Thursday, January 31, 2013

Apocalypse? Now, Please!

What did Jesus bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought? The answer is simple: God. He has brought God. He has brought the God who formerly unveiled his countenance gradually, first to Abraham, then to Moses and the Prophets, and then in the Wisdom Literature—the God who revealed his face only in Israel, even though he was honored among the pagans in various shadowy guises.

It is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the true God whom he has brought to the nations of the earth. He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him.  Now we know the path we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God, and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope and love. It is only because of the hardness of our hearts that we think this too little.

Jesus of Nazareth 1, 44

Reflection – Yesterday we talked about the apocalyptic trends of some historic political movements (Marxism) and some current ones (radical environmentalism and gender politics). So what is Christian apocalyptism, then? After all, it’s our word. If society is not to be reborn in a violent revolution, what is the radical promise of renewal held out by Christianity?

Pope Benedict nails it here. Jesus brings us God. He brings us the truth of our origin, and the truth of our destiny, and the truth of how to get there. Not only does he bring it to us as intellectual knowledge, but he gives us the power to live and act on that knowledge.

He brings us faith, hope, and love—the capacity to know God, to attain God, to be one with God in this world and in the next. I do love his simple sentence: “It is only because of the hardness of our hearts that we think this too little.”

What is this hardness of heart? Well, I don’t know about you, but I personally want what I want. I want gross physical things like plenty of scrumptious food and abundant drink. I want ‘success’ – for me, defined as (now don’t be shocked!) being a best selling author of dozens of books, for you defined in other terms, probably. I want peace, which means that people who annoy me leave me alone, and people I like hang out with me. I want… well, you get the drift.

We want what we want, and all these wants take us far far away from the true center of our being, our innermost hearts. We get caught up in trivialities, like whether we have enough money in the bank or whether or not we are succeeding in our chosen field of endeavour. The world, the flesh, the devil all conspire to pull us out of our hearts into the chasing of temporal goods and will-o-the-wisps of worldly well-being.

All these do not matter; what matters is God and the life God gives us. A great deal of our spiritual life is a matter of getting back into our hearts and actually believing and living as if that were true. And that Jesus actually does give us what our deepest hearts most deeply need – God is with us, truly.

And from that radical satisfaction of our deep desires, we can then go out with wisdom and peace to serve the world, to combat injustice, to alleviate the sufferings of the poor, to restore dignity to those who have lost it, and to proclaim the truth God has given us to the world. We do not try to bring about the apocalypse. On one level, the apocalypse has already happened – God has come and revealed Himself. On another level we await the final revelation of God, and simply strive to live good and upright lives by the help of his grace.

It’s not terribly complicated, although life can get complicated enough sometimes. And it’s not always terribly glamorous, although it really is quite exciting, if you believe it is true.

I think I do believe it to be true—well, at least I'm excited by it! But that’s a choice we all have to make—is God real and has God given Himself to us truly in Jesus, and will He be the one who radically and utterly creates a new heaven and a new earth in His time? Or is all of that… well, not quite true. And so we are left to make our own earth into a rude facsimile of heaven, which generally results in a hell of a mess.

Ours to choose, and ours to live. Take your pick.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Apocalypse? Not!

[In] the world of the intellectuals, most of whom were well off, the rejection of reform became all the louder, and revolution increasingly took on a divine quality. They demanded something completely new; reality as it was evoked a strange feeling of surfeit.

Values in a Time of Upheaval, 17

Reflection – Ratzinger here is offering a historical analysis of Marxism in the 19th century. Of course the little snippet I excerpt here is one small part of a long and very fine analysis of this time period. The popularity of radical Marxist thought among the 19th century intelligentsia and its relative lack of popularity among the very workers to whom it promised liberation is an interesting historical phenomenon.

So why blog about this in the year 2013? Because the underlying attitude described here is still very much with us, in wildly different ways. There are truly few people left who  long for the worker’s paradise and work for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Class warfare is stoked up as an electoral ploy by cynical politicians; I personally don’t believe too many of those politicians actually subscribe to the whole Marxist theory of history behind that phrase. Certainly politicians on all sides of the spectrum are happy to live in upper class splendor and luxury, even as they make pious speeches about the evils of wealth and the need for solidarity.

But this revolutionary urge, this desire to tear everything down and create a new world—it still is alive in the hearts and minds of at least some of our contemporaries. Environmentalism for example: in itself it is a good thing. Human beings should take care of the earth and not poison the air, water, soil. Madonna House was recycling long before it was fashionable, and there is no way to reduce one’s carbon footprint more effectively than to live in community as we do. We’re all about environmental responsibility here.

But the radical revolutionary environmental movement is something quite different. Human beings are a plague, a disease upon the earth, a cancer. The (scientifically dubious) specter of total global catastrophe is evoked to call for truly totalitarian state policies governing human fertility—China’s one child policy on a planetary scale. It is this revolutionary apocalyptic urge—not simply for people to ‘give a hoot, don’t pollute,’ but a desire to seize the reins of power to utterly reshape society, at the cost of millions or even billions of human lives, that is troublesome, to say the least. One could say that these people don’t have power, so it is of no concern. One could have said that about Karl Marx and his disciples in the 19th century, too.

The radical LGBTQ agenda is another example. I am all in favor of treating people kindly and with respect. I hope I succeed in doing so in my personal life. Yes, I am Catholic and will continue to explain Catholic sexual morality in public as long as I am allowed to do so. I am indeed opposed to same-sex marriage and have tried to explain my thoughts on the matter a few times on this blog. (By the way, Mark Shea does a great job on that here in a few trenchant words, which is why he gets thousands of readers to my hundreds). But I’m all about ‘live and let live’ otherwise.

But the LGBTQ radicals do not wish to live and let live. There is a large swath of the rainbow that desires to eradicate religion, stamp out free speech, and impose a de-natured ideology of gender diversity upon society. Where the radical Green want to kill everyone (frankly), the radical LGBTQs want to ‘queer’ everyone (this is their own words, not mine, by the way).

So Ratzinger’s reflections on the history and psychological dynamics of Marxism are quite relevant, and I recommend the book I’m quoting today quite highly. Whenever a group in society begins to wish to tear down everything a build a new heavens and a new earth, watch out for that group. Gulags and secret police tend to follow upon that desire.

Reality as it is, is fundamentally good. Our proper task is to make it incrementally better—to strive to identify and eliminate clear injustices, to personally strive for charity and kindness and fair treatment in our own lives, to generally promote decency and discourage nastiness in ourselves and others.
More than that—the revolutionary urge, the apocalypse now agenda—is from the evil one, and has always and every time yielded immense human suffering and horrors whenever it has assumed a position of power in the world.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Default Setting

We find the first mention of singing in the Bible after the crossing of the Red Sea. Israel has now been definitively delivered from slavery. In a desperate situation, it has had an overwhelming experience of God’s saving power. Just as Moses as a baby was taken from the Nile and only then really received the gift of life, so Israel now feels as if it has been, so to speak, taken out of the water: it is free, newly endowed with the gift of itself from God’s own hand… “Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord” (Ex 14:31).

Year by year, at the Easter Vigil, Christians join in the singing of this song. They sing it in a new way as their song, because they know that they have “been taken out of the water” by God’s power, set free by God for authentic life.

Spirit of the Liturgy, 136-7

Reflection – I realize that the blog has had a rather sombre tone in recent days, what with the 40th Anniversary of the Roe v. Wade abortion decision in the US, and the related March for Life down there. We have to turn our eyes to these darker subjects from time to time, and this past week was one of those times.

However, enough of that (for now). It is so crucial in our personal lives and in our apostolic and social lives, to return always and emphatically to the deepest truth of God and humanity, of the world and its destiny. And this truth is the saving love of God, poured forth in time and history in Jesus Christ, a force and an action of grace and mercy continually drawing all humanity, anyone who will, into the life of freedom and joy.

This is the deepest and final truth about things. There are Egyptians enslaving us, yes. There are enemies pursuing us, yes. There are deserts to cross, yes. Our own rebellious stiff-necked selves to contend with, emphatically yes. We are not in the Promised Land of heaven yet, and all this stuff is with us until we are, yes, yes, yes.

But the deepest truth is salvation. The deepest truth is love and mercy. And we have to live in that deepest truth, and act out of it, both for our own peace and joy in this life, and if we ever hope to convince even one other human being of it.

As Ratzinger says here, the normal response to this truth, to knowing that our lives have been saved miraculously, to the experience of deliverance, is to burst into song. This is the primary, almost reflexive, human response to a happy turn of events.

Now I’m kind of a musical guy—nothing professional, but I enjoy making music and singing and am at least not offensively off-key most of the time. I realize that for some, the notion of breaking into song is not a pleasant one, and is definitely not their idea of a happy response to good news. Fair enough… as long as joy is communicated somehow.

We have to live in the joy of salvation and mercy, and we have to convey this joy to others. If not by bursting into song (which admittedly may annoy those others more than anything), then somehow. If we believe that what God in his Word says He has done is really and truly done, then joy must be our natural state of being, the ‘default setting’ in our internal software, the center of gravity towards which we incline.

Some people, true, are prone to a more melancholy temperament, tend towards a certain gravitas, a certain serious view of life. This is not wrong, of course. But joy has to break through even for the most melancholy babies among us. Christ is risen. Death is conquered. The hope of heaven is real. We are not headed towards disaster and the grave.
And so joy and song and laughter, or at least a quiet strong certainty of the goodness of God and of life, must be our normal Christian attitude. This is most especially so if our lives are filled with challenges, sorrows, strivings, difficulties. We have to turn to God above all in those times and place all our hope and trust in Him. And ask Him to confirm us in the joy and peace of knowing His love and the assurance of knowing that He is bigger than all the darkness, all the pain, and all the evil the world can throw at us. Which He is.

Monday, January 28, 2013

It's Not the Crime, It's the Cover-Up

Human beings can only be healthy when they are true and when they stop suppressing and destroying the truth.
In the Beginning, 80

Reflection – A little vintage one-liner from Ratzinger here – let’s see what I make of it. I don’t have the book in front of me, so can’t tell you what the context of this is; quite possibly he is talking about the lies of the serpent in Genesis 3, and how the fall of our humanity into sin and sorrow came in the form of lies and deceit.

Of course, all sin is a form of lying. Theft is a lie about property and meaning and value of the world’s goods. Murder is a lie about the relative value of human life and the respect it is due. Sins of violence are a lie about human freedom and dignity. Sins of superstition and false religion are a lie about the nature of  God and the nature of creation. Specific sins of disobedience to the Church are a lie about the nature and God-given authority of the Church. And sexual sins are a lie about the nature of love and its bodily expression.

All sin is flight from reality, denial of truth. But it seems to me that the real damage is done to our humanity, not by the initial fall into sin to which (alas) we all are prone. No, it is the denial of the sin, the hardening of the heart against repentance, the construction of rationalizations and alternate ethical constructs—whatever it takes so that we can keep doing what we want to do.

In other words, it’s not the crime, it’s the cover up. It’s not that the sin itself is harmless—sin by definition harms—but that the real, lasting, and eternally damaging harm is impenitence more than sin. All the harms of sin can be healed by a sincere turning to God for mercy, but the refusal to turn to God for mercy cannot be healed at all.

And so we had this past weekend the spectacle of 500 000 pro-life protestors walking the streets of Washington, an event that was apparently near-invisible to the media, who saw at most ‘thousands’ (technically accurate, in the same sense that ‘hundreds’ of people were killed in WWII), and who made sure to photograph and interview the five pro-abortion rights protestors at the Supreme Court in the interest of ‘balanced reporting’.

There is a desire to cover up the reality of abortion, to do anything to avoid having to talk about it, look at it, honestly discuss what happens in an abortion, to honestly discuss the scientific facts of when a human life begins and the real legal and moral implications of those facts. It is this suppression and distortion of the truth—and of course abortion is only one instance of it, if perhaps the most serious one with the highest body count—that is the deep pathology of humanity in our time.

Abortion hurts everyone. It kills the fetus, does incalculable damage to the woman, unmans the man in the deepest reality of his masculinity, which is to protect and provide for his own. It damages the medical system horribly by negating its whole purpose, which is to heal and save lives. It robs politicians of their integrity. It makes the mass of society complicit in a web of lies and nonsense—silly slogans about choice and reproductive health substituting for actual thought, and the result is another year of wholesale slaughter of babies in the clinics and hospitals of our land.

I promise to move on to another subject tomorrow. I realize this is a heavy one that can only be looked at for so long before it all becomes a little too much. But we need to be clear that the truth does, in fact, set us free, even if our freedom may involve some weeping, some sorrow of contrition, some painful call to conversion. But the truth is good: God is merciful and loving, human beings are infinitely precious in his sight, and so must not be destroyed, the world is a good place, and love truly is the answer to every problem, every hurt, every ailment, every life.

We need not fear the truth; we need not flee from the truth; we need not distort or suppress the truth about anything, however painful, however humiliating. God’s mercy and his power to heal and save are greater than all that, and the fullness of truth he brings us into is beautiful, glorious, and joyful. And with that, we will put the subject of abortion to rest for a little while, and turn our minds to some aspect or other of that glorious truth tomorrow.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Retreat! Retreat!

So, off I am heading now to the distant city of Pem Broke Ontario (for those non-locals, it's about an hour away), to give a men's retreat. Expecting about 35 guys there, so should be full and fun.
As always, have no idea until I get there if I have wifi or what, so may be blogging again on Monday, or may be back here tomorrow.
Until then, prayers please, for the event.

40 Years Later

[Mary’s] whole life embodies what is meant by ‘Zion’. She does not construct a self-enclosed individuality whose principal concern is the originality of its own ego. She does not wish to be just this one human being who defends and protects her own ego. She does not want to regard life as a stock of goods of which everyone wants to get as much as possible for himself. Her life is such that she is transparent to God, ‘habitable’ for him. Her life is such that she is a place for God. Her life sinks her into the common measure of sacred history, so that what appears in her is, not the narrow and constricted ego of an isolated individual, but the whole, true Israel.

 Mary, the Church at the Source, 66

Reflection – The March for Life this year in Washington DC, on the tragic 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade which nullified all abortion laws in America, coincides this year with today’s feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.

Meanwhile my Randomized Ratzinger Quote Generator™ coughed up this little gem which was one of the key drivers for my licentiate thesis on Mary and modernity. All of which comes together rather significantly, it seems to me.

Apparently some recent polls show a swing in the direction of pro-choice sentiment in America. While these polls have been critiqued (as polls always are), the fact is inarguable that abortion is legal because there is no real will to make it illegal. This is true in the USA, and even more true in Canada, where abortion can hardly be discussed in the public forum at all.

This means that there is profound need, a desperate need for conversion in our society. Fundamentally, we want abortion legal because we want to have sex without consequences. Human beings at their smallest and most vulnerable are killed by dismemberment by the hundreds of thousands each year so that we can structure society around consequence-free sex. I am striving here to use the most non-inflammatory and yet accurate language I can find, by the way.

The Ten Commandments all hang together, by the way, it turns out. If a man is going to commit adultery, he is also going to have to lie, and he certainly is no longer worshipping God. Thieves by definition are covetous, and liars, and violent. And idolators inevitably perform human sacrifice for their gods.

The god of sexual freedom is a particularly blood-thirsty one, and the corpses piled high on that altar number now in the tens of millions in North America alone.

And so… conversion. Stop worshipping the god of autonomy and start worshipping the God of Israel. And this description of Mary from Ratzinger is just about perfect in describing this worship and this God. To be habitable for God, to be an open space where He can live, to abandon the project of life as an exercise in egoism and acquisition, to live a life ordered to something bigger and better than ourselves, yet which is the deepest truth of ourselves—this is what Mary shows us, and what true human life and true human dignity consists of.

Of course this takes us far beyond the specific issue of abortion. It has implications for economic life, political life, for how we treat the poor and how we live in our neighborhoods and churches and work places. But abortion is, I would say, the most important issue of our time, simply because it is the open gaping wound of our society which claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of unborn human beings each year, blights the lives of their mothers, coarsens and deadens the hearts and minds of their fathers, and perpetuates our society in a truly demonic system of child sacrifice at the service of lust and greed.

I realize some who read this will be offended by my words. You know, I don’t really care. I do realize that individual women have abortions often because they are scared, or shamed, or coerced into it. We need to help them, and the pro-life movement does a great deal to do just that.

But the larger reality of abortion, the hardening of hearts and consciences, the turning of blind eyes towards the fact of abortion, the tacit decision of the silent majority to maintain a status quo that is truly a culture of death—this has to be brought into the light and called what it is.

It is evil, and our civilization, insofar as it chooses to maintain this reality, is an evil civilization. And so, we all need a conversion, and let us pray for that grace of repentance and conversion in all our hearts.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The World is Not a Machine, and Neither Are You

If we speak today about knowledge as a liberation from the slavery of ignorance, we usually are not thinking in the main about God but about the ‘fashionable sciences’, about art, and how it concerns things and people… within this reduction of the knowledge question, we find not only the problem of our modern concept of truth and freedom but also the chief problem of our age.

For it is presumed that it makes no difference at  all for the disposition of human affairs and the ordering of our lives whether there is a God or not. God appears to lie beyond the sphere in which our lives and that of our society operate… A God, however, who is without importance for human existence is no God for He is powerless and unreal.

But if the world does not come from God and is not governed by Him, then it is reduced to a paltry thing for this means that it does not come from freedom and that there is no power in the freedom which is found within it. The world then becomes the composite product of various forces and all its freedom is only a sham.

Jesus Christ, Yesterday, Today, Forever: Talk given in Washington DC, 1990

Reflection – What Ratzinger is talking about here is liberation in the deepest sense. Science and technology give us the power to do things, to manipulate matter to achieve various ends. The arts in general—the fine arts, the humanities—expand our horizons outwards from the narrow limits of our personal experience to the general experience and inherited wisdom of mankind.

But without God, without a divine horizon to all this, without faith, the project of human liberation fails ultimately. Why is that? Because everyone dies. We are born and we live for somewhere between 1 and 120 years, and then we die. All our human striving for greatness, the creativity of the person, the brilliance of our attainments—ultimately, as far as the individual is concerned, is for naught, if that is the whole story.

And freedom becomes, not quite illusory, then powerless and futile. Oh, I can use my freedom to do any number of things or nothing at all, for great good, great evil, or crushing mediocrity. If all it nets me in the end is a moldering corpse buried in the cold earth, who cares, really? We all gonna die, and the world gonna die, and so what good is anything, ultimately?

It is God who both creates the world in freedom and who brings us into and through this world in our human freedom and ultimately opens the door for our freedom to attain something lasting and eternal who overcomes this slouch towards death and the grave that is our modern tragic sense of life.

The materialist may counter with two arguments. First: ‘yes, but that’s just the truth of the matter, so suck it up, you big baby.’ Perhaps couched a bit more politely, but essentially that’s it. Second: ‘Aha! So you religious people admit that all your efforts at goodness are based on getting some reward from your Sky Fairy God! For shame!’

Now neither of these is exactly an ‘argument’ in the primitive medieval sense of, you know, premises yielding a necessary conclusion. The non-existence of God and the truth of atheistic materialism remain unproven; meanwhile the long history of arguments for God’s existence and against materialism at the very least make these positions intellectually viable.

Regarding the second, which is more of a jibe than an argument, it seems to miss the point. The point is not that human beings are little laboratory mice trying to complete the maze so as to get the cheese, or good little brown-nosing boys and girls trying to get the gold star from teacher. It’s not a question of toadying servility, Uriah Heep-like hypocrisy.

For one thing, God as we understand Him knows the human heart, not simply the outward behaviour. Anything less than genuine love and devotion is not going to cut it with Him. But it’s deeper than that. The whole reality of human freedom, God’s freedom, and the world’s freedom comes from a dialogue of love and gift, God’s gift to us, our return of that gift to Him. The exitus-reditus we talked about yesterday.
The materialist, being mechanistic, tends to impose a mechanistic view upon Christian theology. God creates a big machine called the universe, and human beings are a cog in that machine, and if we operate rightly, the machine yields a result called ‘heaven’. This is not Christian theology. The world is not a machine, and neither are you and me. Our theology is all about communion of love, dialogue of persons, and invitation into a dance of self-gift and faithful response. And that is the true freedom of the world, of the person, and it is a freedom that busts forth from the world into eternal life.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Swimming the Atlantic

Everything is bound up in freedom, and the creature has the freedom to turn the positive exitus of its creation around, as it were, to rupture it in the Fall: this is the refusal to be dependent, saying No to the reditus. Love is seen as dependence and is rejected. In its place comes autonomy and autarchy: existing from oneself and in oneself, being a god of one’s own making. The arch from exitus to reditus is broken, the return is no longer desired, and ascent by one’s powers proves to be impossible.
Spirit of the Liturgy, 33
Reflection – The language of exitus-reditus is classical, entering Christian theology through the neo-Platonism of early writers such as pseudo-Dionysius et al., and central to the thought of medieval scholastics such as Aquinas and Bonaventure.

OK, so that sounds all erudite and stuff and proves I went to school – so wassitmean?

Going out from God so as to return to God—this is the basic structure and movement of all created reality, and most especially the creature man. ‘We come from the mind of God and return to the heart of God,’ was Catherine Doherty’s poetic expression of the principle. God made something that is ‘not-God’ so that this not-God could enter into a communion of love with Himself. And this is the whole story, the sweeping movement of the entire action of God, as far as our poor human minds can understand it.

Of course, freedom is at the heart of all this. It is no communion of love if there is no freedom. God is not a rapist, forcing Himself on us. It’s a very subtle dynamic, one which we don’t fully understand. We do not actually have the freedom to enter communion with God, any more than we have the freedom to swim the Atlantic ocean or fly to the top of Mount Everest. It is beyond us.

But our freedom is required, to dispose ourselves towards that reditus, that return to God. God has to achieve the deed, but our willingness to co-operate with Him is necessary. He will not force us to love Him, even though the power by which we love Him is ultimately given to us by Him.

And so, being free, we can refuse. The exitus can become not just a going out from, but a going away from. In truth, we go out only to return: the exitus is only and absolutely for the sake of the reditus. But something in us rebels at this, there is no question. We want something of our own, something that is not God’s and is not to do with God.

There is nothing of that nature in existence. And so the flight away from God is a flight into nothingness, oblivion. It is supremely ironic; we flee from God because we reject the utter dependence and servility of our position with Him. But in fleeing from God we discover the shocking totality of our poverty and nothingness: we cannot ascend to the heights by our own power. And so we collapse into various forms of slavery and degradation: enslaved to the passions, to the spirit of the age, to the devil’s machinations, ultimately to the inevitability of death and destruction.

Meanwhile, God in his mercy awaits our return. And the way back is as near as the nearest altar, as the nearest confessional, the local parish. The book quoted here is Spirit of the Liturgy, after all, and Ratzinger is talking about where this reditus occurs.

It occurs through, with, and in Jesus, and Jesus is with us most fully, most assuredly in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Well, this is kind of a funny post. I’ve been wading into controversy upon controversy the past week or so, and wrestling with the complexities of dialogue and encounter with the other. I guess it is good, after all that, to come to rest in a simple statement of what we really believe life is all about. It’s not about controversy; it’s not about gender theory; it’s not about abortion or same-sex marriage or the host of contentious issues that plague us in our day.

It is about God, our coming forth from Him in love, and our return to Him in and through the grace of Jesus Christ. It is true that we can reject this and fly off into all sorts of illusory and false ‘alternative realities.’ But the Truth is always not just out there, but near at hand, and available to us. And it is ultimately not a dogma, not a position, not an argument, but a Person and a Love which runs out to meet us and enfolds us in His care at every moment, comes to carry us home into the Father’s house, into the heart of God.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Anathema - Not!

We were enthused that in an age which has rediscovered matter and this earth of ours and has no place for any flight to a world beyond, but loves the earth, cleaves to it, seeks to taste all its preciousness, and wants to live by and for the earth, the Church again did not respond with an anathema. Instead, she intoned a hymn to the earth and its permanence. Once again, she spoke more magnanimously and more forcefully of the earth’s glory than we ourselves would dare have done.

Dogma and Preaching, 113

Reflection – OK, Catholics – what event in recent Church history is Ratzinger referring to here? Any guesses? No?

It is the 1950 proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of Our Lady into heaven that is causing Ratzingerian raptures here in this 1985 book. And it occurs to me that, with all the talk about dialogue on this blog lately, this particular passage is very illuminating.

Parenthetically, I do have to apologize to those readers who have been commenting on various posts. It is a bit ironic that I have been unable to respond to comments on the subject of dialogue, and hence unable to enter into a dialogue. It has just been a really busy time for me, with multiple time-sensitive projects and other commitments, and all I have been able to do for the most part is make my daily posts, which I accomplish before 8:00 a.m. most days, and then move on to whatever work the day holds.

Anyhow. The dogma of the Assumption as an example of the Church dialoguing with modernity. This may seem a bit odd and angular and not quite what we normally think of as dialogue. Although, some have argued that Mary is our deepest response to the modern world  and its travails.

But we see here what Ratzinger has in mind. The world of modernity is taken up with the here and now, with the earthly, with what is immediate and concrete and tangible. Talk of heaven and eternity seems to lack appeal to many—at least this was definitely the case in the mid-20th century. The optimism and worldly progress of the post-war years spilled over into the progressivism of the 60s and 70s. Perhaps this is changing; I certainly find lately that people are more willing to hear about heaven in our current less hopeful scene.

But there is no question that ‘modernity’ as a movement was taken up with the goodness of this world and this life, and the possibility of perfection and progress for this world and this life. And so the Church elevates to the level of dogma—declares it to be part of the ineradicable and binding deposit of faith—that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven.

Well, this is what you call creative dialogue, I guess! This is the Church weighing in on the goodness of the earth, the permanence of matter and the material order, the glory God has bestowed on concrete tangible reality. Mary is assumed bodily into heaven. God Himself has looked upon all that He has made and said, not only that it is very good, but that He has made an eternal home for it in the heavenly city.

No anathemas to the worldliness of our day, but instead showing how the ancient faith handed on in Sacred Tradition meets that worldliness and embraces all that is good about it. And I think this is indeed what the New Evangelization has to do along multiple lines.

Humanae Vitae, for example, was indeed the Church’s creative response to the sexual revolution. It has been ignored, derided, unread, distorted, lied about. But the document itself is a hymn to the goodness and dignity of human sexuality, to the intensely meaningful nature of the sexual act, and so to its divine ordering and structuring. Far from declaring an anathema of the sexual revolution, the Church honors what is good and true in this social movement… and calls it higher, to a deeper truth, a more secure goodness.

We have to be really creative and generous here, I suggest. The call is always to see what people are really saying, what they really want. There is a thirst for truth and goodness in every human heart. All the great sweeping movements of society and culture, all the ideologies and trends and belief systems have some core of truth and goodness in them. And Christians truly immersed in the Gospel can meet this core of truth and goodness and proclaim Christ there. Rather than condemning or mocking people—which is all too common in our Internet culture—we should understand why they think what they do, and propose a Gospel path to them to that same goodness and truth.

I will always remember the strong feminist—pro-choice, pro-gay—who came to MH and who I gave spiritual direction to. I gave her the book Daughter Zion to read, by young Fr. Joseph Ratzinger. It changed her life—an authentic Christian biblical feminist vision. She is now a very strong feminist Roman Catholic (and a thoroughly wonderful person)! That kind of thing, and Ratzinger has shown us the path of it his entire life.
We need courage, we need generosity, we need patience, and we need to know that the Gospel is true enough, strong enough, and big enough to meet every aspect of secular modernity with the faith, hope, and love of Christ.

Monday, January 21, 2013

I'm Making Headlines (well, not really...)

I meant to link to this earlier, not just because it's a good plug for my new book Going Home, but because it's good advertising for my wonderful publishers Justin Press. Besides showing exemplary taste in publishing my books, they also publish quite a few other good titles worth checking out.

They are also trying to do the next-to-impossible: launch a faithful Catholic publishing house in Canada in our modern secular and semi-literate times. So... they are worth supporting if you can, and certainly worth clicking on the above link to check out.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Possessed by Truth

Two rules are generally regarded nowadays as fundamental for interreligious dialogue:

1. Dialogue does not aim at conversion, but at understanding. In this respect it differs from evangelization, from mission;

2. Accordingly, both parties to the dialogue remain consciously within their identity, which the dialogue does not place in question either for themselves or for the other.

These rules are correct, but in the way they are formulated here I still find them too superficial. True, dialogue does not aim at conversion, but at better mutual understanding – that is correct. But all the same, the search for knowledge and understanding always has to involve drawing closer to the truth. Both sides in this piece-by-piece approach to truth are therefore on the path that leads forward and towards greater commonality, brought about by the oneness of the truth.

As far as preserving identity is concerned, it would be too little for the Christian, so to speak, to assert his identity in a such a way that he effectively blocks the path to truth. Then his Christianity would appear as something arbitrary, merely propositional. He would seem not to reckon with the possibility that religion has to do with truth.

On the contrary, I would say that the Christian can afford to be supremely confident, yes, fundamentally certain that he can venture freely into the open sea of the truth, without having to fear for his Christian identity. To be sure, we do not possess the truth, the truth possesses us: Christ, who is the truth, has taken us by the hand, and we know that his hand is holding us securely on the path of our quest for knowledge. Being inwardly held by the hand of Christ makes us free and keeps us safe: free – because if we are held by him, we can enter openly and fearlessly into any dialogue; safe – because he does not let go of us, unless we cut ourselves off from him. At one with him, we stand in the light of truth.

Address to Roman Curia, December 21, 2012

Reflection – ‘We do not possess the truth; the truth possesses us.’ The Pope hear sails into some of the truly tricky elements of inter-religious dialogue. We are not relativists. We do not believe that Catholicism is merely one religious path among many, all of equal value. We do believe it is true.

And yet this call to inter-religious dialogue, so vital in the world today wracked by war, violence, suspicion and hate, must be done with great respect for the beliefs of others, and the strong elements of beauty, truth, goodness present in every religion and every human heart.

It is this whole business of being possessed by the truth that is our surety in this work. In other words, ‘the truth’ is not in its essence some list of propositions or an ideology or debating points or a syllogism. It is a Person, and this is Jesus Christ who loves us and holds us in his care.

Because the truth that possesses us is that strong, that vital, that real—not some fragile certainty that we barely manage to hold onto, but a living communion of love—we don’t have to be afraid of other world views. We can listen with love to the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Muslim, the Jew. The love of Christ extends towards them, too, and if we are living in that love the very work of dialogue becomes deeply missionary, deeply evangelical, as Christ’s love enters the dialogue through our own interior dialogue with Him in the midst of it.
This is all so very important. Too often Christians draw back from the encounter with the ‘other’, perhaps for fear of losing their own faith or of capitulating to relativism or simply because it is hard work. We need this vision the Pope gives us here of how a loving respectful mutual searching out of truth always inclines our hearts towards deeper possession by the Truth, and in that Truth to show forth the face of love to all men and women.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Less Yelling! More Listening!

In man’s present situation, the dialogue of religions is a necessary condition for peace in the world and it is therefore a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities. This dialogue of religions has various dimensions.

In the first place it is simply a dialogue of life, a dialogue of being together. This will not involve discussing the great themes of faith – whether God is Trinitarian or how the inspiration of the sacred Scriptures is to be understood, and so on. It is about the concrete problems of coexistence and shared responsibility for society, for the state, for humanity.

In the process, it is necessary to learn to accept the other in his otherness and the otherness of his thinking. To this end, the shared responsibility for justice and peace must become the guiding principle of the conversation. A dialogue about peace and justice is bound to move beyond the purely pragmatic to become an ethical struggle for the truth and for the human being: a dialogue concerning the values that come before everything.

In this way what began as a purely practical dialogue becomes a quest for the right way to live as a human being. Even if the fundamental choices themselves are not under discussion, the search for an answer to a specific question becomes a process in which, through listening to the other, both sides can obtain purification and enrichment. Thus this search can also mean taking common steps towards the one truth, even if the fundamental choices remain unaltered. If both sides set out from a hermeneutic of justice and peace, the fundamental difference will not disappear, but a deeper closeness will emerge nevertheless.

Address to Roman Curia, December 21, 2012

Reflection – So often, when we either try to enter into dialogue, or when we think about what dialogue means and how it is to be done, we can think it means papering over the differences between people and religions. To ‘dialogue’ means to put aside our different opinions and do… well, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do, and what kind of conversation is supposed to happen if we shelve or paper over our differences.

Of course some people want to avoid conflict and find it deeply unpleasant to be in disagreement with their neighbour; others seek it out and revel in the combat.

Neither of these attitudes is quite right, I think. Going along to get along can too easily become a compromise of integrity; deliberately picking fights or living in a state of constant dudgeon is not the way of peace and love in the world.

The Pope has a good model of dialogue in this passage, I think. Everyone wants justice in the world; everyone wants peace. Even the terrorist with the plastic explosives wants peace, and believes earnestly that his act of violence will help usher in the Dar es Salaam, the Islamic parallel to our Christian ‘kingdom of God.’

Dialogue—any dialogue, anywhere, between any people—must start from a point of common agreement. There is no other basis to enter into conversation with another person. And so, every serious human being beholds the world in its fragmented broken reality, and every serious human being of good will desires to advance justice and peace in the world.

This is where all real dialogues can begin. But the Pope observes insightfully that we cannot talk for very long about justice and peace, about what is wrong in the world and how to remedy it, without touching upon the deep questions of life and humanity. Not only do these deep questions inform what ‘justice and peace’ mean, but the very task of serving justice and peace requires that we come to understand the other in his or her difference.

I need to know why that terrorist believes his act of violence is needed for justice and peace. I need to know why the Planned Parenthood worker truly believes she is serving the cause of justice for women. I need to hear and know the perspective of the trans-gendered individual, the communist, the anarchist, the atheist.
Dialogue is an urgent need in the world today—there is far too much talking past one another, far too much yelling of slogans, far too much retreating into polarized camps. But if that dialogue is to be real, to be honest, we must get over the fear of putting on the table our different world views; we must able to disagree openly and honestly without vitriol or violence. It is this kind of dialogue—fearless, honest, searching—that is a purifying, enlightening, enriching activity that can truly move us all forward into the kingdom of God, into a more just, more peaceful world.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Author Shamelessly Flogs Wares

I have noticed in the past weeks that my blog traffic has spiked again. While I have no idea why people read my blog (ahem), it seems that quite a few more are interested in reading it in the first weeks of 2013. Hurray! You like me! You really, really like me! I'm the king of the world! Attica, Attica! (OK, not that last one).
So I seem to have new readers. Welcome to my world! Do you know that I have books and CDs for sale? No? Let me tell you about them.

First there is my newest child, Going Home, an exploration of God's mercy in the writings of Catherine de Hueck Doherty, meditating on the parable of the prodigal son. People seem to be finding it truly helpful in contemplating and deepening their faith in the mercy of the Father. Next:

In a similar vein, The Air We Breathe is all about Mary in the writings of Catherine Doherty. It was my first book, and both subject and title came to me directly in answer to prayer. Hopefully the rest of the book did, too, at least a little bit. For the more innerleckually minded, there is:

This one is my thesis, and the reason this blog exists. I ended up with hundreds of quotes from Joseph Ratzinger on my laptop and 'information wants to be free.' So... here we all are, 500+ posts later. Finally:

For those of you who can't read, ten talks on the basics of Christian spirituality. Perfect for the car, and for parish study groups. Proven to be effective!
So there - something to do with all those piles of spare cash you have lying around your house. Seriously, and I know it's a bit lame for me to have to say this, but there's some good stuff here, so hope you can buy a bit and enjoy it.

What Does the Pope Mean By Dialogue?

What the Church has learned from the encounter between revelation and human experience does indeed extend beyond the realm of pure reason, but it is not a separate world that has nothing to say to unbelievers. By entering into the thinking and understanding of mankind, this knowledge broadens the horizon of reason and thus it speaks also to those who are unable to share the faith of the Church. In her dialogue with the state and with society, the Church does not, of course, have ready answers for individual questions. Along with other forces in society, she will wrestle for the answers that best correspond to the truth of the human condition. The values that she recognizes as fundamental and non-negotiable for the human condition she must propose with all clarity. She must do all she can to convince, and this can then stimulate political action.

Address to Roman Curia, December 21, 2012

Reflection – ‘What does the Pope mean by dialogue?’ my favourite commenter asked yesterday. I’ve been travelling here and there and have had lots of appointments this week, so haven’t been able to respond to comments too well. But I think this section of the address answers that particular question pretty well.

The Church is sometimes accused of arrogance, of thinking it has all the answers. Actually, though, since the development of modern Catholic social thinking, the Church, and especially Rome, has been very prudent for the most part in not attempting detailed policy positions on all the issues of the day.

It is the role of democratically elected governments to draft and enact legislation, following the constitutionally mandated procedures of their nations. The Church’s part in the dialogue is to uphold fundamental human values which human legislation must not traduce, and to decry the passage of laws that violate these human values.

In America right now gun control is the hot issue of the day. In Canada, it is aboriginal treaty rights and resource development on native lands. The Church is not about to get all specific in telling either nation how firearm ownership or land use is to be regulated. Basic principles of respect for life, respect for property, for solidarity and for subsidiarity, lively concern for the poor and for natural justice—all of these come to bear directly on these matters. But the Church lacks the competence and the authority to dictate specific solutions.

Dialogue means, for the Pope, what it means for anyone, in other words. I tell you what I believe to be true; you tell me what you believe to be true. Then we all decide in our sovereign free will what to think and what to do. The Church believes itself to have authority from God to teach on matters of faith and morals, and so this claim is part of an authentic honest dialogue. We are not about to change our beliefs because a dialogue partner disagrees with us, as in our view this would be an betrayal of God’s gift to the Church.

But we also believe that the faith and morals God has entrusted to the Church have a reasonable quality to them, and so we don’t just come in with dogmatic guns blazing to blow away the heretics. We have a case to make about fundamental human values and rights that does in fact appeal to human reason, and so we make it. The days are long past, and not returning (thank God, really) when the Church had any political power to enforce its views.

The Church, as the somewhat hackneyed saying goes, cannot impose anything, but only propose. Now some would argue, perhaps, that the dialogue model I describe is pretty one-sided – the Church teaching and proposing, but not willing to modify its own views one bit. But I don’t think that’s quite true.

Yes, we cannot change the permanent deposit of faith and the moral implications of that faith which we honestly believe God has given us. It’s not ours; it’s God’s, and that’s the end of the matter. But I think the Church does listen, slowly and carefully, to the voices of humanity. There is an Ent-like quality to this listening, a deliberate lack of haste in response. This is because the Vatican considers itself to have a divine mandate and binding authority on its faithful, and hence a serious responsibility to measure its words carefully.

But listen it does—a fair reading of what the Church has said in the last half-century about women’s rights, environmental issues, war and peace, economic justice shows that the dialogue has been a true dialogue. The eternal principles and mores abide, but the Church does listen to what is being said elsewhere, and responds with care.
Well, enough (ahem, more than enough) for one day. Á demain!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

It's All Been Done Before

At this point I would like to address the…question of dialogue and proclamation. Let us speak firstly of dialogue. For the Church in our day I see three principal areas of dialogue, in which she must be present in the struggle for man and his humanity: dialogue with states, dialogue with society – which includes dialogue with cultures and with science – and finally dialogue with religions.

In all these dialogues the Church speaks on the basis of the light given her by faith. But at the same time she incorporates the memory of mankind, which is a memory of man’s experiences and sufferings from the beginnings and down the centuries, in which she has learned about the human condition, she has experienced its boundaries and its grandeur, its opportunities and its limitations.

Human culture, of which she is a guarantee, has developed from the encounter between divine revelation and human existence.

The Church represents the memory of what it means to be human in the face of a civilization of forgetfulness, which knows only itself and its own criteria. Yet just as an individual without memory has lost his identity, so too a human race without memory would lose its identity.

Address to Roman Curia, December 21, 2012

Reflection – ‘I knew you before the fall of Rome…’ The lyrics from that really catchy Barenaked Ladies song waft into my mind this morning, pondering the Pope’s words here.

What is mere lyrical cleverness in a pop song with a catchy beat is a sober claim of fact for the Catholic Church.

And this is, or at least it really should be, something even non-believers can acknowledge as valuable. There is in the Church  a continuity of thought, an inherited experience, an accumulated wisdom of 2000 years (3000, if you consider the Church to have inherited the wisdom of Israel at its foundation).

We call it tradition. Not the Sacred Tradition that in our Catholic understanding makes up with Sacred Scripture the deposit of faith given us by Christ. But, simply, tradition—human beings passing along from one to another, across generations and centuries, what we know of life. There is a continuity, a historical memory in the Church, that we bring to bear on every question of the day.

We were there before the fall of Rome (and when the West was won… and yes, we will be there still on a 30th century night, God allowing us that time). So we have seen empires rise and empires die. We have seen the results of too much authority in religion (inquisitions and the like) and too little (heresy, schism). We have seen what happens when Church and State become too closely allied (caesaro-papism, generally to the great detriment of the Church’s autonomy) and what happens when the state is inimical to the Church (hint: lions are involved). We have seen violence being used in the service of religion, and have forsaken that path.

The Church in its human leadership and membership has made just about every mistake human beings can make, in its saints has ascended to the heights of what humanity is capable of, and in general has seen just about everything there is to see about human life in this world. And we’ve learned a thing or two along the way, you know, even leaving aside the deposit of faith and the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit to preserve and animate that faith in the heart of the Church..

Meanwhile, the modern world is, as the Pope says, “a civilization of forgetfulness, which knows only itself and its own criteria.” And so the dialogue of the Church with the world must include a strong element of reminding, of bringing the fruit of millennia of shared lived experience to the attention of our modern world. In a sense we can say that modernity and post-modernity were born from a conscious turning away from the past, a deliberate choice to sunder humanity from its historical communal roots towards a renewed future (modernity) or towards atomized individualism (post-modernity).
The Church does, in that sense, stand against the ‘modern’ world. But not to condemn it or reject it, but to correct it. Looking upon the experiments and agendae, the secular utopias and bold new ideas of our time, it says, you know “It’s all been done before.” And so the Church will continue to say its piece; many if not most will ignore it with various levels of hostility or indifference; the world will continue to stagger along the path of folly. But we will continue to say our piece.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Theology of the Body, Ratzinger Style

In a break from my usual style of blogging (quote the Pope, discuss the quote), it occurs to me that I’ve been touching upon some pretty deep and difficult subjects these past two days, with the constraints of space on a blog making it a challenge to do them justice.

So today I have a short section of my book She is Our Response, on the Mariology of Joseph Ratzinger, which treats precisely this question of gender and freedom. It is such an important question, and so here are some additional, if a bit heavy and academic, thoughts on the matter.

I’ll be back tomorrow with the usual nonsense…


Ratzinger, writing of Mary as the ‘answer’ of creation to God, stresses that the mode by which she represents creation, and hence humanity, is that of her physical conception of the child by the Holy Spirit, that is, by her virginal motherhood. Therefore, she “represents saved and liberated man… precisely as a woman, that is, in the bodily determinateness that is inseparable from man [i.e. human nature].” (Mary, the Church at the Source, 31).

This determinateness of gender, which in Mary is the very matrix of her free answer to God then becomes in her, and consequently in humanity as such, the irreducible sign of the received quality of being, of life, and of human freedom and dignity itself. Gender, as a received quality, is the imminent presence to each person of his or her own personal determinateness. It signifies as nothing else does the relativity of personal freedom within an already existing order of meaning and being which encompasses our entire human reality.

In this order of being we are participants and recipients before being agents and makers. Humanity does not create itself, and bodily determination in gender is the great sign that communicates this reality to every human being at every moment of their existence.

Mary, then, by entering into the very heart of the divine-human drama at the very point of her womanhood in its most biological facticity shows forth that this biological determinateness, far from being a bondage or an affront to freedom and dignity, actually is the place whereby both freedom and dignity encounter the divine sphere of reality and are caught up into transcendence.  Ratzinger writes of this precisely in light of the current anthropological theories of gender deconstruction, showing how this ideology which operates in the name of freedom and autonomy in fact reduces man to a ‘thing’ to be manipulated. The body and its sexual identity is an inescapable fact of human life, and a dis-embodied anthropology inevitably leads to a functional and technical view of the body, and hence, of man:

While today’s anthropological program hinges more radically than ever before on ‘emancipation’, it seeks a freedom whose goal is to ‘be like God’. But the idea that we can be like God implies a detachment of man from his biological conditionality… something that man, as a biological being, can never get rid of, something that marks man in the deepest center of his being. Yet it is regarded as a totally irrelevant triviality… and is therefore consigned to the ‘purely biological realm’ which has nothing to do with man as such. Accordingly, this ‘purely biological’ dimension is treated as a thing that man can manipulate at will because it lies beyond the scope of what counts as human and spiritual (so much so that man can freely manipulate the coming into being of life itself)… man thereby strikes a blow against his deepest being. He holds himself in contempt, because the truth is that he is human only insofar as he is bodily, only insofar as he is man or woman. When man reduces this fundamental determination of his being to a despicable trifle that can be treated as a thing, he himself becomes a trifle and a thing, and his ‘liberation’ turns out to be his degradation to an object of production. Whenever biology is subtracted from humanity, humanity itself is negated. (Mary, the Church at the Source,  32-33).

Mary, on the other hand, whose motherhood is obviously bound to her gender and body, and thus “in whom the ‘biological’ is ‘theological’that is, motherhood of God,” (ibid.) stands at the very heart of the Church’s response to modern dualistic or instrumental anthropology.

As mother, she shows forth the theological implications of embodiment: it is in our very enfleshment that human beings bear the Logos in the world. As virgin, she shows forth that this same embodied integrated human person stands alone before God in a primary and essential way, receiving life and fulfillment from Him not only in the mode of time and history, but in its eschatological reference in the mode of eternity and heaven:

Mary’s virginity, no less than her maternity, confirms that the ‘biological’ is human, that the whole man stands before God, and that the fact of being human only as male and female is included in faith’s eschatological demand and its eschatological hope. It is no accident that virginityalthough as a form of life it is also possible, and intended for, the manis first patterned on the woman, the true keeper of the seal of creation, and has it normative, plenary form—which the man can, so to say, only imitate—in her. (ibid)

Freedom, then, emerges from embodiedness, not as a capacity for unbounded action or unfettered self-determination, but rather as a creative principle whereby the human person can become a sharer in the divine action in the world. Freedom, in its Marian revelation, is freedom to enter into the divine sphere, to leave behind the purely natural, self-directed, or self-organized level so as to become a participant in the perichoresis of the Trinity extending forth from its imminent principle into the world of created beings.
Whew… this is Fr. Denis, 2013 edition, writing again. Well, all that is a mouthful. Please feel free to discuss, question, argue, demand clarifications… in the comment section. God bless you.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sentimentality Leads to the Gas Chamber

According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply.

No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will.

The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation.

Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.

Address to Roman Curia, December 21, 2012

Reflection – This is a very tight, careful argument the Pope is making here. It needs to be read carefully and thought through. Essentially, his point is that many things come together into a single reality to maintain our human dignity and make it possible.

The modern idea of human freedom—that it means a rejection of human nature and the capacity to create oneself virtually ex nihilo—actually destroys human freedom. As Leonard Cohen says in his song Closing Time, “It looks like freedom but it feels like death.”

Once human being is not essentially a gift given, it becomes a commodity. If we are all free to make of ourselves whatever we will be, if humanity is nothing but a blank slate on which to cast our ideas and achievements, then the human person as person is something of little account, little value. It is a very short leap from there to talking of ‘lives not worth living,’ of Ubermensch and Untermensch.

It all seems very fine to speak of freedom in these terms. It seems kind and tolerant to say that everyone just gets to make anything whatsoever they want of their lives, and that the essence of happiness and freedom is to do just that. It is sentimental, but sentimentality leads to the gas chamber.

When the fundamental reality of the human person as made in God’s image and likeness, and of God the Creator fashioning us so, is lost, then the door is not just open to a radical devaluing of human life. In fact the door is closed and barred fast against any coherent picture of human dignity and the ineradicable value of the person.

To a large degree Western Civilization has been living off the capital of its Christian theology for some centuries now, while largely rejecting that theology. We seem to think that it is normal and natural for humanity to respect the dignity of persons. But it takes only a little knowledge of history to know that chattel slavery and child murder, tribal warfare and destruction of the weak has been the norm of humanity for most of its history. And it is to that norm we are returning, quickly, as our capital runs out. Not so much a fiscal cliff as a spiritual and moral one.

Our humanity is given to us, and given to us as a gift of being made in God’s image and likeness. Our male-female identity is at the heart of this ‘givenness’, both because we experience nowhere more deeply the determined nature of our humanity, and because it is only in this determined gendered humanity that the capacity to bring forth new human beings lies.
I said a few days ago, with great Chestertonian paradox, that freedom is perfected in slavery—only in committing our lives irrevocably to the other are we truly free. I now say, with equal paradox, that freedom only arises from slavery. It is only in experiencing our humanity as a gift we did not choose and cannot change that we enter into and preserve the dignity and freedom of our own person and that of others.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What Are They Talking About?

The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question.

He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.

Address to Roman Curia, December 21, 2012

Reflection – So today and next time we wade into the thickets of controversy, the section of the talk that got all the pundits and activists buzzing furiously away. The whole idea of gender and its meaning comes under a searching study here, and so it should.

Theorists and activists have worked hard to dismantle the obvious meaning of gender and sexual identification, based on body morphology (I trust I don’t need to spell out the details to anyone, right? I don’t really want this blog to get caught in your spam filters…)

Essentially, there are males and there are females, and you know, you really can spot the difference by looking at them hard.

Well, all of that has been cast aside in progressive thought. Body morphology has been decisively uncoupled from gender identity. There are men in women’s bodies, women in men’s bodies. Not every transgendered person seeks gender-reassignment surgery—some women-in-men’s-bodies like their bodies just the way they are. Nor does it have any connection to sexual desire: there are men-in-women’s bodies who also identify as homosexual, hence being sexually attracted to men, but as a man-in-a-woman’s body.

So gender identity has nothing to do with body morphology. Nor does it have anything to do with sexual attraction. The question must be asked: what are these people talking about?

Is it some stereotyped view of male and female characteristics? Men are logical, brave, mechanical and violent; women are emotional, caring, intuitive, and sweet? Somehow I do not think the post-modern theorists of gender are advancing gender theories redolent of the 1950s. But what on earth do they mean? Since they want to entirely restructure society based on their gender theories, I think we have a right to insist they explain themselves, no?

What is it to be male, to be female? If it is not to do with the body structures you were born with, and not to do with the personality traits you exhibit, and not to do with who you are sexually attracted to, what on earth does it have to do with?

To be clear, my own belief, founded on both common sense and religious faith, is that while allowing for the vanishingly rare exception of actual hermaphroditism, gender is body morphology, and the grand human adventure is to live as a man or to live as a woman within the psycho-social-familial context you have been given.

As soon as we reject what has been given in favour of some increasingly elusive and abstract notion of gender, we reject humanity as an object of dignity and respect in favour of endless social engineering and experimentation.

In short, and in conclusion for today, let us begin to answer the question of what is a male, what is a female by accepting the given of it (human genital differentiation) and living out our human dignity—the call to love, to give, to commit one’s life to the other—from that basic given reality of our human being.