“TEACH ABOUT CHRIST”
In continuity of promoting fidelity to teachings of the Church, the webmaster wishes to thank Dr. Patricia Rooke for her latest article posted below "Credos and Fiats" The mission of this website is continuing to advocate working with pastors and bishops as they are God's representatives on earth. We will continue promoting Catholic sites which do not continually criticize authorities by ignoring the proper use of protocol. (cf) Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no.37. Vatican Council II.- - Effective Lay Witness Protocol.
Please be advised to approach with caution - some websites using a 'catholic' title.
Fidelity and Obedience:
Clarification on fidelity and obedience was affirmed in an article by Pope Benedict which was published by Zenit May 31- 2006 - only days after I received Dr. Rooke's article Credos and Fiats. May the Holy Spirit continue to draw us to be one with the God our Father. Webmaster. R.T.M
Pope Exhorts New Church Entities to Obedience Sees Them as "Sign of Beauty of Christ"
VATICAN CITY, MAY 31, 2006 (Zenit.org) Excerpts - Pope Benedict XVI wrote a message to express the Church's gratitude to the ecclesial movements and new communities and to call them to obedience and communion with the Pope and bishops. -- -- At the same time, Benedict XVI thanked them "for the willingness you show in welcoming the operational guidelines, not only of Peter's Successor, but also of bishops in the various local Churches who, together with the Pope, are the custodians of truth and charity in unity." "I trust in your ready obedience," he stated." The movements must face all problems with sentiments of profound communion, in a spirit of adherence to legitimate pastors." -- --
Viewing Love via Benedict XVI
ROME, JUNE 17, 2006 (Zenit.org). Excerpts- Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, opened the series May 10. "Truth draws people together because it frees them from individual opinions," he wrote. "Love draws men together because it makes them overcome individual egoisms." Christianity, in turn, announces that "Truth is Love," the cardinal added.
N E W ♥ ART I CLE
About the writer: Dr. Patricia T. Rooke is professor emeritus in history and education with the University of Alberta. Since retiring to Victoria, for the past five years she has taught in the RCIA and Adult Education Program at St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic cathedral. Patricia developed a two year course, Exploring the Catholic Faith l & 2 (80 hours of instruction and discussion), a history course, “A Cloud of Witnesses: The Early Christians” (12 weeks), and “A Pilgrim Church: Engaging the World Since Vatican ll (12 weeks). Further information is found on the websitewww.standrewscathedral.com.
There are way stations, shrines of remembrance, in one’s pilgrimage of faith that resonate in mysterious ways. This is how the Holy Spirit works in many lives. For some there is a rush of the breath of God with instant conversion, epiphanies, or inspiration. For others the Spirit percolates through us, unfolding more gradually, in God’s own time. This is how it was for me.
In l996 my husband and I were on a pilgrimage to Rome to celebrate the twenty- fifth year of marriage. My cousin, Monsignor Peter Elliott, who worked in the Curia, taught in Rome, and was part of the United Nations Vatican delegation, showed us the less known sights of our Catholic tradition in the Eternal City. On the first Friday we were there, staying in a delightful little Roman hotel, The Portoghesi, just across the Tiber, a comfortable walking distance to St. Peter’s, we received a letter from a Vatican courier. Trembling, we opened it, and before us was an invitation to an audience with the Holy Father, John Paul ll, and to assist at his morning mass in his private chapel in the Apostolic Palace! It was my cousin’s anniversary gift to us although not even he could have guaranteed it would come to pass.
At six o’clock the next morning while it was still dark outside we stepped through the great bronze doors into the vast and shining hallways of the Apostolic Palace. Escorted by a Swiss Guard we were taken up the marble staircases with art-adorned walls on either side to the chapel. There were approximately twenty-five of us for Holy Mass – mostly clerics and religious, several members of the Pope’s household, and Third World lay people, including two families with young children.
Almost three quarters of an hour was spent in prayer before the bell rang announcing that Eucharist was about to begin. At that point we were astounded to see the Pope rise from the floor before the altar. He had been there, unseen by us all that time, engaged in silent and intense prayer. With his back to us he offered the Sacrifice – slowly, reverentially, and powerfully. There was no doubt that we were in the presence of a holy priest entirely at the service of the High Priest and Victim he was calling down on the altar. We received the Body of Jesus Christ on our tongues from his anointed hands. The memory of this encounter with the Vicar of Christ remains as an imprimatur on our souls.
After Holy Mass we met and spoke personally with the Pontiff. The reception room was electric as he gracefully moved among the two dozen or so people there, all palpably delighted to be with him. He played with the children, cuddling and mischievously teasing them. He stroked the hair of the women from the Third World, touched their cheeks affectionately, and held the hands of all in turn. It was as if he was irresistibly drawn to touch the humblest and embrace the smallest and youngest of his guests. His persona radiated the joy of friendship and solidarity. He was our father and we were his children. Quite apart from meeting a Pope in the generic sense of his office none of us doubted that his was a special moment of grace in our lives.
When we conversed with the Holy Father he gave us rosary beads bearing his shield and with his particular Crucifix. When he asked where we came from and heard it was from Alberta he smiled impishly as he recalled Edmonton - “Windy and cold”. But then followed something unpredictable.
“What do you do?” he asked.
“We are professors,” we answered.
“Teach about Christ.”
His penetratingly blue eyes seemed to pierce us as he said these three words. Teach about Christ . . .
Afterwards, we walked across St. Peter’s Square from the sublime into the ridiculous - a bustling Roman cafe filled with the Italian locals reading newspapers and the ubiquitous smoke of cigarettes. We smiled wryly as we ate our stale breakfast panini, sipped bitter coffee and spoke of our experience. Teach about Christ? Nothing could be more improbable than teaching about Christ in a secular university.
We did not discuss the injunction again as it seemed the only odd part of a remarkable occasion.
Within two years our lives had changed dramatically. Rudy, my husband, became seriously ill which compelled our retirements from our respective universities. A kinder climate was needed so we chose Victoria. However, over the next two years we had co-taught two courses at St. Andrew’s cathedral – Crossing the Threshold of Hope, and The Apostolate of the Laity, using John Paul ll’s own texts. They were small, tentative classes. Learning to teach adults with different educational backgrounds and a wide range of faith experience and knowledge after decades in the university world was challenging.
As Rudy’s health declined he could no longer continue so we concluded our brief pedagogical adventure was over. But God’s Providence intervened when the new rector of the cathedral invited me to be part of the RCIA teaching team and in a little while again he suggested I develop a course in catechesis and apologetics. I can only believe God moved Father John Laszczyk to make this request given the amount of trust and confidence he placed in a relative stranger.
And so over the past four years I have been teaching the two year course, Exploring the Catholic Faith (1 & 2), a history course, “A Cloud of Witnesses: The Early Christians”, and am introducing a new course, “A Pilgrim Church: Engaging the World Since Vatican all”. Rudy’s input during the preparatory period of researching and creating a two- year course (80 hours of instruction and discussion) has been part of the adventure.
I cannot even begin to describe what teaching about Christ has meant for my own religious growth quite apart from the growth of over one hundred people who have been hungry for catechesis and for a rational base to defend the Faith in a time when it has come under siege embattled by secularism and challenged by New Age spiritualities and a resurgence of Gnosticism. To teach my discipline – history – as a believer has been tranformative. I am reminded of St. Augustine’s words, “What is grace? Something which is freely given. Given, not paid.”
If Fr. John Laszczyk was moved by the Holy Spirit to open up possibilities for me to heed the late Holy Father’s direction then it has been no less the case when Rita Medernach invited me to write for this website. The trajectory of her faith journey into evangelization and mine had been converging over these years without us realizing it or knowing each other. Curiously, her invitation came at the time of John Paul’s dying, death, and funeral. It seemed prescient.
Public speaking, writing and teaching have been mainstays to my public life and now God, it seems, has called me back to writing as well as teaching. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I pray that my words, spoken and written, will become salt, light, and leaven in the world to which I am called as one of the laity.
When Rita asked me what name should we give the link to my contributions we both agreed that there is none more appropriate than “Teach about Christ”.
And my signature will be –“Lord, I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand” [St. Anselm, 1059].
A young student of mine, whose faith is simple and whose religious practice is visibly holy, was having trouble about dogma and doctrine, although her heart and soul had already grasped the sense of mystery that is the Catholic faith.
“Must I understand?” she appealed to me. “Is it not enough to believe?”This young student did not lack either acceptance or belief, although sometimes - often - despite her heart, beating as it did for love of the Lord Jesus, His Holy Mother, and the angels and saints - she could not articulate the reasons behind her belief. Yet the gestures and signs of her whole life were testimony to a living faith despite her inability to defend it in apologetics, arguments, or words. Such a testimony was prescient with God’s promises and her piety eloquently expressed the presence of grace.
In another instance there was no RCIA student who impressed me more than a troubled aboriginal woman whom I would observe gazing, as if transfixed, on the Crucifix and whose whole presence reached out to embrace His suffering, yet could only murmur how she “loved” that dear Body there on the cross but could not explain why. She could not grasp much of the catechesis she was hearing. All she could do was yearn for reconciliation and to love.
I was able to reassure the first young woman with the words of St. Ambrose the bishop of Milan, “I believe in order that I might understand” and those uttered some five hundred years later in 1059 by St. Anselm agreeing with Ambrose. “Lord, I do not seek to understand that I may believe but I believe that I might understand.”
I did not attempt to explain any of this to the second young woman except to remind her how the Faith was taken to and received by her people under the simplest of terms, in the spreading of the Gospel by missionaries who were ignorant of aboriginal languages. Without sophisticated argumentation and discourse her people comprehended the living witness of Canada’s saints and martyrs bringing Our Lord into the wilderness.
However, we have a typus, a model of acceptance - but not at that point the model of understanding – a typus who precedes either Ambrose or Anselm. Understanding was to come later, much later. I refer of course to Mary of Nazareth - “Theotokos” - Christ-bearer, Mother of God.
Moreover, before and after Mary, we have other exemplars in the patriarchs, prophets, St. Joseph, John the Baptist, the Apostles, and the first converts to Christianity among both Jews and Gentiles. With all of these we see that belief preceded understanding and that they were justified by their faith, even before knowing Christ Jesus, for they sought him out. During, or after this initial encounter, they were taught about His death and resurrection. In short, they believed - long before they came to any level of understanding.
Thus Abraham, a man of great faith, whose near sacrifice of his son Isaac was a prefiguration of Christ’s sacrifice, was declared a righteous man fourteen years before circumcision sealed his faith in the Lord God. He was saved, that is justified by his faith, before the covenant with God, and centuries before the coming of Christ. He believed from the outset, and was prepared to accept anything God chose to do as a consequence of this belief, but only after the ram in the thicket replaced his son did he even start walking the path of understanding. From such belief and faith was born a great nation of chosen people.
So it was also with Moses who believed before he accepted the commandments of Divine Law although natural law was already in place; and again, so it was when the Magi followed a star on a faith journey before they saw, believed in, and accepted a child in a stable. Likewise, in faith, John believed in God’s promises before he laid eyes on a man who came to the banks of the river Jordan. He believed, accepted, and understood by the power of the Spirit, which descended upon the Son that here was the Lamb of God. Abraham, Isaac, Moses, the Magi and the Baptist – each one these spent the remainder of their lives, whether long or cut unbearably short like John’s, struggling to understand these momentous events that occurred in their lives. Yet again, the Apostles believed in the Lord and accepted his call long before they came to understand anything he taught them. After the seemingly calamitous circumstances of his death they continued to grapple with their significance.
The infirm, lame, blind, mute, and those possessed who came for healing, motivated by a nascent faith in the possible - believed - and after miracles pondered what had happened in order to understand. The faithful sisters, Martha and Mary, believed and accepted the Master could intervene, despite the seeming finality of death. Surely the three siblings spent the rest of their lives trying to understand the wondrous saving action of that day when Lazarus was raised from his torpor? Miracles are not only to be understood as divine interventions from an omnipotent and loving Father but they are to be understood also by those to whom they were granted, to those who witnessed them, and to those who hear about them after the fact. Human beings are sense makers. We instinctively and naturally wonder and desire to comprehend.
The Lord said of the Centurion, when he came to seek the healing of his servant that “no greater faith was seen in all of Israel”. This Gentile believed this Holy Man whom he had heard could do anything and he accepted that something wonderful had taken place just because it had been spoken thus. So too did the eunuch who is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles; he who had not even heard of the Christ was moved by faith to believe all that Phillip taught and after baptism to spend the remainder of his days pondering, reflecting, studying scripture, praying, and trying to understand what had happened to him and his household.
It seems that that we are called first to belief and acceptance - the constituent elements of faith. This, followed by prayer, reading the Word of God, and perseverance in religious studies, assists us to come to some level of understanding.
It is, however, in Mary’s example that we see the first fruits of the new dispensation as her actions and life teach us about believing, accepting, and understanding – precisely in that order.
Mary believed the strange words of an angel despite the laws of the natural world, which made such a being and such an event improbable. In a breath-taking leap of faith – an act of utter acceptance - she embraced God’s will in fulfillment of prophecy. Those things that had been foretold long before her own immaculate conception or that of Our Lord’s were sealed with this, her fiat. In that instant of acceptance - “Be it done to me according to Thy Word” - His coming was as close as the beat of an angel’s wing or the blink of an eye. There in that little sacred space in Nazareth she was in the goodly company of the patriarchs and prophets – our “elder brothers (and sisters) in the faith” - who believed and accepted while not living to see the Incarnation.
As with the prophets and patriarchs, David, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all the holy men and women of Israel including Simeon and Anna, those servants of the Temple in Jerusalem, her faith justified her before she came to understand the meaning of Gabriel’s proclamation. The Mother of Jesus of Nazareth believed that all things were possible with God. At this most astonishing moment in the human story when Mary’s murmurings of acceptance and assent were heard by the heavenly hosts, the whole world held its breath, and the seraphim, in awe, averted their gaze behind their several wings, as the Impassable God chose to break through the boundaries of eternity and embrace geography and time, thus becoming the Passable God, one with us in flesh and history.
“Be it done to me according to thy Word” and later her Son’s words, “Not my will but thine”- utterances that are numinous with God’s promise of the Kingdom. For Mary, understanding would come much later and then only after sorrow, pain, and loss.
In her fiat, Mary accepted the consequences although she could not apprehend its full import then; neither would she understand until she was assumed into heaven for “now we see through a glass darkly in part, but then face to face”. She “pondered in her heart” the prophecies uttered by Simeon and Anna and again twelve years later when the boy Jesus returned to the Temple to instruct the elders as he went about His Father’s business. But her most painful time in seeking to understand must been walking the via dolorosa and watching her Son go to his death, standing helpless at the foot of the Cross, and then, bereft and bewildered, holding his lifeless Body in her arms.
Understanding did not come easily even for this purest of God’s creatures for we read that “a sword pierced her heart”, as she was left there on earth to continue His work until He embraced her once more in Paradise. In patience and perseverance, in belief and acceptance, she co-operated in the mysteries of the Incarnation and Resurrection thus providing us a perfect model of the church.
It appears that belief and acceptance precede understanding and that faith therefore is the rock of the spiritual journey we undertake during our life on earth and which continues in eternity as we seek to understand the mysteries of the God whose Triune love consumes us like the burning bush which is never consumed.
We too are invited to make that initial leap of faith by expressing our belief in logically preposterous propositions by publicly making our profession – the credo - and by accepting through our own particular fiats the teachings of the Church. For the rest of our lives we are required to seek understanding through the full use of human reason – God’s gift to us in natural law just as faith is God’s gift to us in Divine Law. In the sixteenth century St. Ignatius of Loyola observed, Sentire cum ecclesia, that is, we are asked to think with the church. Ignatius was, in effect, asserting that this is a mandate for Christians – that we should seek not just to know what the church teaches - but why the church teaches in the way she does and how she came to those conclusions we call the deposit of faith and that our thinking should be one with the Church founded by Our Lord.
Father Richard Neuhaus, contributing editor of the intellectual journal, First Things recently commented on this Ignatian principle in an interview published by Zenitnews agency with news from Rome. Cardinal Ratzinger's Homily in Mass Before Conclave
“If we love the church, as a lover loves the beloved, then we Will her to be, we will her to flourish, we will her to succeed in the mission she has been given by Christ . . . Nonetheless we are loved by the church, and most particularly by all the saints in the Church Triumphant. Sentire cum ecclesia means being concerned never to betray St. Paul, St. Iranaeus, St. Augustine, St. Thomas, St. Theresa, and the faith for they which and innumerable others lived and died. And for all the inadequacies and sins of the church and her leadership in our time, it means always doing one’s best to support, and never to undermine, the effectiveness of her teaching ministry.”
There is every reason to acknowledge
that a pervasive scepticism, whether wilful or otherwise, is undermining the
effectiveness of this teaching ministry. In this era of moral relativism there
appears to be a general watering down of belief so that Cardinal Ratzinger
addressed this malaise before the Conclave that elected him Pope. He has
continued to attend to this theme since assuming the Chair of Peter.
Recently a young man was interviewed on television. He was as fine an example of a Canadian Catholic youth one could get. He had attended the World Youth Day celebrations in Toronto and was a pilgrim in St. Peter’s Square for the days before and during Pope John Paul ll’s funeral. His enthusiasms for the late Pontiff were infectiously joyful. When asked why young people around the globe responded to this old and ailing man his response was instantaneous. “Because he is so-ooo extreme,” that John Paul the Great spoke “the Truth” boldly and without apology, and that the Truth was too attractive to resist.
Here is the ideal representative of youth: a lover of truth, passionate to follow a cause, and attracted to what is counter-cultural.
But then came the bombshell. When asked how he viewed teachings on the ordination of women, contraception, sexual morality, reproductive ethics – which are really counter-cultural - he replied that we do not have to believe everything the Pope says about these matters and that the Church has consistently taught that one’s own conscience is the final arbiter on controversial or difficult teachings. He did not seem even vaguely cognizant of the requirement that we strive to attain a “proper formation of right conscience.”
Moral and ethical questions, especially those that touch the personal lives of Catholics are the ones that usually come under the “individual conscience” apologia and rarely Transubstantiation or the Trinity. One can scarcely imagine a time when there were riots in the streets over the nature of Christ, and when butchers, cobblers, tanners, silversmiths, would argue earnestly about the Three Persons or when slaves during their household duties would listen in on the conversations of their Christian masters and mistresses about the mystery of the Incarnation!
By following the example of Mary, contemporary doubters, indeed all of us, can find our way to obedience and fidelity, and in acquiring these virtues and praying for the grace practise them, find our way to becoming more liberated as human beings. This is the supreme irony – that in obedience and fidelity we do not become subservient and enslaved by rules and regulations but quite the opposite. By being required to believe all the Church teaches we become part of that “cloud of witnesses” – the saints and the martyrs and all the great doctors of the church, apostles, scriptural exegetes, apologists, bishops, whose intellectual genius, religious insights, and spiritual strivings, constitute the teaching office, the Magisterium. We truly stand on the shoulders of giants to survey two thousand years of magisterial development. We do not have to do any of this alone.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now (Pope Benedict XVI) in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy spoke of these premises behind sound religious formation.
“The path of theology is indicated by the saying, 'Credo ut intelligum' – I accept what is given in advance, in order to find, starting from this and in this, the path to the right way of living, to the right way of understanding myself. Yet that means that theology, of its nature… Exists only through awareness that the circle of our own thinking has been broken, that our thinking has, so to say, been given a hand and helped upward, beyond what it could achieve for itself. Without what was given in advance, which is always greater than we can devise ourselves and never becomes part of what is just our own, there is no theology."
“ I accept what is given in advance.” In believing and accepting we realize there are others who might know more than we do, that our worship at the idols of a universal individualism and autonomy is a relatively new phenomenon, a vanity and presumption that gives us a sense of false autonomy frequently manifested in our claims about conscience but most importantly, that the church was founded by Christ on a Rock. The acclamation, Tu Est Petrus, is rich in promises that we will not be left orphans, that the shepherds will feed the sheep and the lambs in their ‘little flocks’ -echoed in one of Pope Benedict’s first assurances to the People of God. “Fear not little flock”, he said, “it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom”. We have been promised that the gates of Hell will never prevail and have been guaranteed by the authority of the church built on the promises of the Lord Himself that whatever she looses and binds on earth will be loosed and bound in Heaven. Either we believe these claims were made by the Lord Jesus are true or they are not true.
Every day of our Catholic lives we are asked with Peter, “Who do you believe that I am?” Jesus is Lord or Jesus is not Lord and if we believe He is Lord then we accept the ramifications of this belief and we are bound to grasp the meaning behind such a belief.. This is why the Church mandates us to continue our inquiries – not merely to believe but to come to understand to the extent that we are able to do so. This is why the Church issues encyclicals and apostolic letters, calls councils, publishes remarkable documents such as the Catechism and the Compendium to the Catechism, engages the modern world through the media, gives homilies, creates centres and institutes of ongoing religious studies, and encourages diocesan and parish faith formation programs. The Church flies on the two wings of faith and reason,
The crisis in faith can all too often be traced to misgivings about this fundamental belief that the Church was founded by God Himself in His Son and therefore is inerrant, not in human terms, but as a Divine institution. Holy Mother Church is a kind and patient Mother who gives us all the necessary aids to our journey through the sacraments and who points the way to the “good Father God” as Cyril of Alexandria fondly described the Creator.
The words of another saint, Cyprian, resonate today as in the third century when he wrote his treatise On the Unity of the Catholic Church read to the Council of Carthage (251 a.d).
“One cannot have God as a Father who does not have the church as a Mother . . . This mystery of unity, this bond of abiding concord is manifested when, in the gospel, the tunic of the Lord Jesus Christ is in no way divided or torn. Rather, the entire garment is received. Whole and undivided it becomes the possession of the ones casting lots for the garment of Christ who would have done better only to put on Christ . But concerning the tunic - it had been woven in one piece from top to bottom and was without seam . . . (and) such unity was not at all able to be torn by the one who took it into his possession, but continued whole and undamaged. He is not able to possess the garment of Christ who tears and divides the church of Christ”
The metaphor of the seamless garment is as apt for the twenty first century as it was for the third century. It points to the tendency to unpick the woof and the weave of magisterial teachings, to tear the fabric into pieces, which suit our preferences and our arrogances, in short, to become ‘cafeteria Catholics.” Cafeteria Catholics pick through and choose those things about the faith of which they approve, and ignore or dismiss those of which they disapprove, all the while giving the nod of approval to church teachings on social justice, war and peace, the dignity of the human person, family values, the aesthetics of the liturgy and so forth, but rejecting those about natural family planning, divorce, female ordination, same sex marriage, or premarital sexuality. Like the soldiers we gamble with the dice of our own hubris. The Church has given us clear and powerful teachings on the primacy of a properly formed conscience but we confuse this with the primacy of our own wilfulness, immediate gratifications, and less than noble desires. The more we come to understand the heart and the soul of the Church which incorporates our hearts and souls the more evident it is that every teaching is related to every other teaching. Such moral clarity and cohesiveness returns time and again to the metaphor of the seamless garment.
The best demonstration of this is found in o the Catechism particularly in the sections devoted to the Decalogue and the Creeds. We see in these sections how the entire moral and ethical world is subsumed under Ten Commandments, which serve only as a summary of our duty to God and to our neighbour. We observe in the section on the Creeds how terse statements of faith are, in fact, the minimum of our belief system although they represent the necessary claims for being a Christian. To read these sections is an adventure in the faith.
And so, as with Mary, Mother and Model of the Church, we are asked to accept what has been “handed down and received” over generations of the Great Tradition, often ”seeded in the blood of the martyrs” as Tertullian observed in the third century when this Tradition was being defined and refined by the Church Fathers. This tradition asks us to believe and affirm those creedal statements in our profession of faith made every Sunday both as individuals and as part of the communio ecclesia. We are to come to understanding by using the talents the Lord has given us. Every time we make our profession of faith we are, in fact, also affirming the sub-text of this profession of faith and agreeing to all that the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church believes and teaches.
Mysteries, unlike puzzles, can never be grasped in this life. Nevertheless we have been given windows into these mysteries – glimpses that are at once transcendent and illuminating. They are given to us briefly and then are gone but we are left with that sense of longing to see them again, that restlessness Saint Augustine observed would never be satisfied until our hearts rest in God.
The Church has preserved the great tradition for us and we are imbued supernaturally and naturally for a love of learning and a desire for God. Let us all, one in the communion of saints - those who have gone before us as well as those who are part of the present - believe and accept first and then seek to understand, thereby reflecting authentically that instinctive longing to know the Truth which is part of our pilgrimage on the way to the Kingdom.
The Ordination of Women?
The following is an argument given to a student in one of my faith formation classes to assist a response to her friends who see the Church’s position on this matter as bigoted and sexist. It is especially pertinent at this moment in time because of the discussion in the media over the next Pontificate now that John Paul 11 has died. The critics of the church’s position on the ordination of women once again are raising the possibilities of the teaching being changed.
Question:“Is the reason why women are not priests because Our Lord became human [as a man] and his disciples [who were men]) were given the power [through the Holy Spirit] to forgive sins and also to teach [as Jesus did]. and this was passed on [Apostolic Tradition] through the years to the present bishops who in turn ordain brother priests?”
1. PAPAL AUTHORITY
There are times that I wish I could just respond, “Because the Pope says so” which, of course, is what a lot of our non-catholic friends think is the case. The Pope speaks and we obey lock step, unblinking and unthinking. Not so. In this case the John Paul ll has spoken by saying the subject is closed. However, it is safe to say that this is only for the time being until a new generation of discontents raise it again probably during the next pontificate. In his apostolic letter to the bishops of the world, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis - 22 May 1994- Pope John Paul II - Apostolic Letter - On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone - he said, “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgement is to be definitely held by all the Church’s faithful.” Other documents on the subject, e.g., Inter insigniores [l979] from the Sacred Congregation for Doctrine of Faith had preceded this statement.
While the subject was closed within the church it has not gone away outside the church (curious why they are always so interested in our affairs) or among dissenting and theo-feminist Catholics , although most of the lay faithful were relieved that it was closed in order to concentrate on more urgent matters in the church and the world.
First, never forget that not even a pope can do certain things; it is not that a pope might not want to give Holy Orders to women – or for that matter, forbid contraception in marriage, refuse homosexual persons marriage, or any of the other infallible teachings of the church that are hard counsel to his people - but a pope cannot do so. His infallibility is as limited by the Tradition, the deposit of faith, the Magisterium, as any layperson in such matters.The pope conserves the Tradition; he does not own the church or its liturgy to do with them what he wills. The Church belongs to Christ. Ordination of women, unlike celibacy, is a doctrine not a discipline. Celibacy could be lifted [although it is unlikely] but the prohibition on the ordination of women is for Catholics, quite simply, unchangeable.
Even when a Pope speaks, he couches his encyclicals, exhortations, and letters in arguments and he provides us with reasons because Catholics are not called to believe blindly, although faith is essential Catholic moral reasoning demonstrates that we do not believe blindly. As Saint Augustine said,“What I want is to grasp the Truth not by belief alone but also by understanding”; and St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Both the light of reason and the light of faith come from God. And there can be no contradiction between them”.
2. ARGUMENT FROM APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION,
You have correctly identified the case for the practice of a male priesthood based on the belief in Apostolic Succession. This is, for many, a sufficient case (CCC.1536-58). Because Our Lord was male and chose apostles who were also male we should attempt as much as possible to approximate his actions and will in all things(be ‘configured’ to Christ). This implies that the nature of a thing or action should follow as closely as possible to the nature of the original thing or action it signifies. We will find out later in the argument that this premise is at the basis of the Sacramental System.
That these men - the Apostles (first bishops) - were chosen by Christ cannot be dismissed as some sexist mistake on his part or, even more astonishingly as sometimes claimed, that Christ was culture-bound.Can the Transcendent God beyond the cosmos be culture bound? Is all we need to do is to explain to Him that he was a wee bit off course, that he was in error, and that we not only know better but can do better? Surely it is unimaginable that the God who created history and geography could not transcend history and geography.
Some argue that as Jesus only chose Jewish men to be apostles it follows that we should only choose Jewish men as priests. Quite apart from the absurdity of this proposition (they would only be ethnically Jewish as a religiously Jewish male is not a likely candidate!) ethnicity is not the same as gender because even among different races and ethnicities, gender is ontological; male and femaleness are immutable We can intermarry but we cannot easily inter-sex ourselves or produce androgynous or hermaphroditic offspring. Now we might choose to do it through perverse genetic manipulations, but one might ask, why would we wish to?
3. THE ARGUMENT FROM TRADITION
From the above the argument from Tradition remains a strong one. The Magisterium has never taught otherwise from the Apostles to the Church Fathers through to the present day. The early Christians believed in a male priesthood although some ‘Gnostic’ Christians (heretics) did not. Because of the Gnostic objections, Church Fathers, such as St. Ephiphanius of Penarion, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian, Origen (before he became a heretic while not deviating on this issue) and St. John Chrysostom all argued the case as did St. Thomas Aquinas and other theologians in later centuries. Their case was often premised on Genesis where gender is clearly a critical and ontological characteristic that is built into our natures and intrinsic to God’s salvific plan for us. .
Male priesthood was not among the objections raised during the Protestant Reformation. Much later, women were called to ministerial service (not to priesthood as priesthood as we understand it was rejected ) and much later still to Protestant episcopacy. Because they have broken apostolic succession since the Reformation these ‘bishops’ cannot make ‘priests’ out of male matter let alone out of female matter although they may ‘appear’ to. Only those in Apostolic Succession retain the power (given by the Spirit as you rightly observe) to‘confect’ and ‘confer’ Holy Orders, that is make priests.
In short, in addition to the other two criteria for the validity of a sacrament - disposition and the proper formula associated with each Sacrament - matter matters to the Sacraments and in the case of Holy Orders, valid matter is a baptized male.
4. THE ARGUMENT FROM HISTORY
The early Apostles could have ordained women especially as they moved about in the pagan and Gentile world where ‘priestesses’ were not unusual. The early Christians did not live in a universally religiously patriarchal world as some would have us believe although their Judaistic roots were patriarchal. It is generally agreed that Christ had given women a new freedom and dignity as a radical departure in his own culture and religious tradition. Moreover God had conferred the greatest honour on a woman – the Blessed Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven – yet they did not extend priesthood to women any more than the Son Himself extended apostleship to Mary, His mother, or any of the women disciples for that matter, some of whom were the first to see Him at the Resurrection and are mentioned frequently in the Gospel accounts. Neither did Mary after Pentecost make women ‘priestesses’ or pose as an Apostle herself. The Twelve did not choose Mary, a likely choice after the betrayal of Judas. Ironically, it seems that the Gospel women who knew Jesus intimately, heard him preach, saw his miracles, touched his dead body and wondered at his risen body, conversed with him before the Ascension etc., - were less bothered about their lack of apostleship (therefore priesthood) than the offshoots of the modern secular feminist movement today within and outside the Church. We have no record of them objecting to the maleness of the Apostles.
The argument against ordaining women in the early centuries therefore is not cultural but rather ontological and theological; nor is it misogynist – which is not to say some of the church fathers were not misogynists, which clearly they were.
Neither is the church like other voluntary associations – its nature and structure is different. It is not a democracy and while valuing equity and equality- “we are neither male nor female, gentile nor Jew, slave or free”- these principles apply to the spiritual domain especially that of Christian charity and justice, which emphasises redemption was given universally by the Saviour.
The church cannot change the substance of the sacraments, which the priest confects and administers as he alone has this power by the Holy Spirit while a bishop alone has the power to confect and administer all seven sacraments. The priest oversees the sacraments in the person of Christ by his gestures and voice(a persona is a particular part played by wearing a mask in ancient Greek theatre). He enacts the Last Supper in its particulars and symbolism and represents Our Lord at the altar during Eucharist. The twelve apostles (also signifying the twelve tribes of Israel) represent Jesus in the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
5. ARGUMENT FROM THE THEOLOGY OF HOLY ORDERS
The theology of male priesthood is the least understood, less discussed argument. I cannot possibly do it justice in this answer and can only be brief. However, it is this aspect that is the most exciting to reflect upon and study. John Paul ll’sThe Theology of the Body is a superb example of this in the context of the anthropology of human freedom, sexuality, marriage, and ultimately, this context can be extended to priesthood and the marriage motif of Christ and His Church.
Firstly, a priest does not act in his own name but in the person of Christ.– in persona Christi - CCC.1548. St. Thomas Aquinas says that “sacramental signs represent what they signify by natural resemblance” – which makes a woman as the Image of Christ in persona Christi an odd resemblance especially given our belief in the Incarnation. Christ became one of us, took upon a soul as we all have, which is sexless and genderless in the image of God, but a body which is sexed and gendered. We are embodied souls. Christ became a man – God could have chosen Him to be a woman – but did not. Therefore what God did, though mysterious to us, is God’s choice for God’s reasons. However, in light of prophetic salvation history we understood it could not have been otherwise. Moreover Christ remained male at the resurrection and the ascension. He did not assume an androgynous body after death and His glorified body retains the human likeness he shares with us. The Church insists that for any of the sacraments to be valid there must be correct matter and in the case of the priesthood the correct matter is a baptized male because Jesus, as the High Priest, is and always will be in His glorified body, male. As both priest and victim the Lord is male. CCC.1577.
Secondly, the marriage motif dominates the Old Covenant scripture and the New Testament imageries as part of the Covenants. This marriage motif is as critical to the Sacrament of Holy Orders as it is for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. The sacramental relationship of the Christian Church to the Old Testament “Covenant” as distinct from other forms of oaths, promises, troths, exchanges, and contracts illustrates this motif in the unconditional love of the Lord God as spouse of His people Israel and Christ, as Bridegroom for His Bride, the Church. Priesthood is a privileged form of nuptial mystery from the prophets and Hebrew priesthood to David and to Jesus.
Israel was the Lord God’s beloved, His ardently loved spouse. Christ continues the covenant by being the Bridegroom and the Church is His holy and unspotted bride for whom he sacrificed Himself in self-donating mystical love. (2 Cor.ll:2; Eph. 5:22-23; Luke 5:34-35; John:, 26-30; Rev. l9:7,9, 21:-2;Mark 2:18-20; Mt. 2:l9, 9:14-15; Mt. 22:1-14). It is this model of self donating love that is the building block of the church’s teachings on marriage itself and a sacrificial open-ness to conjugal and fruitful love. When Paul speaks of the man as the head and that the woman is to be obedient he says that he “speaks of the Church . . .” and that it is a “great mystery”. Christ is the Head of the Body and we, the Church, are members of the same Body; Christ married us and consummated this spousal love for his Bride on the Cross where He sacrificed and shed His blood for her. The priest at the altar, doing only what a priest can do (sacrificing the Holy Mass) in persona Christi, re-presents this nuptial union and conjugal act of self-donating love. CCC.1563-66. As for all of us being part of the “Royal Priesthood”, that does not detract from the argument that the ministerial or ordained priesthood is NOT a universal call to all men either as exemplified in Galatians 3:28 which asserts we are neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. This does not refer to priesthoodbut to the universal calling of all to divine filiation.
The Church is the unspotted Bride and He is her groom. The priest, particularly at the words of Institution and Consecration, is configured to the High Priest, Christ Himself. Christ as the Head is male, Holy Mother Church is female. When we even feebly grasp the profound depths of meaning to change the sex of the priest (of Christ’s representative) is to confound all the symbolic sense of the meaning of marriage. A female priest and a female church? If the priest and the Church are both female, the offspring from this union (the members of the Church) would, as one wit commented, have ‘two mommies”! Because of the links to Old Testament typology, prophecy, and theology, it would scramble and dismantle everything the church is and always has been. I, for one, would wonder what on earth I had believed for almost forty years! The power of metaphor and sacred mystery cannot be underestimated. Much of our scripture would be rendered meaningless and altered beyond recognition to suit a politically correct agenda and satisfy secular norms.
The fact that the church has always been called Holy Mother Church emphasises the female (receptive) aspect of this union with Christ as the generative part. Analogically, the priest bridges the gap between Christ and His bride as, the male bridges the gap in human generativity, thus overcoming the distance between the sexes, and begets while the woman conceives– revivifying, procreating, giving fruit, fecundity, life, spirit– begetting in complementarity with the Mother who conceives in a mystical union. The eternal High Priest (Christ) represented by the maleness of the priest begets spiritual offspring born from the womb of the Church in the waters of baptism. In this symbolism we see why the Church elevates the Sacrament of Marriage as the “primordial sacrament” and dignifies human sexuality with all its complexities and its more difficult (in the secular sense) teachings e.g., open-ness to life and the hard counsels on divorce.
Just as we cannot imagine the High Priest declining new life (he“came to give life and to give it more abundantly”- that life will beget life) or separating Himself from His beloved spouse any more than the Lord God abandoned his Chosen People who profaned his Holy Name as an adulteress, we in turn, as a Church, translate this into our own marital ideals - poor shadows of the original covenant that they may be. The spiritual character which indelibly marks a priest’s soul at ordination confers on that (male) body the charism to serve as a conduit between heaven and earth, God and humanity, begetting the new life of grace in the soul.
In conclusion, the priest acts inpersona Ecclesiae, that is in the name of the whole church, in order to represent her at the altar. And it is as Christ, with us assisting as the whole church, that we offer ourselves (the church offering herself) in self-donating love as in marriage (the wedding banquet of the Lamb).
“A great mystery” indeed.
And it is in the mysteries that we glimpse the face of God.
In His infinite and eternal substance God is not gendered, in the sense of being materially male or female. Neither can it be said that God is sexualized even as His creatures are sexualized. Yet at the same time it seems that He chose to reveal himself using human sexual imagery and symbolism, especially that of Father, perhaps because sexual imageries are among the most accessible, universal, and incarnate.
John Paul ll in Mulieris Dignitatem
[On the Dignity and Vocation of Women] says:
IN HIS LIKENESS
These opening remarks have already made a giant leap, premised as they are on a foundational belief that we have been created by God, and moreover, a God who cares, a God to whom we matter, a God who made us imago Dei – in His own image - and finally, and perhaps even most preposterously to rational thought, a God who names himself as “Father” by claiming us as his children. The secular mind-set proposes the very opposite - that we create a God or gods in our own image and that is why we use linguistic conventions that abound in a sexual imagery that are all too human.
Nonetheless the longing for God is universal and recognized in signs of grace in all cultures at all times. We recognize this in the fertility rites recorded on prehistoric cave wall drawings and the outpourings in the literary and artistic artefacts of recorded and oral history. For our own heritage we see God in the erotic transcendence of the Song or Songs or the romances of St. John of the Cross, and the yearning and creative impulse of poets, writers, artists, mystics, saints, all of whom transform the mundane through the varieties, complexities, and intricacies of human passion and the power of the demoniac urge, as they probe, layer and unravel, that which is ineffable. Pagan and non-Christian examples of this yearning for the Transcendent and Imminent are configurations of the Trinity, and are prescient, although imperfect templates, of the One Living God.
While non-believers assert that we have created God in our own image (therefore he does not really exist except as a projection of our human longing for meaning and order), believers move beyond these parameters and accept God’s pre-existence as the unmoved mover or prime cause. Moreover, God reveals Himself through human history in ways that have been especially, although not exclusively, demonstrated through scripture and its elaborations (exegesis), but also in a reading of nature and through human reason itself punctuated by grace as the handwriting of the Creator. As St. Thomas Aquinas says,“Both the light of reason and the light of faith come from God - and there can be no contradiction between them.”
GOD AS FATHER
We cannot deny that much of the trajectory of our faith has been socially constructed, for how could it be otherwise given we live in human societies? But we do not have to concede that our faith has been socially constructed alone.
A central premise of our faith is the Incarnation – Jesus who is God was born as a Jewish male at a specific historical moment and into a specific human society. This objective fact supports the claims of social scientists that the cultural and institutional forms of our belief system have been socially constructed in light of that historical moment. Notwithstanding this concession, the subsequent institutional and theological forms do not explain everything about the created world, any more than the sophisticated theories of social construction entirely explain the reaches of the religious imagination encoded in the humanproclivity to analogue.
Catholics hold that the Church is both human and divine, that is the Body of Christ has been formed by nature and by grace, by natural law and divine revelation. While some modernist schools of Christian thought allow for social construction in its entirety, Catholics are convinced this falls short of remaining authentically Christian, because such explanatory models lead to a radical inversion of the “good news” by denuding, even trivializing, its transcendental and spiritual dimensions. Orthodox Christianity believes that the Creator revealed himself as a Father and to deny the Fatherhood of God is to reject a belief system of two thousand years (quite apart from its Old Testament precedents) thus deconstructing the Trinitarian mystery itself, which above all is personal, relational, and familial (1).
One influential school of scriptural scholarship asserts that many New Testament claims were formulated by male disciples who gained supremacy over various Gnostic sects or churches that gave women leadership roles taken from them by the patriarchy. They bracket St. Paul out of the narrative by claiming ours is a Pauline Christianity rather than one of the Hebrew Christ. On close examination of the sacred texts, however, it is apparent that the disciples understood Jesus to have made the remarkable and revolutionary claim of intimacy with God who was a Father to us (2). Even among revisionist scripture scholars such as the Jesus Seminar there seems to be agreement about the authenticity of the Lord’s Prayer.
To claim that western culture socially constructed a patriarchal and paternal Godhead whose influence has been pernicious, oppressive, abusive and violent, and to reject the accepted linguistic conventions as if this is only what they are - conventions - does not merely deconstruct the Trinitarian mystery but totally negates it.
For example, gender-inclusive terms for God, such as “Father/Mother” or just “Mother” when He did not reveal himself in this persona, undermines and ultimately dismantles the basis on which our faith is built because it implies that God is some impersonal deity who does not care how we address the Godhead. No matter how disconcerting to modern sensibilities, God has not invited us to use the appellation of Mother whereas through his Son he has directly invited us to call him Father. Neither did God, in becoming man, manifest himself as either androgynous or female, any more than the Second Person of the Trinity revealed himself as an asexual, hermaphroditic, or angelic being as he lived among us. The first centuries of the church debated the nature of Christ, as both fully man and fully God, in numerous informal disputes as well as formal councils, synods and in fiercely defended treatises and confessions of faith. Many were willing to die for their claims which one might observe is unlikely of those who cheerfully participate in the present day Jesus Seminar.
It is compelling that God could have chosen to manifest Himself in any form whatsoever. He chose to become incarnate as a male person and claimed “Sonship’ in relation to His own ‘Fatherhood.” How can we speak of Jesus, the Christ, as the Son of God except in relation to a parent? If Jesus is the Son of God, that is, True God and True Man, then it becomes more than linguistic convention or social construction, because it was Jesus himself who constantly refers to “the Father” and it is he who left us with the most beloved of Christian prayers addressed not just to his father but to “Our” Father.
As Christians, we are bound to either accept or reject Christ’s teachings about God as Father. Either Jesus Christ is Lord or he is not Lord; what he said was delusional or a falsehood or the truth. In short, to refute Christ’s claims in this sense is to be less than Christian in our beliefs no matter how progressive, liberal, and enlightened our philosophical and theological posture. God is Father or he is not, and if we claim he is not, then we must re-examine the nature of Christ for the Kyrios cannot be a liar.
We can of, course, assert that Jesus, not being a modern sociologist or anthropologist, did not know how religion is socially constructed or more to the point, he did not understand how he himself, as True Man, had been socially constructed into a patriarchal society and male gendered role. That he who is one with the God of the Cosmos was not only circumscribed by geography and custom but additionally limited in his comprehension of the knowledge claims of the social sciences seems the epitome of spiritual arrogance suggesting as it does that Christ was true man in every sense but True God in no sense unless one worships a Christ who was only a great man. I, for one, would wonder why I should bother?
Because an infinite number of other manifestations would have been possible yet God chose to reveal himself as Father, it follows, that this particular revelation was intended to touch our humanity profoundly. This is a mystery which demands honest reflection while resisting the seductions of non-sacral or profane conceptual frameworks based on social organizational or feminist analyses of gender relations.
As St. Augustine says,“What I want most is to grasp the Truth not by belief alone but also by understanding” thus legitimizing the imperative to grapple with faith-claims.
This does not mean that every aspect of secular analyses, or for that matter revisionist Christian scholarship, are deficient in truth but that their anthropomorphism rather than God-centredness, their logo-centricism rather than Christo-centricism renders them only partial explanations. Christians are informed more by metaphysical or theological inquiry than by a study of the social sciences although the social sciences contain the seeds of truth, and the church teaches us that anything that is true cannot be rejected by the God of Truth. There can be no conflict between belief and truth – God encompasses anything that is demonstrated to be true whether in science or philosophy. John Paul ll in the encyclical Veritatis Splendor points us in this direction and assures us, as the church has consistently done over centuries, that we have nothing to fear from scientific discovery. In this sense, Catholics are not ‘fundamentalist”.
Indeed the church goes even further and claims that all truth claims, if dealt with authentically, will reinforce its teachings as God can neither deceive nor be deceived and if the Church and Christ are one, then neither can the church as a divine institution deceive us. All Truth will be recapitulated in the end times when“all creation shall bend a knee and every tongue proclaim that Jesus is Lord”. Then creation will cease its groaning and acknowledge He is the One True God in the Blessed Trinity - beyond the cosmos, creation, and the universe – the alpha and omega. Yesterday, today, and forever. FATHERHOOD and Personhood.
The intimacy of the relationship between paternity and offspring, father and children, reinforces the Judeo-Christian emphasis on the human person. While God’s relationship in the Old Covenant with His chosen people was always personal, despite the distance He kept, it was in the unfolding of their history that we see the culmination of the promise in the coming of a Messiah. Jesus claimed he was the Son of God whose words and actions reflect the “Father,” and even more astonishingly, one who was related to God in a personalistic and intimate way - as the Son relating to his “Abba” – and whose love for his Father instructs us to direct our prayer life to that same Father.
God, it is said, acknowledged that it was not good for Man to be alone – hence the creation of the human person as one, equal, yet different - male and female; one incarnation and two sexes. Only at the creation of Eve was Adam made whole, that is, he became fully a human person. We were created to enjoy unitive and procreative union with each other. The sacrament of creation heralds the communion of two in one flesh and the church describes this as the “primordial sacrament”. Marriage precedes historically the other six sacraments.
Karol Wojtyla’s initial explorations into this matter were a work in progress for over four decades - signposted in The Radiation of Fatherhood; his doctoral work, Moral Responsibility; The Acting Person; Love and Responsibility; and in his ongoing mid-weekly addresses as Pontiff , all of which culminated in several related encyclicals and the opus, The Theology of the Body (1997). His implicit starting point even if not directly stated, was always Genesis and the Garden wherein from the beginning God created them ‘male and female, that is, he sexed them. Our Lord endorses this when he asks,“Have you not read that the Creator from the beginning created them male and female?” (Mat.19:4)
In naming them Adam and Eve (man and woman) we understand that gender is, ontologically, a primary rather than secondary foundation to human identity. As all things are possible for the Creator this surely cannot be seen as whimsical or arbitrary as he could have chosen other means of human reproduction just as he could have presented himself through the Christ as something other than a Father. In those creatures where autogenesis or parthenogenesis occurs it is as if God playfully teases us by demonstrating the other possibilities which he did not choose for those he created in His own image.
It seems that sexual identity is a necessary, even if not a sufficient condition, for personhood. In addition to sexual identity (as distinct from gendered attributes) as a necessary condition to personhood, we can isolate the sufficient condition to that personhood which embraces the belief that we are created in God’s own image. This Incarnation is the revelation or temporal manifestation of a God, who although unsexed, is apprehended through sexual identity, generativity, and free will.
These three aspects are all crucial for personhood because they represent the essence of the ‘self’ thus reminding us that we are God’s creatures first and foremost - made in his own image. We are not merely “human beings” but are primarily human persons which was a motif of John Paul ll as he built on the work of the Popes that preceded him in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
By choosing to reveal Himself through his Son, ‘conceived of a woman,’ we see how God graced our personhood by embracing the human matter of reproduction. Choosing Joseph as a husband for Mary constituted a family unit, we see how God dignifies marriage and family life as unitive and procreative and ideally, Christ centred. The cultural forms in which the members of this basic unit are supported do not alter the ontological nature of its formation as the product of physical and social intercourse between a man and a woman. The institutional church after all is one of these cultural forms and it is no accident that she is described as a Mother, its members, her children, God is their father and they His Heirs. The church is a family.
GOD IS A FAMILY – THE TRINITY
Church Tradition has explained God ‘s Fatherhood as First Person of the Trinity in the sense that God’s nature is uninfluenced by anything other than Himself and that in His love for and with the Son He begets the Holy Spirit. In this sense we procreate in a perfect imitation of this loving fecund relationship, that is, we emulate God’s generativity. The Church speaks of procreation and not merely reproduction because we co-operate fully in God’s creation in bringing immortal souls into the world, as through baptism Holy Mother Church in nuptial union with Christ the High Priest and animated by the Holy Spirit, brings immortal souls into the life of the Trinity, as members of Christ’s Body in the family of the Father. Augustine summarises human will in accord with God’s will: “The God who created you without your co-operation, will not however, save you without your co-operation.”
It has already been observed that the Trinitarian mystery is personal, relational, and familial. The creator’s generativity is found in the communion of Three Persons in one Godhead, all co-equal and none subsumed under the other, reminding us, however, that His generativity emerges from, in, and through Himself whereas we require the other sex.
John Paul ll, in his Letter to Families, which is a simpler summary of the Theology of the Body observes that God though One is not solitary, that “in His deepest mystery is not a solitude, but a family, since He has in Himself fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of the family which is love” or the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. In short, God is a family. (3)
The Godhead is more than His functions; the Trinity consists of Persons. For believers, the Trinity represents the dignity conferred on the idea and practice of personhood because God’s Personhood in the three persons is the template for our own. He has not chosen to reveal himself to us through impersonal imagery. God is not only our Creator, He is our Father; the Redeemer is both human and divine and more than a salvific function; and the Holy Spirit does more than Sanctify, he too is a person with whom we can speak, be engaged, relate, commune. To pray our doxologies and give our blessings in the name of Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier is to fly in the face of God’s personal relationship with us - the fact that we believe He loves us individually and personally and not abstractly.
PLAGIARIZING THE SEXUAL SCRIPT
As Christians who acknowledge the unfolding of God’s salvific plan the late Pope came at the right historical moment. His reflections, philosophical writings, pastoral counselling, reveal a shift from the purely objective to the more subjective forms of philosophical inquiry. His theology was based on an anthropological and philosophical personalism which employed terms such as the human agent, personhood, human rights and freedom, and dignity of the individual. He was well into rights-talk before it became democratized and internationalized. Given the premises of Christianity the basic assumptions of such discourse underpinned the moral and social ethic of the Judeo-Christian tradition based on the radical view that in filial association we are neither slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile, man nor woman.
Curiously, it is in rights-talk that a major confusion has arisen about which rights are based on natural law therefore universal and which ones confound the natural law. In the West, individual sexual rights are given inordinate pre-eminence. We claim that sexuality is a social construction that can be ‘reassigned’ surgically or hormonally and are in the process of normalizing sexual preferences as part of gender deconstruction. We are further from the Garden than ever because we have taken the separation from our true natures much further than Adam and Eve ever dreamed by distorting that second necessary and sufficient condition on which this nature is based – sexual identity.
To this point God’s will for us remains unthwarted. Despite surgical reassignment or hormonal supplements the DNA of transgendered persons remains male or female (unless born hermaphroditic which is a rare condition). Even same-sex female couples who conceive through artificial insemination or in vitro cannot avoid the biological inevitability that donor sperm is extracted from males and united to ova, that reproductive technologies to this point still require these essential properties. In short, male and female he created them. Women who desire fatherless children cannot avoid this biological necessity because parthenogenesis has been only a fantasy in feminist fables such as the nineteenth century novel, Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman or modern science fiction. This explains the feminist enthusiasm for the prospect of human cloning especially as cloning reproduces only the same sex of the donor clone.
Conversely, believers are aghast at the implications of a narcissistic communion with oneself for despite the difficulties in relations between men and women (“the battle of the sexes”) heterosexual marriage bridges the great divide of difference and alienation symbolized by the loss of Eden and apparent in many cultural norms that disenfranchise women or subordinate them. It is a far more challenging and astonishing thing than the homoerotic reflection in another’s same-sexed gaze that a man and a woman become ‘one’ and work together for the good of children and posterity. Heterosexual love is ideally realized in reaching out to the “Other” as a sign of hope in healing the enmity and inequality between man and woman caused by the Fall.
Adam and Eve’s sin of pride – hubris - took a particular form of separation from God by making themselves equal to their Creator. Ironically as we work out the meaning of Personhood internationally, domestically, politically, socio-economically, theologically, we pervert its essence at the most glaringly obvious levels of marriage, reproduction, child-rearing and family and in the rejection of gender and sexual complementarity as an ontological assumption. In our contemporary penchant for social engineering, the casualities in the fallout have been family and marriage. ‘Gender bending’ experimentation has turned the very notion of sexual identity on its head, radically alienating ourselves from our original sense of Personhood.
The sexual script, written on our bodies, intends us to have life and ‘have it more abundantly’ in a Trinitarian self-donation. Once we separate the life-giving nature of human love from its Author then all climaxes can be justified. If it is desirable to sterilize sex while performing it, why is it necessary to perform it with complementary sexual organs? The church reminds us that we are to“think with the mind of Christ”. Therefore we must ask ourselves - at which intersection does plagiarizing the sexual script, that is cheating on the sacred text of our core identities and personhood, conform with Christ, and where does it only reflect our insatiable desire for immediate gratification or a cheap grace based on a pleasure principle that wants resurrection without the way of the Cross?
Plagiarizing the sexual script means that we wilfully lie with our bodies in a counterfeit of God’s handwriting- we copy the blue print which is God’s, forgetting He owns the copyright. The transcription has the appearance of the original structure but the grammar and syntax are all wrong. This is not merely a matter of writing in discrete parentheses to alter the real meaning or pasting glosses in the margins, but it consists of scrambling the sacred text itself. Devoid as it has become of a reverence for the miracle of life there remains no poetry in what remains - a utilitarian list parsed and punctuated by an egocentric rhetoric of means and ends.
Distorting the language of the body is not part of the authentic Christian story because it separates us from our ontological natures by sterilizing sex and normalizing transgressive acts by identifying them as only socially constructed therefore malleable. Gender reassignment, transgendering, repro-biotech, renting wombs, same sex marriage, artificial insemination, foetal stem cell research, surrogate parenthood, ‘surplus’ foetuses, contraception, homosexual acts, masturbation, sterilization, oral sex – all these comprise an habituation into a mechanistic view of human relationships.
In short, we are ‘passing’ as the real thing – disengaging the human body from its existential as well as biological meaning. Christians go further even than existential meaning. We believe our bodies are incarnational and will be truly eucharized, resurrected and glorified, truly “temples of the Holy Spirit.” The fundamental premises of our human dignity and the necessary corollary of respect for other human persons has to do with what God as Creator and Father intended for His children. We are, as St. Paul says, “indeed his offspring”. (Acts 1:28)
We are challenged to get behind those fig leaves and glimpse the original vision - the nuptial meaning that God breathed into our sexed bodies. I am not speaking only of having children here, although that surely is desirable, but the example of sacrificial love of parents and spouses, a love that bridges distances between the sexes and the generations, a love that models the generous self giving of God in His Son, Jesus Christ. We need not resort to moral or religious authority to endorse this premise. The empirical evidence alone is telling; the West has become a demographic disaster with an unabated culture of death turning our hearts to stone. All we can offer a continent in crisis, Africa, is a condom culture awash with sex saturated assurances that this will stem the tide of depopulation and despair.
Observing how the United Nations strives to impose western gender and reproductive protocols on Third World countries, the Chilean Cardinal, Francisco Javier Errazuriz, speaks for the universal church in his condemnation of a “cultural imperialism” that represents the ultimate ‘subjectification’ of an objective truth about sex and identity. He is appalled that the developed world, by asserting some kind of moral leverage in the world body, offers impoverished nations abortion as a ‘reproductive choice’ or that persons may choose their sex independently of their biological condition merely as a by-product of external conditions. These surely are a bizarre imposition of alien values given the needs and realities of the Third World.
If we continue to make such choices, irrevocably Islam will remain hostile to our particular revelation of human dignity and personhood - manifested at its best in our finest institutions and ideals, but undermined by the deformities of extravagance, excess, self -indulgence, decadence, individualism and a postmodern materialism. Islam shares the Adamic narrative on sexuality, marriage, and the genesis of the family (‘from the beginning’). In this context it is hardly surprising that Muslims see our departures as offences against both Allah and nature. We have travelled far “east of Eden” and stand at a crossroads, in danger of turning our backs on the historical and cultural permutations of the West’s sexual journey.God asked Cain in the Garden, “What have you done?” This question remains the greatest challenge to future generations in the church. The youth who chanted, “John Paul ll / We love you”, are the ones their beloved Pope asked to answer it in their lives. The older generations, in parodying God’s omnipotence, have left them a desolate, even deformed, patrimony, that can only be animated by the Holy Spirit. Pope John Paul ll has called for a Springtime in the Catholic Church. May our children be not afraid and cast their nets into the deep.
Victoria, B.C. Canada 11.04.2005
* This article has been written in anticipation of the forthcoming conference on the Theology of the Body, with guest speaker Christopher West, organized by the Catholic Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia, May 2005. It was first presented in separate lessons for Exploring the Catholic Faith 2003-2004 (see below).
(1) John Paul 11, The Trinity’s Embrace: God’s Saving Plan (Pauline Books, 2002).
(2) Claude Tesmontant, The Hebrew Christ: Language in the Age of the Gospels (Franciscan Herald Press, l989); and Larry W. Furtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans, 2005).
(3) Quoted from Scott Hahn. (p.43), “Of course, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not ‘gender’ terms but relational terms. The Language of the divine family is theological, not biological. The terms, rather, describe the eternal relations of the divine Persons who dwell in communion”(p.43) In First Comes Love: Finding your Family in the Church and the Trinity” (Doubleday, 2002).