended them to experience from the beginning of time? No matter how rich our family life or the joy we take in each other as spouses, we parents can at most only vaguely imitate heaven on earth: because Jesus is their child, Mary and Joseph lived heaven on earth.

And now we can also see why we have such a hard time understanding Mary and Joseph’s celibacy: we have spent so much time fixated on pale earthly imitations, that we haven’t spent enough time contemplating heaven. For the octave of Christmas, do yourself and your family a marvelous favor. Kneel before the Holy Family and contemplate heaven.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

He Dwelt Among Us

Many people don’t realize that Advent is meant to prepare us for Jesus’ Second Coming in the Flesh even more than it is meant to remind us of His First Coming as a babe. Fortunately, many of the old Advent carols that are sung today resonate this understanding beautifully. Let’s take a look at one.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is a 12th century hymn set to the tune of a 15th century French funeral processional. John Neale translated it into English in 1851. These facts alone tell us something about how earlier Christians viewed the Advent and Christmas seasons. For them, death was not a stranger, nor locked away in special buildings, in hospitals or mortuaries. Instead, it was a somewhat dour acquaintance who visited every home from time to time to take family and friends on a long voyage. Everyone had to make the voyage eventually; some simply left before others. Putting Advent lyrics to a funeral hymn reminded all concerned that Christ came to judge the living and the dead, and the second group was a lot larger than the first.

The song’s name is, of course, drawn from the first line of its first stanza. This line is given to us on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in the first reading: Is 7:14 “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel [God with us].” Not only does this verse remind us of the several captivities that Israel suffered, both to foreign rulers and to sin itself, it references a deeper failing. The reason the prophet speaks these words is precisely because the king doesn’t have the backbone to ask for a sign. We are often warned from the pulpit not to test God. We should remember this passage, when God demanded that we test Him. There is a lesson here: sometimes God insists that we ask for the impossible, just so He can deliver. We should not lose hope if He does not deliver as we expect, or on our timetable. The prophet who spoke these words nor the king who heard them lived to see them fulfilled. But they were fulfilled.

The second stanza reminds us of Proverbs 2:6-8, “For the LORD gives wisdom, from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; He has counsel in store for the upright, he is the shield of those who walk honestly, guarding the paths of justice, protecting the way of his pious ones.” When it comes to God, the path of knowledge always leads through a person. In this case, it is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The third verse is now the basis for the Christmas Vigil Mass Gospel reading. Though the reference itself is Isaiah 11:1: “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse” Jesse was the father of David, David was Israel’s second and greatest king, and Jesus was his direct descendant, as the first half dozen words of Matthew’s Gospel point out. David won victories over every enemy who opposed him. Jesus won the victory over mankind’s greatest enemies, the devil and the death he administers. This verse reminds us that we are in a war, and the enemy has many prisoners of war. We need to free them.

The fourth verse begins with the prophecy made by John the Baptist’s father, as soon as he regained his voice. He had been struck mute for daring to question God’s ability to bring forth a son out of his marital relations. His first words after regaining his voice are not a complaint, but a glorious celebration of God’s wonders. When you sing this verse, think of a time that you questioned God’s ability to deliver, and He came through anyhow. Did you praise Him with anything approaching the beauty of Zechariah’s canticle?

The fifth verse refers to Isaiah 22:22, the verse traditionally used to demonstrate Christ’s gift of His own authority to Peter, “The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder.” This verse in turn refers to Isaiah 9:6 “The government shall be upon His shoulder.” God established a Church, His Bride, to help us reach the land He won for us through His shed blood.

The celebration of prophecy fulfilled continues with the sixth verse’s reference to Exodus 19:17-19, “Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stationed themselves at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was all wrapped in smoke, for the LORD came down upon it in fire. The smoke rose from it as though from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. The trumpet blast grew louder and louder, while Moses was speaking and God answering him with thunder.” Note the connection between the scene here and the scene on Pentecost Sunday, when the Fire of God swept down from heaven and engulfed the apostles, giving them the ability to communicate to all people. The Law is universal, the languages communicate it to all.

The seventh verse again calls us back to Isaiah, this time to verse 11:10, “On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” This re-iterates the resonance of the previous verse. Even the Gentiles are called, even secular rulers will acknowledge themselves subservient to the King of Kings, and all will seek His mercy.

The eighth and last verse is appropriate to the song. Christ died on the sixth day, lay in the tomb on the Sabbath, the seventh day, and rose the next day, which is the eighth. Throughout Scripture, the number eight resonates with the Resurrection. It is in this signal event that all our hopes lie. As Paul stated so succinctly, “If He is not risen, our Faith is in vain.” His Resurrection is the one thing all non-Christian heresies unite in denying. Yet it is exactly His Resurrection and the incredible gift He has given us through that Resurrection, which makes Isaiah’s words linger in our minds long after the hymn is done. “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. “

May God grant a blessed Advent and a blessed death to us all.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Indulge yourself

Ever since the Jubilee Year indulgences promulgated by the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, interest in the doctrine of indulgences has been rising. Unfortunately, few people today knows what an indulgence is or how indulgences work. In order to understand this teaching, we have to have a good understanding of how grace works in our lives and how sin affects the workings of grace.

First, we must realize that grace is power. Grace is the power that keeps the world working the way it should. When I sin, I remove grace from the world. As a result, the world doesn't have the necessary grace, the necessary power, to work the way God intended it to.

So, let's say I am engaged in a very private sin, which no one knows about. I get drunk secretly. In fact, I get drunk secretly on a regular basis, but I go to work sober, so no one can tell. However, because I regularly get drunk, that is, I regularly sin, I remove grace from the world, I remove grace from myself.

Now, grace is the power to be joyful, the power to treat others as true images of God. Because I threw away grace through my sin, I no longer have the power, I no longer have the ability, to treat you the way you should be treated. Though no one knows about my secret drinking, everyone knows I'm a pain to work with. I'm mean, maybe not a lot mean, but mean nonetheless. I treat you badly when I see you.

When I treat you badly in the morning, you will be tempted to treat someone else badly later in the day as a result. I have taken grace out of our relationship by the very fact that I removed grace from myself through sin. In fact, I've removed grace from every relationship I'm in - everyone I meet the day after a drunk is not going to be treated as well as I should treat them. Even my relationship with God is harmed, because I am not giving Him proper respect either, since I am not treating the gifts He gave me - like my body and my mind - with the honor they deserve. I am supposed to treat myself like a temple of the Holy Spirit, and instead I throw the Spirit out and replace Him with spirits.

So, all of the people I interact with during the day are tempted to be mean to everyone they meet because they are simmering about the injustice I have inflicted on them. The effects of my sin are rippling out into the world, more grace is being stripped away with every interaction, and I'm at least an indirect cause of every loss of grace.

Now, when I Christ sends me the grace necessary to drive me to the confessional and I respond to it, Christ absolves my sins in that sacrament and restores to me the grace that I threw away. But, even if I go to confession immediately after having mistreated you, I have a problem. Though I am restored to a life of grace, there's a rippling circle of sin out in the world. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people are mistreating one another because I encouraged them to do so: I mistreated them first. This rippling could go on for a very long time. Indeed, this mistreatment could reverberate for quite some time after I'm dead. I am supposed to live my life on earth so I bring joy to everyone I meet. I haven’t. I sinned.

And, even though my sins are forgiven, the consequences of those sins need to be cleaned up. But I can't clean them up. This situation can only be healed by an infusion of grace, of power, an infusion of the very thing I stripped out of the world. I can’t restore the missing grace. I am not a source of grace - only Christ is. But I am supposed to be an image of Christ. Christ brought nothing but grace into the world. And even though I am now in a life of grace and look like Him in respect to myself, I have stripped grace away from the world, and am totally unlike Him in respect to his interaction with the world. What to do?

Well, we are God's coworkers, according to Scripture. God's work is the healing of the sins of the world, both temporal effects and spiritual effects. Thus, you and I also have the work of healing the sins of the world, both temporal and spiritual effects. What God commands us to do, God provides the grace to accomplish.

My act of sin was an act of arbitrary disobedience. Christ invites me to heal the consequences of my sin by giving me the grace to do arbitrary acts of obedience. I arbitrarily chose to strip away grace and ignore Him before. Now that I am in a state of grace and again conformed to His image through reconciliation, Christ establishes arbitrary acts of obedience that He rewards with even more grace. In this way, I can heal the world and restore it to what it would have been like if I had not sinned.

The grace that He makes available to the world through an indulgenced act is drawn from “the treasury of merit.” It is the infinite ocean of grace won by Christ on the Cross, and won by all the saints who lived in perfect conformance to Christ. Just as Peter wiped away his three-fold disobedience on the night of the trial with a three-fold act of love on the seashore, so I must make similar acts of love to wipe away my acts of disobedience. Christ established for Peter the acts he needed to take, the Church establishes for me the acts I need to take. Just as Peter's ability to affirm his love for Christ came from the Crucifixion, so the graces which heal the world of the effects of my sins come only from the Crucifixion, the infinite treasury of grace won by Christ on the Cross. He allows me to imitate Him by allowing me to win graces for the world in a way somewhat similar to the way He won graces for the world. He did it first, and He rewards my pale imitation by passing the graces onto me, so I may look like Him.

Thus, when I perform an indulgence for myself, all the people who find themselves living out grace-deficient relationships because of my sin will, because I do these acts of arbitrary obedience out of love of Christ, suddenly find the grace I had taken out of their relationships restored to them. In this way, Christ empowers me to become His co-worker, doing His work on earth. In this way, it is no more I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.

Now, Christ expects each one of us to heal the world and clean up our own mess. That means I can’t do an indulgence for another living person; the only living person I can only do them for is myself. As Paul tells us in Hebrews, obedience always involves suffering. If I don't get this mess cleaned up here, if I don’t get these acts of obedience/suffering finished while on earth, then I have to get them done before I can enter heaven. Only the perfect enter heaven, only those whose life left the world a better place get to see God. As long as any part of any one of my sins still afflict the world at the moment of my death, I have to do what is necessary to clean that mess up. This creates a problem.

My body was made to carry the load of suffering. When I die, my soul is separated from my body. Death separates me from the very tool I need most in order to do my work of obedience/suffering. This means the suffering of Purgatory has to be tremendously greater if it is to accomplish the same amount of clean-up work that could have been done while I was alive on earth. Because the souls in Purgatory don’t have their bodies with them, and are therefore at a distinct disadvantage in getting their work done, the Church permits we who are living to do indulgenced works for the dead, as a way to help them. In this way, 1 Corinthians 12 is fulfilled: those parts of the body that can carry the load help those that cannot.

This, in a nutshell, is an indulgence. Once Reconciliation has conformed me to Christ, I must then do indulgences to conform all my relationships in the world to Him as well. If I get this work done on earth, I leave the world a better place, with none having been harmed by me. That means I am a saint. So, at my death, I enter directly into heaven.

For more information on indulgences, click here

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Faith of Our Fathers

In late November, George W. Bush inadvertently entered an old controversy. When a reporter asked him if Moslems worship the same God as Christians, he replied in the affirmative. President Bush joins Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in this opinion. Sadly, he has angered many evangelical and fundamentalists who heatedly deny the proposition.

Not all Muslims are keen on the comparison either. Ingrid Mattson, professor of Islamic studies and Christian-Muslim relations at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn., says "[If Christians assert] God is Trinitarian and that God includes Jesus, then Muslims do not in fact believe in that God." Islam portrays Allah, the Arabic name for God, as a single whole who cannot be divided into multiple parts.

How should a Catholic respond to this?

Well, we can begin by pointing out that the Muslims are right: God cannot be divided into parts. In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity emphatically denies that God has any parts or that He can be divided into parts. If divinity could be separated or divided, there would be three gods, not one. The idea that the Three Persons are “parts” of God, or are separable, or capable of being divided is, therefore, a Christian heresy. Rather, the three Persons of the Trinity can be distinguished only by the relations within the Godhead. In short, the divine Persons can be distinguished, but not divided or separated.

But this begs the question. It is most certainly the case that the Muslims do not accept the idea that the Godhead contains three divine Persons. It is likewise the case that they deny Christ’s divinity. Doesn’t that mean they worship a different God?

We have to be careful here. The Muslims are not alone in rejecting those two propositions: the Jews reject them as well. If we want to use this rejection to charge that Muslims worship a different god, then we’re going to have to lay the same charge at the door of the Jews as well. Yet no one has ever argued that Christians and Jews worship different gods.

There are two reasons for this. First, Christians understand that Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism. Jews are our elder brothers in the Faith. That means we must be worshipping the same God. If Jews and Christians aren’t worshipping the same God, then Christianity has had a serious misunderstanding about Judeo-Christian relations since at least the time of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Second, both St. Paul and the Catechism of the Catholic Church insist that the Second Coming of Christ, which Christmas anticipates, “is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by ‘all Israel’, for ‘a hardening has come upon part of Israel’ in their ‘unbelief’ toward Jesus.” (CCC #674). That means that Christ’s second coming is dependent on the fact that Jews and Christians worship the same God. Thus, the rejection of Trinity and Christ's divinity doesn’t necessarily mean their object of worship is different than ours. If that is true for the Jews, than it would likewise be true for the Muslims.

But let's cut to the heart of the matter and stop mincing words. There is only one God. Jews, Christians and Moslems are all monotheists. This has certain implications that cannot be avoided in casual conversation. When one monotheist charges that another monotheist “worships a different God”, the first is saying, in a pleasant way, that the second worships demons. That’s a fairly significant charge, and a good Christian would want to make sure of his facts before making it.

The Second Vatican Council, moving under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, recognized that this charge wouldn’t stick. The fathers of the Council wrote:

“[The Muslims] adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself, merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth (5), who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes great pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgement when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. “
On Non-Christian Religions, #3

So, what exactly is the relationship between the three faiths? In order to understand the problem, we have to recognize a few simple truths about divine revelation. There are two types of divine revelation: natural and supernatural.

Natural revelation definitely teaches us things about God. “The heavens are telling the glory of God” says David, and every pagan knows it. Only a very small percentage of people are so intellectually and spiritually impoverished that they can look at the natural world and not see God’s handiworks.

All of creation was made by, through and for Christ, so all of creation tells us about Him. This is why pagan religions exist - pagans understand that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Heb 11:6). This is, incidentally, the minimum necessary for salvation, which is why even pagans can be saved. The natural law, written on their hearts, might be enough to save them on the Last Day (Rom 2:14-16).

Still, though God reveals Himself through nature, not much of His revelation comes through clearly by that route. God is Three Persons, Persons are distinguished only by relations, and nature does not contain any visible created persons besides us human beings, so the medium of nature simply isn’t conducive to revealing much about God. That’s why pagans tend to be so wildly divergent in their faiths. They don’t have much to work with, and they have to make up the rest as they go along.

This is also why God revealed Himself to Abraham and the prophets directly. Persons have relationships; persons can reveal themselves much more fully through relationships than they can through inanimate objects (present essay excepted, of course).

Thus, when God revealed Himself directly to Abraham, He could make Himself much better known. But even so, He could not reveal Himself entirely. Even Moses, who alone was humble enough to see God face to face and talk with Him as a man talks with a man, even he had to veil his face after each encounter, because his encounter with divinity caused his face to glow with the divine light. Apart from John the Baptist, he was the best-prepared Old Testament prophet, and it still wasn't enough.

It is only through Christ that God fully reveals Himself, and even then, the full revelation comes only through the Paschal Mystery - the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. In short, even Christianity didn’t have a real shot at absorbing the full revelation of divinity until about the beginning of Acts 2.

Now, no matter what the source of the supernatural visions Mohammed had, he clearly obtained at least some accurate information about God. He knew God is both just and merciful, that His mercy triumphs over His justice, that prayer and almsgiving are powerful before the throne of God, and that Mary is to be honored. These are not trivial things, and in these details, they know is as much or more than even today's Jews know. Certainly, if every Catholic paid the same level of attention to prayer and almsgiving that many Muslims do, the sacramental graces God showers on us would be much more visibly evident, and the amount of schism and heresy in the world would be correspondingly reduced.

Just as clearly, however, Mohammed was not given the full revelation of God. How could he have been? He doesn’t even pretend to assert that he had direct conversations with God, as Abraham and Moses did, or as any number of the inhabitants of first century Jerusalem did. He says he just talked to an angel. As a result, his understanding of God’s covenant with man is radically impoverished compared to that of Abraham or Moses or any of their descendants. It is certainly nothing like as full as St. Peter’s or St. Paul’s knowledge of the divine covenant.

In this, the Muslims are much worse off than the Jews or the Baptists. Muslims understand that a covenant exists, and they understand many of God’s divine attributes, though not all of them, as they themselves readily admit. So, we may summarize by saying that, like anyone without an adult understanding of Catholic Faith, the Muslims have a partial revelation of God. It is a much more sophisticated understanding than 99% of the faiths that have ever existed, though it is not as sophisticated as the Jewish understanding, which in turn, is not as sophisticated as a non-denominational Christian’s understanding, which, in turn, is not as sophisticated as Catholic understanding.

This does not mean Christian relationships with Islam are likely to be all tea and crumpets. Indeed, converting followers of Islam to Christianity has long been noted as one of the most difficult feats to accomplish - even St. Francis of Assisi made essentially no headway in this area. If nothing else, that fact should give both Catholics and American presidents pause.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

A Modest Prophecy

With the 1968 release of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI prophesied the explosion of pornography, divorce and sexually transmitted diseases. The prophesy came true.

By the 1970’s, the pro-life movement prophesied that if abortion remained legal, child abuse would explode and lead to the legalization of sodomy and child sex. The first has come true, the second is so close to realization that nothing stands in its way. When we have a former Surgeon General (Jocelyn Elders) writing a glowing forward to a book that praises child-adult sex, when the American Psychological Association asserts that child-adult sex is not necessarily a psychiatric problem, when abortionists are never prosecuted for failing to report statutory rape, there really isn’t much farther to go.

Here’s a prophecy I made in the early 1990’s. Over a decade ago, when I was a pro-life atheist and the Web was still a glimmer in the eyes of Swiss researchers, I regularly took part in a pro-life Internet bulletin board debate in a group called alt.abortion. Because Jeffrey Dahmer’s crime was still front page headlines, and because the pro-abortionists in the discussion were always making outrageous statements about the sanctity of bodily autonomy, I proposed the following scenario:

“Assume,” I said, “that Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims were willing victims. What if they wanted to be killed and eaten? According to your theory of personal rights, Dahmer couldn’t be convicted of a crime, could he? He wouldn’t have committed one. After all, his victim has the right to do whatever he chooses with his body. Maybe Jeff and his victim were homosexual lovers. If he chooses to have Jeff make a meal of him, then who are we to get involved in affairs of the bedroom?”

Amazingly, a few of the pro-aborts agreed that he would not have committed a crime, and that government had no business interfering in such a situation. Most, however, responded by saying the situation was absurd: no one would do that. I was just a crazy pro-lifer grasping at straws to maintain an impossible position.

Looks like they were wrong.

You may or may not have heard, but Germany is prosecuting the surviving homosexual who lived exactly this. The police know it was a consensual killing and consumption, because a videotape shows the victim’s male member being cut off and eaten by both gay men together before the victim was dispatched.

Sadly, the Germans are having real trouble prosecuting the case. Seems the defense wants to argue for consensual action between two mature people, asserting that this was really just assisted suicide, which is legal in Germany. The German police, on the other hand, insist it was a killing for sexual satisfaction, which is illegal, and the disturbance of a corpse, which is also illegal. Germany has no laws against cannibalism.

Oddly enough, American news outlets have not reported much on this story. When they have, they don't mention that it involved two gay men, nor do they name the body part that was severed and eaten. Which just goes to show that we shouldn't judge the news media too harshly. They may give us gays and sex in prime-time sitcoms, but they clearly want to spare our innocent ears the torrid details when it comes to the news. Aren't they sweet?

I have only one question: would consensual consumption be legal here? Personally, I don’t see why not. Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton have already established the right to privacy as a right of highest importance. The government has no business invading our bedrooms. If a woman and her doctor have a right to kill a child for reasons of bodily autonomy, certainly a man and his lover have a right to assisted suicide for reasons of bodily autonomy - indeed, assisted suicide is legal in Oregon. If there are no attempts to rip off an insurance company through the death, who is being harmed?

It’s also not clear why any laws concerning disturbance of a corpse would apply - after all, the victim clearly stated that he preferred neither burial nor cremation but a nice garnish with a bottle of white wine. On what grounds does the state interfere? Health? But what if both were healthy? Besides, the Supreme Court, in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, established that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” In Lawrence vs. the State of Texas, the high court made specific reference to this portion of the Casey decision in order to find Texas laws against sodomy unconstitutional.

So, the law of the land certainly has all the elements necessary to support consensual homosexual cannibalism. But there is further precedent.

Long before the perverse and evil Christians of Western Europe descended like locusts on the pure and innocent American native, the Aztecs had a quaint religious custom: they cut the still-beating heart out of a man’s chest as part of their liturgical celebrations. They slaughtered up to 80,000 people a year this way. The east coast inhabitants of North America, the Indians who lived close to nature, to Mother Earth and Sister Wind, yea, verily even the forefathers of Pocahantus, regularly sliced up and ate captives, in that order. Even atheists remarked on the fact that the only reason the practice stopped was due to the influence of Jesuit missionaries (several of whom were also eaten and killed, in that order).

So, as long as the victim was of the same religion and/or agreed to having it done to them, who has the right to stop them? Who are we to judge? Don’t all religious traditions have value? Shouldn’t we draw from everyone’s experience if we want to discover our true selves? After all, who are we to judge alternate religions, sexualities or gourmet tastes?

The Germans have found themselves in the dilemma posed by Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons: "When you knock all the laws flat… what will you hide behind when the devil whirls to face you?” Like the Ten Little Indians of Agatha Christie’s novel, the laws are being knocked flat one by one. What will we do when - not if, but when - this situation presents itself here?

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Join the College of Athanasius

I know a director of religious education (DRE), in a reputedly orthodox diocese, who taught adults movingly and repeatedly about the problems with contraception. In fact, parishioners were actually acknowledging and repenting of the sin. With the arrival of a new pastor, that all stopped. The new pastor, reputed to be a man of deep prayer, didn’t want to deal with the angry phone calls from wealthy, unconverted parishioners. The DRE was ordered to be silent on the issue. Three silent months later, the DRE was fired.

I know of a priest who had a problem. One of the extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist (EME) in his parish worked as a counselor for Planned Parenthood. When he found out, the priest removed the person from ministry. That didn’t last long. The individual who had been dismissed appealed to the bishop. The bishop ordered the priest to rescind the decision. The priest did not want to be crucified by his bishop. The EME was re-instated.

I know of an extremely well-known and orthodox Catholic author and speaker who was asked at the podium why certain public heretics, who pretended to be Catholic but publicly supported abortion, were not formally excommunicated. The speaker replied that excommunication was not the answer. The existence of these public officials was really the fault of the lay faithful who voted the heretics into public office. When a follow-up question asked why the bishops put a supporter of partial-birth abortion on its national lay review board, the startled speaker simply said, “I can’t explain that, I don’t know.” The questioner pointed out that badly informed Catholics could use the American bishops’ action to justify their own vote for heretical politicians. The speaker began repeating over and over, “I can’t explain that, I don’t know.” The question-and-answer period was immediately closed.

Many years ago, when a certain English king declared himself head of the Church in England, all the Catholic bishops and public officials agreed that he was. All but one bishop and one public official. St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More were murdered for not agreeing, and hundreds of lay people followed them to the scaffolds. None of the Catholic bishops or public officials did. The Catholic Church was stripped from England like living flesh stripped from the bone.

In America, in the year 2003, Henry VIII should call his office. Opportunities abound here for men of his energy and vision. Opportunities for his kind abound for a simple reason: we are cowards.

I include myself in this. A decade ago, when I was freshly energized in the faith, I saw a teenage boy, no more than sixteen, looking through the condom section at the pharmacy with his girlfriend. He picked a package up and purchased it. I watched. I said nothing.

A few months later, I saw a couple of young adults from the local university walking hand-in-hand to the Planned Parenthood clinic a block away. I knew where they were going. I let them walk by me. I watched. I said nothing.

I am a coward. The priests described above are cowards. The bishops described above are cowards.

We are cowards. Spineless, craven, lily-livered, yellow cowards, too afraid of our own shadow and public perceptions to accept the crucifixion we are consecrated to live out. When I read of Christ’s betrayal, I don’t have to wonder what Judas was thinking. I look in the mirror, I look at most of our bishops and priests, and I see Judas rationalizing it all away. I have a lot of empathy for Judas when I am playing his part. I am disgusted beyond measure when I see my priests and bishops play the part.

Peter and Judas both betrayed Christ. Scripture explicitly says Judas repented (Matt 27:3), but of Peter, Scripture says only that he wept bitterly (Luke 22:62). We do neither.

The American priests and bishops who do not fight for the Faith have a name for their course of action. It is “collegiality.” They argue that public unity is of the utmost importance, one bishop should not shame another bishop by acting in a way that implies laxity on the part of the other bishop.

This argument would be a remarkable discovery to most of the saints. Take Saint Athanasius, for instance. During the Arian heresy, there were only two bishops in all of Christendom who were not heretics: Athanasius and the Pope. The Arians said Christ was not really God. Athanasius disagreed.

Loudly.

In fact, the man was a public embarrassment. The emperor found him most troublesome. So did all the heretics who occupied various Catholic bishoprics. At their urging, he exiled Athanasius. The people demanded their beloved truth-teller back. The emperor relented. Athanasius came back. He took up where he left off. The emperor exiled him again. The cycle repeated. In fact, the cycle repeated and repeated and repeated. Three different emperors exiled Athanasius a total of five different times, all because the man refused to SHUT UP.

Funny thing, that. The emperors didn’t realize Athanasius was just being collegial.

You see, collegiality means unity, and it is only possible to have unity in the truth. Athanasius was speaking the truth. Thus, although virtually every bishop and every public official unanimously agreed that Athanasius should shut the heaven up, all of these bishops were breaking Catholic collegiality. It was Athanasius, the Truth-Teller, who was being collegial. Why does this situation resonate so strongly today?

You could look at Athanasius alone against the world and get the mistaken impression that he was alone in the college of bishops. He wasn’t. He had in company with him all the bishops who had ever or would ever keep Faith. Remember, the Catholic Church and Chicago have one thing in common: the dead always get a vote. Athanasius had a voting majority according to the rules of the Church. With the democracy of the dead on his side, he swept the election.

Remember Athanasius. Compare his condition to ours. Ours is not the first or the worst the Church has seen. It is not even the first set of heresies that the United States bishops have indulged in.

Remember the recent column on slavery? Remember how the Church railed against slavery throughout her long life? The Church taught against it, but some individual Catholics didn’t. Among the many individual Catholics in Church history, both lay and consecrated, priest and bishop, who personally failed to proclaim the Church’s eternal teaching, among these men who owned slaves or defended slavery, stands a large number of American bishops. The bishops of the United States, in the years prior to the American Civil War, taught nearly continuous error on the issue of slavery. With a few exceptions, they kept insisting that only trade in slaves was un-Christian, that owning them was perfectly acceptable. The American bishops were, on this point, material heretics. As the vehement anti-Catholic, Abraham Lincoln, pointed out, America would pay for every drop of blood spilled because of that most pernicious heresy. We did.

The Spirit blows where He will. Anti-Catholics frequently demonstrate this simply by being publicly right on some issue that the local Catholic community studiously ignores. Here’s another example. Anti-Catholics often get upset with the fact that Catholics call priests “Father”. Now, we have good Scriptural reason to do this, and if this were another column, we might demonstrate those reasons in compelling detail, but let’s leave that for another day. Today, let’s just focus on the word “father” and all that the word implies.

My brother-in-law, a good Catholic father with eight children (seven outside, one inside), recently made a penetrating observation. Every day, every one of his children cry. Every child cries every day until the age of at least seven or eight. Every child. Every day.

Tears, weeping, moaning, gnashing of teeth (whoever has children that do not grind their teeth in the night is blessed beyond measure), the piteous wailing against the rank injustices perpetrated by parents upon innocent waifs who DON’T want to eat their vegetables, who DON’T want to share, who DON’T want to go to bed now, and who MUST have that cookie lest death overtake them and they die un-indulged: these cries permeate the life of a father, the life of a mother, the life of a parent. Every child cries every day. If there are no tears, the father isn’t doing his job.

But, our father stops teaching the truth because he doesn’t want to listen to the angry, wailing phone calls. Our father reinstates the material heretic because his father, the bishop, throws a tantrum. We children, the laity, are reduced to chastising each other because we follow our fathers’ example, the example of bishops who lament Leon Panetta’s public politics while simultaneously honoring him with the authority to officially review their actions.

We should chastise each other for following the example of bishops like this, of “fathers” like this. Sometimes, our priests, our bishops are heretics. And sometimes, they are cowards.

I am the occasional father to three. I am not always a father. Why not? Because you can’t be a father and be a coward. As long as fathers are cowards, children are orphans. And, God forgive me, I am too often a coward.

St. Athanasius, pray for us fathers.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Was the Barque of Peter a Slave Ship?

In October, the Catholic bishops of Africa did an amazing thing. They asked forgiveness for the role played by Africans in the slave trade, both old and new, past and present. With over 150 cardinals and bishops in attendance, the conference acknowledged that slavery was made possible through the complicity of Africans. Note carefully, the bishops apologized in the name of all Africa, not just in the name of Catholic Africans. There’s a reason for this.

Secular commentators like to bash Christianity in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, for being soft on slavery. As Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God readily demonstrates, they can get away with this only by studiously ignoring the historical facts.

Paul’s Letter to Philemon shows that Catholics have never been very thrilled with the slavery. Paul admits he could order Philemon to release the slave Onesimus, but he instead gives Philemon a chance to exercise Christian charity and release the slave himself, an act he should have undertaken even without Onesimus’ baptism. Given how tightly slavery was woven into the seam of Roman culture and politics, Paul’s approach to dismantling the institution was arguably the only way to detoxify the Empire of slavery’s influence. Following Paul’s example, the Church has always affirmed the slave’s right to be baptized, and has likewise always used baptism as one rationale to remove the baptized from bondage.

Popes and bishops followed Paul’s example through the millenia, constantly chipping away at slavery’s basic core. As slavery declined within the Empire due to rising Christian influence, Christian missionaries focused attention on the pagan north, where slavery was endemic. Indeed, the word “slave” comes from “Slav” precisely because so many Slavs were forcibly enslaved. By the ninth century, Catholic saints were attacking the Viking slave trade. Saint Anselm forbad the enslavement of Christians, and the bishops of tenth-century Venice did public penance for Venetian involvement in the enslavement of Muslims.

Outside of Christian Europe, things were considerably different. Islam’s sword destroyed Christian influence throughout the entirety of the North African coast. As a result, every Moslem territory had slave armies by the mid-800s. Christian boys were forcibly taken from their homes, forcibly converted to and raised in Islam, and then used as the military arm to defend against or conquer other Christians. Thus, even as Christianity dismantled the slave trade in northern Europe, Islam – a word that means “submit” – was re-establishing slavery throughout the southern Mediterranean. There was a reason for this, too.

You see, back, in the early 600’s, Mohammed’s supernatural visitor told him that the Old Testament Scriptures maintained by the Jews and Christians were corrupt. Errors had supposedly crept in, errors which Mohammed’s vision allegedly corrected. One of these errors concerned Abraham, Sarah and Hagar. According to Mohammed, Abraham did indeed have two sons: Ishmael by the slave girl, Isaac by the free woman. But according to Mohammed, Isaac was not the son of the promise. Instead, Ishmael, the son of the slave girl, received the promise of covenant from God. But this covenant isn’t what you think.

All the Jews are descendants of Judah, great-great-grandson of the free woman, while all the Arabs are descended from Ishmael, the son of the slave: on this, Arabs and Jews are in agreement. There is one, radical difference. According to Muslim theology, human beings are to God as a slave is to his Master. God is not Father. He is loving, He is generous, He is bountiful, but He is loving, generous and bountiful as a slave master is to a faithful slave.

The physical and spiritual descendants of the freed man, Isaac, see their relationship to God primarily in terms of family: God is Father, we are His Chosen People, His Family, His sons and daughters. The Psalms, the Prophets and certainly the New Testament are filled with this imagery. In contrast, the descendants of the slave’s son, Ishmael, see their relationship to God primarily in terms of enslavement. The Koran, the Moslem Scriptures, and the Hadith, the story of Mohammed’s life, is filled with slave imagery. These two different images explain all subsequent history.

By the twelfth century, when slavery was essentially unknown in Christian Europe, but well-known through contact with Muslims, Aquinas had declared slavery contrary to justice. However, the discovery of the New World brought the problem back to the forefront for Christianity. Christian conquerers argued that American natives were sub-human savages, incapable of rational thought, and therefore objects of slavery. Rome responded by threatening excommunication on everyone engaged in the slave trade, and sending missionaries to baptize the natives. She wanted to drive home the point: these men and women were not to be enslaved.

However, like today’s abortionists, the “Christian” slavers refused to accept Rome’s commands, and Rome had no troops to enforce her ruling. At the beginning, most of the slavers were Spanish. This should not be a surprise. The Moslems had crossed into and taken over Spain in 611 A.D., the last vestiges of Moslem military presence was only removed in 1492. Indeed, Columbus’ expedition to the New World was funded by the Spanish monarchy as part of their celebration in having finally taken back the Spanish peninsula. But nearly nine hundred years of Moslem occupation had left its mark on the Spanish. They were open to slavery.

The grandson to Isabella and Ferdinand, the Spanish King, Charles V, not only had enormous holdings in the New World, he also owned most of Italy; he had even sacked Rome itself. The Spanish treasury depended on slave labor. So, while pope after pope regularly published decrees against slavery, it didn’t do much good. Anyone who promulgated a papal decree in Spanish territory without the king’s consent, whether in the Old World or the New, was subject to the death penalty. Like Ted Kennedy and Tom Daschle, Charles V was the product of a particular culture.

Though the Protestant Reformation never entered Spain, Spain had her own rebellion, a rebellion that spread wherever Catholic influence was low. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the Catholic Church was the only major Christian denomination speaking out against slavery. The British and Dutch had no qualms about it, nor did their Protestant churches make any protests against the practice.

The Church did what she could. Papal influence managed to moderate the Code Noir and Cadigo Negro Espanol, the slave regulations of Spain and Portugal, providing slaves special protections in Brazilian and Spanish territories that were not found in areas under British rule. The Jesuits managed to carve out a Catholic republic for native peoples in South America that lasted for one hundred and fifty years. These native communities, called reducciones, had schools, paved roads, arts, literature, industry and a form of representative government.

The existence of these communities, which were so prosperous that they rivalled the best Spanish and Portuguese communities in the New World, became a thorn in the Spanish side. The Spanish and Portuguese sent armies in to conquer them. The natives, well-taught by the Jesuits in military tactics, defeated both armies. As a direct result, the crowns expelled all Jesuits from Spanish and Portuguese territory in 1758. They eventually conquered and enslaved the inhabitants. Still, Rome continued to speak out against the evil. She had condemned slavery in 873, 1435, 1454, 1537 and 1686. She issued further condemnations in 1839, 1888 and 1889. Slowly, Catholic and Protestant nations prohibited the practice, with the United States lingering longest.

For Muslim countries, life went differently. Muslim slave armies continued to operate in an official capacity as late as 1863, when they were used in Mexico to support the French. Ethiopia and Liberia did not abolish slavery until 1930; Saudi Arabia did not officially abolish slavery until 1962. To this day, the Moslem slave army still operates. Right now, in Sudan, Christian boys and girls are kidnapped as their fathers are killed and their mothers raped to death in front of them. They are enslaved, forcibly converted to Islam, and then made to fight as shock troops in support of Muslim soldiers raiding other Christian communities.

Islamic theology is built on slavery. All followers of Mohammed consciously emulate his life. Mohammed bought, kept, sold and had sex with his slaves. Indeed, he had sex with girls as young as nine. That’s why the age of consent in Islamic countries is nine; that’s why the young girls enslaved in Christian Sudan are raped with Allah’s blessing, that’s why their Christian brothers fight and die procuring more slaves for their Moslem masters, that’s why clandestine slave markets are still found in Moslem countries.

Christ took the sins of the world unto Himself. He died for Jew and Gentile, Christian and Muslim. The slave trade involved both sinful Christians and righteous Muslims. That’s why the Catholic bishops of Africa apologized for slavery in the name of all Africans. Christianity is not about being like Mohammed, it is about being like Christ. That's what sets us free.

There’s really only one thing that can’t be explained.

Why do we sit idle?