Monday, November 22, 2010

Weighing in on Aids, Condoms, Church Teaching

Discussion around sex and sexuality always arouses, so to speak, attention.  The latest news out of the Vatican, of all places, has got everyone, especially young people, talking about the subject.  I for one, have no desire to debate the moral implications of particular sexual acts but will stand with the Church and say two things:
“Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person” (CCC #2332) and such is indeed “a source of joy and pleasure” (CCC #2362).  I hope I need not explain why sex and sexuality, inseparable from our human nature, is absolutely good.  

The news that has everyone excited (one way or another) is Pope Benedict XVI ‘s new book.  In it, he tackles the African Aids epidemic and condoms as a means to slow its increase.  In a poor English translation, the Pope writes:

“There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility”.   To use a condom is, in other words, somewhat responsible.   He goes on to suggest the obvious, that abstinence is by far the best means to prevent STD proliferation, but it is the suggestion that condoms can, in albeit specific cases, perform a positive (morally good) function that has rightly peeked our interest. 

In response to what has been released in Pope Benedict XVI’s new book, Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J. writes:

“the pope takes into consideration an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality may represent a real risk to the life of another person. In such a case, the pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality, but maintains that the use of the condom to diminish the danger of infection may be ‘a first assumption of responsibility’, ‘a first step in a movement toward a … more human sexuality’, as opposed to not using the condom and exposing the other person to a fatal risk.”

As much as onlookers might view these as a reaffirmation of what has always been taught, these statements represent the greatest shift in moral theology since allowing Catholics to eat meat on Fridays.  Actually, that’s not true.  This is a much bigger deal. 

Throughout his reign on the papal throne, Pope John Paul II insisted that the use of condoms for any purpose was no less than evil.  Despite cries from ground level Church people who fight the thankless battle with Aids in Africa (Wikipedia states that 88% of Africans are affected with HIV) and beyond, JP II was unwavering.  His Aristotelian mind, using a logic that starts with ideas and only later moves to reality, could not rationalize the goodness of protected sex. 

More could be said on this subject, but the history books can now record that JP II did not, under any circumstances, condone condom use, and Benedict XVI did.

To these facts react as you wish, but realise this.  If there was any hope before of eradicating the evil disease called Aids, that hope has just multiplied.   Congratulations to the many Priests, Religious, and lay People who have for years handed out condoms to prostitutes and others at risk of HIV.  Thanks to a courageous pontiff, you have been vindicated.  And for those who have been victimized by the disease itself, prayers from around the world are with you now. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Happy Feast of Christ the King

Most, if not all, have some capacity to love and commit; but, as mere children of God our ability to do anything, including that, is limited.  Creative and uncontainable, only the Trinitarian love and commitment inflaming Christ our King has not limits. 
With that, of course, hopeless romantics may freely disagree. 
When asked about his capacity for commitment, Hollywood heartthrob Matthew McConaughey responded, “I have no problem with commitment. I love having somebody in my life.”  
At a very basic level, we all love to have love in our lives, but true commitment is less about the love we have and more about the love we share.    
Human beings depend on the love of others made real in support, affirmation, and affection.  Ideally, this on which we depend is true and beautiful;  but I dare suggest that as good as it can get, the love we give and receive from one another is, like anything else we do, but a shadow of divine perfection.      
In the gospel we witness God’s love and commitment to us and our salvation.  Surrendering himself in faith, Christ gives to the world, and takes from the Father, in ways he, and only he, can. 
Inspired by what he receives, Jesus’ love and commitment is acted out in explosive relations between he and the Father.  So great, in fact, is the affection between Christ and the Father that it cannot remain between them alone.  First giving birth to the spirit, Christ and the Father produce a love that perpetually longs to increase and include. 
Putting the 3 person God in perspective, C.S. Lewis wrote that “True Love is not two people standing face to face, true love is two people standing side by side and loving another.  True (and Trinitarian) love is, in other words, so uncontainable that it must create.  For God, true love (which is also nature) is a force determined to make Christ’s unrelenting gift of salvation known throughout the cosmos. 
But true love, of course, is far from easy.  As our Lord experiences, it takes a martyr to love wholly and entirely.  The mockery of Religious leaders, Roman Soldiers, his own people, and even criminals, Jesus, for loves sake, becomes the world’s sacrificial lamb.  By way of one irrational act, death and resurrection, Christ is crowned King of creation, the symbol of divine faithfulness.     
Today, as we celebrate the King’s feast, the gospel recalls our Lord’s crowning moments.  With Jesus perched between two convicts, we hear the extremes of attitudes that either bound us to this world, or release us into the freedom of God’s mercy.  
On one side we have pride- a criminal who simply cannot find faith enough within himself to repent, and receive the Good News of his own salvation.  The prisoner is captive to more than he realises.  Consumed by his own ego, criminal “A” is paralyzed by indictments of this world.  He is yet to embrace the unceasing pardon and freedom that belongs to God’s children.   
On the other side we have another, perhaps a more desperate offender.  Done with the chains of this world, and, more importantly, done with the pride that has thus far directed his life, our second convict is ready to move on.  Finally aware that God’s mercy is his best hope, the only hope he has left, the second, the repentant, criminal is ready to embrace life with God in eternity. 
These two stories speak to the various ways we respond to God’s mercy and love, but also just how generous God is.  Despite the unrepentant criminals attempt to deny our Lord’s salvific power, we should have little doubt that both of these men will be with Christ in paradise. 
To them and us a heavenly communion is promised and delivered by the crucified King.
Like Christ, we too have an abundant capacity to commune, to give of ourselves, and to receive from others.  But even though we love and commit, we have our thresholds.  I am reminded of the words of St. Thomas More in a man for all seasons.  Pointing to himself:  “this is not the stuff of which martyrs are made.”  But that’s quite alright. 
Fortunately, this world needs but one martyr, one sacrificial lamb to account for all that we lack;  he is none other than Christ the King.   Only through Christ’s death and resurrection, the fruit of boundless love between Father and Son are we redeemed.   Because of what God has already accomplished, there is little for us to do except love, and allow ourselves to be loved, all the way to paradise.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bold Hope: A Reflection on Luke 20.27-38

It is bold to live by faith. As people of the resurrection, we leap toward unimaginable mysteries. But we are not fools for doing so. Faith a God who died and rose again empowers the living and is without doubt our hope for a better future.

For the early Church, hope in ones own bodily resurrection provided the strength needed to tolerate the oppression Christians experienced under Roman Imperial Rule.

Hope for bodily resurrection, of course, did not begin with these believers. From about 800 years before Christ, the Hebrew people suffered in exile; perpetually uprooted by war and persecution, they longed for a promised-land rich with their own institutions and culture. But to Jews of the ancient world, the land of milk and honey never arrived. For those who found faith in Jesus Christ, however, a new promise of resurrected life brought something better. The Good News of our Lord’s paschal mystery (Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection) was a much needed liberation from the chains of worldly flounder. Sensing their release from captivity, the first Christians understood Christ’s bodily resurrection as death to death itself and the birth of life eternal.

God’s definitive act of salvation for all, Jesus’ rising from the tomb is the complete revelation of God’s faithfulness and love. Because of what God has done, we have no need to fear; we have only to hope.

Revealed as Lord of heaven and earth, Christ is the sort of God whom only a God who dies and is raised can be. Obediently taking on the fullness of fleshly existence, with all its pain and sorrow, only to be raised by his faithful Father, Jesus demonstrates how God is with us through it all, from beginning to end, and still yearning to dine with us at a heavenly table.

In each and every Eucharist Christians remember God’s commitment. Coming together to share in his body and blood, we, as St. Paul says, die and rise with God’s own-self.

When gathered with such intent, we may moreover receive comfort.

In worlds riddled with struggle and confusion, the Eucharistic meal can provide some healthy reassurance. But we should never rest too long between Church walls. In dark corners known only to individuals, hearts long for hope and, fears are overcome through faith alone.

Confident that the God of the living is indeed our Lord and Saviour, may we boldly rise to embrace the unimaginable. May our Lord’s dying and rising bring us (and our world) alive to everlasting joy.