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Thursday, April 22, 2004

Is That Legal?

Years ago, a heard an apologist give a piece of very sage advice. If you want to bring a certain class of people to knowledge of Christ, make friends with several and don’t try to convert them. Just listen to them. Hear their concerns. That’s one of the reasons I try to stay in conversation with all kinds of people, one of whom happens to be a follower of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).

Now, the SSPX and its splinter groups are schismatics who refuse to recognize the authority of the Second Vatican Council and the Pope. Their priests and bishops are validly ordained, consequently all seven of their sacraments are valid. Sadly, none of them are licit.

Whenever I say this, people inevitably respond with, “And what, exactly, is the difference between being valid and being licit?” Instead of going into a long theological discussion, it is best to use an example.

When a man and a woman get married, they generally tend to have sex. Sexual relations between spouses is both valid and licit – it is valid because it is ordered towards the indivisible gifts of procreation and unity, it is licit because the relationship is consecrated and elevated by God to the status of a sacrament. Thus, God’s law and man’s law coincide – that is what it means to be licit.

Now, if these same two people had sex without benefit of marriage, they would be involved in a valid expression of sexuality – the union could still produce a child, at least on a theoretical level – but their union would not be licit. God may bless them with a child despite the fact that they refuse to allow His authority in their lives, but their actions are not in conformance with the level of obedience God desires from each of us. They have valid but illicit sex.

What of invalid and illicit sex? The best example of that is homosexual sex. It is invalid because it is simply not ordered to procreation or unity. It is illicit because that sexual act between those two people can never be elevated to a level of obedience to God. Fornicators, and to a lesser degree adulterers, can make their actions both valid and licit by obeying the laws of God's Church and allowing Him to sanctify their relationship, but homosexual sex can never be either.

You may think it an enormous leap to jump from liturgy and sacraments to sex, but it isn’t. The Mass is the Wedding Feast, where Eucharist, the Flesh of the Bridegroom, enters the flesh of the Bride. As the Holy Father tells us, sex is meant to be a foreshadowing, a dim way of imaging, the enormous love God pours out to us in the liturgy. When properly done, “sex is, in a certain sense, liturgical.” It is precisely our failure to make this connection that causes us so much problem in discussing our Catholic Faith.

The orientation that worship has matters. We can worship God incorrectly or we can worship God correctly or we can worship demons. It is incorrect to say that those who worship God incorrectly are at the same level as those who worship demons – after all, though certain fundamentalist sects call the Catholic Church “The Whore of Babylon”, still, I have a fellowship with them that I simply don’t share with followers of Wicca. My Wiccan friend is very nice, loves her pagan form of worship and certainly doesn’t believe she is doing anything satanic, but she is also certainly not my separated brother in the same sense that the Baptist woman down the street is.

Now, as noted above, sex is a dim reflection of liturgy. The difference between valid and licit, taht is, the difference between the illicit, invalid liturgical worship of Wicca, the valid liturgy of the SSPX and the valid, licit liturgy Catholics attend every Sunday is intimately woven into the problem of sexuality.

The Catechism tells us that in God there is neither male nor female (CCC #239). So why do we always use the masculine pronoun in reference to Him? In part, because God penetrates us, He impregnates us with His word, as the Holy Father says in Catechesis in Our Time. He acts first, we respond. That is how it must always be when we deal with God – since God is creator, Since God holds us in existence from moment to moment, He must also always be First Actor. We don’t penetrate Him, He penetrates us. He is Bridegroom, we are Bride.

This is why St. Paul says sins of the flesh are the worst kind of sin, for these offend against the Temple of the Holy Spirit, which is the body. Sins of the flesh are the worst precisely because sins of the flesh are intimately linked with sins of the liturgy.

In the Catholic Mass, the Bridegroom meets the Bride, He enters us, and the mystery of divine loving union with God is consummated. In the SSPX Mass, the Bride takes advantage of the Bridegroom, using Him in a way that does not respect Who He is and what He wills, but the marriage itself still exists, even if the relationships are distorted. In Wicca, it is different.

Wicca is goddess-worship. In Wicca, the bride meets the bride. It is not valid worship, it is not licit worship. It is intrinsically disordered worship. It is worship irretrievably skewed. Of all the liturgical errors one can make, nothing matches the error of attempting Wicca worship. It is an error of a different class.

It has been pointed out by numerous people that, just as the act of eating has natural consequences, so does the act of sex. Eat too much and you gain weight. Have sex, and you eventually get pregnant. People who want to eat but don’t want to gain weight sometimes try to rectify the problem by becoming bulimic – they constantly force themselves to throw up. Abortion has been called the sexual form of bulimia. If we follow this kind of analogy, we can see that homosexuality is the sexual form of Wicca. Thus, we should not be surprised to find that a culture that promotes New Age beliefs, including Wicca, suddenly also finds itself awash in problems involving homosexuality.

Many people think the Catechism of the Catholic Church reflects a basic homophobia, because the Catechism calls homosexuality “intrinsically disordered.” Homosexuality is the only mode of life that is described that way by the Magisterium. Now that we understand the difference between valid and licit, and the link between sex and liturgy, it is, perhaps, more clear why the Magisterium provides this description.

Just as there are different levels of venial sin, whose deeper levels eventually induce the sinner to plunge into mortal sin, so there are different levels of mortal sin. Some are easier to recover from than others. In that sense, some mortal sins are, indeed, worse than others. As has been pointed out elsewhere, mortal sin against the Ninth Commandment – coveting a neighbor’s goods – is not nearly so bad as mortal sin against the Tenth Commandment – coveting a neighbor’s spouse. Wicca worship is much worse than SSPX worship. Homosexual behaviour is much worse than fornication and adultery.

It’s a simple problem to solve, really. We just need to explain the connection between sex and liturgy and the difference between valid and licit.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Dreaming is Believing

George Weigel appears to be at odds with the USCCB. In a recent interview with Newsmax.com, Weigel said, “[T]he bishops [must] as a group to make clear that Senator Kerry is systematically misrepresenting the nature of Catholic teaching on the life issues… when Kerry says the Church's pro-life teaching is a sectarian position which cannot be imposed on a pluralistic society, he is willfully misrepresenting the nature of the Church's position – by suggesting that this is something analogous to the Catholic Church trying to force everyone in the United States to abstain from eating hot dogs on Fridays during Lent."

Unfortunately for Mr. Weigel, Kerry is not mis-representing the USCCB position. He has described the USCCB position to a “T”. Watch closely and you’ll see how it’s done.

Back in December 2003, Cathy Cleaver Ruse, the official pro-life spokeswoman of the USCCB told the New York Times in part, “when it comes to contraception as a policy issue - access, availability - the Catholic bishops do not get involved in that debate."

Now there’s an amazing statement. Catholic bishops don't get involved on a debate concerning mortal sin. One wonders why any of them bothered getting consecrated bishop. But wait – it gets better.

I held onto that quote because the thing was so remarkably odd. Now, the entire quote she made to the Times was pretty strange, but this was easily the strangest part of it. So, I recently asked her a straightforward question. If the USCCB was lobbying to abolish abortion, why wasn’t it lobbying to abolish contraception? Both are mortal sins, both take human lives. I couldn’t see how the bishops distinguished between the two.

She quickly set me straight. The bishops don’t distinguish between the two.

“No, there is no ‘lobbying to ban abortions for everyone’ as that too has been precluded by the Supreme Court, for the time being,” she wrote in reply, “rather, there are efforts directed toward achievable goals…” She then went on to list a few of the USCCB goals: “the partial-birth abortion ban, [work] against mandating inclusion of contraception in health benefits packages; against making its acceptance a condition for providing other kinds of developmental assistance; protecting parents' rights in the case of minors, [etc.]”

It takes one’s breath away. Instead of preaching on the intrinsic evil of contraception, instead of insisting on the total abolition of contraception and abortion, US bishops are merely attempting to maintain the status quo circa, say, 1975. Pope John Paul II has repeatedly asked them what they are doing to change the culture. Well, now we know the answer: nothing. They aren’t trying to change the culture, they are trying to freeze-frame the culture in one of its most delectable states – the year Maude had her abortion on a national sitcom. We all know people who yearn for the 1950’s. Some benighted souls even yearn for the 1960's. But who knew there was anyone that yearned for the seventies? The bishops have been told in very stern terms by the Unites States Supreme Court that they are to stop trying to abolish contraception and abortion, so… they scrape, bow and obey.

What might George Weigel say about Mrs. Ruse’s answer? Well, we can look at what he says about Kerry’s position "This is simply false," Weigel told NewsMax.com. "The Church's pro-life teaching is something that can be engaged seriously by anyone. You don't have to believe that there are seven sacraments to deal with this, you don't have to believe in the primacy of the bishop of Rome to engage this position. You don't even have to believe in God to engage this [pro-Life] position because it's a position rooted in basic embryology and in basic logic, and anybody can engage that."

But that’s part of the problem, you see. The bishops are ignorant as the babes about embryology and basic logic. Take a look at the insanity they show in regards to the morning-after pill.

According to the USCCB, the morning after pill is A Bad Thing. It causes chemical abortions, don’cha know. Well, yes, bishops, we do know that. And anyone who has bothered to read the Physician’s Desk Reference, the standard handbook on drugs in the United States, also knows that the morning after pill (MAP) is just a regular contraceptive at an unusually high dose. MAP works exactly the same way every other hormonal contraceptive works because it is simply another contraceptive – it tries to suppress ovulation, but even if ovulation is not suppressed, it always destroys the uterine lining so the embryo can’t implant, that is, it causes an abortion. All hormonal contraceptives do.

But MAP is high-dose. Low-dose contraceptives are not good at preventing ovulation. Because MAP is high dose, it is more likely to prevent ovulation than normal contraceptives are. Why does this matter?

Because it means normal contraceptives are actually much more likely to cause a chemical abortion than MAP is. After all, sperm can’t fertilize an egg that isn’t there. MAP prevents the egg from being there much more reliably than normal contraceptives do. Now, MAP also plays merry hell with the woman’s health and her reproductive system to an extent far beyond any normal contraceptive, but chemical abortion is much less likely to happen with MAP than it is with any other hormonal contraceptive you care to name.

So, why do the bishops oppose MAP but remain silent on other hormonal contraceptives? That’s a darned good question. I pointed all of this out and asked Mrs. Ruse to explain why the bishops fought MAP but none of the other contraceptives. Her answer? Simplicity itself. Cathy Cleaver Ruse simply stopped replying. To be honest, I couldn’t blame her. I would have done exactly the same thing in her position.

So, this is the situation. The USCCB is not working to ban abortion. It is not working to ban contraception. The Supreme Court has forbidden it to do either, and the USCCB takes its marching orders from the US Supreme Court on these two issues. Instead, the USCCB is simply trying to limit damage. That’s all. It is trying to keep the culture from getting any worse than it was in 1975. It opposes MAP primarily because MAP wasn’t part of the 1970’s status quo. If it had been, the USCCB presumably wouldn’t be working to ban it either.

George Weigel has a dream. "The most important thing for the bishops of the United States to do is to make very clear that Kerry is misrepresenting the nature of the Church's pro-life position..."

It is very important to have dreams.

The reality is this: if you want the situation to change, you need to do something about it. First, pray. Being a bishop means being crucified. Christ hung on the Cross for three hours – these men spend years on it, and sometimes the pain drives them to make mistakes of judgment that we who are out of the spotlight wouldn’t have made. Pray for them and for yourself. Pray hard.

Then, start making appointments with your bishop, start writing him, start calling him. Be respectful. But make it clear to him that you want to hear the whole Gospel, in the pulpit and in the newspaper. You have a right to hear it. He has a duty to preach it. Catholics don’t take their marching orders from nine men in black robes. We follow one man, with holes in His hands and His feet and a bloody crown on His head. We aren’t democrats or republicans, we are monarchists. The King is calling us out. It’s time to march.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Vulture Culture

What does gay marriage, abortion and reality TV shows have in common? In famously Protestant America, each of these culturally reflect and enshrine the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments, the commandments Judge Moore and company fight about. This may seem a remarkable statement, but it is true.

Take gay marriage, for instance. One-third of teens who choose to be actively gay will be dead from disease by the age of thirty. Disease will kill half of them before their fiftieth birthday. The lifestyle of active homosexuals is deadly. Though they have access to the most advanced medical technology in history, gays today have a life expectancy virtually identical to someone living in the late 1800’s – when we had no antibiotics and few survivable surgical procedures.

Because of this, many civic planners, influenced by Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class, are cultivating a gay subculture in their cities. Neither city officials nor Mr. Florida mention the real reason: active homosexuals pursue personal pleasure above all else, which means they spend lots of money on themselves. They have, after all, no one else to spend it on and no particular reason to save it. Their lifestyle pumps millions into the local economy, their lingering deaths from disease pump in millions more from the insurance companies. For those few gays who chose to adopt or IVF a child before they die, the orphans become wards of the state, and bring in still more federal dollars. For city officials, it’s a sweet setup – the city isn’t exactly written into the will, but by encouraging debauchery the city coffers profit enormously. Homosexuals are a revenue source, a set of substantial bank accounts to tap. Throughout the country, the death tax is notoriously high. Both city and state profit from encouraging a high population of wealthy people who die rapidly.

So, our city planners now echo the abortionists, the only doctors who don’t accept charge cards or checks. “It’s their right to live as they wish,” say proponents as they ring up the sales, “and who are we to interfere with a right? Cash only, please, and step to the left as you die so as not to upset the others in line.” Abortionists don’t tell women what the March 2004 issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reports: women who abort are three times more likely to be dead within a year of their abortion than they would be if they gave birth. Likewise, city officials don’t mention what everyone knows: the city’s homosexual neighborhood always has real estate agents hustling empty housing units. Everyone just wears black armbands when a particularly wealthy homosexual kicks the bucket. Loving funeral notices are written, and the number of funeral homes increase. Everybody wins but the corpse.

In a society uncontaminated by Christ, people are tools, and we reward those who recognize this. Is it any wonder that the first reality television show, Survivor, was won by a homosexual? This is not to say that heterosexuals cannot coldly and callously use people as instruments – we do that every time we sin – but using people like objects is part of the fabric of homosexual society to a unique degree. According to a 2003 issue of the journal AIDS (vol. 17), “monogamous” homosexuals typically have between six and ten anonymous sexual affairs a year outside of their “monogamous” relationship. No heterosexual would think to define monogamy that way. The homosexual life is about use – who uses whom, and what do I get out of it? Likewise, reality television shows are all about how I can use other people in order to get what I want. Thus, it is fitting and right that the homosexual Richard Hatch win the first reality gameshow, Survivor.

In an interview after having been voted off a later All-Star Survivor game, Richard Hatch was asked who the smartest member left in the game was. His reply, “I've been voted off, so... who cares?” In a vulture culture, we talk about me or we don’t talk.

And this is ultimately why gay marriage is a contradiction in terms. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out “Matrimony [is] directed towards the service of others; if [it] contributes as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that [it does] so” (#1534). Marriage is a sacrament of service because it makes me the primary servant to my spouse. Through marriage, I voluntarily bind myself to the service of my spouse above all others.

The Catholic understanding of marriage is radically at odds with American culture. The vulture culture asks, “Is my spouse doing a good job of serving me? Is my spouse helping me achieve my goals?” Orthodox Catholics ask, “Am I doing my job of loving service? Am I giving myself entirely to my spouse so that she has all she needs to become more perfect?”

How many heterosexuals get divorced because they know they aren’t serving their spouse well enough? In that sense, the homosexuals are right: homosexual marriage cannot threaten heterosexual marriage because heterosexual marriage in the Catholic sense is a concept that really doesn’t exist here. It never has. The great irony in the gay marriage/Ten Commandments fight lies precisely in the fact that non-Catholic Christians have no idea their position is self-contradictory. They haven’t thought it through.

Catholics separate the sins of coveting your neighbor’s wife and coveting your neighbor’s house. Coveting a person, that is, treating a person like an object, is a sin against the ninth commandment and entirely different from coveting someone else’s goods, the sin against the tenth commandment. In non-Catholic Christian theology, a person is an object – the two different kinds of coveting are not distinguished. They both offend a single commandment, the tenth.

Likewise, when considering God, non-Catholic Christians concentrate on the means more than the end. They concentrate on separating the mis-use of words (taking God’s name in vain is their second commandment) from the mis-use of things (using idols violates their third commandment). Catholics know all of these are offenses against the infinite majesty of God’s Persons, and condemn all such offenses in a single commandment, the second. Protestant theology doesn’t really understand the difference between an object and a person. Catholic theology does. And that is why homosexual marriage is simply the next logical step on the road that redefines social justice.

Homosexual marriage will not only change our understanding of monogamy, as we have already seen, it will also change our understanding of social justice, but not in the way you might think. Consider: lesbians are three times more likely to be alcoholic than non-lesbians (nearly half reported frequent drunkenness), and most pointed to money problems, not social acceptance, as the cause. Gays make up 80% of the both the AIDS and the syphilis cases in the US, their rate of syphilis is ten times that of the heterosexual population, and hepatitis-B transmits nearly nine times more efficiently than AIDS among homosexuals. 55% of homosexual men with ano-rectal complaints have gonorrhea, one-third have herpes simplex, 15% have chlamydia. Gays contract gonorrhea of the throat at a rate four times higher than heterosexuals. 91% of homosexual men have intestinal protozoa: the majority of shigella and amoeba infections among non-travelled immunocompetent patients are homosexuals. Indeed, one New York study found that every single such patient with giardiasis was homosexual. E. histolytica infection is a staggering twenty-seven times more prevelant in homosexuals. Not surprisingly, the most powerful predictor for both giardiasis and E. histolytica infection is homosexual behaviour. Rates of anal cancer are 2500 times higher in homosexuals. The list could go on, but you get the point.

Unsurprisingly, “monogamous” gays are as diseased as promiscuous gays: The American Journal of Public Health published a 1990 study that found, "Being in a monogamous gay relationship was associated with higher risk sex throughout the entire study." The AIDS article referred to above agreed: “monogamous” homosexuals were more likely to be infected, not less so.

So, this is the love homosexuals have for one another: my partner must give me pleasure until s/he dies from it. The principle is already enshrined in heterosexual law via legal contraception and legal abortion. Homosexuals want the same rights heterosexuals have to use their partner like Kleenex. Who can deny them?

Historically, society has regulated harmful activities, such as alcohol use, tobacco use and drug use. Prostitution, contraception, abortion and homosexual activity also used to be heavily regulated. After all, these activities tend to kill you and the rest of us have to pay your medical bills and take care of your widows and orphans. But the pursuit of sexual pleasure appears to hold a special place in the hearts of Americans. Apparently, we want to keep people from using alcohol, tobacco and drugs, but we want to encourage people to use people. Homosexuality, contraception, abortion, gay marriage, embryo screening, reality television shows: these are all social justice issues.

Social justice now means I have a right to use you. Use you until you die.

Can this be attitude be beaten? Yes. John Paul II has given us the answer. Learn to speak the Theology of the Body. It is the only coherent way to explain to our separated brethren and our pagan friends that people are not objects. Properly used, it speaks the language of every person’s heart, expressing what we each know. I am a person, I am important, and I am not to be used like an object for someone else’s pleasure or gain.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Calling Catholic Moms

Despite our best attempts at natural child birth, my wife has had three C-sections – one for each of our children. As she was wheeled into the operating room last June for the birth of our most recent child, we prayed the Rosary together. Just as we reached the beginning of the third Joyful mystery, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, I saw our little boy lifted out and raised on high by the doctor, his umbilical cord still pulsing with each heartbeat. Blood is the source of life, says the book of Leviticus, so life’s blood, specifically umbilical cord blood, is the perfect topic for Easter week.

God is amazingly good at keeping His promises. When He says blood is the source of life (Leviticus 17:11), He means it quite literally. Not only is it the source of life for each of us through the oxygen it carries, it is the source of life in another most amazing way. Let me explain.

For years now, scientists have had the most excellent and laudable goal of trying to use stem cells as a means of healing those who are suffering grievous illness. Diabetes, cancer, stroke: the list of diseases which could be healed if only we know how best to manipulate stem cells is endless.

Unfortunately, many people have twisted this laudable goal in order to advance their own political agenda. Instead of looking for the best source of stem cells to advance healing, they have sought to shoe-horn a specific source of stems cell into the forefront as a way to justify the killing of very small children. The pro-abortion agenda has oiled and squirmed its way into stem cell research; many otherwise reputable scientists now allow their pro-abortion agenda to influence the direction of their work. Thus, instead of seeking the best source of stem cells, these men and women use the worst possible sources of stem cells – human embryos – and pretend to themselves and the world that success will eventually crown their efforts.

This is a fight every Catholic mother should join. You see, the stem cells from cord blood can do everything stem cells obtained from human embryos cannot. Lifesite News quotes Dr. John Gearhart, of John Hopkins University, “[Embryonic stem cells are] surprisingly genetically unstable [and] may complicate efforts to turn cells into cures." Bioethicist Glenn McGee agrees: "the potential that they would explode into a cancerous mass after stem cell transplant might turn out to be the Pandora's box of stem cell research.”

These men aren’t speaking theoretically. Nearly every such experiment has sparked uncontrollable cancerous growths in one or more of the test subjects. Not once has a set of stem cells obtained through the destruction of a human embryo ever cured anyone. Even optimistic researchers don’t expect this to change anytime soon.

With the blood from umbilical cords, life is much different. You see, cord blood is a rich source of embryonic stem cells. And, unlike the stem cells obtained by killing short people, transfused cord blood has already eliminated disease from the lives of thousands of children and adults. Cord blood works. Right now.

As Gretchen Clavey, who is a Catholic contemplative, a wife, and a mother of eight (five here, three in heaven) in Champaign, Illinois points out, “this is precisely the kind of topic my vocation and state in life gives me a platform to speak about. Women like me should be of the most vocal on this issue because we have the ability to convey to other moms or anybody else that will listen about the need to donate cord blood. What other group of people out there think a whole lot about umbilical cords anyway?”

“Consider the profound beauty of the way in which God has made this option for treating disease available, that is, through the gift of a mother open to life. She is open to the life of her own child and now can even help save other people's lives by simply requesting that the cord blood be donated. There are many layers of profound Catholic theology that can be used to uncover how beautiful this is! It's very Marian, very Catholic!

"Many unsuspecting Catholics are being led down the primrose path of agreeing with abortionists - without even realizing that cord blood is the obvious solution to the problem. Hidden like diamonds in the rough, however, is a beautiful gift from God to his people, one that will get ignored if someone doesn't get on the horn and raise awareness! Let's not miss this opportunity to take back one of those topics the abortion proponents have taken control of in the public square.”

Now, many private organizations inadvertently limit the usefulness of cord blood in order to make a dollar. These groups tell you that you should donate your child’s cord blood to their private registery, reserving your child’s blood just for him, and cordoning it off from anyone else’s use. Sadly, this is precisely the wrong way to approach the problem. Stem cells from cord blood are most critically useful in the treatment of genetic disease. If your child has a genetic disease, then that disease, by definition, is already present in his cord blood. This means your child often can’t use his own cord blood to be healed. He needs cord blood from some other child, a child free from the genetic disease in question.

Cord blood is most useful when it is in a public registry, available for anyone’s use. At the moment, there are only about twenty public cord blood banks in the country. Begin investigating this resource. Check with your local hospital and find out if they participate in a cord blood registry. Notify the papers about this resource and start a campaign to get your hospital on board. Registries generally require a few months lead time in order to properly track donated cord blood, so if you are pregnant or likely to become pregnant soon and would like to donate, you need to start investigating now.

Would the American Red Cross be likely to start storing cord blood? To this point, they haven’t shown an interest, but if enough people ask, they might change their mind. It’s worth investigating.

Donation of cord blood is completely moral, completely useful, and doesn’t harm your child a bit. Your son or daughter can save another child’s life from the moment his own life in the larger world begins. What a great birthday present to give him! What a great accomplishment for her!

So, get on your soapbox now and keep your eye on the news in the future. When, years later, it comes time for the tooth fairy to visit, you might want to save those teeth. Reuters reports that Mr. Howard Morris of Royal Adelaide Hospital, South Australia says the pulp in the teeth children shed naturally is more accessible and richer in stem cells than adult tissue. Dr. Stan Gronthos agrees, "They usually go to the tooth fairy and that's the end of it, but we can use them. One stem cell can be grown in culture into a colony of thousands of cells, then into millions of cells. They can regenerate into connective tissue such as bone, cartilage, fat and muscle."

Isn’t God good?

For more information on public cord blood banks, see

www.marrow.org
http://www.parentsguidecordblood.com/public.html

Monday, April 05, 2004

Our Bodies, Ourselves

Our Bodies, Ourselves

At the Last Supper, which we commemorate on Holy Thursday, Jesus Christ held His own resurrected body in His hands. It’s an amazing thing. With the words, “This is my body… This is my blood…” His made Himself present in the breaking of the bread, though none of the apostles would realize it until many days later. If you have ever wondered why our bodies resurrect, this is the place to start your meditations.

Now, we know only three kinds of persons exist: the three uncreated Persons of the Godhead, and the two kinds of created persons – angels and men. In order to understand why we get our bodies back, we first have to understand what it means to be us. What are we? What is a human person? More important, why are we human persons?

The question is kind of interesting because the answers are not as obvious as they appear. One of the first people to deal with the question was a man named Nestorius. He said, “Look, the Church teaches that Jesus is fully human. He has a fully human body and a fully human soul. Therefore, He must have be a fully human person. But, He is the Son of God, so He must be a Divine Person as well.” It seemed pretty logical – according to Nestorius, Jesus was two persons at once. The human person and the divine Son of God, both united in one body, sort of like a split personality, only in a good way.

When Bishop Nestorius proposed this to the Church and began teaching it to his flock, other bishops objected. An ecumenical council of the Church was called to decide the issue. By the end of the council, Nestorius found he was wrong, a heretic. The council agreed that the apostolic teaching was this: there is only one Person in Jesus Christ – while He is fully and completely man, he is not a human person. He is the Divine Person, the Son of God.

Well, that’s quite a poser, isn’t it? How can you be fully man, but not even the teeniest bit a human person? It seems impossible, unless you remember one thing: the Three Persons of the one God are distinguished only by their relations and we human persons are made in His image.

God is pure spirit. He does not have a body. The Three Persons of the Godhead are pure spirit. The angels are made in God’s image in three ways. First, they are pure spirit, like God. Also, they are enormously powerful intellects, so knowledgeable about the results of their own actions that they can see the furthest consequences of everything they choose. Their decisions are irrevocable. In that, they are like God too. Third, each angel is a distinct person.

But we humans, we are not pure spirits. How are we like God? Well, we image Him by the fact that we are persons. We also image Him by the fact that we can generate, we can beget families. God the Father begets the Son, the Father and the Son generate the Spirit. God is a family of persons whose life is love. In fact, the three persons of the Trinity are so closely intertwined in love that each Person can be distinguished from the other two only by their relations to one another. Father begets Son, Father and Son together generate Spirit. If it were not for these relations, there would be no Divine Persons. That’s how important relationship is to being a Divine Person. If relationship is that important for God, it is likely to be pretty important for us as well.

So, what does is it about angels and men that makes us persons? Well, think about what is unique about us. Only angels and men are called to intimate communion with the Three Divine Persons of the Godhead. Only angels and men are called to be part of God’s family. Nothing else is. Birds, ducks, dogs, giraffes – all of these may appear in the new heaven and new earth that comes after the Day of Last Judgement, but none are called to personal intimacy with God. We are persons because we are called to be in communion with the Divine Persons.

Communion means total gift of self. Each Person of the Trinity gives of Himself so fully, that each Person of the Trinity totally interpenetrates the other two Persons. What does that mean? It means that no matter which Person of the Trinity you are thinking of, the other Two Persons are totally contained within Him. Each Divine Person makes Total Gift of Himself to the other Two, each gives Himself totally away to the other Two, holding nothing back.

The angels who rebelled chose to hold something of themselves back. This withholding was enough to prevent them from entering into communion with God. They are called to communion – they are persons – but their personhood can never be the fullness it is meant to be simply and only because they are not in full communion with the First Persons, the Trinity.

God made us a unique composite of body and soul. “Man is a person in the unity of his body and 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.” So says Pope John Paul II, so say we all.

We are called into total communion with God. Total communion. That means we have to give Him everything we are if we want to be fully human persons. Death is the separation of spirit and body, and death was never what God intended for us. Since we are body and spirit, since body and spirit were meant to be joined forever, we must give Him everything we are. Our bodies are necessary to our personhood because they are part of what we give to God. We get our bodies back at the Day of Last Judgement precisely so we can give ourselves totally away to God, just as Mary gave herself totally to God when Gabriel asked her the question, just as Jesus gave Himself totally to us on the Cross.

And this is why Jesus is not a human person even though He is human in every other respect. His relationship to God is infinitely superior to our own. He is God, after all. He is already totally contained within the other two Persons of the Trinity – something that we will never accomplish. We will be in communion with God in heaven, but never that level of intimate communion that the Son has. He possesses the one Divine Nature, we only share in it. He owns it, through the grace of the sacraments, we only dabble our fingers in it. He is the Divine Person of the Son, we are human persons.

At the Last Supper, the one God who is simultaneously present at every moment of time and space made Himself specially present in His resurrected body when He uttered the words, "This is My Body... This is My Blood." He chose to take a body at the Incarnation and He chooses to keep His human body and human nature even now, because He wants us to understand what a precious gift our body is. Our bodies are part of who we are, and if we did not have them, we would not be everything God intends us to be. He took flesh so we could triumph over the Fall. He held His own resurrected Body in His hands at the Last Supper so we could hold His resurrected bodies in our arms in heaven. With our bodies, we worship Him.

This Triduum, think on these things.